What’s more improbable: That the Pac-12 would have 3 teams that deserved A+ grades in 2023 or that USC avoided the F-?

There were some truly standout performances this year on both sides of the coin. Teams that vastly overachieved, and teams that collapsed faster than a straw hut in a hail storm.

Here are my grades for the Pac-12 after the regular season …

Arizona: A+

I thought going from 1 win to 5 was impressive. Going from 5 to 9 in 1 year might be doubly so.

Would you rather have any returning quarterback in the Pac-12 than Noah Fifita, who just torched ASU in the Territorial Cup for more than 500 yards. Heck, would you rather have another coach than Jedd Fisch, who is sure to have some suitors this offseason?

Arizona’s progression on defense this year should be the envy of every team. It’s development of its running game was terrific. And Fifita and the passing game took things to another level.

Just A’s all around.

Arizona State: C

It’s hard to beat up on the Sun Devils, who just about met expectations this year. But those expectations were very low and it’s hard to imagine them rising that much after this year.

ASU needs to build its identity around a defense that ranked in the top half in a handful of categories, including total defense, pass defense and rush defense.

The Sun Devils were surprisingly ineffective offensively under Kenny Dillingham, but that’ll come. It better come in a hurry, though, after ranking last in the conference in scoring.

Cal: B-

Facing the realities of moving to the ACC without the services of Justin Wilcox, the Bears really played only one half of the season. And that season was split.

Cal started 2-1 that included a 14-10 loss at Auburn, then lost 4-of-5 to fall to 3-6.

It didn’t look good, but the Bears won 2 straight to set up a win-and-in game at UCLA. That went well. Cal’s 33-7 blowout of the Bruins was more than just comeuppance for putting the Pac-12 to pasture and leaving them for the B1G.

It also made the Bears bowl eligible for the first time since 2019.

Colorado: B

Colorado really played 2 separate seasons this year: fantasy and reality.

Their first 3 games were a dream, beating TCU in the game of the year, taking out Nebraska and then Colorado State to jump into the rankings and then turn Boulder into the most happening spot in college football. Did we need to see Deion Sanders every other commercial? No. But it was a ton of fun.

Then reality set in. The Buffaloes were not built for the long haul, and it became clear pretty early that even the magic of Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter would not be enough to mask Colorado’s myriad issues.

Coach Prime found out the hard way that Rome isn’t built in a day, but the Buffaloes laid a strong foundation this year.

Oregon: A+

Put it this way: The Ducks went 11-1 in the regular season, and I love the loss the most. Going to Seattle and going for it on 4th down 3 times and missing them? Give me that kind of aggression any day of the week.

The fact that Oregon basically destroyed all but 2 teams — Washington, in the 3-point loss, and Texas Tech in Week 2 — speaks to the level of gas that Dan Lanning has brought to Eugene. The Ducks are fired up week in, week out.

It helps, of course, to have arguably the best player in college football. Bo Nix took an even greater leap this year from last year, and he was pretty darn special last year, too. But 37 touchdown and 2 picks is on another level. If they don’t hand him the Heisman, it’s a major gaffe.

Yet I still may even be more impressed by the Oregon defense, which has come up big, time and time again.

Oregon State: B-

The Beavers waited 11 games to get blown out, and it just so happened to come the night before their beloved head coach Jonathan Smith decided to leave for parts unknown. I can’t blame the Beavs too much for getting boated by Oregon, though. Who hasn’t (aside from Washington)?

Close losses to the Huskies (22-20), Arizona (27-24) and Washington State (38-35) put a damper on what could have been a truly special season.

Alas, DJ Uiagalelei wasn’t quite the elixir that the Beavers passing game needed him to be. He was good, but he wasn’t great. The Oregon State defense was very good, but it wasn’t great, either.

Had the Beavers taken care of business against the Cats and Cougars, this is a very different grade.

Stanford: C

Expectations were so low for Troy Taylor in his first year that even 3 wins feels reasonable. So why the C grade?

The sluggish Stanford ground game didn’t get an ounce more explosive, and in some ways, took some major steps back. I’m not entirely sure what went down with the Cardinal running game, as EJ Smith, Casey Filkins and Sedrick Irvin were all essentially neutered.

Stanford’s top 2 leading rushers were its quarterbacks, Ashton Daniels and Justin Lamson — and neither was very good.

The Cardinals had some important highs in Year 1 under Taylor, including a stunning comeback win at Colorado, an era-opening win over Hawaii and a complete shutdown of the once mighty Washington State offense. But too few and too sporadically.


This grade seems a little low for an average program that doesn’t have all too many big seasons.

But the Bruins played one of the weakest schedules in the country, and 8 wins should have been the bare minimum. With UCLA’s defense taking the strides it did, 10 wins was a realistic number, and the Bruins didn’t come close. Yes, they whipped USC. But getting 7 wins, while being trounced by ASU and Cal in the final month, is a bitter pill.

It’s hard to blame all the offensive struggles on Chip Kelly, but his curious quarterback carousel set the Bruins back. Is it his fault his vaunted freshman quarterback, Dante Moore, regressed and had 3 straight games with interceptions returned for touchdown? Maybe not. But in hindsight, Ethan Garbers looked like the guy to go with all along.

As a result, the UCLA offense put up 30 points just 3 times, a major step back from last year. Had they put a viable offense in the field with this D, they would’ve won double-digit games for just the 6th time in 35 years.


Is there a bigger failure in college football this season than USC? The only thing rescuing the Trojans from an F- (or an F- – -) was the otherworldly play of Caleb Williams.

But even he was off this year. Even in the most joyous moments of the season for USC, there seemed to be tension. And that tension was felt from top to bottom.

After a 6-0 start, the once-Playoff-contending Trojans plummeted to 7-5. A conference title that felt like it was a fait accompli for Lincoln Riley felt like nothing more than a mirage by Week 8. Alex Grinch was fired not long after, but the damage had been done.

Had the USC defense rallied after Grinch’s firing, there might be some room for leniency. Alas, the Trojans were horrendous down the stretch, including in a season-ending, 38-20 home loss to cross-town rival UCLA.

All in all, the Trojans ranked among the worst in the country and the worst in program history. And now they leave for the gauntlet that is the Big Ten. Not exactly A material for Riley and Co.

Utah: B-

If we’re just grading resilience, fortitude and making the best of bad news, the Utes get an A with cherries on top. Unfortunately, we have to take things like wins and losses into account, and while Utah did more with less than many could do, the Utes had some truly bad losses. If they had just been blitzed by the steamroller that is Oregon, sure, not bad.

But Utah fell by double-digits to an Oregon State squad with the same win-loss record and got absolutely woodshedded by an on-the-rise Arizona team.

Kudos to Kyle Whittingham and Co., though, for keeping the Utes viable despite a rash of injuries that puts poison ivy to shame. They truly could’ve gone in the tank with Cam Rising, Micah Bernard and Brant Kuithe all out for the year — later joined by several defensive stars — but the Utes rallied around an always good defense and the sporadically good play of Ping Farmer Bryson Barnes to pull off a respectable record.

Than again, respectable is not the standard to which Whittingham has led this team. Hard not to feel a big what-if with this team.

Washington: A+

Undefeated regular season? Check.

Hardest strength of schedule among all CFP contenders? Check.

Heisman finalist heading to New York? Check.

What more could you want out of the first Pac-12 team to finish the regular season without a blemish since Oregon in 2010? Sure, you can nit-pick and say they left a handful of games too close for comfort, especially that 15-7 Arizona State win.

But in the whole, Kalen DeBoer and his team get too marks for Year 2.

Washington State: D

This grade pains me. Washington State was one of the stories of the first third of the season, jumping out to a 4-0 start, proving the naysayers wrong, flying the flag high on College GameDay, Cam Ward looking like a Heisman candidate.

Then came the most ill-timed bye in program history. Coming off a terrific 38-35 win over Oregon State, all eyes were on Jake Dickert and the spirited and successful job he’d done navigating Washington State through the breakup of the Pac-12 and though the first month of the season.

Then the Michigan State job opened upon Mel Tucker’s firing, Dickert became the hottest name on the Big Board, and the D-word — distraction — set in. The Cougars were never the same, losing six straight coming out of the bye, with 3 particularly disappointing losses to the likes of Arizona State, Stanford and Cal.

Despite plenty of talent up front, Wazzu’s pass rush was permanently stuck in the mud, and the Cougars ground game was especially bad.