Gold: Pac-12 Midseason Awards
When your conference has 3 players who have been on the Heisman watch list — if not the favorites — for nearly the entire first half of the season, it’s not a surprise it’s a crowded field at the top.
The conference has a half-dozen offensive players who very well would contend with any POY in the country.
It’s so good that guys like Bo Nix and Rome Odunze have no place below.
On to my Pac-12 Midseason awards …
Midseason MVP and Offensive Player of the Half-Year: Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.
I originally split these awards between Penix and USC’s Caleb Williams, but Week 7 was enough to separate them.
At this point, heading straight toward a Heisman Trophy, how is Penix not the guy? The Washington quarterback leads the country in passing yards per game by nearly 40 more than No. 2, Shedeur Sanders. He ranks 1st in passing touchdowns per game and 3rd in passing efficiency.
The Huskies are undefeated, ranked 5th and coming off a key win over No. 8 Oregon in which Penix put the finishing touches with a quick game-winning touchdown drive.
Defensive Player of the Year: Utah DE Jonah Elliss
With all due respect to the phenomenal Laiatu Latu, Elliss has been the most impactful defensive player in the Pac-12, and it’s not even close. He might be in my top 4 of the entire league’s MVP race, behind only the top 3 Heisman-contending quarterbacks.
Elliss leads the league in sacks with 9 (2nd in the country) and is tied for the national lead in tackles for loss with 13. He also leads conference defensive linemen in tackles, 1 of just 3 biggins in the top 50 in the Pac-12.
And this is not just a cumulative award, either. Elliss has had some truly fantastic games. Against the aforementioned Latu and the Bruins, Elliss almost single-handedly won it for the Utes. He had 3.5 sacks against UCLA, one of 4 multi-sack games in the first half.
Coach of the Half Year: Washington coach Kalen DeBoer
Until Saturday, I liked Dan Lanning a bit more in this category. But 3 questionable 4th-down calls and a 3-point loss to Washington later, and you’ve got to flip it to DeBoer.
The Washington coach has largely lifted an intact Huskies roster from the ground floor when he got to Seattle. Unlike Lincoln Riley and Deion Sanders — and except for 1 notable exception in Penix — DeBoer has largely eschewed the transfer portal in favor of building from within.
Now UDub is well on its way to a conference title and a potential Playoff berth in DeBoer’s 2nd season.
Assistant coach of the half year: D’Anton Lynn
Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb probably deserves the nod, but he’s a bit more of a known quantity. Expectations were already massive.
Lynn, though, has had a remarkable effect on the UCLA defense, which has been the thorn in Chip Kelly’s side for years.
The Bruins rank 11th nationally in total defense, 2nd in the conference behind Utah.
The previous 4 years under Kelly, they ranked 87th, 70th, 69th and 113th.
That’s an unfathomable improvement.
Freshman of the Year: Utah LT Spencer Fano
Fano’s own brother and teammate, Utes defensive end Logan, very well could claim this award himself, but extra points go to little bro for manning the toughest position in college football and for doing it well.
“It’s not very common to have your left tackle be a true freshman, but he’s talented enough and has performed well enough against really good players,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Honorable mention also goes to a pair of Tinsel Town toddlers in UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore and USC all-purpose threat Zachariah Branch. They’ve both been terrific.
But neither plays left tackle like Fano, 1 of just 2 true freshman to be in that position.
Biggest surprise: The Coach Prime Effect
From ticket sales to merch sales to downtown economic impact to television ratings and everything else related to Colorado as a brand and as a university, I don’t think anyone on earth could’ve predicted what Deion Coach Prime Sanders has meant to the school.
And yet his greatest impact has somehow been on the on/field product. This was not a Division I football team last year, much less Power 5. Hiring Karl Dorrell in the first place should’ve been a mass extinction event for the entire athletic department, and anyone who watched what he wrought last season understands that the Buffaloes were not merely bad, they were historically bad.
To see what Prime has done this year is a movie. It really should be a major motion picture. Swagging in with his “we bringing Louis” attitude. Cleansing the roster from top to bottom. Adding name after name in the transfer portal.
And then, somehow, it all working. A win over TCU to kick off the season. Beating Nebraska in a statement home debut. Shading Colorado State. Bouncing back from back-to-back losses to Oregon and USC to beat Arizona State. Stanford was inexcusable, but Colorado still is 4-3 and hunting a bowl bid with 5 games to go.
This has been a magical start for a singular personality.
Biggest disappointment: The USC defense
Quite frankly, Riley earned this award in January, when he decided to retain Grinch for yet another go-around, despite all evidence to the contrary.
What did he expect would be different? USC added more talent, but not an overwhelming amount. And, sure, Mason Cobb and Jamil Muhammad have been productive.
But the Trojans can’t tackle. They can’t keep defenders in front of them. They can’t get off the field on 3rd down.
And unlike last year, when they masked some of those deficiencies (but only some) with the most opportunistic defense in college football, the Trojans haven’t been nearly as takeaway-oriented. They’ve forced just 8 — slightly more than 1 per game — after leading the Pac-12 a year ago with 28 in 14 games.
So what’s the biggest takeaway? Grinch is ill-suited for the gig, and Riley will continue to face the music.
Best individual performance: Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders
Williams has had some truly monster games. Basically every week. Nix has been utterly thrilling at times, too.
But nothing has topped what Sanders did in his Colorado debut in Week 1 at TCU. Facing the defending national runner up (albeit one that looks nothing close to how it did last year), Sanders was simply transformational.
He went 38-of-47 passing for 510 yards and 4 touchdowns, needing every single one of those yards in a 45-42 win.
Truthfully, his sensational teammate Travis Hunter may have earned the award himself in the very same game, with his multi-purpose performance.
But Sanders putting the Buffaloes’ offense on his back with an upset win to usher in a new era? Few have seen anything like it.