Gold Stars Week 10: A pair of Heisman hopefuls lead the way
Welcome to the Week 10 edition of Gold Stars, my weekly look at the Pac-12’s best individual performers.
We’ll keep a running track of the Gold Stars of the Week, all leading up to the Gold Stars of the Year column in December. It’s exactly like the Heisman Trophy, only there’s no ceremony, no trophy, and no one puts this on their résumé. As a note: 1st-place finishers get 3 gold stars, 2nd-place get 2 and 3rd-place gets 1.
Also, I’m on the voting committee for Pac-12 weekly awards, and I’ll include my ballot below Gold Stars.
|Michael Penix Jr.||Washington||Quarterback||6|
|Jacob Cowing||Arizona||Wide Receiver||3|
|Jaydn Ott||Cal||Running Back||3|
|Daiyan Henley||Washington State||Linebacker||3|
|Zach Charbonnet||UCLA||Running Back||3|
|Kitan Oladapo||Oregon State||Safety||2|
|Dalton Kincaid||Utah||Tight End||2|
|Jordan Addison||USC||Wide Receiver||1|
|Jayden de Laura||Arizona||Quarterback||1|
|Tuli Tuipulotu||USC||Defensive Lineman||1|
|Ja'Lynn Polk||Washington||Wide Receiver||1|
|Alex Austin||Oregon State||Cornerback||1|
|Nikia Watson||Washington State||Running back||1|
On to the Gold Stars of Week 10 …
1. USC QB Caleb Williams (3 stars)
If not for Williams, Bo Nix would be claiming this lofty award for the 3rd straight week. And he’d deserve it, too.
But after Nix topped Williams with 6 total scores last week, both hit paydirt 5 times on Saturday.
Williams did most of his damage through the air, and without the services of his top receivers. Jordan Addison out? Fine. Mario Williams down? Got it. In came Michael Jackson III, Tahj Washington and Terrell Bynum.
Finding a rhythm with the Trojans’ backup wideouts paid off as Williams connected on 26-of-41 passes for 360 yards and 4 passing touchdowns while adding 38 rushing yards and a score.
Once again, Williams was not intercepted, maintaining an almost absurd standard for the season. Williams has thrown just 1 interception all season while throwing 28 touchdowns. In case you can’t do the math, that’s a 28-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. If he finishes the season with 1 pick, it’ll go down as one of the best passing performances in Pac-12 history.
— USC J (@USCJ32) November 6, 2022
2. Oregon QB Bo Nix (2 stars)
Nix won conference player of the week honors for the 3rd straight week and certainly could’ve bumped ahead of Williams this week, too, if not for my stubborn insistence on opposing strength. While USC took down a poor Cal squad, the Ducks did their damage against simply overmatched Colorado, and Nix didn’t put up otherworldly numbers, even if did pull off a rare feat.
Nix had 5 total touchdowns, becoming the 3rd Duck in program history to record a passing TD, rushing TD and receiving TD in the same game. Nix went 20-of-24 passing for 274 yards, continuing his remarkable efficiency in what has quickly become a Heisman-worthy season. He is looking more and more like a finalist, at least, though the Ducks’ rather daunting final 3 weeks will determine his fate.
Oregon’s final 3 weeks against Washington, Utah and Oregon State is the toughest stretch run in the Pac-12 and one of the toughest in the country. It might just be enough to help lift the Ducks into the College Football Playoff. If they win out, of course.
If they do, Nix’s versatility will make him mighty attractive to Heisman voters. After two more rushing touchdowns, he now leads all FBS quarterbacks with 13 rushing touchdowns and leads the nation with 36 overall touchdowns, with his receiving TD giving him the edge.
Now that’s versatility.
3. Washington State RB Nakia Watson (1 stars)
Yes, you’re reading that right. A Washington State running back on the list.
Given the Cougars’ lack of success in the ground game this year, it may be a shock. But Watson deserves the kudos after his big performance in the Cougars’ 52-14 smashing of Stanford. The junior Wazzu back had 161 yards on 16 carries and a score against the Cardinal, including a highlight-reel 65-yard run and a 41-yard touchdown run that put the Cougars up 42-7 late in the 2nd quarter.
The fact that Watson did this in his return from a nearly month-long injury layoff speaks volumes, as well. Watson was hurt in the Cougars’ Oct. 8 loss to the USC Trojans, and even his return on Saturday was questionable.
What is without question is his impact on the Washington State offense. While Saturday’s performance was Watson’s 1st 100-yard game since Week 1. If Watson finishes the season strongly, he could come close to the 1,000-yard mark for the season, which would be quite an accomplishment given how much time he’s missed.
Like I never left🏄🏾♂️ pic.twitter.com/ayQSwm4sAS
— Nakia Watson (@nakiawatson04) November 7, 2022
Onto my Pac-12 Weekly Awards ballot:
Defensive Line POW: USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu
The Trojans’ best defender, Tuipulotu had 2 more sacks in a 41-35 win over Cal, giving him a nation-leading 9.0 sacks on the season. He also ranks 4th nationally in tackles and leads the conference in tackles for loss with 1.7 per game.
Defensive POW: Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
Gonzalez, the former Buffaloes defensive back, had 2 interceptions in his return to Boulder, coming on back-to-back drives. He graded out at 81.4 by Pro Football Focus after the big game.
Honorable mentions: UCLA LB Darius Muasau; Washington State LB, UCLA; USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu.
Freshman POW: Washington State DB Jaden Hicks
Arguably the top defensive freshman in the Pac-12, Hicks had 6 tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry in the Cougars’ dominant win over Stanford.
Offensive Line POW: UCLA OG Jon Gaines II
Helped the Bruins rush for more than 400 yards despite the absence of star running back Zach Charbonnet. UCLA gained more than 500 yards for the 5th time this season and gained 200 rushing yards for the 6th time this year.
Offensive POW: Oregon QB Bo Nix
Nix won conference OPOW honors for the 3rd straight week, becoming the 3rd player in conference history to match that feat. Also became the 3rd player in Oregon history with a passing TD, rushing TD and receiving TD in the same game.
🦆 Only the third player in school history to have a passing, rushing, and receiving TD in a single game
🦆 Leads the FBS in total touchdowns (36)pic.twitter.com/ArHeMYTNiR
— College Football Network (@CFN365) November 7, 2022
Honorable mentions: USC QB Caleb Williams; UCLA RB Kazmeir Allen; Washington State RB Nakia Watson.
Special Teams POW: Washington K Peyton Henry
Henry knocked in a 22-yard field goal with 8 seconds to go to lift the Huskies to a 24-21 win over Oregon State, despite windy conditions. Henry improved to 12-for-14 on field goals and 39-for-39 on extra points.