With the 2022 college football regular season just about half over, the fine folks at Saturday Out West are hitting the pause button to appreciate all that we’ve seen this year and handing out some midseason hardware. Columnist Jon Gold and editor Derek Peterson offer up their picks for various Player of the Year categories and select first- and second-team offenses and defenses after six weeks.

Let’s get to it…

2022 Midseason Pac-12 Awards


JG: I simply don’t see how this can be anyone other than Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Back-to-back wins over two of the top five Pac-12 teams — Washington and Utah — has the Bruins unbeaten and absolutely surging into the second half of the conference schedule. UCLA has huge games remaining against USC and Oregon, but the Bruins have presented a combination of brains, brawn, and bravado that feels unmatched in the conference this season. Of course, things will all come down to next weekend’s matchup with the Ducks, but the Bruins are trending in the right direction, and DTR is at the center of all of it. Bo Nix has rebounded from a terrible Week 1 and Caleb Williams has been remarkably unyielding with the ball, throwing just one interception, but Thompson-Robinson has been so sharp lately. He’s been better than Nix through the air and better than Williams on the ground. I’d also consider Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr., but his struggles against UCLA and his no-show against Arizona State sours me. If the Bruins had even one loss to this point, I think I would’ve gone with Nix. Alas.

DP: It’s the LeBron question, right? Is the MVP the best player or the one who brings the most value to his specific situation? If this exercise is to hand out awards for the first six weeks rather than project how things will look after another six weeks, I’m calling Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. my Most Valuable Player. UW’s leading receiver last season had 470 yards. The program’s leading receiver this season already has 524 yards. Penix ranks second nationally in passing and third in explosive pass plays produced. UW has already matched last year’s win total, and I’m still very much aboard the Kalen DeBoer bandwagon despite back-to-back losses. Penix has elevated the Husky offense in ways few expected. I was a skeptic entering the year, and he’s proven to be one of the best stories on offense in the conference. Bo Nix was also considered here for me as well. There’s just something about what the oft-injured Penix has been able to do that feels worth mentioning.

Best coach

JG: Back-to-back Bruins on this one, and it doesn’t feel like much of a surprise to me, either. Utah has been a disappointment, and quite frankly, so has USC. Oregon was so brutalized in a Week 1 loss to Georgia that I’ll struggle to get over that loss until next year. Washington is on a two-game slide, no matter how much I like what Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb are building there. Chip Kelly, meanwhile, is truly evoking memories of his old Oregon teams. I’ll never forget what former Duck wide receiver Blake Stanton told me in October 2010, at a fraternity party in Eugene following a 60-13 beatdown of the Bruins. I asked him how could Oregon be so good with middling recruiting classes and good-but-not-great talent. He talked about the way the Ducks practiced, and how he’d watched USC and Pete Carroll and UCLA and Rick Neuheisel practice, as well as a host of other Pac-10 teams, and how different it felt just watching. Then he started playing with the Ducks, and the attention to detail was incredible. All 11 offensive starters knew every other player’s responsibility, so when one guy was taken out of a play or left a gap in the field, they’d know how to fill it. It was like all 16 chess pieces knew where each other would end up. I’m starting to see that in the Bruins, who got enough of an influx of transfer talent to give Kelly the kind of flexibility he’s dreamed of since his Duck days. If UCLA holds up, he might contend for national coach of the year.

DP: Chip Kelly has a team of grown men who know his system well, and he has a fifth-year starter running the show at quarterback. Jon, you and I both saw a very real possibility this team reached double-digit wins this season. I think Kelly would be a deserving Coach of the Year pick if Lincoln Riley wasn’t around. But Riley has been as good, if not better, than expected at USC. Some thought USC might be a 7-5 team this year. Only the staunchest of USC supporters envisioned an actual College Football Playoff push in Year 1, and yet here we are at the midway point — with a USC team that looks like it has a real shot at getting in. The Trojans are 6-0 and working around the obvious weakness. The defense leads the country in sacks despite not really having the personnel to be a consistently dominant force at the point of attack. They’ve already won a game with their defense (against Oregon State) that past USC teams would have blown. They’re winning without their best stuff, and Riley’s ultimately the reason why.

Best offensive player

JG: Offensive POY (or HY, as it were) is not the same as MVP. But two statistics really jump out at me. I judge running backs by yards per carry, yards per game, and touchdowns, and while Zach Charbonnet leads the league in rushing, he ranks second to Nix in touchdown runs and second to Cal’s Jaydn Ott in yards per carry. He’s been terrific, but not other-worldly. Same with Arizona’s Jacob Cowing, who leads the league in receiving yards by just 1.0 yard per game over Washington’s Rome Odunze (105.8-104.8) and leads in touchdown by just one over USC’s Jordan Addison (7-6). Again, fantastic, but not unfathomable. It usually takes those descriptions — otherworldly, unfathomable — for a non-QB to usurp a QB in offensive POY voting. And it does this time, because Dorian Thompson-Robinson hasn’t just been marginally better than his competition in passing efficiency, he blows them out of the water. DTR’s rating of 180.6 dwarfs Utah’s Cam Rising (161.3), USC’s Williams (159.4), and Oregon’s Nix (157.4). That’s one big stat. Here’s another, or two, for good measure: DTR is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt and is completing 74.8% of his passes. Both stand high above the rest of the Pac-12. And he hasn’t just beaten up the uglies: In UCLA’s two straight wins over top-15 conference opponents, he’s 42-for-56 passing for 614 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception. That’s just wild.

DP: Jon said it all. My answer here is Dorian Thompson-Robinson as well, and yes I think I can have different offensive players for “Most Valuable” and “Best.” DTR leads all Pac-12 quarterbacks in Total QBR, one of my favorite QB-centric metrics we have. He also ranks sixth nationally. This has been the season where everything just seems to click. Thompson-Robinson is making seemingly every play of late, he’s been at his best in his team’s biggest games, and he’s not putting the football in danger.

Best defensive player

JG: Cases can be made for USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu, Washington State’s Daiyan Henley, and Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus, but like my pick for offensive POHY, defensive POHY comes down to a specific statistic as it relates to competition. Clark Phillips III is tied for the national lead with five interceptions (along with Nevada’s Bentlee Sanders), but he outpaces the Pac-12 competition by three full picks. No one else has more than two. That kind of thievery holds up against Tuipulotu’s league-leading 7 sacks, if only because UCLA’s Laiatu Latu has 6.5 sacks himself. No one is catching up to Phillips — in more ways than one. He’s also returned two of those picks for touchdowns. And one more thing: He’s the only player in the Pac-12 to pace his position in Pro Football Focus rankings. His 90.7 defensive grade and 92.0 coverage rating lead the country’s cornerbacks.

DP: Clark Phillips III is an excellent pick here. I could get nit-picky and write off a couple of those interceptions because they either came A) at the end of a loss when they provided zero impact, or B) came when the other guy had absolutely no clue who he was throwing to, but I think Phillips is one of the best corners in college football so I’m not about to start discrediting his achievements. Teams need to stop throwing the football at him. It ends poorly. But I’m going with USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. As I mentioned above, USC is playing around its weaknesses as a team and Tuipulotu is a big part of that. They simply don’t have the depth of talent on the defensive line (or the size) to be competitive if you were to, say, drop them into the Big Ten right now. But Tuipulotu has masked that to a degree because of his ability to play anywhere along the defensive front. He’s a constant stressor for opposing offensive lines and not only leads the Pac-12 but leads all of college football in sacks (seven). His 12.5 tackles for loss are the second-most of any FBS defender. I watch him and see one of the most destructive defensive linemen in the country.

Best offensive lineman

JG: This might be more fair as a team award, given just how good Oregon has been up front. So while T.J. Bass may get the bag because of his back-to-back Pac-12 offensive player of the week awards, consider this kudos to the entire Duck front five. Much like the Mighty Ducks, these quacks fly together, and it kind of looks like a flying V sometimes. Oregon’s offensive line certainly has formed a cocoon around Nix, who has only been sacked a nation-leading one time. Oregon also leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards and ranks among national leaders in both that category as well as yards per rush (fourth, 6.22).

DP: Yeah, I’m going to do what the NBA did with its Player of the Month award a few years ago, when it awarded the honor in the Eastern Conference to the entire Atlanta Hawks starting five, and just say the Ducks’ offensive line can split up the trophy five ways. Or six ways, because Jackson Powers-Johnson is the highest-graded qualified offensive lineman in the Pac-12 this season. He damn near made it onto my All-Pac-12 team but just hasn’t played enough snaps for me to feel good pulling the trigger. Still, the Ducks have no weaknesses up front. They’ve got one of college football’s best rushing attacks because of the push upfront. And they’re the only group in the country that has yet to allow multiple sacks this season. Alex Forsyth has been the most impressive to me… but this is the ultimate collective award. If one guy on the line is out of sync it causes problems for the entire offense. Oregon has a collection of guys who have been outstanding.

Best defensive lineman

JG: Well this is just the clearest no-brainer so far, maybe only eclipsed by the category that follows. Tuli Tuipulotu has been a wrecking ball for the Trojans’ defense, which has shown its warts but always managed to put on a pretty smile. USC is undefeated due in no small part to the performance of the front seven, which has harassed opposing quarterbacks to the tune of a nation-leading 24 sacks. Tuipulotu has done his part with sacks in four different games, four or more tackles in three games, and numerous knockdowns and hurries. His three sacks on Saturday against Washington State helped turned the tide of an eventual 30-14 win, and he also picked up multiple sacks against Fresno State in a 45-17 win. Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus has been great, too. But the Trojan gets the nod.

DP: What Jon said.

Best offensive freshman

JG: Now THIS is the biggest no-brainer. One of the most productive true freshmen to grace the Pac-12 in some time, Jaydn Ott has been everything from remarkable to pedestrian for the Bears. Leaning more toward remarkable. His 274 yards in Week 5 were spectacular, but I’m almost as impressed (well, not quite) by his 69 rushing yards and seven catches for 40 yards in a 28-9 loss to Washington State in Week 5. We have seen quite this versatility from him, but if he’s going to tack on 23 touches to his weekly routine, he’s going to contend for postseason honors for years to come.

DP: Again, what Jon said.

Best defensive freshman

JG: Sliding into the starting position for the first time against Washington State in Week 5, Cal’s Jeremiah Earby hasn’t put up nearly the production of his freshman offensive counterpart, but he’s already got three pass breakups and the Bears look comfortable relying on him from here on out. Could he blossom into the Bears’ next defensive leader, like safety Daniel Scott?

DP: I’d imagine it takes a lot for a true freshman to start at linebacker for a Kyle Whittingham-coached team. Lander Barton is doing it and holding his own. The numbers don’t jump off the page — 16 tackles, two sacks — but he gets the nod from me here.

Best Special Teams player

JG: It’s not easy to be a freshman kicker, but Carter Brown hasn’t just shined for a newcomer, he’s one of the best kickers in the country this year. Brown has connected on nine of his 10 field goal attempts and has the Pac-12 season-high for distance, with a 53-yarder. He’s also nailed all 18 of his PATs.

DP: Nothing fancy to add. It’s Carter Brown for me as well after snagging two Special Teams POTW honors from the Pac-12 in his first six weeks of college ball.

Most exciting player

JG: I’m probably most excited when USC’s Jordan Addison gets the ball in his hands, but that hasn’t been often enough this season. I can’t wait to watch Jacob Cowing spring one for Arizona and Charbonnet bound and pound his way to the end zone for UCLA. But my vote is for Clark Phillips III. Is that a curveball? Kind of feels like a curveball. But the dude has five interceptions, which is a good career for a player at the college level. And two touchdown returns! There is no more thrilling moment in football that a tide-turning pick-six. By the end of the year, this answer may be totally different, and in fact, I expect it to be. Opposing quarterbacks are simply going to start avoiding Phillips at all costs.

DP: OK, I can get a bit more loosey-goosey with the rules here. My favorite player to watch right now is Oregon running back Bucky Irving. He’s fifth in the conference in rushing, with 429 yards. Consider that he’s very much in a backfield rotation, as Noah Whittington has 52 carries for another 336 yards and Jordan James has 29 carries and three scores as the short-yardage back. Also consider that Irving would probably have more than just one rushing score if he was the short-yardage back or if Bo Nix wasn’t falling into the endzone every time he runs it. Also consider that Irving has the second-best yards-per-carry clip of any running back in the Pac-12. He is an absolute joy to watch with the football in his hands, making defenders miss in the hole or just dragging them for a few extra yards. He leads the Pac-12 in missed tackles forced and ranks second among Pac-12 backs in explosive runs. Irving is a threat to put you on a highlight every time he touches it.

Player whose stock will rise in the 2nd half:

JG: I can see Charbonnet eclipsing the 200-yard mark at least once in the next half-dozen games, if not twice, and I feel fairly confident that USC’s Addison will finally click in the second half and regularly break the century mark. But it’s the guy who throws him the ball whom I foresee having the biggest second half. A win over Utah this weekend would certainly help make the case for Caleb Williams, who has been terrific at times, but also confounding, midway through the season. I am mesmerized by that interception total — just one on the year — and if that number comes close to holding up, we may have a three-man tie for top Pac-12 quarterback, along with DTR and Nix. Oh, and watch out for Utah’s Cam Rising. If the Utes take out the Trojans this weekend, he’d be a good bet to thrive.

DP: Williams is an interesting case study on how long we should hold onto preseason predictions and projections. He’s a Heisman contender right now because… he was thought to be one in the preseason? Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Bo Nix have better numbers and aren’t close to the conversation. Williams and Alabama’s Bryce Young remain in it on name recognition as far as I can tell. (To be clear, I don’t think Williams has played poorly this season. He’s had moments where he looks exactly how we expected him to look, and he’s had times where defenses were able to take some stuff away. That he’s only thrown one interception tells you he isn’t out here just loafing around.) To that end, I don’t think his stock can rise much because I don’t think it’s fallen at all. I’ll go a to Eugene for my answer here. What’s going on with Oregon’s Noah Sewell? I thought of him as the best off-ball linebacker in the league entering the season and he has 24 tackles in six games. He’s only had 2.5 tackles for loss and there have been some moments this season where you catch yourself asking, ‘Where the heck is No. 1?” I think Sewell has a big second half of the year and comes up with some key plays in big moments for an Oregon team that will be playing November games with a spot in the Pac-12 title game on the line.

Midseason All-Pac-12 team


Gold's First Team Gold's Second Team Peterson's First Team Peterson's Second Team
QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA Caleb Williams, USC Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA Bo Nix, Oregon
RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA Travis Dye, USC Zach Charbonnet, UCLA Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State
RB Jaydn Ott, Cal Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State Travis Dye, USC Jaydn Ott, Cal
WR Jacob Cowing, Arizona Jordan Addison, USC Jacob Cowing, Arizona Jordan Addison, USC
WR Rome Odunze, Washington Jeremiah Hunter, Cal Rome Odunze, Washington Jake Bobo, UCLA
TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah Brant Kuithe, Utah Dalton Kincaid, Utah Terrance Ferguson, Oregon
OL T.J. Bass, Oregon Alex Forsyth, Oregon T.J. Bass, Oregon Jordan Morgan, Arizona
OL Troy Fautanu, Washington Braeden Daniels, Utah Andrew Vorhees, USC Henry Bainivalu, Washington
OL Andrew Vorhees, USC Atonio Mafi, UCLA Alex Forsyth, Oregon Brett Neilon, USC
OL Brett Neilon, USC Drake Nugent, Stanford Antonio Mafi, UCLA Justin Dedich, USC
OL Jordan Morgan, Arizona Justin Dedich, USC Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Oregon Troy Fautanu, Washington


Gold's First Team Gold's Second Team Peterson's First Team Peterson's Second Team
DL Tuli Tuipulotu, USC Bralen Trice, Washington Tuli Tuipulotu, USC Hunter Echols, Arizona
DL Brandon Dorlus, Oregon Gabriel Murphy, UCLA Gabriel Murphy, UCLA Brennan Jackson, Washington State
DL Brennan Jackson, Washington State Grayson Murphy, UCLA Grayson Murphy, UCLA Bralen Trice, Washington
LB Daiyan Henley, Washington State Eric Gentry, USC Laiatu Latu, UCLA Eric Gentry, USC
LB Darius Muasau, UCLA Kyle Soelle, Arizona State Daiyan Henley, Washington State Kyle Soelle, Arizona State
LB Jackson Sirmon, Cal Laiatu Latu, UCLA Karene Reid, Utah Jackson Sirmon, Cal
LB Karene Reid, Utah JonJon Vaughns, UCLA JonJon Vaughns, UCLA Alphonzo Tuputala, Washington
CB Clark Phillips III, Utah Rejzohn Wright, Oregon State Clark Phillips III, Utah Rejzohn Wright, Oregon State
CB Alex Austin, Oregon State Mekhi Blackmon, USC Mekhi Blackmon, USC Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
S Daniel Scott, Cal Stephan Blaylock, UCLA Stephan Blaylock, UCLA RJ Hubert, Utah
S Jaydon Grant, Oregon State Jaden Hicks, Washington State Jaydon Grant, Oregon State Calen Bullock, USC