Weekly takeaways, trends and technicalities from the weekend’s Pac-12 action.

In this week’s edition of Monday Out West …

  • Caleb Williams Heisman Watch
  • Cardinal Coaching Corner
  • Deion makes a splash
  • Jedd gets Fedd
  • Ranking the Pac-12 Bowls
  • Pac-12 Postseason Awards Ballot!

… and more! But first:

Kyle Whittingham reflects on nearly 30-year journey

During Pac-12 media day, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham described the Utes’ January 2022 Rose Bowl matchup with Ohio State as “the next step in the evolution of our program, winning the Pac-12.”

“We’d been to the championship game, that was the third time last year,” he said in July. “We had been denied the first two times, so it was good to get over that hump. We certainly felt the effects of that game in recruiting, still feeling the effects of that. Off to a good start with our ’23 class. All good except for the outcome of the game, but a lot of positives.”

What does a 2nd straight Rose Bowl bid mean for the Utes?

It means sustained excellence, first of all. That was something Whittingham talked about in the Pac-12 Championship postgame press conference, how important it was for Utah to back up its terrific 2021 with an equally good 2022.

It also means a chance for revenge, even if the team on the other sideline is different.

Last season’s epic 48-45 Ohio State win was an instant classic, even if that’s exactly what Utah’s defensive players did not want to happen. The Buckeyes outscored the Utes, 27-10, in the second half to close out the game.

“Everybody’s probably seen that game,” defensive back Clark Phillips III said. “One of the things that stuck with me, everyone was saying, ‘That was an entertaining game.’ Being a defensive player, you don’t want to be a part of an entertaining game. That means a lot of touchdowns were scored. It was tough to see that in every headline.”

The game also marked a 3rd straight bowl loss for Utah, which is unfamiliar territory for Whittingham. The Utes had won 10-of-11 bowl games under Whittingham before the recent slide. Back in 1994 when he joined the Utes as defensive line coach under his father, defensive coordinator Fred Whittingham, Whittingham the son saw the program take a major step forward under Ron McBride, going 10-2 and finishing the season ranked in the top 10 for the first time in program history. Then a member of the WAC, Utah would soon join the Mountain West, going undefeated in  2004 under Urban Meyer and 2008 under Whittingham. They finally made the jump to the Pac-12 in 2011 and after a couple down years in 2012 and 2013, they’ve won 9 games in 6 of the past 7 full seasons.

“To say that we could have foreseen the way the program would evolve and the heights that our players would be able to reach, that was something that I don’t know if anyone could have seen that or forecasted that,” Whittingham said in a Rose Bowl teleconference. “But we’re where we’re at because of our players. We’ve got really good players.

“Our assistant coaches have done a great job of recruiting the right players into this program, taking those players and developing them, and we just have a blue-collar mentality and attitude around here that we bring our lunch pail to work every day and get after it, take no shortcuts, prepare Monday through Friday, and that’s really what the program has been built on ever since Coach McBride, who was the original head coach to hire me and fortunate to be able to come to the university because of that, and then of course Urban Meyer for a couple years, had the opportunity to work with him, and he really started the ball rolling in that direction.”

Like I say, we’ve just been able to continue to get a little bit better each year. Again, college football is all about players, it’s not about coaches or anything else, it’s about the players. They’re the reason for everything.”

Did Caleb Williams do enough to win the Heisman?

Lincoln Riley has the Heisman touch, but will it be enough for Caleb Williams to strike the pose in New York City’s Marriott Marquis Hotel on Saturday?

Williams’ gutsy performance on a bad hamstring in the Trojans’ 47-24 Pac-12 title game loss to USC could both hurt and help him in the eyes voters. Losing for a second time to Utah doesn’t help. Throwing for 368 yards and 3 scores on a gimpy leg might have just been the kind of performance to lock up an award of this magnitude. Max Duggan’s terrific Big-12 title game raised some eyebrows, but the fact the Horned Frogs weren’t able to close it out goes against him.

I’m curious, though, if voters will use Riley’s past against him. Will it become passé to honor a Riley-tutored quarterback for the 3rd time in 6 seasons?

Williams certainly put up the numbers to hoist the trophy, finishing with 47 total touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Cardinal closing in on Roman

As a New Jersey-born fan of offensive line coaches becoming head coaches, I’m all in on Greg Roman returning to Stanford as head coach.

I’m also a big fan of coaches who have learned under great organizational leaders, and Roman has. He’s coached under Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan.

He also knows what it takes to win at a place like Stanford, though whoever gets the job is in for a rough lesson. The Cardinal have a perilous path forward in the NIL and transfer portal era. I wonder if Stanford is willing to deal with the devil, like the top teams in college football. It doesn’t seem to mesh with their mission.

Roman knows what it’s like to do it the right way at Stanford, and he helped the Cardinal redefine their scheme and recruiting system. Palo Alto became a destination for top offensive linemen under the Harbaugh regime and only further burnished their standing under David Shaw. But they’ve lost their way the last few years. Roman can help them regain their standing.

Coach Prime makes his introduction

Well, it didn’t take Deion Sanders long to make his presence known in Boulder.

The Buffaloes’ new head coach displayed the typical brash attitude that was the hallmark of his playing career and which has continued into his coaching career.

While announcing that Colorado was “really going to be good” and that he was already in the process of adding transfers and recruits, Sanders said it was the heavy push from athletic director Rick George that brought him to Boulder.

“Now that I’ve gotten here and I see it, and I understand it … and I can grasp it and I can touch and I can feel it and I can taste it, I truly understand what you want,” Sanders told Colorado faithful. “All you want is an opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the elite, to be amongst the best. And darn it, I’m going to give you that.”

Ultimately, though, the boldest words of the day came from George, who affirmed Chancellor Phil DeStefano’s announcement of a pilot program dedicated to speeding up the credit review process, which should make it easier for the Buffaloes to mine the transfer portal.

“It had to be a redo from top to bottom,” George said. “That’s why I’m going to give Coach Prime the latitude to do what he needs to do. We’ve talked about resources and what he needs. … He’s going to shoot for the sky just like we did in this hire. We shot for the highest point we could and I think we got what we shot for.”

And it could pay off in a hurry…

Arizona locks up Jedd Fisch

Yes, USC and Washington completely changed their fortunes in 2022, but there may have been no more drastic a turnaround that what happened in Tucson in Year 2 of the Jedd Fisch era. Fisch helped the Wildcats improve from 1 win in 2021 to 5 wins this year, and they just looked like a different team. In so many ways, they were: Arizona’s passing game was completely revamped.

Now the next step is addressing the defense, and with the way Fisch has recruited so far, I don’t think that’s going to be a tall order.

Arizona could be on an Oregon State-like rise with Fisch at the helm. He’s building a real attitude within the program, something that was lacking since the early days of the Rich Rodriguez era. The Wildcats back then had terrible recruiting but thrived in RichRod’s system. Then they fired RichRod and stumbled into Kevin Sumlin, who was absolutely terrible. Fisch has Arizona on the right track, and it’s nice to see him rewarded with a 2-year extension after what he’s brought to the program.

“Jedd’s success on the field, in recruiting, and in the community have established a foundation of excellence for our football program moving forward,” athletic director Dave Heeke said. “The wholesale improvement of our program in all aspects has been accomplished in alignment with the mission of the University of Arizona, and this extension is our commitment to continue investing in our football program. I am excited to see what the future holds for Arizona Football under Jedd’s excellent leadership.”

Ranking the Pac-12’s Bowl Bids

7. Washington State vs. Fresno State, Jimmy Kimmel Los Angeles Bowl

Ranked 7th if only because Jimmy Kimmel has annoyed me since the Man Show days. Now if this were the Doug Stanhope Bowl, it’s No. 1. Kimmel, 7.

Also, Washington State vs. Fresno State barely ranks as a compelling Week 2 matchup. There is no history to the bowl — it started just last year, with Utah State beating Oregon State, 24-13. There is also little history — and no recent history — to the Cougar/Bulldog rivalry. They’ve met just 4 times, with Wazzu winning 3 of the 4, all between 1987-1994.

6. Oregon State vs. Florida, Las Vegas Bowl

Just on name recognition alone, it says a lot about Oregon State that its bowl opponent went from Utah State last year to the Gators this year. Florida isn’t so mighty this year at just 6-6 and losers of 4-of-6 in the second half of the season, but a win over the Gators would mean a lot to the Beavers in the first game between the programs.

It would also give them double-digit wins for just the 3rd time in program history and the first time since 2006. Unlike Florida, Oregon State finished strong, winning 6 of their final 7 games, including a 38-34 win over Oregon. The Beavers maybe even deserved a better opponent, but a crowded Pac-12 bowl field relegated them to Sin City.

5. USC vs. Tulane, Cotton Bowl

Not exactly the way the Trojans hoped to be spending their new year.

Let’s see: It was either Georgia in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl and the CFP national semifinals or … Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. Downer. Even more depressing: Caleb Williams’ hamstring is in rough shape and he could to miss the game, though he told the Los Angeles Times’ Ryan Kartje that he would indeed play.

This rematch of the 1932 Rose Bowl is a showdown between two resurgent teams: The Trojans, who were 4-8 last year, and the Green Wave, who finished 2-10.

4. UCLA vs. Pitt, Sun Bowl

The Bruins are favored by 3.5 points over the Panthers in their first matchup since 1972. This feels like a cool throwback game and clearly its matched up well.

UCLA is a year too late for the Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison show, but it should be a fun contrast between Pat Narduzzi’s tough Pitt squad and an offensive-minded Bruins unit. The two head coaches met twice when both were assistants in the Yankee Conference, Narduzzi the defensive coordinator at Rhode Island and Kelly building his offensive chops as coordinator at New Hampshire.

“From all his days, wherever he’s been, from his Oregon days, to his New Hampshire days, to his NFL days. You’re facing a true guru of college football and pro football, for that matter,” Narduzzi said.

3. Utah vs. Penn State, Rose Bowl

Not that the Rose Bowl isn’t always the Granddaddy of them All, but Washington State vs. Ohio State would’ve been a more exciting matchup. This feels like a game straight out of 1995. Again, not a bad thing. I almost expect to see Kyle Brady lining up at tight end for the Nittany Lions.

It’s going to be weird in a few years, though, when Utah plays USC in the Pac-12/Big Ten showdown.

2. Washington vs. Texas, Alamo Bowl

The Huskies lost a chance at the Rose Bowl with Utah’s win over USC, but they get a more fun matchup with Bijan Robinson, Steve Sarkisian and the Texas Longhorns. Washington’s air attack versus the Texas ground game should be prime viewing, and it’ll be fun to see Sark square off against the team he coached from 2009-13.

Plus, we’ll get to see a pair of touted QBs in Michael Penix Jr. and Quinn Ewers.

1. Oregon vs. North Carolina, Holiday Bowl

Again, this hinges on Bo Nix playing, but if he does, it should be an exciting offensive matchup between Nix and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Both were Heisman candidates at certain points of the season but faded over the season’s final weeks, but if these offenses are on, they’re fun to watch. The Ducks might be in trouble without the services of cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who declared for the NFL Draft and intends to skip the game.

The Holiday Bowl was good viewing when it matched the Pac-12 with the Big Ten, but after last year’s UCLA/NC State matchup was canceled because of COVID-19 issues, this will be the first Pac-12/ACC tilt.

On to my Pac-12 Weekly Awards ballot:

Offensive Player of the Year: Caleb Williams, USC QB

Cases can be made for Oregon’s Bo Nix or Washington’s Michael Penix, but ultimately Williams wins with one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Trojans history, and that’s saying something.

Williams was never bad, sometimes good, often great and regularly dominant in his first season in Los Angeles. After 4 games, he had just 9 passing touchdowns, and he wasn’t exactly lighting up through the air. I remember thinking after a 16-for-36, 180-yard, 1-score performance in a 17-14 win over Oregon State what all the hype was about.

Then Williams reeled off the best second half in all of college football, throwing for 20 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions while adding 7 rushing touchdowns in a 6-game stretch.

Williams finished the year 296-of-448 passing for 4,075 yards with 37 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, and he stands a good chance of winning the Heisman Trophy. Oh, and he comes back next year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Clark Phillips III, Utah CB

This was a tough one for me to call, probably the toughest of the group. Do you reward the spectacular individual contributions of USC junior edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu, who had a mammoth year with a nation-leading 12.5 sacks and 21 tackles-for-loss, 2nd in the country?

Or do you reward the best player on the best defense in the conference — the league’s best team in scoring defense, pass defense and rushing defense?

My vote would go to Clark Phillips III. Phillips hasn’t been targeted much this year, but that’s because  quarterbacks respected his game so much. Phillips still picked off 6 passes, tied for 3rd in the country, and returned 2 of them for touchdowns. He was torched at times, but what cornerback isn’t? Most of the time, he locked his guy up.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Joshua Karty, Stanford K

It’s almost too unbelievable: Karty went 42-for-42 on field goals and extra points to start the season, then missed his final PAT attempt of the year.

That kick won’t define him. What will is 13-for-13 field goal kicks 50 yards or further, including a 61-yard boot that stands as the best kick of the year. He had seven games with multiple field goals this year.

Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Damien Martinez, Oregon State RB

A month into the season, this award was already being postmarked to Berkeley and Jaydn Ott. To that point, Martinez had just 28 rushing attempts in the Beavers’ 1st 4 games, totaling 118 yards and a score.

But he had one of the most productive second halves in the entire country, and arguably the best finish for a freshman. Martinez had 111 yards on 16 carries in a 24-10 Week 7 win over Washington State. That started a 6-game 100-yard streak, topped by a 178-yard, 22-carry, 3-touchdown performance a week later against Colorado.

He’ll return as one of the most talked-about bell-cow backs in the Pac-12 next year.

Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Jacob Manu, Arizona LB

Manu saw increasing playing time as the season went on and performed well under pressure in big-time matchups. While Jaden Hicks started strong and made a big impact for the Cougars, Manu was simply bigger in big games, even if the Arizona defense as a whole was porous.

Manu finished the season with 54 tackles, but he had 10 against both Washington and UCLA, including 5 solo tackles in a 34-28 upset of the Bruins. He concluded his season with a 7 tackles and his first collegiate sack in a 38-35 Territorial Cup win over the Sun Devils.

With Jedd Fisch making quick inroads with Servite High — which produced Manu as well as star wideout Tetairoa McMillan and quarterback Noah Fifita — this could be the first of many freshman honors for the Wildcats.

Coach of the Year: Kalen DeBoer, Washington

All due respect to Kyle Whittingham, who has the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive season. Kudos to 1st-year USC head coach Lincoln Riley for the job he did resurrecting the moribund Trojans. And tip of the cap to Dan Lanning, who helped Oregon bounce back from a crushing Week 1 loss to Georgia to finish the season 9-3.

But what DeBoer did in quick order in Seattle can’t unnoticed nor unrewarded. Washington went 4-8 last year, and the Huskies looked it. They were slow and lacked explosiveness and had a passing game that dithered.

DeBoer went and reunited with former Indiana protégé Michael Penix Jr., who had one of the great seasons by a quarterback in Husky history. He helped Washington go from 4-8 to 10-2 in one season and come thisclose to smelling the Roses. Great year in the PNW.

Bowl matchup I’m most looking forward to

North Carolina’s Drake Maye vs. Oregon’s Bo Nix

This battle of former Heisman hopefuls should be entertaining, at least if they can regain their touch. The Tar Heels’ QB had 35 touchdowns on the year but only 1 in the final 3 games, all losses. Nix had just 4 games with passer ratings under 169.0, but 2 of the final 3 weeks, both losses.