Welcome to the first 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.

On to the players of the week…

1. Arizona WR Jacob Cowing

Among a horde of talented transfer pass-catchers, Cowing shined brightest on Saturday.

USC’s Jordan Addison, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner at Pitt, had 2 touchdowns but just 5 catches for 54 yards in his first game for the Trojans. Former all-ACC Duke wideout Jake Bobo managed just 3 grabs for 38 yards in his UCLA debut.

Cowing, meanwhile, caught 8 passes for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns, a per-catch average of 19.0 yards, from fellow first-year Wildcat quarterback Jayden de Laura. De Laura, who sizzled with 299 passing yards and 4 scores in his Arizona debut, looked for Cowing all day. It was the beginning of what could be a very fruitful partnership between the former Washington State quarterback and the former UTEP wideout, who topped 1,300 yards last year.

He’s well on pace to eclipse that high bar this year after his sensational start.

He displayed tremendous body control on his first score, helping Arizona to the crucial 10-0 lead. He broke a tackle on his second touchdown grab and he outraced his defender up the seams on his final score of the day, a beautiful 25-yard connection from de Laura.

With fellow newcomer Tetairoa McMillan — Arizona’s top recruit ever and one of the best wideouts in the freshman class — catching a touchdown pass, as well, the Wildcats’ passing game appears in good hands for years to come.

2. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

A real question mark after an up-and-down career at Indiana, Penix was terrific in a big Washington win over Kent State. The Huskies’ offense was on from the get-go against the Golden Flashes, scoring touchdowns on its first 4 drives. Against an inferior squad, Washington’s offense still managed to impress, regardless of the opponent.

And Penix may have impressed most of all.

He was efficient on all three levels, completing a 44-yard pass while finishing with nearly 9 yards per attempt. For the day, he went 26-of-39 for 345 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. In 4 years with the Hoosiers, he only topped that yardage total twice and the touchdown total once.

Most importantly, he moved the ball around. Penix completed passes to 9 receivers, and 3 Husky pass-catchers topped 70 yards on the day.

3. Washington State LB Daiyan Henley

Defensive performances don’t get more well-rounded than this: 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception. Henley was all over the field for the Cougars in a 24-17 win over Idaho, and his late INT helped seal the game for Wazzu. While the opponent may rank among the worst in the country, Washington State got itself into trouble early with back-to-back fumbles, and Henley helped the Cougars dig out of a hole in a game they absolutely couldn’t lose.

This, of course, is nothing new to Henley. Only it is new for the Cougars, who snagged Henley from the transfer portal after a productive five years at Nevada. Given a 6th year because of COVID, Henley headed north to the Palouse and immediately contributed for the Cougars. Last year, Henley was an All-Mountain West second-team selection after posting a career-high and team-best 103 tackles, 4 interceptions including an interception return for a touchdown against UNLV — the most interceptions in the nation for a linebacker — plus 6 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries. That kind of versatility is rare these days, and so is this kind of production.

Also rare these days is combining a peak performance with a personality that could land Henley his own comedy special. His postgame interview was something else. His reaction to his late interception:

“First thing I was thinking was ball. Like, ball, ball, ball. I’m taking this real in-depth right here. Second thought was catch it. What happens if I don’t catch it? Like my life is over. So I’m like ‘catch it, catch it, catch it.’ I caught the ball, and I’m like, ‘score, score, score, like go all the way.’ I look to the sideline, and a whole bunch of people are like ‘go down, go down,’ and I’m like, ‘no, no, no.'”

He eventually went down, but his reaction was priceless. Watch the whole thing below.


My Pac-12 Weekly Awards ballot:

Defensive Line POW: Washington State Edge Brennan Jackson

Jackson had 5 tackles, 2 TFL and a 9-yard sack to help Washington State edge Idaho, 24-17.

Defensive POW: Washington State LB Daiyan Henley

As referenced above, Henley was a monster for the Cougars, showing tremendous versatility with 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Also, if you haven’t watched that interview yet, click play.

Honorable mentions: UCLA LB Darius Muasau, USC LB Shane Lee, Washington S Asa Turner

Freshman POW: Cal RB Jaydn Ott

Ott did what Cal legends Marshawn Lynch, Shane Vereen and Justin Forsett couldn’t do in his debut against UC Davis. Ott’s 104 rushing yards were the most for a Bear in his debut, and he also added two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Line POW: Arizona State G LaDarius Henderson

Henderson helped pave the way for a big day on offense for Xazavian Valladay and Emory Jones in their Arizona State debuts. Valladay had 116 yards on 15 carries with 2 touchdowns and Jones had 48 yards and 2 touchdowns himself. Just look at this play below.

Offensive POW: Arizona WR Jacob Cowing

Cowing did the most against one of the few legit Week 1 opponents in the Pac-12. While 5 conference rushers topped 100 yards, only 2 pass-catchers hit the century mark: Cowing and Utah tight end Brant Kuithe, who had 105 yards, 47 fewer than Cowing.

Honorable mentions: USC QB Caleb Williams, Arizona QB Jayden de Laura, Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave

Special Teams POW: Arizona State K Carter Brown

Another fantastic freshman debut, Brown went a stellar 4-for-4 on field goals for the Sun Devils, including a 44-yarder. That was enough to fend off Cal punter Jamieson Sheahan, who had 5 punts for 249 yards (49.8 average) with 2 inside the 20.