Stanford managed to shove aside their biggest threat to a Pac 12 title, Arizona State. Photo: USA Today Sports
The Pac 12 made as strong a case as any we have seen over the recent years to challenge the SEC for the top spot in the conference rankings. The depth in the conference may be as deep as it has been in years, and it showed in 2013. The Pac 12 had a successful year throughout the conference and the future looks bright for the conference moving forward. Here's a look back at some of the highlights of the 2013 season in the Pac 12.
Pac 12 at a Glance
Stanford and Oregon were the top two teams in the conference for one more year, this time with Oregon stumbling without Chip Kelly and Stanford winning their second straight Pac 12 championship, but the gap between the two Pac 12 North powers and the rest of the conference may be starting to become less imposing. Good coaching is helping improve the entire conference, as we saw in 2013. Sure, USC was a laughing stock early on but once they got rid of Lane Kiffin the Trojans started to turn things around and become a threat in the Pac 12 South. Instead it was the UCLA Bruins who overcame early tragedy to put together another solid season before coming up short in the division to Arizona State.
Biggest Surprise: Washington State makes a bowl game
Washington State got off to a nice start in 2013 and it helped the Cougars make a surprise run to a bowl game. A week two victory at USC was a major upset but proved to be critical as Washington State just barely became bowl eligible with six wins.
Biggest Disappointment: Cal going 1-11
The expectations for Cal were not all that high, and the Bears still failed to clear the bar. Sonny Dykes deserves some time to build this program to his liking, but a 1-11 season did not even show much promise as the season went along. The passing game is there, with the nation's 10th most passing yards per game, but the points were not and the defense was soggy paper weak at times, giving up 33 points or more to every FBS team on the schedule.
Best Game: UCLA's emotions carry Bruins to win at Nebraska
Still grieving the death of a teammate, Nick Pasquale, UCLA looked in disarray on the road against Nebraska. Nebraska took a 21-10 lead in to the half, but the Bruins stormed back in the second half. UCLA scored 28 points in the third quarter and shut out the Huskers 31-0 in the second half of a 41-21 victory.
The Pac 12 had the second best bowl performance of any conference this bowl season, going 6-3. Although the conference lost the Rose Bowl with Stanford losing to Michigan State, the conference had winning records against the ACC (2-0) and Mountain West Conference (2-1) and they split with the Big 12 (1-1).
Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year: RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey led all players with 1,885 rushing yards and he ended the year with 19 touchdowns. Only two running backs in the Pac 12 finished with more rushing touchdowns, but they did so in at least one more game than Carey.
Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year: LB Trent Murphy, Stanford
There were some notable players making this a tough call, but in the end Stanford's Trent Murphy gets the edge after leading the conference in tackles for a loss and sacks. Not much got by Murphy this season as he helped lead a Stanford defense that continued to lead the way in the Pac 12.
Pac 12 Freshman of the Year: LB Myles Jack, UCLA
Get used to seeing UCLA's No. 30 having reasons to smile. Photo: USA Today Sports
The legend of Myles Jack became a fun one to watch in 2013. The linebacker packed some punch in his defensive efforts but became a national name when UCLA started using him in certain running situations on offense. Need a yard or two to pick up for a first down or touchdown? Call on Myles Jack.
Pac 12 Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Arizona State figured to have an offense that could do some damage in the Pac 12 this season, and the Sun Devils rarely disappointed. Arizona State battled their way to the top of the Pac 12 North, snapping UCLA's streak of Pac 12 championship game appearances, and Graham's team earned the right to host the conference championship game. Though Arizona State came up short of the Rose Bowl trip, Arizona State shoed great progress as a program in Graham's second season in Tempe.
The Pac 12 took steps forward in developing as a top conference threat in 2013, and it is no wonder why. The coaching throughout the Pac 12 is some of the best in the country, and it could be getting better in 2014. With Washington bringing in Chris Petersen to build off of the work done by USC-bound Steve Sarkisian and with Mike Leach looking to take the next steps at Washington State, the Pac 12 North is getting very competitive. Down South the rise of both Arizona programs and the pending resurgence from USC will make for an interesting division race while UCLA is not exactly ready to step out of the conversation.