first_imgWell, it’s over. The Pac-12 football season came and went in a flurry of exhausting games, thrilling finishes and broken records. With only Friday’s conference championship left to play, a solid half of the Pac-12 can claim a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, with three of those teams in the top-15. No. 2 Oregon has the inside track to an NCAA playoff berth, while the upstart Arizona Wildcats would also have a strong postseason case with a win on Friday. Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, and several players — including USC redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler — have used this season as a springboard for future Heisman campaigns. To cap things off, USC junior defensive end Leonard Williams could be chosen No. 1 overall in next spring’s NFL draft. So yeah, 2014 has been a pretty good year for the Pac-12 and an eye-opening one for the rest of the nation.Way back in mid-October, when I gave out my midseason conference awards, I mentioned how crazy the year had been to that point. As they say, I hadn’t seen anything yet. In that spirit, and in response to a poll, here are some of my favorite moments from a wild season.Down go the CardinalWith one sack of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, USC senior linebacker J.R. Tavai set the course for the entire the Pac-12 football season.“To be honest, it felt like a normal play,” Tavai said way back on Sept. 8, after his forced fumble secured a 13-10 for the Trojans. “But making a play that big comes once in a while. When the opportunity comes, you just gotta take it.”Tavai’s hit sent Stanford on a downward spiral, and the Cardinal’s 7-5 record was the team’s worst mark since 2008. Though head coach David Shaw’s squad ended the season on a high note with a 31-10 bludgeoning of UCLA, Stanford’s regression allowed Oregon to seize control of the Pac-12 north with little to no competition.NeuHeismanThis was supposed to be UCLA’s year. The Bruins clocked in at No. 7 in the AP preseason rankings, and expectations were sky high for quarterback Brett Hundley and the boys from Westwood. Though the team’s up-and-down regular season ended one win short of a Pac-12 Championship berth, UCLA’s postseason dreams were very much alive going into a marquee matchup with Texas on Sept. 13. Unfortunately, the Bruins faced the Longhorns without Hundley, and after two shaky wins with the Heisman candidate at the helm, things did not look good for head coach Jim Mora’s squad. But it wouldn’t be Pac-12 football if everything went as planned.In one of the most touching and surreal moments I’ve seen on television, backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel led the Bruins on a game-winning drive while his dad — former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel — cheered him on in the Pac-12 Networks’ San Francisco studio. The Bruins picked up a 20-17 win, and the family got a memory that will last a lifetime.Answered prayersHow many Hail Mary passes were completed in the Pac-12 this season? In the immortal words of Lebron James, “not one, not two, not three, not four … ” O.K., there were only three, but boy, did they come at memorable moments.Arizona wideout Austin Hill started the trend, hauling in a 47-yard touchdown in the final seconds of a Sept. 20 victory over Cal. Only a week later, Kessler found sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers for a 48-yard score just before halftime of a win over Oregon State.In a perfect example of the nuthouse that is the Pac-12, the next week brought a third Hail Mary pass, once again of the game-winning variety. Weirdly, I don’t remember this one as well. Arizona State was involved. It’s possible USC may have been there as well. Who really knows? Either way, these exciting moments were more than an aberration. They are a sign of a deep, talented conference with little separation between the top teams. And there’s nothing wrong with that.Mannion’s MomentThis season didn’t go as planned for Oregon State. Coming off of a promising seven-win campaign, the Beavers finished 5-7, one win short of bowl eligibility. That did not stop quarterback Sean Mannion, however, who cemented himself among the Pac-12’s greatest ever signal-callers during a Nov. 1 loss to Cal. Mannion passed Matt Barkley’s career mark of 12,327 yards, becoming the conference’s most prolific passer of all-time. The record helped salvage a difficult season in Corvallis, Oregon, and will likely propel Mannion into a prime spot in the NFL draft.Scooby snackMany Pac-12 players had outstanding years, but few had the sheer impact of Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. Pundits are favorably comparing Wright’s 2014 season to Manti Te’o’s 2012 campaign, in which the Notre Dame linebacker finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. The statistics are certainly there; Wright’s 139 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles all rank first or tied for first in the conference. Statistics, however, cannot describe the moment that defined Wright’s season and established the Wildcats as a legitimate national contender.Late in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s Oct. 2 upset of No. 2 Oregon, the Ducks had the ball with an opportunity to tie the game. In a matchup of the Pac-12’s eventual offensive and defensive players of the year, Wright sacked Mariota at the Ducks’ 39-yard-line, stripping the ball with one hand and sealing a 31-24 victory. The play crushed Oregon’s dream of an undefeated season and helped set up Friday’s all-important rematch.All of these moments capture the beauty and pain of college football, a sport that allowed Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday to throw for an NCAA-record 734 pass yards in a single game — and still lose. The Pac-12 encapsulates everything I love about football; cutting-edge schemes, unique atmospheres, weekly upsets and the joy/agony of never knowing what’ll happen next. Here’s to 2014, and bring on next season!Will Hanley is a junior majoring in political science and communication. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Sports Willustrated,” ran Thursdays and will return next fall.last_img

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