Pac-12 Spotlight: Reviewing the conference’s 2021 season

College football regular season and conference leagues are in the books. What happened that we expected? I did not expect? Here is a recap of the Pac-12 season.

Kayvon Thibodeaux dominates – I chose him as Preseason Defender of the Year for the conference and he lived up to expectations, dominating the opposing offenses despite being a double team in almost every single play. The first team All-American was a terror to anyone who went against him.

UCLA breaks through – I was one of the few people who saw UCLA go strong this season, picking the Bruins to finish 8-4 behind an improved running bout, and they did just that. Zach Charbonnet ended up being one of the best transfers in the country, leading a strong fast attack that saw the Bruins compete in every game. Had it not been for an unfortunately timed injury to Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the Oregon game, they could have easily won that as well.

Utah is strong again – I got Utes 9-3 in the South behind a strong defense led by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell, and that’s what happened. Lloyd has been one of the best linebackers in the country all season, and Utah’s onslaught really went on during the second half of the season.

Arizona and Colorado struggle Jedd Fisch has embarked on one of the largest rebuilds in the country and it will take some time before the Wildcats are ready to compete in the division again. It’s the same story in Boulder, where the Buffaloes have very little talent and are struggling to keep up with the rest of the conference. But I certainly didn’t expect either program to be that bad.

Kedon Slovis falls – Slovis had been really strong during both his freshman and sophomore campaign, and many people (myself included) expected him to take the next step forward as a junior and potentially be in the fray for the Heisman trophy. It didn’t happen. Even before he was injured, all his numbers had regressed and he is now headed to Pittsburgh to take over from Kenny Pickett.

State of Oregon and Washington State near the top of the North – Like most people, I picked the Beavers and Cougars to finish fifth and sixth respectively in the North, but both teams put in really strong performances by finishing second and third. The state of Oregon really has something to do with it Jonathan Smith at the helm, and after all Nick Rolovich fiasco, Washington State rallied around the permanent interim head coach Jake Dickert to still be in it for the Northern crown in the last week of the season.

Offensive Player of the Year: Drake London, USC – Despite having had to play with multiple quarterbacks under multiple coaches and injured during the eighth game of the Trojans season, London still achieved absolutely monstrous numbers and very much deserves this award. In eight games, he had 88 receptions for 1,084 yards, both of which led the entire conference. It’s a lock for being a first-round pick and 6-foot-5 will be a threat to the next level.

Defender of the Year: Devin Lloyd, Utah – It’s a duo between Lloyd and Thibodeaux, but I will take Lloyd on his back without losing a match and staying on the defense that twice dominated Thibodeaux’s Oregon. The junior linebacker finished with 107 tackles including 22 TFLs, seven sacks and four INTs (including a pair of pick-sixes). Just a phenomenal season from arguably the best linebacker in the country.

Freshman of the Year: Eric Gentry, State of Arizona – Not a lot of real freshmen have played much with the Pac-12, but Gentry was one of the few to do so, and he shined for a Sun Devil team who were disappointed where it ended up. The lanky 6 foot 6 Gentry really got into the second half in the position of outside linebacker, proving to be just as adept at covering passes as he is at chasing the quarterback. Calen Bullock at USC gets more attention, but I’m giving Gentry love here.

Transfer of the year: Zach Charbonnet, UCLA – Charbonnet returned home to Southern California and was simply fantastic for the Bruins, finishing with 1,137 yards and 13 TDs for a running attack from UCLA. Despite sharing his time with Brittain Brown earlier in the year before Brown’s injury, he was one of the most impactful players each week for the Bruins.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Whittingham, Utah – This could have easily gone to Jonathan Smith to the state of Oregon or Jake Dickert also in Washington state, but Whittingham continues to do more with less than any manager in the country. The team rallied behind Whittingham following the tragic deaths of Ty Jordan in the offseason and DB Aaron Lowe earlier in the season to win the conference title. Another amazing season from one of the most underrated coaches in the country.

NFL Draft Stocks (Offense): TE Greg Dulcich, UCLA – He’s not a household name, but he continues to emerge as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country and his 17.3-yard average per catch proves it.

NFL Draft Stock Up (Defense): LB Devin Lloyd, Utah – He is now the number 1 linebacker on my board and he wasn’t like that before the season started. He has those covering abilities of his days as security and his immediate anticipation is amazing.

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