The firing of Arizona State's Todd Graham after going 7-5 this season marks the third head coach in the Pac-12 who has been let go this year.
As we close the 2017 season and begin the postseason with the conference championships this week, it's safe to say the Pac-12 Conference had a down year.
It began with two future NFL first-round quarterbacks in UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold as possible Heisman contenders.
Well, it didn’t turn out the way we may have hoped between the two studs. Starting with Rosen, we all witnessed firsthand his greatness in Week 1 against Texas A&M when the Bruins pulled off what could arguably be the greatest comeback win in college football history. The Bruins overcame a 34-point deficit and stunned the Aggies with a 45-44 victory.
Rosen put up four touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter. “The Rosen One” became the biggest trend on Twitter that night. You can say that stirred pot in the firing of Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who was let go Sunday after six seasons in College Station. Two weeks after having his best game in his career, he had one of his worst games after losing to Memphis in a shootout right after the Bruins were ranked in the top 25. Despite throwing four touchdowns that game, he also made costly throws, including two interceptions that led to the upset win by the Tigers. Things went south after that. UCLA struggled in conference play, barely reaching .500, and Rosen dealt with injuries that kept them out for a short time.
With Darnold, he was your typical golden-boy quarterback at USC expecting to go No. 1 overall if he declares for the NFL draft. With high praises and expectations for the Trojans’ quarterback, the pressure may have got the best of him early this season. Looking back at games against Texas, Oregon State, Utah and Notre Dame, his inconsistent accuracy in his passing attacks — overthrowing and underthrowing his receivers — made many of us dumbfounded and questioned if he was overrated or just becoming Matt Barkley.
At 10-2, as the Trojans face Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship, it makes you wonder, what if Darnold wouldn't have had the major slump he had earlier this season? Putting up a fight against teams like Notre Dame, USC would have easily been in the playoff discussion.
As for the rest of the quarterbacks in the conference, this could have possibly been the most talented quarterback class the Pac-12 has to offer with Rosen and Darnold being the main attractions. That includes Washington State's Luke Falk, who is in the top five in almost every category among quarterbacks.
After beating out Troy Williams for the starting job at Utah, many expected Tyler Huntley to have the breakout season, but the injury bug wouldn't stop biting.
Remember Washington's Jake Browning? The quarterback who has experience playing in the CFP last season. Too bad he ended up becoming the forgotten one of the bunch, especially after a poor performance against Arizona State on Oct. 14.
But the one who was in more Heisman discussions later on this season happened to be Arizona’s Khalil Tate. During the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak, Tate averaged 201.1 rushing yards a game. But after that, he slowed down and Arizona finished its season losing to Arizona State.
Each Pac-12 team had its woes, especially in the month of October. Some teams were doomed from the start, such as Oregon State, a team that will go another year as the bottom-feeder of the conference and will begin its offseason searching for a new head coach.
How about Colorado? It won the South Division last year, but this season, the Buffaloes failed to become bowl-eligible after a tough loss to the Utes Saturday.
As for Utah, after a 4-0 start, we expected the Utes to be a legitimate threat in the Pac-12, but when Huntley went down, so did the Utes, going winless the entire month of October.
The Oregon Ducks weren't able to get much movement offensively after their quarterback went down.
And then there are some teams that had tremendous starts but rough finishes. Washington State exemplifies that after being blown out by the Huskies Saturday night during the battle for the Apple Cup. It was simple: If the Cougars had beaten the Huskies, they would have won the North, but it wasn't meant to be.
Losing to the Huskies handed Stanford the North Division title. The Cardinal will face USC Friday in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The winner should move up into the top 10 in polls, but that’s as far as it will get. There will be no teams in this conference playing in the CFP this season.
This toxic Pac-12 season has cost three head coaches their jobs. Two of the three was no surprised. Gary Andersen didn’t get it done three years with Oregon State, and he left $12 million on the table according to reports and UCLA's Jim Mora never lived up to expectations for the Bruins. He was a defensive-minded coach, but the Bruins remained near the bottom in defensive statistics.
Rosen was Mora’s crown jewel, but he has nothing to show for it in taking him and UCLA to the next level. On Saturday morning, the Bruins hired Chip Kelly to replace Mora. The irony of it all is Mora and Kelly share their experiences of failure as NFL coaches that led to them going back to college. The best move Kelly can make in his first year is to convince Rosen to stay one more year and build off of him.
The most shocking one has to be Graham's firing. The firing came right after his team defeated Arizona to go 7-5 (6-3 in conference) — good enough to finish second in the South Division. He was 46-31 in his career with the Sun Devils. Just four years ago, he was voted Pac-12 Coach of the Year after winning the South. What’s the issue? And will the bars be set high for the next head coach in waiting? That remains a mystery.
There’s always a light at the end of every tunnel. For the Pac-12, it’s the matter of time as to when will the light show up in this conference. Who knows what this direction will lead to going forward. It’s just a matter of the Pac-12 living up to the talent and expectations of being a Power 5 conference.