Pac-10 2009 Season Review: Dishing Out the Awards
Wow is all I can say.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about how 2007 was one of the most exciting seasons for the Pac-10 in recent memory.
This past campaign appears to have changed that notion. 2009, apart from crowning a new champion for the first time in seven years, featured one of the deepest conference fields this decade - with seven bowl eligible teams.
It was also home to some remarkable performance, plays, players, and contests, all of which I attempted (but probably failed) to capture adequately in this list.
I tried to spread around the love, but free to comment on and/or criticize this list, and post your own memorable moments from this Pac-10 season.
Without further adieu, are my 2009 Pac-10 Awards
Biggest Surprise: Stanford (8-4)
Most people figured the Cardinal would continue to improve under Jim Harbaugh, and likely compete for a bowl berth. But Stanford exceeded all expectations this year, posting 106 points during consecutive routs of Oregon and USC, and staying alive in the Rose Bowl hunt late. While Toby Gerhart's monster year will be his last in Palo Alto, quarterback Andrew Luck should help continue the team's resurgence in the future.
Runner Up: Arizona (8-4)
Not only did Mike Stoops' squad lose key players to graduation (Willie Tuitama, Mike Thomas), but they also suffered numerous injuries in 2009 - notably tight end Rob Gronkowski, as well as much of the starting backfield throughout parts of the campaign. However, the Wildcats went on to snag a Holiday Bowl berth behind a stout run defense and the emergence of quarterback Nick Foles.
Biggest Disappointment: USC (8-4)
For almost any other team in the nation, 8-4 is a satisfactory mark. USC, however, comes into each season with higher standards - to think, a Rose Bowl trip is considered a minimum.
2009, then, proved to be a forgettable year in Troy.
The Trojans' uninspiring home finale loss to Arizona on Saturday, which relegated them to a non-BCS bowl for the first time since 2002, was indicative of their frustrating campaign, which was marred by a shaky secondary and their reshman quarterback's second half struggles.
Pac-10 observers may be used to seeing Troy fall one time or two per year, but four (particularly the type of losses suffered against Oregon and Stanford) has been largely uncharted territory for Carroll and Co.
Runner Up: Cal (8-4)
The Bears, who returned 17 starters and were finally supposed to break through (again) to the Rose Bowl this year, would have won the honor of most disappointing were it not for USC.
Cal's inconsistency was maddening for fans and pollsters alike: the mercurial Bears finally found a way to some close games (including inspirational victories over consecutive ranked teams without Jahvid Best), but also lost four games by an average of 29.5 points.
Offensive Player of the Year: Toby Gerhart, Stanford
This one was a pretty easy one to decide. All year long, the 6'1", 235-pound Gerhart made opponents wish he concentrated on baseball in 2009, as he posted 1,736 yards on the ground and a school-record 26 touchdowns.
Perhaps most impressively, the Heisman Trophy candidate came up biggest in his team's biggest games - rushing for 158.3 YPG and 12 TDs against teams that were ranked as of Saturday.
Runner Up: LaMichael James, Oregon
The freshman James was a main reason for his team's resurgent Rose Bowl run, as he stepped in for the suspended LaGerrate Blount. James broke Jacquizz Rodgers' Pac-10 freshman rushing record, and also played his best against the best . He ended the regular season with a 166 yard, three touchdown performance in the season-ending and Rose-Bowl clinching Civil War.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rahim Moore, UCLA
With the Bruins' less-than-stellar offensive performance this year, their defense has kept them in a lot of close games; UCLA's secondary, led by Moore, has been a principal reason why. The Bruins' talented free safety leads the country with nine interceptions - the largest total in the nation since Daymieon Hughes had nine in 2006 - and ranks sixth with 16 passes defended.
Runner Up: Brian Price, UCLA
Price has once again been a disruptive force for UCLA from his defensive tackle spot. Though the big boys up front don't show up as much in the stat line, Price's conference-leading 22. 5 tackles exceed Ndamukong Suh's season total. Price also has ranks fourth in the Pac-10 with seven sacks.
Honorable Mention: Mike Mohammed, California
There were a slew of conference linebackers that could have made the list (notably Mason Foster and Donald Butler from Washington), but the Bears' junior played a major role on a defense replacing three starters at the position. He led the Pac-10 in tackles (104), while also recording two game-clinching interceptions.
Coach of the Year: Chip Kelly, Oregon
This award was by far the toughest to give out, and it is only fitting that it goes down to the wire, just like the two finalists' teams did last Thursday. In the end, Kelly deserves it for the way he moved past the team's early season disaster (on and off the field) against Boise State. Few first year coaches are greeted with the kind of P.R. nightmare he had to deal with, and Kelly did a terrific job getting his team back on track towards its first BCS berth since 2001.
Runner-Up: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Despite the Beavers losing out on the Rose Bowl in their final game, one can't say enough about the job Oregon State's head coach does year after year. His teams always start out as afterthoughts in the conference race, and yet the Beavers only seem to get stronger as the season goes on - having played for trips to Pasadena in the past two season finales. Riley has not had a losing record in November since 2005, and went undefeated in the month this year.
Honorable Mention: Steve Sarkisian, Washington (5-7)
It was a tough decision to exclude Harbaugh, but the turmoil in Washington in 2008 before Sarkisian's arrival can't be understated. The first year coach has injected new life into the Huskies faithful after upsetting USC and throttling Cal at home. Just a year removed from a winless season, Washington was one crazy play away from bowl eligiblity in 2009 and posted the school's most conference wins in six years.
Best Individual Performance: Jeremiah Masoli, vs. Arizona
At 5'11", Oregon's junior quarterback may not look big, but he certainly played big in this game - accounting for six total touchdowns. His game-winning touchdown run in double overtime brought the Ducks one game closer to a Rose Bowl berth. With his performance, Masoli came full circle from an early season slump during which he went the first three games without a passing touchdown.
Runner Up: Toby Gerhart vs. Oregon
His masterpiece against Notre Dame was impressive, but perhaps more so was what he did against the nation's seventh ranked team. The senior back was a force in the Cardinal's 55-42 upset victory on the Farm, rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The performance not only announced his school's Pac-10 presence, but introduced himself as a Heisman candidate.
Honorable Mention: Jake Locker vs. California
The Bears had been the one team Locker had never faced in his career. And while he may very well bolt for the NFL after his junior season, Locker would probably come back if it meant playing Cal every week. In what may have been his final game in a Husky uniform, Washington's dual-threat signal caller was nearly flawless through the air (19-of-23 for 248 yards and three touchdowns) and ran for two more scores during the 42-10 triumph.
Best Game: Oregon 44, Arizona 41 (Nov. 21)
There were some quality games throughout the Pac-10 season, but this one had it all: offensive displays, Rose Bowl implications, stellar individual performances and loads of drama.
The Wildcats fought back from a 14-0 deficit with 24 unanswered points, and the Ducks responded to tie the game on a touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli to Ed Dickson with six seconds to play. Masoli, who outdueled a four-touchdown night from Nick Foles, capped off the thriller with a game-winning one yard touchdown run in double overtime. The win was sweet revenge for the Ducks, who looked to be Pasadena bound in 2007 before falling in Tuscon.
Runner Up: Oregon 37, Oregon State 33 (Dec. 3)
Boy, ESPN sure knows how to pick 'em for Thursday nights. The network scheduled some great match-ups this season, but the 2009 Civil War may have been the best. Sean Canfield's two touchdown strikes helped the pesky Beavers take a 30-21 third quarter lead. But after a LaGarrette Blount's redemptive scoring run cut the lead, LaMichael James put Oregon ahead for good with a spectacular 52-yard scamper, as the Ducks earned a trip to Pasadena and broke the Beavers' hearts once again.
Honorable Mention: Nov. 21: Cal 34, Stanford 28
On the same night as the tussle in Tuscon, the 112th installment of the Big Game provided some much-needed excitment to a recently one-sided rivalry.
Cal rebounded from an early double digit deficit, and the Cardinal were poised to do the same in the fourth quarter before the Bears' Mike Mohammed picked off Andrew Luck near the goal line to crush Stanford's comeback hopes. The game featured brilliant rushing performances from Toby Gerhart (136 yard, four touchdowns) and Shane Vereen (a career-high 193 and three scores).
Four Best Plays (Links Included)
1) "USC-Arizona: What do you call this?" - The sport on Saturday was football, but this endlessly tipped and fumbled play that started as a Matt Barkley pass had elements of volleyball, soccer, and hacky-sack.
2) "The Immaculate Interception": Washington's defensive coordinator Nick Holt was noticeably upset during the play below, but one can only imagine his reaction when linebacker Mason Foster turned a pass that bounced off the foot of Wildcats' receiver DeLesean Dean into a game-winning pick-six.
3) Sullivan's Prayer Against Washington - In a game that was likely heading for overtime, the Sun Devils' quarterback Danny Sullivan heaved a 50-yard hail mary to - a stunningly wide open - Chris McGaha. It was one of the few highlights of an otherwise disappointing 4-8 campaign for ASU, and will likely haunt Washington as the play that potentially cost them a bowl berth.
4) "Jahvid at his Best": This carry was supposed to be stopped by UCLA for about one or two yards. But add a couple of cutbacks, five dodged tackles, Best's 10.31 hundred speed, and one killer Kevin Riley block, and you have yourself a 93-yard touchdown that is third longest in Cal history.
Best Newcomer: LaMichael James, Oregon
He may not have won best offensive player speedy, but expect him to be a candidate in the near future. During his first season, James was revelation for the Ducks after their season-opening debacle against Boise State. Breaking out against Utah, James went on to record 1,476 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year - including 183-yard, three-touchdown performance in a romp over USC.
Runner-up: Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
The Sun Devils' speedy and athletic linebacker was a force in his first season - ranking second on the team with 69 tackles (seven for a loss), forcing two fumbles, and defending five passes.