WSU

WSU’s Jake Dickert in mix in AP Pac-12 midseason football awards

Oct 10, 2023, 1:39 PM | Updated: 2:17 pm

WSU Cougars Jake Dickert Pac-12...

WSU football coach Jake Dickert during a game against ASU on Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

(AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The Pac-12 could not have gotten what may be its final football season off to a better start, opening 13-0 for the first time since 1932.

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The conference hierachy has fallen into place as the season hits the midpoint, with the No. 7 UW Huskies, No. 8 Oregon and No. 10 Southern California emerging at the top — so far. No. 15 Oregon State, No. 16 Utah and No. 19 WSU Cougars are also in the mix, setting up what could be a fantastic finish before the Pac-12 potentially disappears for good.

A rundown of the best and worst of the Pac-12 season, as voted by Associated Press sports writers who cover the league.

TOP COACH

Jake Dickert, Washington State. The Cougars have been on the rise since Dickert took over the program after the firing of Nick Rolovich in 2021. Washington State went to consecutive bowl games in Dickert’s first two seasons and has been ranked the AP Top 25 this season for the first time since 2019. The Cougars have been one of the nation’s best offensive teams so far behind quarterback Cam Ward, who has thrown for 1,587 yards and 14 touchdowns.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Caleb Williams, Southern California. He has put himself in position to become the first repeat winner of the Heisman Trophy since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Williams has thrown for 1,808 yards with 22 TDs and one interception, with six more TDs rushing. He leads the nation in passing efficiency at 206.4 and points responsible for per game at 28.7. Williams has some competition for the Heisman, but he’s holding up his end of it.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER

Laiatu Latu, UCLA. The Bruins have become one of the nation’s better defensive teams and Latu has led the way. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive lineman was eighth nationally last season with 10 1/2 sacks and has been a disruptive force this year despite opposing offenses keying on him. Latu has five sacks and forced two fumbles through five games.

TOP FIRST-YEAR FRESHMAN

Dante Moore, UCLA. The Bruins had some question marks at quarterback heading into the season with Dorian Thompson-Robinson off to the NFL. Moore has answered nearly every one with a stellar start to his college career. The freshman from Detroit has thrown for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions while leading UCLA to a 4-1 start.

TOP FIRST-YEAR TRANSFER

Shedeur Sanders, Colorado. The coach’s son has been the key cog in Colorado’s quick ascension under Deion Sanders. Shedeur followed his father from Jackson State and has put himself in the Heisman conversation with a stellar start in Boulder. Sanders leads the nation with 2,020 passing yards and is tied for third with 16 passing TDs while helping turn around a program that won one game last season.

MOST SURPRISING TEAM

Colorado. Prime Time has hit the Rockies and the results have been encouraging for Colorado fans. Sanders and the Buffaloes made believers of the doubters with an opening win at then-No. 17 TCU and opened the season 3-0. Colorado lost consecutive games to top-10 teams, but bounced back with a win over Arizona State last week. The Buffaloes likely won’t compete for the Pac-12 title this season, but Sanders appears to have them heading in a Prime direction.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER

Sanders, Colorado. Sanders played a record-setting two seasons at Jackson State, yet there were questions whether the 6-2, 215-pound junior would have the same kind of success in a Power Five conference. Sanders has quickly answered those questions by fueling one of the biggest turnarounds in college football.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM

Arizona State. Sun Devils fans knew there would be growing pains in coach Kenny Dillingham’s first season. They just didn’t expect it to be this rough, particularly from an injury standpoint. Arizona State lost starting quarterback Jaden Rashada to a leg injury early in the season and two other quarterbacks also went down. Injuries also have nearly wiped out the Sun Devils’ offensive line, with three starters and two key backups out of the lineup last week against Colorado.

HOTTEST SEAT

Justin Wilcox, California. Wilcox brought in 50 new players and switched to a more uptempo offense in hopes of ending three straight losing seasons. The changes have yet to lead to any significant improvements, putting Wilcox on the hot seat in his seventh season. Cal is 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 headed into Saturday’s game against No. 16 Utah. The Bears have improved offensively, averaging more thn 433 total yards per game, but are 78th nationally in total defense. With a schedule that still includes USC, Oregon and Washington State, wins could be hard to come by the rest of the season.

BIGGEST INJURY

Travis Hunter, Colorado. The two-way star was arguably Colorado’s best player before suffering a lacerated liver against rival Colorado State in Week 3. Hunter was the nation’s top-ranked recruit when he signed to play for Deion Sanders at Jackson State and the step up in competition at Colorado did little to slow him down. Hunter had 16 cathes for 213 yards before he was injured and was a playmaker as a defensive back in Colorado’s secondary. The good news for the Buffaloes: Hunter could return Saturday against Stanford.

More on the Pac-12 and college sports

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Pac-12 in AP Top 25: WSU drops after loss, UW Huskies stick at No. 7
UCLA rallies in fourth quarter to take down No. 13 WSU 25-17
UW Huskies have found new AD in Tulane’s Troy Dannen
UW Huskies’ top-10 clash with Oregon the site of College Gameday

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