For days, I’ve wrestled with who did the more impressive coaching job this football season — Jonathan Smith or Kalen DeBoer?
The Pac-12 Conference coaches couldn’t decide, either.
Smith, at Oregon State, and DeBoer, at Washington, split the conference’s annual Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, as voted by their peers.
Here are the rules:
No Pac-12 coach can vote for himself.
Each coach in the conference selects their top two coaches.
The votes are tallied (weighted for first-place and second-place votes).
Smith and DeBoer ended up in a dead heat. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was a threat to slide in late and grab the award after his team beat USC for the conference title on Friday night. I’m told Whittingham got some votes. But apparently the coaches in the conference were more impressed with the jobs that Smith and DeBoer did in elevating their respective programs.
I think the voters got it right.
Smith took the Beavers from the scrap pile and turned them into a contender, capable of winning on any given day. Oregon State went 9-3 and is playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. College football is a quarterback-centric game. Remarkably, Smith’s team had a great season without a starting quarterback capable of carrying a team.
Question: How far away was OSU from being 11-1?
Answer: a quarterback.
Washington won 10 games in DeBoer’s first season. I thought they’d be improved after going 4-8 and firing Jimmy Lake, but was anyone playing better football than the Huskies at the end of the season?
Question: How far away was Washington from being 11-1 and a playoff contender?
Answer: A loss vs. Arizona State.
Both programs are well positioned for next season. OSU has to find a starting quarterback that fits in Smith’s system. Washington is getting Michael Penix Jr. back, so the Huskies just need to shore up the defense.
Smith gets a $25,000 bonus for winning the conference coach of the year award. He doesn’t have to split that with DeBoer, though. Washington’s coach also gets a $25,000 bonus for the honor, per his contract.
Other Pac-12 honors and my thoughts…
• Offensive Player of the Year: Caleb Williams, USC
My comment: The Trojans don’t go 11-1 in the regular season without him. He’s the likely Heisman Trophy winner. I don’t blame anyone for thinking about Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. here, but Williams is the right call.
• Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
My comment: Can the best defensive player really be a guy who played for one of the worst defenses in the conference? Tuipulotu’s 12.5 sacks were impressive, but USC was ahead in a lot of games this season. He benefitted immensely from that. I thought Utah corner Clark Phillips III was the most impactful defensive player in the conference.
• Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Damien Martinez, Oregon State
My comment: Martinez had only three scholarship offers — Oregon State, Kansas, Georgia Tech. The Beavers run game is potent and set up for next season. Martinez finished the season with six-straight 100-yard rushing games. He was an easy call here.
• Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Lander Barton, Utah
My comment: No argument here. Outstanding athlete. Played tight end and linebacker in high school. I wonder… how many injuries Utah was away from having Barton catch passes?
Here are the First and Second Team All-Pac-12 honorees:
Did the coaches in the conference get it right?
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Anyone who paints F ** K Utah on his fingernails while playing Utah should not win the Heisman. Not what I call “pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
I feel like coaches are the most qualified people to actually vote on these things, moreso than the media. And splitting the CotY also makes sense, even if that wasn't the express purpose, just the end result. It's harder to go from 4 to 10 wins as DeBoer did, but it's harder to get 9 wins in Corvallis than 10 in Seattle, so it's a hard call between the two. Riley and Whittingham both had great seasons, but didn't exceed expectations in the same way the two co-winners did.