All votes have been tallied and all precincts are reporting.
With the Pac-12’s football regular season complete — OK, almost complete — it’s time to hand out some hardware and fete a few figures from the conference of champions.
Coach of the year — Mike Leach, Washington State
The Cougars’ dream season came skidding to a halt with another loss to Chris Petersen’s Huskies. Washington State is still a great story and, frankly, the only reason anyone outside the West Coast paid attention to the Pac-12 in November.
Leach is a polarizing coach, and it’s fair to note that his system has no record of producing championships. But after an offseason full of turmoil, he went 10-2 with a team picked fifth in the North. That makes him a deserving winner.
Player of the year — Gardner Minshew, Washington State
The Pac-12 really needed Minshew this year. As some household names struggled, the East Carolina transfer with the mustache and soul patch led the nation in passing, even working his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation before a two-interception, no-touchdown performance against the Huskies.
When we look back on the 2018 season, Minshew Mania will be the Pac-12’s best story line.
Defensive player of the year — Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
Burr-Kirven is the heart and soul of Washington’s defense and one of the surest tacklers in the nation. And he’s always around the ball, as his 155 total stops — tied for first in the FBS — will attest.
Those are impressive numbers for a linebacker, especially in a conference known for wide-open offenses designed to isolate defenders in space.
Overachiever of the year, Part I — Justin Wilcox, Cal
The Bears were a nice story in Wilcox’s first season, going 5-7 in a year when 2-10 seemed like a realistic possibility. Now they have seven wins with a chance to make it eight Saturday against Stanford. And they did it without consistent play at quarterback, a real rarity in today’s game.
Overachiever of the year, Part II — Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Edwards was a punchline when ASU hired him out of the ESPN studio. All he did in Year One was make a bowl game, beat USC and Michigan State, win the Territorial Cup and keep ASU in the division hunt until the final two weeks of the regular season.
We’ll see what Edwards does without Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, but no one’s laughing at him now.
Underachiever of the year — Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Sumlin has strong competition from USC’s Clay Helton here, but only one of those coaches had a Heisman Trophy candidate returning at quarterback. The regression of Khalil Tate — who, in 11 starts, ran for 1,200 fewer yards than he did in eight starts a year ago — was one of the most disappointing developments of 2018 for the Pac-12.
Sumlin still had a chance to get the Wildcats to a bowl game, but blowing a 19-point lead in the Territorial Cup got him this made-up award instead. Congrats?
Coach on the hot seat in 2019 — Clay Helton, USC
USC athletic director Lynn Swan didn’t do much to placate angry Trojan fans when he announced Helton would return after a 5-7 season. There are reasons to think USC can improve next season, starting with the development of quarterback JT Daniels, but it’s worth asking what Helton will have to do to keep his job considering the tide has already turned within the USC fan base.
Unless USC contends for a national title — or, at minimum, wins the Pac-12 — it’s hard to imagine Trojan fans changing their minds about Helton.
Administrative snafu of the year — Woodie Dixon, Pac-12 vice president and general counsel
Congratulations, Mr. Dixon, for being this year’s unanimous winner. For whatever else happened this season, 2018 will be known as the year of the replay controversy in the Pac-12.
The revelation that Dixon, acting as an employee of the conference office, exerted his influence on replay procedures was a black mark the Pac-12 has yet to scrub out. Honorable mention recognition goes to commissioner Larry Scott, whose initial explanations only added fuel to the fire.
The Pac-12 should feel fortunate that the game in question, USC’s victory against Washington State, didn’t end up costing the conference a spot in the College Football Playoff and instead merely became fodder for weeks of criticism and distrust.
Team to watch in 2019 — Utah
After winning the Pac-12 South for the first time, Utah should be the preseason favorite next season. The Utes are set to return quarterback Tyler Huntley, wide receiver Britain Covey and up to 18 players on their defensive two-deep. If running back Zack Moss chooses to return after a late-season knee injury, it would only cement Utah's status as the team to beat.