Award-Winning Finish to Season

We'll be kind and say it was an interesting season.

The Pac-10 reputation took a national hit as the conference known for its playmakers threw too many haymakers. With the obvious exception of USC, the play was less than stellar, closer to WAC than PAC.

Our year-end awards (as if waiting around for Arizona-Arizona State, Stanford-Notre Dame or USC-Oregon State is going to change anything).

Coach of the Year

Pete Carroll, USC. So much for the Trojans being a year from national title contention. Carroll has upped the stakes so much you wonder whether any team can even stay in this Pac-10 poker game.

Funny how these things work out. Paul Hackett was a pro coach who had no feel for the college game and, all these years, Carroll was an NFL coach who really belonged in college.

It doesn't matter that Carroll was out of a job when USC called or that three other coaches turned down the Trojans. Carroll was the right man at the right time. The Trojans can only hope he doesn't get a need to scratch an old NFL itch.

And honorable mention ...

Bill Doba, Washington State. Get over the fact the Cougars were penalty-prone and blew a sure-shot at the Rose Bowl and remember Doba inherited a team picked to finish seventh and has led it to no worse than second. (The Cougars would be co-champions if Oregon State defeats USC).

Jeff Tedford, California. See if you detect a trend: Last year, the Bears were picked to finish 10th and finished fourth. This year, the Bears were picked to finish eighth and finished tied for third. To boot, Tedford was the only coach who had an answer for USC and he may be the one Pac-10 coach USC should fear most. That is, if Tedford hangs around. He figures to be a hot NFL-coaching commodity and it may take a serious commitment, namely a facilities overhaul at Berkeley, to keep Tedford tethered.

Offensive Player of the Year

Mike Williams, receiver, USC. But hey, he's no Larry Fitzgerald, right? Wrong. Williams could have had even better numbers had the Trojan offense not been so diverse. Still, the sophomore has 22 catches for 338 yards with five touchdowns ... in his last two games.

Defensive Player of the Year

Dave Ball, defensive end, UCLA. For years, the Bruin offense was high wire and the defense was short circuit. Now it's the opposite. Ball leads the nation with 16.5 sacks.

Most Valuable Player

Matt Leinart, USC quarterback. No one knew how good USC was going to be until the red-shirt sophomore hurled his first regular-season pass. But he has thrown 30 touchdowns against only seven interceptions.

Biggest Flops

1: Washington (6-6, 4-4). Only an Apple Cup victory over Washington State salvaged a 6-6 and an otherwise ugly season for the entire athletic department.

2: Arizona State (4-7, 1-6). Junior quarterback Andrew Walter, last year's mad bomber, became more of a dink-and-dunker as he battled injuries and failed to get in rhythm with his new receivers. Turning point? Arizona State was 4-3 entering the Oct. 25 UCLA game when Walter was knocked out early with an injury. The Sun Devils lost that game and three more since.

3: UCLA (6-6, 4-4). Somehow first-year Coach Karl Dorrell took Bob Toledo's 8-5 team and made it worse -- no easy trick. The defense was respectable; the offense as moving as Continental drift. As with any regime change, though, the new coach gets three years to make it work.

Didn't Pac It In

Oregon. The Ducks started 6-0 in 2002 and then waddled down the stretch to a 7-6 finish. Oregon appeared headed for a similar fall this year when it started 4-0, made the cover of Sports Illustrated and then lost three in a row. This time the Ducks regrouped, scored a key comeback home win against California and won three to close with an 8-4 mark and likely Sun Bowl berth.

Pac Bits

The bowl championship series' decision not to release Washington State as an at-large consideration means bowls can't formally announce deals with Pac-10 schools.

"It basically puts us on hold," Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon said.

Washington State is 9-3 and No. 15 in this week's BCS standings, but the Cougars would be eligible for an at-large position if they moved up three places to No. 12.

"The Rose Bowl is just keeping its options open, just in case," Muldoon said.

Ten of the 14 schools ranked ahead of Washington State still have games to play, meaning the Cougars could move back into the BCS top 12.

While Washington State in the Rose Bowl is not a likely option, it gives the Rose Bowl an emergency bail-out plan. If Washington State ends up in the Holiday Bowl, as expected, the Pac-10 bowl lineup is basically set: Holiday (Washington State), Sun (Oregon), Insight (California), Las Vegas (Oregon State) and Silicon Valley (6-6 UCLA over 6-6 Washington).

If Washington State somehow sneaks into the Rose Bowl, Oregon, California and Oregon State move up a notch, Washington slots up to the Las Vegas Bowl and UCLA still goes to San Jose.

The Silicon Valley will likely match UCLA against Fresno State but can't make anything formal until the Washington State issue is resolved.

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