Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pac-12 postseason awards: Our look at the frontrunners for individual honors

Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

One weekend remains in the Pac-12’s final regular season, but the coaches have two weeks to settle on their picks for the individual award winners.

A few years ago, the conference adjusted the timing of the vote for postseason honors. Instead of selecting the all-conference team and individual winners prior to the conference championship, the coaches were given through the Pac-12 title game to decide.

As a result, Dec. 5 is the planned date for the reveal.

Some races have more clarity than others.

Here’s our view …

Coach of the Year

Frontrunners: Arizona’s Jedd Fisch and Washington’s Kalen DeBoer

Forecast: Too close to call

Comment: Fisch has orchestrated the biggest upside surprise as his Wildcats, picked eighth in the preseason media poll, are alone in third place with a chance to win the conference title. (Arizona needs a victory over ASU and an Oregon loss to claim a berth in Las Vegas opposite Washington.) Meanwhile, DeBoer is one win from the first perfect season in conference play since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011. If UW wins out, DeBoer will be tough to beat. If UW stumbles and Arizona beats ASU, then Fisch should receive the honor. DeBoer shared the award last year with Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, which could impact how some coaches vote.

Offensive Player of the Year

Frontrunners: Oregon QB Bo Nix and Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

Forecast: Too close to call

Comment: The best guess is that Nix and Penix meet in the conference championship game and the winner claims the award. (They are also strong contenders for the Heisman Trophy.) If either player were a conference original, we might lean in that direction, but both are transfers who have spent only two seasons in the Pac-12. And we don’t see any issues with personality that could tilt the vote away from one of the candidates. Don’t discount the chances of Nix and Penix sharing the award. There have been co-Offensive Players of Year several times across the decades.

Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year

Frontrunners: Utah DE Jonah Ellis, UCLA DL Laiatu Latu, Arizona LB Jacob Manu and Washington CB Jabbar Muhammad

Forecast: Latu is the clear frontrunner

Comment: UCLA’s ferocious edge rusher has been the most dominant player from start to finish and leads the Power Five with 13 sacks. Elliss started fast but has faded (and is currently injured) while Manu and Muhammad have fueled their teams’ better-than-expected performances but aren’t at Latu’s level of disruption. Also, Latu has a backstory that will impress the coaches: He medically retired at Washington following a neck injury but eventually got clearance to play and transferred to Westwood.

Freshman Offensive Player of the Year

Frontrunner: Arizona QB Noah Fifita

Forecast: Fifita is a lock

Comment: The redshirt freshman is eligible under Pac-12 rules and wrapped up the award weeks ago. Fifita took over for injured starter Jayden de Laura in late September and has won five of seven starts while completing 73.6% of his passes. His poise and playmaking are superb for an upperclassman, much less a freshman. If anyone not named Fifita receives a first-place vote, the conference should investigate. (Note: The votes are not made public, unfortunately.)

Freshman Defensive Player of the Year

Frontrunners: USC LB Tackett Curtis, ASU DL C.J. Fite, UCLA DB Kamari Ramsey, ASU LB Tate Romney, Cal LB Cade Uluave and Stanford CB Collin Wright

Forecast: Edge to Uluave

Comment: This is a fascinating competition, but we view Uluave as the most worthy given his significant impact. After a modest start in which he didn’t register a single statistic over five games, the rookie from South Jordan, Utah, has produced 46 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two fumbles forces and an interception – all in the past six weeks. The other players have been steady contributors for their teams but don’t pack the playmaking punch we’ve seen from Uluave.