October 22, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) A supposedly unbreakable record broken. Not one Hail Mary, but two. Upsets and unexpected finishes. A massive jumble in the standings.

It's been quite a season in the Pac-12.

And to think, we're only halfway home.

But before we get to the second half of the season, let's run through some of the best and worst of the Pac-12 so far:

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Best team: Oregon. The sixth-ranked Ducks had a surprising loss to Arizona at home, but still have the Pac-12's best shot at earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best offensive player: Marcus Mariota, Oregon. The Ducks' quarterback was a Heisman Trophy front-runner to start the season and has done nothing but enhance his chances by throwing for 19 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Best defensive player: Washington LB Shaq Thompson. A versatile player who's all over the field, he's one of the Pac-12's tackling leaders and has scored four defensive touchdowns.

Best newcomer: Arizona QB Anu Solomon. Won a four-way battle to be the Wildcats' starter and has not disappointed, putting up prodigious numbers while keeping calm under pressure.

Best kicker: Andy Phillips, Utah. The former member of the U.S. Ski Team is pretty good at kicking a football, making 13 of 15 field goals while ranking sixth nationally with 10.8 points per game.

Best returner: Ishmael Adams, UCLA. Whether it's on kickoffs or on a turnover, Adams is as dangerous as they come in the open field.

Unstoppable force: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong. Big-bodied and athletic, he's a nightmare for opposing defensive backs and very attractive to NFL scouts.

Immovable force: USC DL Leonard Williams. Trying to run anywhere near this guy is not advised.

Best coach: Utah's Kyle Whittingham. Probably not a lot of people outside Utah figured the Utes would be 5-1. Close second: Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.

Most improved team: California. The Bears had nowhere to go but up after winning one game last season, but four wins already is a nice jump.

Biggest fall: Stanford. The two-time defending Pac-12 champions are now a longshot to make it three straight with three losses already.

Best game: Arizona 31, Oregon 24. The Wildcats' breakout game was a fun one to watch, with 45 combined points scored in the fourth quarter.

Best finish: Arizona 49, Cal 45. The Wildcats scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and still needed a Hail Mary to finish off the Bears. A close second was Arizona State's win over Southern California, also on a Hail Mary.

Biggest resume builder: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27. If the Ducks manage to win the Pac-12, that non-conference win over a quality opponent might look awfully good to the playoff committee.

Stuck in a rut: Colorado. Just when it seemed the Buffaloes might be headed in the right direction, they opened conference 0-4.

Most fun to watch: Washington State. With Connor Halliday running Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, sparks almost always fly.

Best individual performance: Halliday against Cal. The single-game record of 716 yards passing by Houston's David Klingler had stood since 1990 and appeared to be unbreakable. Halliday raced past the mark against the Bears, throwing for 734 yards and six touchdowns. Somehow it still wasn't enough; Cal won 60-59 in double overtime.

Breakout performance: Arizona's Solomon against Cal. He had a strong debut, throwing for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-13 win over UNLV. What he did against the Bears put him in the national spotlight: a school-record 520 yards and four of his five touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including a Hail Mary to Austin Hill.

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