Today we’re going to try to predict who will be the winner of the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2018. Let’s look at some past winners to give us some context before we put forth some of the candidates. Over the past ten years there have been four QBs (Jake Browning, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck twice), five RBs (Bryce Love, Christian McCaffrey, Ka’Deem Carey, Toby Gerhart, Jacquizz Rodgers), and one WR (Marqise Lee). Some notable trends:
- Andrew Luck is the only repeat winner.
- Five of the ten played for Stanford.
- Every QB had at least 3500 total yards and 35 total touchdowns.
- Every non-QB had at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage and all except Rodgers had at least 1,700.
- 6 of the 10 finished in the top-2 of the Heisman voting and 8 of the 10 were in the top-10 (Love- 2nd, Browning- 6th, McCaffrey- 2nd, Mariota- 1st, Carey- 10th, Lee- 4th, Luck- 2nd, Luck- 2nd, Gerhart- 2nd, Rodgers- N/A).
With that in mind, let’s run through the candidates.
Option #1: Bryce Love, RB- Stanford
There’s no question that Love is the favorite going into the 2018 season. He rushed for over 2,000 yards last year despite missing a game and being hobbled in a few others. He finished 2nd in the Heisman in 2017, is the favorite in Vegas going into the year, and there’s no reason to think that Stanford is going to be less reliant on him this year. His over/under stats are 1900 yards and 18.5 touchdowns which would probably be good enough to guarantee him the award.
However, I’m somewhat hesitant to pick him. The Heisman voters has shown reluctance to pick repeats unless they go above and beyond the previous year’s stats or are a projected #1 overall pick. Unless Love rushes for 2,500 yards I think he’ll be a victim of his own expectations. I realize this is for P12 OPOY, not the Heisman, but if Love puts up 90-100% of last year’s stats I think it will be viewed as a disappointment and another strong candidate could steal it from him.
Option #2: N’Keal Harry, WR- Arizona State
I wanted to include at least one WR and there’s no question that Harry is the most likely candidate. His combination of size, speed, and skill is unmatched in the conference. He only had 1,207 yards from scrimmage last year so ASU will need to force feed the ball to him at an even higher rate next year to get up to the 1,700 or so needed for true contention. Harry also only finished with eight touchdown receptions, which seems impossible. Just throw a jump ball to him every time you get close and he’ll have 20+, and that’s what it would likely take for Harry to truly contend for the award. Still, it isn’t impossible.
Option #3: Khalil Tate, QB- Arizona
There are some red flags but it’s hard to watch some of Tate’s highlights from last year and not think he’s a serious contender. Tate started nine games last season. If you pro-rate that over a 12-game regular season then he would have finished with 4,000 yards from scrimmage including an absurd 1,881 rushing and a total of 35 touchdowns. Both of those totals meet the minimum threshold for past winners and it’s not unreasonable to think that a new coaching staff and a full off-season of reps as the #1 might lead to a better season for Tate.
But those red flags. Tate stared out with 6 straight games of 100+ rushing yards and a rush of at least 54 yards in each. Then he ran for just a combined 118 in his last three games on a measly 2.8 yards per rush with a total long of 17. It’s possible that teams figured out how to contain him for the most part. There will always be the threat of Tate breaking loose for an 80-yard untouched score, but it’s unreasonable to think he can continue to do it every game.
Option #4: Justin Herbert, QB- Oregon
The Ducks’ QB has started and finished 14 games in his career. If you pro-rate his career numbers to a 13-game season, like most of the above QBs played, then he would have 3,494 passing yards, 31 TDs, 8 INTs, 308 rushing yards, and five rushing TDs. Those numbers put him in range to win the award although he’d likely need to increase by 10-15%. While there are questions about the strength of schedule that Herbert has played to this point, why will that matter in 2018?
In the Football Outsiders F/+ projections Oregon faces the numbers 7, 17, 29, 35, 38, 44, 49, 58, 94, 107, and 129 teams plus a D-II school. That isn’t exactly a murderer’s row. And I would say that most of the Pac-12 has a better offense than defense, meaning the defensive ranks are likely to be worse. It’s not impossible to see a scenario where Herbert struggles against some of the better defenses in the conference but still puts up close to 4,000 yards and 40 TDs.
Option #5: Jake Browning, QB- Washington
We can’t say it’s impossible for Browning to win the award because he’s done it once before. Browning’s TD total famously fell from 43 to 19 between 2016 and 2017 and obviously it’s going to have to be closer to the former in order for him to take home the hardware again this season. The loss of John Ross was huge but part of it was Myles Gaskin’s absurd ability to find pay dirt in the red zone. Gaskin scored on 8 of 13 first-and-goal carries and 4 of 6 second-and-goal carries last season. His TD total spiked from 10 to 21. Let’s say that most of those extra 11 TDs go back to Browning as one of the WRs steps up as a goal line target (Ty Jones?). And let’s say the speculation that Browning still struggled with shoulder problems is true and he is better able to throw the deep ball leading to another five or so TDs. That gets him back in the realm of the 2016 numbers. That plus an undefeated Pac-12 season could do it.
Who will win the 2018 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award?
This poll is closed
Bryce Love, RB- Stanford
N’Keal Harry, WR- Arizona State
Khalil Tate, QB- Arizona
Justin Herbert, QB- Oregon
Jake Browning, QB- Washington
Verdict: Khalil Tate, QB- Arizona
The only reason I’m not picking Bryce Love as the repeat winner is because of the voting fatigue factor. Tate could easily go on a Lamar Jackson-like run this season to start the year with a showcase game in Week 2 at Houston against possibly the best defensive player in the country in DT Ed Oliver. The Wildcats miss Stanford and Washington and if they make a darkhorse run to the Pac-12 South title he could finish in the top three of the Heisman and bring this thing back to Tucson.