By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
The Pac-12 has experienced a bit of a resurgence so far this football season with two undefeated teams and four teams in the AP Top 25.
There’s still half a season to go, but the conference so far is in solid shape to potentially break its five-year College Football Playoff drought.
As the season rounds the corner to the second half, we’ve got a rundown of the best and worst of the Pac-12, voted on by Associated Press writers who cover the teams.
TOP COACH: UCLA’s Chip Kelly. The former Oregon and NFL coach has slowly returned the Bruins to respectability, winning eight games a year ago then becoming one of the surprises of the 2022 college football season.
UCLA (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) was questioned through a soft nonconference schedule, particularly a close home win over South Alabama. The 11th-ranked Bruins have proven they are for real the past two weeks, knocking off then-No. 15 Washington and No. 20 Utah. UCLA has a big test this weekend at No. 12 Oregon.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA. The Bruins’ quarterback has been a huge part of their resurgence.
A solid player his first four seasons at UCLA, he’s been one of the nation’s best quarterbacks through six games. Thompson-Robinson has been a threat with his arms and his legs, passing for 1,510 yards and 15 TDs, adding 231 yards and four more scores rushing.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Tuli Tuipulotu, Southern California. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive lineman has been a wrecking ball against opposing offenses, leading the nation with 7.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss per game.
Tuipulotu’s constant pressure up front has helped the back end of USC’s defense, which leads the nation with 12 interceptions.
TOP FIRST-YEAR FRESHMAN: Jaydn Ott, California. One of the top-rated running back recruits in the 2022 class, Ott has lived up to the billing during a stellar freshman season.
The 6-foot, 205-pound back leads the Pac-12 and is third nationally with 8.3 yards per carry, and is 11th with 115.8 yards per game. He had 284 yards from scrimmage against Arizona two weeks ago.
TOP FIRST-YEAR TRANSFER: Michael Penix Jr., Washington. The Indiana transfer has thrived in Seattle now that he’s healthy.
Plagued by injuries in previous seasons, he is second in the FBS with 2,044 yards and has 16 TDs with four interceptions. Penix had a superb game in a win over Michigan State, throwing for 397 yards and four TDs with no interceptions.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM: UCLA. The Bruins were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12, but quickly became one of the conference’s elite.
UCLA is off to its best start since opening the 2005 season with eight straight wins and has its highest ranking since reaching No. 7 in 2015.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Jacob Cowing, Arizona. The UTEP transfer was expected to have an immediate impact on the Wildcats in their rebuilding project and certainly has done that.
The 5-11 speedster has 46 catches for 643 yards and seven TDs, leading Arizona in all categories. Cowing is fifth nationally with 107.2 yards receiving per game and is averaging nearly 14 yards per catch.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Stanford. The Cardinal were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason poll, which may have actually been too high.
Stanford (1-4, 0-4) had a chance to end a 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents last week against Oregon State, but gave up an improbable 56-yard TD with 13 seconds left to lose 28-27.
HOTTEST SEAT: David Shaw, Stanford. Shaw has been one of the most respected coaches in college football during his 12 seasons at Stanford, but the Cardinal have not had a winning record since going 9-4 in 2018.
Unless Stanford finds a way to turn it around, Shaw could join Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Colorado’s Karl Dorrell among Pac-12 coaches looking for jobs.
BIGGEST INJURY: Brant Kuithe, Utah. The 20th-ranked Utes suffered a huge blow when Kuithe went down with a season-ending knee injury against Arizona State on Sept. 24.
Kuithe was one of the nation’s best tight ends and was leading Utah in receptions at the time of his injury.
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