The college football season might only be three weeks old, but it’s never too early to project who will win the Pac-12′s post-season awards.
While the lists for players and coaches of the year will undoubtedly change as the season goes on, there have been several performers who have separated themselves from the pack as the 12 teams head into conference play.
Below are the top players and coaches to keep an eye on these next few months.
Offensive player of year
De’Anthony Thomas (RB, Oregon): Thomas leads the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns and is third in rushing yards, while dabbling in the receiving and return games as well. With his performance so far this season, he’s the current front-runner for this award.
Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon): Mariota has been Heisman-like this season without being entirely consistent from game to game. If Mariota can find consistency, he has a greater potential to be the offensive player of the year.
Sean Mannion (QB, Oregon State): Manion is second only to Cal’s Jared Goff in passing yards among quarterbacks in the entire nation, not just the Pac-12. Unlike Goff, though, Mannion has a spectacular TD-to-INT ratio (12 to 1) and completion at 73.1 percent.
Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA): He’s an efficient passer who — unlike Mannion — is a threat to run. If not for Mariota, Hundley would easily be the best dual-threat quarterback in the conference.
Other players to watch: Jared Goff (Cal), Paul Richardson (Colorado), Brandin Cooks (OSU), Marqise Lee (USC), Keith Price (Washington), Bishop Sankey (Washington).
Defensive Player of the Year
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon): The player who wins this award usually has a huge interception and/or sack total, which might cost Ekpre-Olomu the honors. But the cornerback, who is expected to be a high NFL draft pick — absolutely blankets opposing receivers, which should keep him in the discussion even if he never records a pick.
Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State): Sutton is the defending player of the year on his side of the ball but hasn’t put up huge individual numbers so far this season (3 tackles, 0 sacks). However, Sutton should never be dismissed because of his ability to plug holes for running backs and open them for his linebackers.
Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA): Barr hasn’t recorded a sack yet (he had 13.5 in 2012), but he leads the conference in tackles for loss and forced fumbles. Plus, he provides incredible value simply by occupying blockers.
Trent Murphy (LB, Stanford): Murphy and Barr will be jockeying for the “Best Pass Rusher in the Pac-12” title all season. So far, Murphy has a leg up simply because he’s recorded two sacks.
Other players to watch: Tra’Mayne Bondurant (Arizona), Tony Washington (Oregon), Scott Crichton (OSU), Ed Reynolds (Stanford), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Devon Kennard (USC) and Josh Shirley (Washington).
Coach of the year
Mark Helfrich (Oregon) and David Shaw (Stanford): For these two, the formula to win this award is pretty simple: at least 11 wins, conference championship and BCS bowl appearance, (national championship, preferably).
Jim Mora Jr. (UCLA): Mora doesn’t need to be quite as successful as Helfrich or Shaw, but UCLA has to at least make it to the Pac-12 championship for him to have a shot.
Mike MacIntyre (Colorado): If Colorado can finish at least 4-5 in the Pac-12 and get to a bowl game, MacIntyre might earn this honor. That’s how miserable it’s been in Boulder these past seven seasons.