A year ago, Washington, USC and Colorado accepted all five awards handed out by the Pac-12 conference. Who will win them in 2017?
Let's get to this year's predictions.
Offensive Player of the Year
Royce Freeman, RB — Oregon
It would be easy to go with one of the quarterbacks — USC's Sam Darnold, Washington's Jake Browning, last year's winner, and UCLA's Josh Rosen are more popular, obvious choices.
But Freeman will get the ball a lot and the Ducks enter 2017 without significant questions at quarterback with Justin Hebert settling in nicely last season.
Big year and a lot of touchdowns gets Freeman on the board here.
Darkhorse: Ronald Jones II, RB — USC
Jones will start the season as the second fiddle to Darnold, but he has the skills to put up big numbers and make impact plays in prime time. [divider]
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year
Azeem Victor, LB — Washington
Victor is the best returning player on what promises to be a very good defense once again. But the Huskies' strength to start 2017 is in the front seven, not the secondary, with DL Vita Vea and Greg Gaines returning along with Victor and his linebacker teammate Keishawn Bierria.
Victor always is around the ball, has proven he will make big plays and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski may get him involved in the pass rush a bit more this season.
Vea, WSU's Hercules Mata'afa and Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei and Oregon LB Troy Dye are also strong candidates.
Darkhorse: Rasheem Green, DL — USC
Green is one of a handful of all-conference level talents. A big sacks year and he might be the obvious choice. Green had six sacks a year ago.[divider]
Offensive Freshman of the Year
Salvon Ahmed, RB/WR — Washington
While there are numerous candidates to consider here, including Stanford TE Kaden Smith, USC WR's Trevon Sidney, Tyler Vaughns Joseph Lewis and Arizona WR Devaughn Cooper, Ahmed appears destined to get the most touches in the most ways.
In fall camp Ahmed has been used at RB, WR and in the return game and figures to get a lot of playing time regardless of how the rest of his teammates are playing. He'll also get chances in prime time, most notable at Stanford November 10.
Darkhorse: K.J. Costello, QB — Stanford
Costello's best chance to get on the field is starter Keller Chryst not being the answer coach David Shaw hopes he is, but Chryst's injured ACL doesn't appear to be getting in the way. [divider]
Defensive Freshman of the Year
Maxs Tupai, DE — Utah
Tupai is another talented young lineman getting a shot under Kyle Whittingham. He redshirted a year ago and is primed to go for 2017. He'll have help on the other side, avoiding double teams and figures to be a three-down option.
Washington freshmen Byron Murphy, Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor all have a shot here, too, as does California CB Nygel Edmonds, Arizona State CB Chase Lucas, Oregon State CB Chrstian Wallace and UCLA LB Mique Juarez.
Darkhorse: Brady Breeze, S — Oregon
If the Ducks' defense makes big improvements and Breeze is a big part of it he'll have a great shot at the award.[divider]
Coach of the Year
Mike Leach — Washington State
It would be easy to suggest the head coach at USC, Stanford or Washington deserves the honor if their season goes as expected. But Washington State is being undersold here and Leach's willingness to alter his approach to the running game and building a defense may pay off big in 2017.
While it doesn't appear on paper they're ready to beat one of the big three, they do get USC at home on a Friday night (September 29) after the Trojans visit Cal six days prior. The Cougars also get Stanford at home in November. If WSU wins nine games and one of them come versus the Big Three, it will be difficult to keep Leach out of the conversation.
The key to all of the above will be avoiding the early-season upset to Montana State and Nevada. Last season, WSU fell to FCS Eastern Washington at home to open the season. Two years ago, Portland State tripped the Cougs in Pullman.
Darkhorse: Mike McIntyre, Colorado
Mcintyre won it last year but lost most of his defense and his starting quarterback. If Colorado finds a way past eight wins this season, McIntyre will be in the discussion again.
Of course, if that's the narrative, Washington's Chris Petersen is a runaway preseason pick. The Huskies lost three of their four starting defensive backs (Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King) to high picks in the NFL Draft, their best offensive weapon John ross went No. 9 overall, their best pass rusher (Joe Mathis) and their best interior defensive lineman (Elijah Qualls, 6th-round Eagles).
If there's little to no drop-off, it's because Petersen and his staff not only recruited well, but developed and coached those players with little flaw. You don't lose that kind of talent and not feel it unless you're elite.