Posted on November 25, 2022
Nhe 6 USC remains squarely in the College Football Playoff picture heading into its final regular-season game against Notre Dame.
The path for the Trojans is clear: beat Notre Dame and win the Pac-12 Championship game.
Things could get tough if LSU beats Georgia, but as it has been all season, a win is the answer, with USC’s only setback coming by two points in a shootout in Salt Lake City.
While Caleb Williams and the USC offense have deservedly earned plenty of praise this season, this is far from a one-dimensional Trojan team.
The defense stepped up when needed. The trademark of any Alex Grinch-led unit is creating packages, and USC has done just that this season.
The Trojans lead the nation with a turnover margin of +1.82 per game, with the next best in the nation coming from San Jose State at +1.3 per game.
The season total margin for USC is +20, still outpacing the nation by a good margin. Duke is second at +14.
The Trojans do a good job of keeping the ball on offense with just four turnovers on the season (one fumble and three interceptions).
Defensively, USC created 24 turnovers (six fumbles and 18 interceptions).
The undisputed leader of the Grinch unit was Tuli Tuipulotu. A finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi trophies, he produced a torrid season for USC with an FBS-leading 11.5 sacks on the season.
Tuipulotu’s 19 tackles are tied for second in the nation and he has forced a pair of fumbles. But when you look deeper into his numbers, his performance becomes even more impressive.
With the most sacks in a season by a USC player since Kenechi Udeze set the school record with 16.5 in 2003, Tuipulotu’s TFL total on the season was more than 170 yards for opponents.
But when it comes to defensive takeaways and yardage, Tuipulotu isn’t the only Trojan that has worked this season.
Calen Bullock had four of USC’s 18 interceptions, 12th most in the country this season.
Bullock returned those picks for 161 yards and a touchdown. The yardage total is the second-most of any player in the nation, trailing only the 174 return yards by Miss State’s Emmanuel Forbes.
Looking at interceptions nationally, Utah’s Clark Phillips III also intercepted six passes on the season to tie Forbes for the most in the nation.
Phillips, who received my All-American vote, returned two of them from distance and his 144 return yards are third in the nation.
HeOn the other side of the ball, Arizona saw Jayden de Laura connect with wide receivers at a rate not seen in some time in Tucson.
With the rivalry game against Arizona State still in play, the Washington State transfer already has the fifth-best passing mark in Wildcat history with 3,485 on the season.
de Laura’s 25 TD passes are the sixth most in school history. While Arizona’s single-season passing yardage mark of 4,334 yards is out of reach (except for the record-breaking day against the Sun Devils), the TD mark is certainly within reach.
The single-season record is 28 TD passes, originally set by Willie Tuitama in 2007 and tied by Nick Foles in 2011 and Anu Solomon again in 2014. A four TD game against ASU would give Laura the lone mark.
Some of his favorite targets are also approaching records. Jacob Cowing ranks seventh in Arizona history with 80 touchdown passes in a season.
Cowing is averaging 7.3 receptions per game and eight catching days with ASU would give him 88 points on the season, which would be the 25th most productive season in Conference history.
He’s also caught at least one pass in 43 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation. If he reaches the 88 reception mark, it would be the second most in Arizona history behind Bobby Wade’s 93 in 2002.
Tetairoa McMillan caught 39 passes for 702 yards as a freshman at Arizona State this season.
That yardage total is also the most nationally by a true freshman this season, and his eight TD receptions also lead all true freshmen.
Tanner McLachlan added 33 receptions from the TE spot to tie for second all-time single-season mark for a TE in Arizona history.
Rob Gronkowski’s 47 receptions in 2008 is the only time a TE has caught more passes in a season.
As Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s illustrious career at UCLA is winding down as he enters this week’s Cal game as the second-most prolific passer in school history in terms of yardage.
His 10,235 yards are second only to Cade McNown’s 10,708 career yards. With 15 more touchdowns, DTR will pass Brett Hundley (827) for the most completions in UCLA history.
He is already responsible for 110 TDs, more than any other player to wear a UCLA uniform.
DTR’s linebacker Zach Charbonnet also holds the single-season school mark. Charbonnet is averaging 7.25 yards per carry this season, the UCLA record for a single season was 7.5 by Kermit Johnson in 973.
Michael Penix Jr. has been extremely productive in the air this season and enters the Apple Bowl leading the nation in points per game with 351.7 points per game.
His 3,640 yards are the second-most in Husky history with nine of the 300-yard mark coming in nine of 11 games.
His top target, Rome Odunze, reached 100 yards in five games this season, including a Washington record four straight midseason.
Tuipulotu is not the region’s only defender as the awards season winds down towards the finalists.
The Butkus Award recognizes the nation’s top linebacker, and Washington State’s Daiyan Henley is among five finalists for the award. The senior Cougar’s 102 hits on the season are 20th most in the nation.
Finalists for most of the other major awards won’t be announced until Nov. 29, but the Paul Hornung Award is another award that already has four finalists.
The award is given annually to the most versatile player. Also in the bottom four is Oregon State’s do-it-all Jack Colletto.
Most of the finalists for this award are running backs or receivers who also return kicks. Colletto is the best and really the best for the Beavers.
On the season, he has forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, had a tackle, caught a pass, thrown a pass and is second on the team in touchdowns with six.
He averaged 4.9 yards per play in 19 of 27 games that resulted in a touchdown or first down.