Jayden de Laura’s Case for Pac-12 Player of the Year

The 2021 Pac-12 football season ended to some with a bang and to others with a whimper, depending on how you look at it.

Some might consider Oregon’s 10-2 finish and North division win as a success, but others could be disappointed that a team ranked as high as number 3 in the CFP poll won’t qualify for the playoff.

WSU’s historic 40-13 win over UW in the Apple Cup is undoubtedly a huge moment to end the regular season for the Cougs. But fans that went into the final weekend hoping for a conference championship game berth and maybe even a trip to the Rose Bowl might feel a little letdown.

I am here to tell you that WSU fans should have no reason to feel disappointed with the way the season ended. They broke a terrible streak of rivalry game losses that dated back to 2012 and discovered the next head coach along the way.

And even further beyond that, sophomore quarterback Jayden de Laura showed out in his first full season wearing crimson and gray. He played so well that you can even make a case for him to walk away from this season with the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award, and I will make that case.

I know what some of you must be thinking. You are saying to yourself that there is no way a player from a 7-5 team should win the end-of-season award for the best offensive player.

But I am here to ask you a question in response to that: If not de Laura, then who?

USC wide receiver Drake London was on pace to run away with the award but he hasn’t played since October.

The leading rusher in the conference (OSU’s BJ Baylor) was on a team that finished below WSU in the standings. The leader in rushing touchdowns (Utah’s Tavion Thomas) didn’t even eclipse 1,000 yards. No running back has won the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award in a full season with less than 1,000 yards.

Then you’ve got the quarterbacks. If you want to talk stats then all signs point to de Laura winning the award. He finished first in passing yards, passing yards per game, completions, and touchdowns.

Oh yeah, did I also mention that he didn’t even start two of the games, one of which he missed entirely, and left another game at halftime due to injury? So even though the stats will say de Laura played 11 games this year, he really played the equivalent of 10.

If he put up these numbers on Oregon or USC or even Washington, de Laura would probably be handed the award without any debate. He has been the best quarterback in the conference this year, and his team has actually been pretty good.

Maybe having to follow the likes of Anthony Gordon, Gardner Minshew, and Luke Falk is downplaying de Laura’s numbers this year. Coug fans are used to seeing 40 touchdowns from their quarterbacks, not just 23.

But that should not distract people from the fact that he is on paper the best signal-caller in the Pac-12. I fully expect people to ignore that though, and for whoever votes on this award to completely overlook the sophomore from Hawaii’s achievements this year.

I anticipate this award going to Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown. The voters will be enamored by the high ranking of the team and the big win over Ohio State while ignoring what has actually played out on the field.

Brown has definitely put together a good season but not one that I think is worthy enough to earn him Player of the Year. His best case for winning the award is that he was the best player remaining at the end of the season for the best team in the conference, maybe.

Does it matter that de Laura has more passing yards and total touchdowns than Brown? Does it matter that Brown had four games with multiple passing touchdowns and de Laura had eight? Does it matter that in their head-to-head matchup Brown threw for 135 yards and de Laura threw for 280?

I think it should matter but I doubt it will in the end.

Yes, Brown was great as a runner. He added another 600-plus yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He ran for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Cougs, so he did play well in the game against de Laura.

Brown was never the best player on his own team, obviously defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux earns that title, but to even further that point he wasn’t even the best player on the Ducks’ offense.

Running back CJ Verdell was the best player on the field in Oregon’s big win against Ohio State but he went down with a season-ending injury in early October. From there, Travis Dye took over the lead role and scored 13 touchdowns down the stretch.

I don’t want to be the guy that downplays a quarterback because of the talent level around him but I am going to do that here. Brown was never the player that opposing defenses feared the most. He had the luxury of playing on a stacked Oregon offense with a ton of other star players around him.

De Laura, on the other hand, was sticking out for an offense that needed great quarterback play to succeed. Sure he had Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, two great running backs, but he was still taking on the brunt of the offense.

Everything that I have just laid out will probably be for naught. I don’t have a lot of confidence in de Laura actually taking home the award, but I do think that he belongs in the conversation. Hopefully, some of the people voting for this award take some time and actually look at the stats and not just focus on the standings and the rankings.