Five things we learned from Pac-12 bowl season

Darnold joins list of great Rose Bowl QB performances (1:02)

USC freshman quarterback Sam Darnold's masterful showing in the Rose Bowl puts him in the company of Vince Young, Mark Sanchez and Terrelle Pryor. (1:02)

There didn’t seem to be a lot of mystique about the Pac-12 heading into this bowl season. For the most part, the teams had shown they were what they were, and in the bowls, they continued to do just that.

However, here are a few things we did learn heading into the 2017 season.

1. USC QB Sam Darnold is the Heisman front-runner for 2017: From sportswriters to former players to NFL quarterbacks, the love for Darnold was abound after his Rose Bowl performance.

Darnold earned that kind of praise. His performance -- not only in the Rose Bowl, but also down the stretch -- turned USC into an elite team. He became the first-ever freshman to win the Archie Griffin Award and goes into his sophomore campaign as a name that most college football fans know. With games against Texas and at Notre Dame next season, he should be able to get plenty of looks from Heisman voters.

2. Stanford will be OK without Christian McCaffrey: When McCaffrey announced he wouldn’t be playing, many fans acted as though the sky had fallen and Stanford might as well play the entire Hyundai Sun Bowl with its eyes closed. But running back Bryce Love stepped in for Stanford in a big way, and he was a good reason for all those fans to keep their eyes wide open. The dynamic back has garnered the praise of coach David Shaw. Love stepped in for McCaffrey at times this season, but the bowl game was the first time the running game reins were officially handed over to Love. His 115 yards on 22 carries (5.2 yards per carry) might not have been as eye-popping as some other Pac-12 bowl season stats, but it’s a pretty good way to officially step into the starting position.

3. Safety Taylor Rapp is the next big name out of the Washington secondary: After the loss to Alabama, both Budda Baker and Sidney Jones announced they’d be going pro. Coupled with Kevin King’s graduation, it’s pretty obvious that the stout Washington secondary is going to have a new look in 2017. Rapp will fit in just fine next season as a starter (that Pac-12 title game MVP was a solid statement), and he looked comfortable playing on the same field as Alabama -- despite being a true freshman defensive back. And, with the amount of turnover in the secondary, this group is looking for its next face of the unit. All signs point to Rapp.

4. Oregon will steal your thunder ... even when the Ducks aren’t bowling: Yes, did you really think Willie Taggart was going to settle in quietly? Nah. He hired Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt (whose former Colorado defense didn’t look too hot against Oklahoma State) and spent most of the bowl season recruiting and working on the program.

The Ducks might not have been playing in a bowl game, but he made sure to have a social media and interview presence, keeping Oregon relevant at a time when there really wasn’t much going on for the Ducks. And yes, he stole some thunder from other Pac-12 schools, both ones that were and some that weren’t playing in bowl games.

5. Kyle Whittingham continues to be the most low-key, hyper-successful coach out there: When people think of consistently successful programs of the past decade, Utah isn’t a name that typically comes up. Yet, nine-win seasons are considered very successful (at most schools), and Whittingham has done that in seven of the past 12 seasons. On top of that, Whittingham is now 10-1 in bowl games, which gives him the highest postseason win percentage in college football history of coaches with at least 10 bowl wins. Not too shabby, Kyle. Utah and Whittingham just keep on doing what they’ve been doing -- winning.