Editorial Note: As we close in on the final Pac-12 Championship game, Kyle Kensing has a series of articles looking at some of the more memorable storylines from the conference’s most recent (since expanding to 12 teams) history. Earlier this week, Kyle wrote about the 12 upsets that cost the Pac 12 from playing for a national title.

For certain generations of college football fans, the lasting legacy of the Pac-12 Conference won’t be hearing Keith Jackson’s voice calling 12:30 Pacific kickoffs on regional ABC telecasts. In its final decade, what happened deep into the night defined the erstwhile Conference of Champions.

Unearthing the exact origin of the Pac-12 After Dark is its own unique task that would require a separate column. The hashtag first appeared on Twitter in October 2014, a month filled with intense and exciting finishes across the conference, in games exclusively played under the lights.

The cultural reference, however, dates back to an era coinciding with the heyday of those aforementioned Jackson-called ABC broadcasts. Fledgling premium cable network Cinemax offered adult content late at night under the branding of “After Dark,” targeting a demographic that was too shy to frequent the back room divided from the rest of the video store with a beaded curtain.

And if that sentence makes no sense to you, thank you for reading, Gen Z’ers.


Alluding to a timeslot when one could catch the cinematic works of former ABC “Wide World of Sports” director Andy Sidaris branded Pac-12 football as what Bret Bielema might deem “borderline erotic.”

With Pac-12 After Dark going dark at the conclusion of the Oregon-Washington conference championship game, let’s pay homage to a defining trait of the league with 12 of its sexiest moments from the 12-team era.

  1. We’re Going Streaking!

One could make the case that Pac-12 After Dark was born at Arizona Stadium with a specific play — more on that in a moment. But three years prior to the hashtag, another proto-After Dark moment in Tucson fits the brand’s penchant for the peculiar.

Given the label came from a pitch for adult movies, it seems fitting to include the night a member of the “Zona Zoo” student section, disguised as a referee, ran onto the field and stripped down to his underwear.

The streaker led to a break in the action during an Arizona rout of UCLA, at which players from both sides broke out into a skirmish.

  1. Woodstock on the Palouse

Weeknight games proved particularly fertile ground for Pac-12 After Dark happenings, and one of the most significant came when Washington State beat a USC team with College Football Playoff ambitions on a Friday night in 2017.

Following the 30-27 Cougars win, the late Mike Leach referred to the scene at Martin Stadium as, “Like Woodstock, ‘cept everybody’s got their clothes on.”

  1. Christian McCaffrey Invokes Loud Noises

Among the single-greatest performances in the history of the Pac-12, from any of its iterations, is Christian McCaffrey’s showing at the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game. The Stanford running back rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown, caught four passes for 105 yards and another touchdown, and threw one pass that went for a touchdown to quarterback Kevin Hogan.


While McCaffrey’s exploits presumably made most on-lookers gasp in awe, shouts of language that was decidedly TV-MA coming from the booth where the USC defensive coaching staff was located could be heard in the adjacent press box.

It wasn’t the last time McCaffrey could prompt someone to start shouting that season.

Following a Rose Bowl Game performance in which McCaffrey took a pass 75 yards for a touchdown, returned a punt 63 yards to the house — putting him in rarefied air with touchdowns five different ways that season — and racked up 174 rushing yards with 105 through the air, the Cardinal running back gave a postgame interview notable for the exuberant Stanford fan behind him yelling, “Heisman!”


Although McCaffrey’s work that day was done primarily under the sunshine of a clear New Year’s Day in the San Gabriel Valley, the Granddaddy of ‘Em All is famous for concluding under the lights. Heisman Guy, welcome to Pac-12 After Dark lore.

  1. No Such Thing As A Chip Shot, Part 1

A game that featured a record-setting 734-yard passing performance from quarterback Connor Hallliday, two kickoffs returned for touchdowns and 119 combined points ended on a play notable for producing no points.

Rivaling UCLA-Washington in 2019 for the wildest game of the Pac-12 era, Cal outlasted Washington State in a sometimes overlooked entry into the 2014 month that gave birth to Pac-12 After Dark.

The Golden Bears led 60-59 when Halliday led Washington State on a drive deep into Cal territory. After Gerard Wicks was stuffed at the goal line with 19 seconds remaining, Mike Leach sent kicker Quentin Breshears out for a 19-yard field-goal attempt.

Breshears missed, preserving the Cal win.

  1. No Such Thing As A Chip Shot, Part 2

Utah’s 30-28 win at UCLA on Oct. 4, 2014, was significant for adding to the reputation Kyle Whittingham was fast building with his then-still relatively newcomer program in the Pac-12.

Whittingham said in his postgame press conference that he, “never understood what the word ‘signature win’ is, but this is a big win for us on the road.”

Part of Utah’s success in the Pac-12 was a byproduct of the commitment Whittingham made to special teams. And, fittingly, kicker Andy Phillips’ field goal in the final minute elevated the Utes to the win.

On the flipside, one of the best placekickers in the Pac-12 that season — UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn — missed two field attempts on the same drive that would have won it for the Bruins.

  1. No Such Thing As A “Chip” Shot, Part 3

Predating the advent of the Pac-12 After Dark label and in the conference’s first season with 12 members, Oregon suffered one of the most heartbreaking upsets in the league’s long line of national title shot-denying defeats.

The Ducks, a year removed from playing for the BCS championship, reached late November 2011 back in the hunt after a season-opening loss to LSU. A rematch was a distinct possibility with Oregon piling up lopsided wins, but the Ducks came out flat against a USC team barred from title contention.

The Trojans jumped to a 38-14 lead before Oregon mounted a furious comeback that appeared head to overtime. The Ducks defense forced a fumble that denied USC a potential killshot, then Darron Thomas led a lightning-fast drive into Trojans territory.

Ducks kicker Alejandro Maldonado was hardly perfect in 2011 — in fact, at 7-of-12, he was just over 50 percent — but he only missed from inside 40 years just once that year.

It came on the would-be, game-tying attempt to send the Ducks into overtime with USC and keep their BCS title hopes alive.


Along with Michael Dyer’s run and Stanford’s overtime win at Autzen Stadium in 2012, the missed 37-yard field goal stands as one of the three near-misses that denied Oregon a championship under Chip Kelly.

12 upsets that cost Pac-12 teams a chance to play for a national championship

  1. When to Hold ‘Em, When to Fold ‘Em, When to Take A Knee

Oregon-Stanford served as the Pac-12 preeminent rivalry in the 2010s, producing a number of memorable finishes in games with championship stakes. Although neither the Ducks nor Cardinal reached the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game, that season’s entry was among the most memorable for its conclusion.

Oregon, in its first season under Mario Cristobal, took a 31-21 lead in the late fourth quarter on Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s goal-line touchdown carry. Stanford answered with a quick strike from K.J. Costello to JJ Arcega-Whiteside, but the Cardinal needed to regain possession.

Justin Herbert and CJ Verdell began running the ball to bleed clock and converted a pair of first downs, seemingly sinking the Cardinal. But instead of taking a knee, Oregon ran once more. Noah Williams forced a fumble from Verdell, which led to an overtime-forcing Stanford drive.

The Cardinal won in overtime as a result of the gaffe, 38-31.

Five years later, Cristobal’s Miami Hurricanes lost to Georgia Tech under similar circumstances.

  1. A Dam Good Defensive Play

The chaotic 2014 season reached its stretch run with five teams in the hunt for the Pac-12 South. Among them, and a surprise contender for a College Football Playoff berth, was Arizona State.

The Sun Devils contributed plenty of memorable moments to Pac-12 After Dark with their tendency to score major upsets: Wins over Washington in 2017 and Oregon in 2019 impacted not only the conference race, but the Playoff picture.

At Oregon State in November 2014, however, roles were reversed. The Sun Devils were atop the division at 5-1 visiting a sub-.500 Beavers team. But when conference record-setting passer Sean Mannion threw a 67-yard touchdown to Jordan Villamin in the fourth quarter, Arizona State was down a point and in trouble.

After an exchange of punts, Arizona State had possession and the opportunity to win it. Instead, Michael Doctor came away with a pick-six for the ages.

  1. Comeback in Pasadena

For the sake of uniformity, this look at great moments in Pac-12 After Dark lore is narrowed to in-conference contests — except this one.

Texas A&M visited UCLA for a rare Sunday night affair on opening weekend 2017. With quarterback Josh Rosen back from a season-ending injury the year prior and tabbed as a preseason Heisman Trophy contender, the Bruins had an opportunity to make a statement on a national stage they had all to themselves.

Instead, Texas A&M stormed to a 31-3 lead in the second quarter, furthering the narrative that the SEC is simply light years ahead of other conferences, including the Pac-12.

A&M had a 99 percent or better Win Probability per ESPN.com from the mid-second quarter all the way into the latter half of the fourth, when UCLA — down 44-10 with less than 20 minutes of game time remaining — kicked its comeback efforts into high gear.

Rosen threw four touchdown passes in the final period, the last to Jordan Lasley with 43 seconds remaining, to power the Bruins to a 45-44 win.

  1. Comeback in Pullman

ESPN’s Win Probability chart gave Washington State a 99.8 percent chance of beating UCLA when the winless Bruins visited Pullman on Sept. 21, 2019.

Anthony Gordon’s incredible seventh touchdown pass less than 40 minutes into the game gave Washington State a 49-17 lead. By all logic, UCLA was cooked.

But Pac-12 After Dark defied logic.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Demetric Felton combined to lead the Bruins on a remarkable comeback that culminated in Felton’s 15-yard scoring reception with 67 seconds remaining. The touchdown sealed a 67-63 win for UCLA.

  1. “Jael” Mary

Oct. 4, 2014, just might qualify as the official birth date of Pac-12 After Dark. On the night was Utah’s upset of UCLA, the bonkers Cal-Washington State shootout, and Arizona State’s incredible comeback to beat USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

A back-and-forth game throughout, the Trojans seemed to have command in the fourth quarter when Buck Allen broke off a 53-yard touchdown to give USC a two-possession lead.

Now, the game-winning play from this contest earns the lion’s share of attention, but back-up Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici’s 73-yard connection with Cameron Smith on the previous possession made one of the defining plays of Pac-12 After Dark possible.

Arizona State forced a quick three-and-out, and the Sun Devils regained possession needing a miracle. The “Jael” Mary — Jaelen Strong’s touchdown catch from Bercovici — provided.

  1. “Hill” Mary

While Oct. 4 of the 2014 season was the first full day of Pac-12 After Dark, the first play qualifying for such distinction occurred two weeks earlier.

Arizona dug a 28-6 hole at halftime against Cal on Sept. 20 that season. Its attempts to rally in the fourth quarter were repeatedly answered, with the Golden Bears pushing the lead back to 15 points on two occasions.

Terris Jones-Grigsby capped a 75-yard drive with 3:30 remaining, then Cayleb Jones made it a two-point game with his touchdown reception after a recovered onside kick. But when the game-tying two-point conversion attempt failed, another onside kick went Cal’s way.

The Golden Bears had an opportunity to ice the game, but could not convert a second first down to put it away. James Langford’s long field-goal attempt was no good, putting Arizona 70 yards from the goal line with 52 seconds and no timeouts.

Arizona’s game-winning play itself is among the most incredible in college football over the last decade, but the Wildcats also overcame an offensive pass interference that put them at first-and-25 to start the drive and converted a fourth-and-7 to set up Anu Solomon’s Hail Mary heave to Austin Hill.

About Kyle Kensing

Kyle Kensing is a sports journalist in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter The Press Break at https://pressbreak.substack.com.