Pac 12 Bowl games at a glance
USC isn’t postseason bound, but seven of its conference mates will be hitting the road over the next few weeks. Those schools learned their bowl destinations on Sunday, and it’s a tough draw for a conference looking to earn respect. For the fourth time in the 14-year existence of the system, the conference will be represented by two teams in BCS bowl games. And on the other side of the spectrum, we find a coach in his final game, and another program led by an interim.
For all the success Oregon has achieved under Chip Kelly, it has ended each season on a sour note. The Ducks have qualified for a third consecutive BCS bowl game, after suffering losses in two previous attempts. History has proven that a key to slowing the “blur” offense is time to prepare. The Badgers will have nearly a month to study film and piece together a game plan that would allow them to share the same success as others meeting Oregon in season finales. The 2012 Rose Bowl will feature two of the best running backs in college football. Montee Ball leads the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns, while LaMichael James is the national leader in yards per game. This is the fourth trip to Pasadena for Wisconsin in the BCS era, and it was the loser in this stadium last year.
Stanford draws an opponent eager to make a statement. The Cowboys are BCS championship game snubs, unable to sway the human vote in their favor in the final week of the polls. Their misfortune is a Fiesta Bowl gain, as it now pairs BCS No. 3 versus No. 4, in a battle of 1-loss teams. The Cardinal finished second to the Ducks in the Pac 12, and earned its second BCS trip in as many years. It is the third appearance overall for the program, and each has come under a different head coach. Oklahoma State is making its first BCS appearance, and unlike a Rose Bowl with runners center stage, the Fiesta will spotlight passing attacks. Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden are two of the nation’s biggest names under center, and Belitnikoff finalist Justin Blackmon stands out wide.
If there was ever a match-up to make you realize there are too many bowl games, this is it. UCLA and Illinois share a lot in common, but all similarities are negative. Neither has a winning record, with the Bruins entering a game below .500 and on the verge of becoming the worst team to qualify in the history of bowl games. Both programs have terminated their coaches, with a search for new leadership shadowing the game itself. Each claims a victory over Arizona State as its biggest accomplishment in 2011. That Sun Devils program would finish 6-6, also sending its coach to the unemployment line and posting “help wanted” ads. The Illini enter on a 6-game losing streak, while the Bruins rode a season rollercoaster with a steep slope at the end. UCLA would enter the Pac 12 championship game through a back door, and then petition the NCAA for a waiver that would allow postseason participation despite it’s losing record. The program enters this bowl game with a mark of 6-7, after finishing the regular season with 99 points surrender to the opposition in a span of 6 days.
Utah has had a rough transition from mid-major to the Pac 12 conference. It finishes its first season at 4-5 in league play, which was capped by an embarrassing loss at home to Colorado. As further indication of first-year struggles, of the league members defeated by the Utes, Only the 6-7 Bruins are bowl eligible. But the team has performed well out of conference (3-0), and will now match their seventh ranked run defense against a Georgia tech rushing attack ranked third overall in the country. The Yellow Jackets have won just three games outside of Bobby Dodd Stadium this year.
I’m predicting Washington as the only team that will take the field this bowl season to face a Heisman Trophy winner. Robert Griffin III has been invited to New York for the weekend, and should be paying additional airline fees for a new item upon his return. The dynamic play maker is just one of several challenges facing the Huskies, with another being the inability to defeat ranked teams. Washington is 0-3 versus ranked opponents in 2011, and the Alamo Bowl will present a fourth.
Jeff Tedford is taking his Golden Bears bowling for the eighth time in his 10-year tenure. His teams have fared well in the postseason, posting a 5-2 mark, but the disappointment comes with never qualifying for the BCS or any bowl game played in January. This is the coaches third trip to the Holiday Bowl, last appearing in 2009, where it scored a 45-10 victory over Texas A&M. The Longhorns return to the postseason after sitting out 2010 with only five victories. They are losers of five of their last eight games, which has raised questions about Mack Brown’s security. This is Texas’ fifth-ever meeting with Cal, claiming a victory in each of the previous four.
The Las Vegas Bowl gives an example of how poor the pairings become after BCS selections. One-loss Boise State is matched with a team that lost half its games. It’s a game few want to see, but stands as the only alternative for a Broncos team that finished seventh in the BCS rankings. For one program, it’s a missed field goal that separates New Orleans from Las Vegas. And for the other, it’s many missed opportunities that has separated it from their coach. Dennis Erickson is coaching his final game at ASU, and finds himself across the field from Kellen Moore, who will be taking his final collegiate snaps for Boise State.