That is good news and bad news.
The good news is the conference has an excellent chance to post an impressive bowl record. The bad news is it has a chance to embarrass itself, too. Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment.
Of course, the Pac-12 blog has always taken a dim view of judging a conference by its bowl record, despite its annual inevitability. The college football postseason is filled with teams with varied motivation, not to mention coaching turnover -- see Washington and USC, as well as Boise State. Still, a program is responsible for itself, and if it opts to show up with a bad attitude then it probably deserves an earful of catcalls.
The biggest reason the Pac-12 should thrive this bowl season is the biggest negative for the conference: Just one BCS bowl team, unlike the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12, and unlike the previous three years. Yep, the deepest Pac-12 perhaps in history ended up being a negative when it came to handing out bowl invitations.
The most aggrieved party is No. 10 Oregon, the only eligible at-large team to be passed over. The Ducks were hoping to be pitted against Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl, but the bowl went with Oklahoma, honoring a relationship with the Big 12 and perhaps thinking the Sooners will travel better than the Ducks.
Not to incur the wide-eyed wrath of Oregon fans, but the Sooners case probably was stronger on merit, too. The Ducks lost two of their final four games, and they barely slipped 6-6 Oregon State in the Civil War to conclude the season. Oklahoma is riding a three-game winning streak that was capped by impressive victory over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Paired with the Sooners other quality win -- at Notre Dame -- that's more impressive than the Ducks best wins (UCLA and Washington). And the Sooners losses, to Baylor and Texas, are at least comparable to the Ducks' (Stanford and Arizona). According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Oregon's and Oklahoma's schedules were pretty equivalent, the Ducks ranking 50th and the Sooners 55th.
Sure, Oregon would be favored against Oklahoma, but the Sugar Bowl folks took the temperature of the respective fan bases and found more smiles in Norman than Eugene.
Finally, to be honest, the way Oregon looked over the final month of the season suggests they'd be better off allowing the Sooners to deal with Alabama and Nick Saban.
As for the conference champions, kudos to Stanford for negotiating the nation's fourth most difficult schedule with an 11-2 record. In fact, the Cardinal is ranked No. 1 in ESPN Stats & Information "Championship Drive Rating," which measures a team's overall merit -- the "difficulty of achieving their W-L or better and how well they control games using in-game win probability; both adjusted for quality of opponent."
Of course, Stanford, which opened as a 3-point favorite against Michigan State, is where the Pac-12's overall offseason perception will start. It figures to get a tough fight from the defensive-minded Spartans. A Cardinal loss would diminish the Pac-12's national perception as a whole -- as in trickle down from the Big Ten champion being superior to the Pac-12 champ.
Oregon's matchup with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl is interesting. If both teams show up with their best game, Oregon wins by two or three touchdowns. But the Ducks over the final four weeks of the season would lose to Texas. As disappointed as the Ducks are with their bowl selection -- hey, at least it's not the boring Rose Bowl, right? -- they need to show up motivated. They need to know, for one, that the Longhorns figure to be fired up, as they are perhaps playing their last game with Mack Brown as their coach.
The biggest mismatch of the conference's bowl season might be Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. While the Sun Devils have won seven of eight, the loss coming Saturday in the Pac-12 title game to Stanford, they are among the nation's hottest teams. The Red Raiders? They've lost five in a row, the last four being blowouts.
UCLA is in a similar situation in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bruins have won four of five, while the Hokies have lost three of five. Virginia Tech's defense will challenge Bruins QB Brett Hundley, but the Hokies are horrid on offense.
USC and Washington will be the conference's biggest question marks due to coaching changes. The Trojans face a very good Fresno State team led by QB Derek Carr in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, while the Huskies face a BYU team that ran all over Texas in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Under normal circumstances, both matchups would favor the Pac-12. But these aren't normal circumstances.
Oregon State will face a Boise State squad with the same deal in the Hawaii Bowl. While this is a down year for the Broncos, it's hard to bet against Boise State with Chris Petersen in a bowl game. But he's now in Seattle. The Beavers, by the way, really need to win this game, otherwise it's going to be a sour offseason in Corvallis.
Meanwhile, Arizona will be making the longest trip to meet Boston College in Shreveport, Louisiana for the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. This is an interesting matchup just because you have the top two running backs in the country in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College's Andre Williams.
Finally, Washington State will be playing in its first bowl game since 2003 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. The Cougars have wins over USC, Utah and Arizona. The Rams best win is over 5-7 Wyoming. Mike Leach and the Cougs should roll.
Again, when you added it all up, 9-0 is not unreasonable and 7-2 is almost pessimistic. But bowl games are funny things, and this has been a funny season.
Don't discount the meaning of how things play out. As we move into a four-team College Football Playoff with a selection committee weighing who's in and who's out, perception might become even more important than it was with the quintessentially subjective BCS.
The Pac-12 seemed like -- at the very least -- the nation's second best conference this season, no matter the BCS bowl situation. It needs to make good on that during the bowl games.
- Arizona is going down south for its bowl game.
- Up next for Arizona State is a date with Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
- California's defense will get some JUCO help.
- Colorado picks up commitment No. 16.
- Oregon coach Mark Helfrich on a snowball fight that got a little out of hand.
- Oregon State is headed to Hawaii for its bowl game.
- Stanford and Michigan State have a lot of similarities.
- UCLA will approach the Sun Bowl differently than it did the Holiday Bowl last year.
- USC will get a tough Fresno State team in the Las Vegas Bowl.
- Utah got better in 2013, but things might be more difficult next fall.
- Washington and interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo are headed to the Bay Area for the postseason.
- Washington State will end its bowl drought in New Mexico.
The Pac-12 conference has seen a flurry of action recently, with coaching news and rumors keeping recruits on their toes. Following a week where Steve Sarkisian took over at USC and Chris Petersen moved from Boise State to Washington, this past weekend was tame by comparison. But UCLA made some significant noise with a big commitment, while Oregon extended two intriguing offers. CIF championship games provided backdrops for huge performances from Pac-12 recruits, while the conference title tilt was only the appetizer in the battle between Arizona State and Stanford.
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr has won the Lott IMPACT Trophy as the collegiate defensive player having the biggest influence on his team.
Barr, the first Bruin to win the 10th annual award, led UCLA with 20 tackles for losses. He also had 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumbles recoveries and 62 total tackles.
The award is named for Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott and goes to a player with strong academic work, community involvement and team leadership.
UCLA will receive $25,000 for its general scholarship fund.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was the speaker at Sunday night's banquet at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.
Manti Te'o of Notre Dame won last year.
Here's the slate.
Sat., Dec. 21 Gildan New Mexico Bowl : Albuquerque, N.M. (University Stadium)
WASHINGTON STATE (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 21 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Las Vegas, Nev. (Sam Boyd Stadium)
USC (9-4) vs. Fresno State (11-1), 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Tues., Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)
OREGON STATE (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4), 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Fri., Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl : San Francisco (AT&T Park)
WASHINGTON (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4), 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 Valero Alamo Bowl : San Antonio, Texas (Alamodome)
OREGON (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 National University Holiday Bowl: San Diego, Calif. (Qualcomm Stadium)
ARIZONA STATE (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Shreveport, La. (Independence Stadium)
ARIZONA (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl: El Paso, Texas (Sun Bowl)
UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, CBS
Wed., Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
STANFORD (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-3)
Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m. ET, El Paso, Texas (CBS)
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES BREAKDOWN
Virginia Tech played the way most people expected this season: Its defense was outstanding; its offense was not. There is little doubt the Hokies fielded a championship-caliber defense throughout the course of 2013, but offensive shortcomings ended up derailing any hope for a return to the ACC title game.
When he made them, Virginia Tech won more often than not. The Hokies got off to a 6-1 start and climbed to No. 14 in the rankings after Thomas was particularly effective in their first three ACC games -- scoring six total touchdowns while throwing zero interceptions. But Virginia Tech proceeded to drop three of its next four games, including back-to-back downers against Duke and Boston College.
In those two losses, Thomas had eight turnovers. It is unfair to blame Thomas completely for both losses. There is plenty of blame to go around. The defense did not play particularly well against the Eagles, either, as Andre Williams ran for 166 yards and two scores.
Despite another overtime loss to Maryland at home, Virginia Tech held out hope of winning the Coastal going into the final Saturday of the regular season. But Duke would have none of that. So once again, the Hokies will not play for a championship, the first time they have failed to make it back to the ACC title game after missing the previous season.
The defense ended up ranking in the top 10 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks. True freshman Kendall Fuller won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after ranking fifth nationally in interceptions (six) and leading the conference with 16 passes defended.
Fellow defensive back Brandon Facyson is a candidate to join Fuller on the freshman All-America team. Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller and Luther Maddy were solid all year.
This puts into perspective how lopsided the performance was between the offense and defense: Of the 11 Virginia Tech players recognized on the All-ACC media teams, only two came from the offense. Both were honorable mention on offensive line. -- Andrea Adelson
UCLA BRUINS BREAKDOWN
With a 2-0 mark against USC and their head coach locked up for six more years, the UCLA Bruins enter the bowl season brimming with confidence.
Stricken early in the season with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, coach Jim Mora rallied his team to five straight wins to open the year, including an emotional win at Nebraska. UCLA lost back-to-back games at Stanford and Oregon but closed out the year by winning four of its last five.
Defensively, linebacker Anthony Barr continues to be one of the most dominant players in the country. He led the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for a loss and was tied for second with 10 sacks. Complementary players such as Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack give UCLA one of the top front sevens in college football.
As depth issues impacted the running game, the Bruins got more creative in finding ways to score. Jack took over as a dual-threat option and added seven rushing touchdowns to his résumé. Marsh has a touchdown reception, and even defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has rushed for a score. The Bruins head into the postseason playing a very creative yet still physical style of football. -- Kevin Gemmell
The 6-foot, 293-pound tackle is the nation's No. 216 prospect and No. 20 player in California. He held offers from a number of Pac-12 programs, but the Bruins were always going to be difficult to beat.
This past weekend, Taua took an official visit to UCLA -- his fourth visit, after trips to Washington State, Oklahoma and Mississippi -- and made his commitment. Taua is the third ESPN 300 prospect to commit to UCLA in this class, joining wide receiver Austin Roberts (Carmel, Ind./Carmel) and cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito).
It's an intriguing pick up in two ways, as Taua has the ability to form a terrific team with 2013 defensive line signees Eddie Vanderdoes, Kylie Fitts and Kenneth Clark, adding to a dynamic group up front, but he is also part of a good group of big-man friends in Southern California, which includes USC commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), uncommitted ESPN 300 guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and uncommitted guard Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch). Delp doesn't hold a USC offer and looks to be a fairly solid UCLA lean, but Mama is one of the bigger Trojans-Bruins battles left on the board. Talamaivao's commitment to USC gives Steve Sarkisian's program plenty of pull with Mama, but Taua heading to UCLA swings some momentum toward Westwood.
As a senior, Taua recorded seven sacks and 36 total tackles, almost matching his junior year output, when he posted seven sacks, 49 stops and an interception.
UCLA now has verbal commitments from 13 prospects in the 2014 class, including four four-star recruits.
The No. 19 Badgers (9-3) are playing in a non-BCS bowl for the first time in three seasons following three consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin lost those games, though, and will be looking for its first bowl win under coach Gary Andersen.
South Carolina (10-2) won its final five games of the season, including a double-overtime victory against then-unbeaten Missouri.
The Gamecocks are making their second Capital One Bowl appearance in three seasons, having beaten Nebraska in 2012.
South Carolina is also the only team to beat Fiesta Bowl-bound UCF, rallying in the final three quarters to claim a three-point victory.
It is the first meeting between the schools.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
SEC runner-up Missouri is headed to the Cotton Bowl, where the No. 8 Tigers will play No. 13 Oklahoma State on Jan. 3.
Missouri (11-2) is coming off a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game in only its second season in that league.
Oklahoma State (10-2) was on track for a Big 12 title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series before a 33-24 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, and nine of the last 10, over Big 12 teams. The lone exception was the 2008 game when Missouri, then in the Big 12, beat Arkansas 38-7.
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Jan. 1, 2014): Stanford vs. Michigan State
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Oregon vs. Big 12
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): UCLA vs. ACC
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27): Washington vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21): Washington State vs. MWC
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31): Arizona vs. ACC
Texas (Dec. 27): Oregon State vs. Big Ten
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To the notes.
Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?
Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?
The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.
Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.
Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.
As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.
Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.
Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.
So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.
Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.
It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.
Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?
Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.
A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.
Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.
The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.
But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.
In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.
Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.
But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.
Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?
Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.
That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.
Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.
And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.
Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.
Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.
The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.
Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.
The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.
Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?
Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.
Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.
I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.
- Arizona's bowl destination is up in the air.
- ASU will have to make some defensive changes against Stanford this time around.
- Memorial Stadium remains the same, but the field has a new name.
- Colorado's regents have approved upgrades.
- How do this year's Ducks compare to last year's?
- Bruce Feldman weighs in on Mike Riley and the state of OSU football in a Q&A with the Oregonian.
- The keys for Stanford to beat Arizona State.
- UCLA brings in a running backs coach with LA ties.
- The full quote sheet from Steve Sarkisian's introductory news conference at USC -- and player reactions.
- What are the expectations for Utah in 2014?
- Are there frontrunners in the Washington job search?
- Cougars are looking for their spot on the bowl landscape.
- Athlon Sports offers up some quirky title game statistics and some predictions.
Here are the top five storylines that Pac-12 recruiting fans should be watching for during the week of practices and the game, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN.
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