- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taking stock of the Pac-12 championship game and weekend that was.
Team of the week: Stanford beat Arizona State 38-14 for the Pac-12 championship and its second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
Biggest play: Arizona State, trailing 31-14 late in the third quarter, faced a fourth-and-goal inside the Stanford 1-yard line. A touchdown and PAT would have reduced the margin to 10 points and made for a potentially interesting fourth quarter. Instead, De'Marieya Nelson was stopped for no gain. The Cardinal took the ball and went 99 yards for a TD to start the fourth. Game over.
Offensive standout: Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney earned Pac-12 championship game MVP honors after rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal's victory over Arizona State.
Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble against the Sun Devils.
Smiley face: Stanford lost two games on the road it should have won, but the bottom line is when the smoked cleared the Cardinal had outlasted everyone else in the Pac-12. That's saying something in a season when the conference was perhaps deeper than it ever has been.
Frowny face: In a season when the Pac-12 might have been the nation's best conference, it didn't get a second BCS bowl invitation. That will cost all 12 teams about $500,000.
Thought of the week: The USA Today coaches' poll counts in the BCS standings and that's too bad for the Pac-12. Each of the Pac-12's four ranked teams are lower in the coaches poll than the AP poll. Why is that? Incompetence? Stupidity? Regional bias? It's bad enough that it should be brought up in the offseason by USA Today to the coaches who vote. As in: "Hey, guys. Don't be stupid. Pay attention to strength of schedule. If you want to rank a Pac-12 team seventh, rank it fifth. You'll look smarter." The good news is the final coaches poll included how each coach voted. You can count on the Pac-12 blog revisiting the issue this week, such as wondering how in good conscience Clemson coach Dabo Swinney could vote Stanford 10th.
Questions for the week: Two years ago, the Pac-12 wrote off a poor bowl record due to having two BCS bowl teams and a 10-2 USC team ineligible. That meant every Pac-12 team was promoted up a spot or two in the bowl pecking order, thereby facing a tougher foe. That won't be the case this season with nine bowl teams and just one playing a BCS bowl game. The Pac-12 gained great national credibility this year. Just about everyone saw it as the nation's No. 2 conference and a legit challenger to the SEC. But credibility will start to leak with bowl defeats. A 5-4 record won't cut it. The Pac-12 needs to go at least 6-3. That's a modest aspiration.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney