Thursday, December 15, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12 bowls
By Ted Miller
Issues to consider heading into the Pac-12 bowl season.
A winning record would make big statement: The Pac-12 is an underdog in six of seven bowl games -- only Oregon is favored over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. That means going 4-3 would require three upsets, and the Ducks are hardly a sure thing. UCLA beating Illinois wouldn't get the Pac-12 much street credit, but the other six would, particularly the two BCS bowl games. The reality is this: When you start to see national writers picking these games, more than a few will project 0-7.
Can Oregon buck its rep, run over the Badgers? You've heard it before. Over and over. Five of Ducks coach Chip Kelly's six losses have come to teams with extra time to prepare: Season-openers against Boise State and LSU, bowl games with Ohio State and Auburn, and Stanford coming off a bye week in 2009. And in each case the Ducks' point total was below average for the season. Know how Kelly and the Ducks can put that to bed? Score 40 and rush for 200-plus yards against Wisconsin in Pasadena on Jan. 2. Even if Wisconsin wins, that would at least stop the talk about extra time "solving" the Oregon offense.
Does Andrew Luck go out big? Stanford quarterback Luck was widely -- and deservedly -- celebrated for his surprising return for his redshirt junior year instead of entering the NFL draft. He put up great numbers. His top-five team went 11-1 and is playing in a second consecutive BCS bowl game. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy race for a second consecutive year. It's hard to rate any of that as disappointing. But Luck faced higher expectations than perhaps any player who returned for his "senior" year has before, even USC's Matt Leinart in 2005. Despite being an underdog to a very good Oklahoma State team, it would seem deflating on the Farm if the Cardinal loses the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 and sends Luck out on a down note.
RG3 vs. Nick Holt: Many Washington fans are unhappy with the Huskies defense, and they blame highly paid defensive coordinator Holt. Holt is tight with head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has consistently backed his embattled assistant. Holt could significantly bolster his standing -- and establish some positive momentum for 2012 -- if he and his staff can figure out a way to slow down Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. Of course, Griffin is only the Heisman Trophy winner and this season's most dynamic playmaker.
Do UCLA and Arizona State show up and fight? UCLA and Arizona State are bowl teams with fired coaches, which is a bit odd. The Bruins are playing under interim coach Mike Johnson, who will be out the door after the Dec. 31 game. The Sun Devils are playing under fired coach Dennis Erickson. How much pride and fight does either show? With Erickson on hand, there's a chance his players play hard to send him out on a good note, but Boise State is a tough foe in the Dec. 22 MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. But they might have thought of that during a four-game losing streak to end the season. The Bruins showed some fight in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, Rick Neuheisel's final game. But how much will they care against Illinois, which also is playing under an interim coach, in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl?
Utah's run defense vs. Georgia Tech's option: Utah ranks seventh in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering just 97 yards per game. Georgia Tech's triple-option ranks No. 3 in the country in run offense, gaining 317 yards per game. Something has to give in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 31. Know how it's better to play Oregon after getting extra time to prepare a defense? Same goes for the Yellow Jackets.
A dish served cold for the Old Blues? California hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1959. It thought it was going in 2004, but something happened. Mack Brown happened. He told people Cal shouldn't go to the Rose Bowl. His team should. That pollsters should promote his team and demote the Bears in order to help the Longhorns. That's not exactly what happened -- just ask Brown and Texas fans -- but that's what Cal fans think happened. The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, set for Dec. 28, doesn't feature ranked teams. But it does feature a nice grudge, which will make things interesting, at least among fans.