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Friday, December 21, 2012
Take 2: Pac-12's must-win bowl games

By Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller

There are seven bowl games left with Pac-12 teams. Which one is a must-win? Your bloggers weigh in.

Ted Miller: Oregon and Stanford are obviously playing in the bowl games with the highest stakes, so both have plenty to gain. And lose.

But Arizona State's showdown with Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl feels like a must-win for the Sun Devils, in large part because it's the conference's biggest "should-win."

Todd Graham
A bowl victory would keep the good feelings going into Todd Graham's first full offseason at ASU.
The Sun Devils are one of the biggest favorites of the bowl season, as they are more than a two-touchdown favorite against the Midshipmen. Navy, though 8-4, doesn't have a terribly impressive resume. Its best win was probably over East Carolina. Its triple-option attack was shut out by San Jose State. On Nov. 10, it lost by 10 points to Troy.

If Arizona State shows up with its B game, it should win. It might even get the W with its C game. But if it shows up without passion or interest, it could get embarrassed.

And that is something previous iterations of the Sun Devils might have done.

First-year Arizona State coach Todd Graham's mantras this season have been about discipline, focus and consistency. What has most juiced Sun Devils fans is not really the 7-5 record or even the comeback victory at Arizona, though it does seem there are a few more wide grins in Tempe these days. It's the (mostly) consistent, disciplined way their team has played. It has bought into Graham's preachings and created a new culture that has revealed itself on the field.

If the Sun Devils futz around and lose to Navy, that becomes a step backward. Not a catastrophic one, mind you, but definitely a negative heading into the offseason, one that also might prevent the Sun Devils from getting preseason top-25 consideration.

And if they win? Well, it's expected, sure. But it also allows the euphoria over the Territorial Cup win to endure into the offseason. Further, a three-game winning streak to end the season is nice, as is getting an eighth win for only the second time since 2003.

Bowl games take on a life unto themselves. It's a bit of a stretch to call any bowl game a must-win. But Arizona State gets the nod among other Pac-12 teams because it's most clearly a should-win.

Kevin Gemmell: In the little corner of the world occupied by college football, perception is reality. And for a while, the perception was that Oregon was completely unstoppable.

Stanford brought all of that crumbling down with one overtime kick from Jordan Williamson and one heck of a defensive performance. The Ducks need to get that mojo back. Fast.

Marcus Mariota
QB Marcus Mariota and Oregon need a Fiesta victory to regain the aura they lost against Stanford.
And it starts with a big performance in a BCS bowl game against a top-five team.

The Ducks have a golden opportunity to re-establish their national perception when they square off against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Because the Ducks aren't just playing to close out 2012, they are playing for how they will be perceived in 2013.

If Oregon loses -- regardless how much talent is coming back or coming in -- it will take a hit in the 2013 preseason rankings. With a strong performance, the Ducks will enjoy a nice bump -- probably into the range of No. 2 or No. 3. We still have a year of the BCS system, so rankings are everything. If Oregon can start in one of those high positions, it doesn't have to rely on other teams losing so it can move up.

That's not to say it can't be done. Look at Notre Dame, which started the season unranked in the AP Top 25 and No. 24 in the coaches' poll. Winning has a funny way of working things out. On the other hand, the Irish's BCS title game opponent, Alabama, was No. 2 in the preseason and No. 1 most of the year. So when the Crimson Tide did lose, the slide was minimal.

It's much easier to reach the national championship if you are already positioned among the top handful of teams. Of the past eight national champions, six were ranked in the AP top five in the preseason (Auburn was No. 22 in 2010 and Florida was No. 7 in '06).

Plus, the Ducks probably will take a perception hit if head coach Chip Kelly departs for the NFL.

And that leads us to the importance of this game for 2012. Of course, we know about the non-history between these two schools and the intrigue that goes along with it -- the game that should have been but wasn't. History is written by the winner. No one is going to care about a scheduling snafu if the Ducks roll.

Oh yeah ... and they are supposed to win. There's some pressure that goes with being a nine-point favorite in a high-profile BCS game. A loss would be a significant upset and stains what should be considered a very impressive 2012 for the Ducks. A victory reaffirms that Oregon is an elite program and worthy of national championship consideration next season.

Perception is reality. And Oregon has a chance to set the 2013 perception agenda.