Wednesday, January 9, 2013
What we learned in the Pac-12 bowls
By Kevin Gemmell
1. The Pac-12 is top-heavy: Well, duh. The top two teams in the conference, Stanford and Oregon, both won their games -- BCS bowl games at that -- doing exactly what they did to get there in the first place. Stanford won the Rose Bowl with physical play and Oregon, not exactly lacking in physicality either, ran circles around Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. The middle of the conference, however, didn't fare as well. Oregon State and South champ UCLA both tanked in their games against Big 12 opponents.
2. North-South split: While the consensus is that the North Division is the stronger of the league's two divisions, the results in the postseason have it as a draw. The North went 2-2 and the South went 2-2. North representatives Stanford and Oregon won, while Oregon State and Washington lost. From the South, the Arizona schools both pulled off wins, while the Los Angeles schools face-planted. The fact that the North schools won BCS games certainly carries more weight.
Washington's Bishop Sankey ran past Boise State for 205 yards -- one of several impressive bowl performances from Pac-12 running backs.
3. Pac-12 running backs are awesome: The conference's ground game was on full display in the postseason. In five of the eight games, a Pac-12 running back went for at least 100 yards and three backs gained more than 150 yards -- Arizona State's Marion Grice (159), Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (172) and Washington's Bishop Sankey (205). Even the backs who didn't gain 100 yards -- Stepfan Taylor and Silas Redd -- had respectable games. The only real back to have a down day was UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who had just 34 yards on 14 carries in the Holiday Bowl. When you're facing a run blitz almost every play, that can be tough. As a group, the backs averaged 24.8 carries for 143.8 yards per game with nine total touchdowns -- three from Carey, two from Grice and Oregon State's Storm Woods and one apiece from Taylor and Sankey.
4. There's a one-point safety? Full disclosure: I had no idea this rule existed. In my 17 years in this business, I have never come across this. But apparently when a blocked PAT is recovered, taken into the end zone and then the player is tackled in the end zone, the result is a one-point safety for the kicking team. Thanks to that Oregon-Kansas State game, aren't we all a little smarter now? The rule is as obscure as it is enlightening.
5. Coaches are committed: Chip Kelly is sticking around -- at least for another year. David Shaw is sticking around -- for an undisclosed amount of time. Jim Mora is sticking around -- as far as we know. All three coaches took a ride on the to-the-NFL rumor roller coaster -- Kelly reaching the highest velocity -- but all three are back. Kelly picked up the phone, and then hung up. Shaw signed an undisclosed contract extension and Mora apparently hasn't entertained any offers to return to the league despite rumored interest from at least one NFL team -- San Diego. High-profile coaches are a good thing for the league. And when they stick around, that's even better.
6. Kerplunk: USC's bowl season ended much the way the regular season did -- historically horrific. USC became the first preseason No. 1 in history to lose six games and the first since 1964 to finish unranked. Remember when we were talking about how devastating it would be if they lost two? Well, the Trojans lost five of their final six, including an embarrassing performance against Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. History will look at USC in 2012 as one of the worst -- if not the worst -- wastes of talent college football has ever seen, while the rest of the country will look upon them with a schadenfreudeian smile. It was, in a word, unacceptable.
7. Pac-12 isn't No. 1: The SEC finished the bowl season 6-3 and Alabama won the national championship. Yes, it is the best conference in college football. The question of who is No. 2 can rage between the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Texas and Baylor beat Oregon State and UCLA, respectively, in non-BCS games. Oregon beat Kansas State in a BCS game. The Pac-12 is heavier at the top; the Big 12 probably has more depth. The Pac-12 went 4-4 and the Big 12 went 4-5. You can argue the ACC belongs in the Nos. 2, 3, 4 conversation as well. Its teams went 4-2, won a BCS bowl game, Clemson knocked off a top 10 team and the ACC won its only head-to-head game against the Pac-12 (see the aforementioned kerplunk). You can't make an argument for the Pac-12 being No. 1. But you can make a case for it falling anywhere between 2 through 4.
8. How 'bout them kickers: For as much guff as Pac-12 kickers took during the regular season -- and there was guff a'plenty to go around -- they actually showed up in the postseason. Pac-12 kickers completed 10 of 12 field goal attempts (83 percent). Stanford's Jordan Williamsonexorcised his Fiesta Bowl demons and clutched up with a 47-yarder and a 2-for-2 performance for the Cardinal (who won by six points). And the accuracy level was much higher than the league's 67 percent (148-of 218) in the regular season. The eight schools playing in bowl games were 104-of-154 on the season (67 percent), so this was a much better showing all around.