NCF Nation: Holiday Bowl

Last year, the chant of "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!" was heard in both Pac-12 and Big 12 country.

That other conference, however much it makes folks grumble, gets to be No. 1 until somebody dethrones it. But the debate among Pac-12 and Big 12 fans for second place was a spirited one.

The Big 12 just clipped the Pac-12 in the Stats & Info power rankings by 0.6 points after going 2-1 versus the Pac-12 in bowl game, with Baylor whipping UCLA in the Alamo Bowl and Texas outlasting Oregon State in the Holiday Bowl.

Of course, Oregon, the Pac-12 North runner-up behind Stanford, blew out Kansas State, the Big 12 champion, in the Fiesta Bowl, and Arizona beat Oklahoma State in the regular season -- by 21 points -- to even the conferences' overall mark at 2-2. So even then there was some wiggle room.

The Pac-12 went 4-4 overall in bowl games, winning two BCS bowls, while the Big 12 went 4-5, losing its only BCS bowl. Both conferences finished with three Top 25 teams, but the Pac-12 had two teams in the top-seven compared to no top-10 teams for the Big 12.

Like we said: It was close. And highly subjective to judge.

This is all prelude to the new Pac-12 bowl agreements, which haven't yet been officially announced but we can strongly conjecture upon.

What the Big 12 could always counter in bowl matchups with the Pac-12 is a lower seed. The past three Alamo Bowls matched the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Pac-12 team against the No. 2 non-BCS bowl team from the Big 12. The Holiday Bowl featured the No. 2 Pac-12 team against the No. 4 team from the Big 12.

(There's even a Pac-12 counter to this, with the Pac-12 sending two teams to BCS bowl games the past three years an the Big 12 sending just one during the same span, which thereby evening out the seeds).

Guess what, though? Since the Pac-12 signed on with the Alamo Bowl, the Big 12 is 3-0 against it. Baylor beat Washington in 2012 and Oklahoma State crushed Arizona in 2011.

But the new bowl contracts likely will match the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Rose Bowl Pac-12 team vs. the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Sugar Bowl Big 12 team.

Previously, the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team played in the Cotton Bowl, which got the Big 12's No. 1 non-BCS bowl team but is now part of the College Football Playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has already commented on the change for his conference.

What does that upgrade mean for the Pac-12?

Well, if we go by teams that played in the Cotton Bowl that means UCLA would have played No. 11 Oklahoma, Washington would have played No. 11 Kansas State and Arizona would have played No. 18 Texas A&M.

Now, these trades aren't exact and aren't always better because bowls have their own selection politics. For example, No. 16 Oklahoma State was ranked higher than Texas A&M in 2011 but the Cotton Bowl preferred a Texas-based team.

Still, this means the bowl competition for the Pac-12 is moving up. It will be a test worth watching.

And the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team might like getting out of the Cotton Bowl rotation. The Big 12 has lost nine of the past 10 Cotton Bowls to the SEC, and the lone victory was No. 7 Missouri over No. 25 Arkansas in 2008. Of course, the Tigers are now in the SEC.

By the way, the Big 12 and Pac-12 also appear headed to a matchup in the Buffalo Wild Wings in Sun Devil Stadium -- the Big 12 likely will be replaced by the Big Ten in the Holiday Bowl -- so the conferences will matchup at the top as well as measure each other's depth.

While both conferences would like to move up to No. 1, neither wants to yield the perception of being at least No. 2. The Alamo Bowl will provide a nice annual measuring stick for the two conferences.
Big Ten fans want more variety in the next bowl lineup, whether it's locations, opponents or dates of games. The league seems to agree.

The Holiday Bowl meets all the criteria. It adds a new postseason location for the Big Ten, and an extremely desirable one in San Diego. It would ensure the Big Ten plays another Pac-12 opponent -- the two kindred leagues currently are locked into just one bowl agreement, the Rose. And instead of adding to the glut of Jan. 1 Big Ten bowl games, the Holiday Bowl is played in late December, usually between Dec. 28-30 (last year's game took place Dec. 27).

The Big Ten-Holiday Bowl union makes sense. Don't be surprised if it happens for the next bowl cycle (2014-17 seasons).

"Oh yeah, there's interest," Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski told "Obviously, we're still tied in with the Big 12 and we're talking to them, but we're also interested in possibly tying in with the Big Ten. Everything's wide open right now."

The Holiday Bowl will keep its Pac-12 tie-in for the next cycle. The game has featured Pac-12 and Big 12 teams for the past 15 years. Nebraska's final two bowl games as a Big 12 member took place in the Holiday (2009 and 2010).

Although the Big 12 remains appealing, the Big Ten brings a new set of teams and massive fan bases willing to travel long distances to escape the winter freeze. The Holiday Bowl was among the dozen or so bowls that met with Big Ten officials last fall at league headquarters.

The Big Ten expects to complete its new bowl lineup by the end of the spring.

"They have such great Southern California alumni bases," Binkowski said of the Big Ten. "I can't speak for the newer Big Ten schools, but the older Big Ten schools have a great Southern California following. They're used to coming to Southern California with the Rose Bowl. We want to keep all of our options open, and the Big Ten is one of them."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and others have talked a lot about the need to reshape the bowl business model, as attendance and interest in most bowls have declined. There's a push to create more flexibility during the selection process, both for the bowls and for the leagues, to create more appealing matchups.

One possibility for the Holiday Bowl is to have the Big Ten and Big 12 share a tie-in against the Pac-12.

"The fact we're talking about the possibility of a multiple tie-in, we think is good," Binkowski said. "I'm not going to say it's going to happen, but we like the fact there's variety. It gives you a chance for teams that you don't always get to see."

Binkowski noted that a bowl game's selection order likely will influence whether or not it wants shared tie-ins.

"If we were a higher pick, we may want to stay exactly [in the same place] with that conference," he said. "But if we weren't as high as we'd like to be, maybe multiple conferences would work out better for us. Do I think it's going to happen? I don't know. But the fact we're talking about it is a good thing."

Binkowski senses that the Big Ten wants another bowl tie-in with the Pac-12, whether it's in the Holiday Bowl or another game. Despite the short-lived scheduling partnership between the leagues, they remain very much aligned philosophically.

The Big Ten had a tie-in with the Holiday Bowl from 1986-94. Big Ten teams are 6-2-1 in the game (not counting Penn State's 1-0 mark as an independent and Nebraska's 2-1 mark as a Big 12 member). Notable games include Iowa's come-from-behind win against San Diego State in 1986, and Michigan's loss to BYU in 1984 that gave the Cougars the national championship that year.

As a longtime critic of the Big Ten's bowl lineup, I like the potential changes on the horizon: fewer Jan. 1 games, more flexibility with the Florida bowls, fewer lopsided matchups with the Big 12 (and, to a lesser extent, the SEC), the likely addition of the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.

The Holiday Bowl would be an excellent addition to the rotation.

San Diego. Late December. Pac-12 opponent. Sign me up.

The 2011 Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
Our All-Pac-12 bowl team has two quarterbacks and a position we made up. And it wasn't easy to pick the defense, because many of the conference defenses underwhelmed during a 2-5 bowl run.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireEven Andrew Luck would admire Washington QB Keith Price's seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.

K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

DL Josh Shirley, Washington
: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.

P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
What did we learn from the Pac-12 bowl games? Glad you asked.

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Harry How/Getty ImagesDarron Thomas and the Ducks won the Rose Bowl after losing many times on the big stage.
Oregon, it turns out, can win the big one: Some folks might not want to admit this, but it's a load off the backs of the Pac-12 as well as Oregon that the Ducks broke through with a win over a very good Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks, whether you like it or not, have been carrying the conference flag for three consecutive years, and their losing consecutive BCS bowl games hurt the conference's image, just as it prevented Oregon from being perceived as a legit superpower. Now, any residual doubts -- real or merely faked to annoy Oregon fans -- have no more footing. Oregon is what it has proven on the field: An elite program with two BCS bowl victories since the 2001 season.

It would have been nice for USC to be eligible: USC fans believe if the Trojans had been bowl eligible, they would have beaten Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and then won the Rose Bowl, just as the Ducks did. The Pac-12 blog believes Oregon would have won a rematch in Autzen Stadium, but it doesn't matter from our point here. The loser of the Pac-12 title game -- USC or Oregon -- would have gone to the Alamo Bowl, at which point it would have beaten Baylor senseless, perhaps scoring 100 points in the process. Washington then would have been a much better matchup with Texas in the Holiday Bowl than California was, and so-on. In other words, the root cause of a weak 2-5 bowl record is the Trojans not being there to put things into a proper pecking order.

Bowls aren't good when you fired your coach: Arizona State and UCLA both played in bowl games after firing their coach. Both looked terrible. At some point, we'll find out if they lost money while embarrassing their programs. UCLA should not have applied for a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game with a losing mark. Their final 6-8 record after getting downed by Illinois -- as best we can tell -- makes them the first 6-8 team in FBS history. Wow. That's awesome. Hang that on a banner in the Rose Bowl. No matter how the Bruins playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was framed -- a reward for the players! -- it was bad for the program. As for Arizona State, its 6-6 mark got it to a bowl game because its second-half collapse was so bad, it prevented the Sun Devils from losing the Pac-12 title game. There's just something unsavory about a team with a fired coach and a four-game losing streak playing in the postseason.

Defenses need to get better: Washington gave up 67 points. Arizona State yielded 56. Oregon won despite giving up 38. And Stanford yielded 41. California and UCLA didn't give up many points because they faced two of the worst offenses playing in bowl games. Only Utah can get a check mark for defense, and the Utes gave up 27 to Georgia Tech. We in the Pac-12 love offense. We love skilled quarterbacks and exciting running backs. But that doesn't mean the conference doesn't need to play good defense. By the way, Washington's hiring of Justin Wilcox and Arizona's expected hiring of Jeff Casteel sends the right message: We're going to pay big money to get better on defense.

Thanks, Utah: The Pac-12 has had some shaky bowl seasons. And some good ones, too. But the addition of Utah means the conference gets a team that is 7-1 in its last eight bowl games under coach Kyle Whittingham, including, by the way, the 2005 Fiesta Bowl (shared with Urban Meyer) and the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech included a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime. This is a well-coached team that plays with a lot of poise and consistent effort. Not every Pac-12 team can say that -- you know who you are. The Utes more than proved they can handle a Pac-12 schedule this season, ending up 8-5 despite losing their starting quarterback. And Utah's ability to show up in the postseason on a consistent basis is a valuable addition to the conference.

Final Pac-12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
These are final power rankings of 2011-12. They look back and measure the totality of the season.

We're looking ahead with the next power rankings later Tuesday.

And, by the way, if you don't like where you ended up in the power rankings ... you should have played better.

Here are the Week 1 power rankings. And here are the pre-bowl power rankings.

1. Oregon: Chip Kelly and Oregon just can't win the big one. Oh, wait! They did. A thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin capped another great season in Eugene and left the Ducks, again, atop the Pac-12 at season's end. So, in the history of the program, which is the all-time best season: 2001, 2010 or 2011? Or should we hold off judgment on that until after the 2012 campaign?

2. USC: The win over Oregon, the stomping of UCLA and the final top-five ranking were cool, but the return of quarterback Matt Barkley created major momentum heading into the offseason. And if the Trojans had been eligible for the postseason, the Pac-12 bowl record would have been better.

3. Stanford: I'm sure Stanford fans were annoyed by the stunning ignorance among pundits discussing the Cardinal before the Fiesta Bowl. It seemed like many thought Oklahoma State was going to blow Stanford out -- calling the Cardinal "overrated" in the process. You and I knew that was an absurd position. If Stanford and the Cowboys played 10 times, the series would have gone 5-5. And that's being very generous to Oklahoma State. One last thing: Goodbye and good luck Andrew Luck. You were great for Stanford and great for college football.

4. Utah: Yep, the grind of a Pac-12 schedule really wore down the Utes. Yep, the Utes just couldn't handle it. But, with all due humility, how many other conference teams won four of their final five games and a bowl game? If you're looking for a sneaky-good team in the South Division next season, you might want to cast your gaze to Salt Lake City.

5. Washington: The Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor was, at least, an offensive spectacle. Quarterback Keith Price certainly introduced himself to a national audience by outplaying the Heisman Trophy winner. But, wow, that defense. After the Huskies lost four of their final five games, it's fair to say the best thing going their way at year's end was the hiring of A-list defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

6. California: Cal, Cal, Cal. The Holiday Bowl was winnable against a middling Texas squad, but not with a 5-0 turnover disadvantage -- 5-zip! As Charles Barkley might say: "Turrable." If the Bears had won, they would been a candidate for "potentially sneaky-good team in the North Division in 2012." Now we're holding off judgment. On the plus side, recruiting is rolling along nicely.

7. UCLA: Another season of inconsistency in Westwood earned coach Rick Neuheisel his walking papers, and the graceful way Neuheisel handled himself after getting fired made it seem all the more sad that he couldn't get the job done at his alma mater. Jim Mora takes over a program that needs an injection of discipline and a cultural shift.

8. Arizona: Sure, the Wildcats fired their coach and finished 4-8. But they won their last two games, including a win over Arizona State, and head into the offseason with positive momentum after the hiring of Rich Rodriguez.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils completely collapsed, losing their final five games. They fired their coach. Their coaching search was a meandering mess, and the hiring of Todd Graham away from Pittsburgh didn't exactly inspire much celebration. Then their best player and leader, quarterback Brock Osweiler, made a fairly surprising decision to enter the NFL draft. The good news is there has to be some good news ahead, right?

10. Oregon State: A second consecutive losing season, a 3-9 one at that, has Beavers fans understandably frustrated, particularly with what's going on in Eugene. Just two years ago, coach Mike Riley seemed certain to retire as the Beavers coach. So much for certainty. The good news -- or is it an excuse? -- is Oregon State was extremely young in 2011 and should be better in 2012. The surprising late-season win over Washington also provided some consolation.

11. Washington State: The Cougars started 3-1 and looked like a bowl team that would save coach Paul Wulff's job. They then lost seven of their final eight games and Wulff got canned. The late-season win over Arizona State was nice, but the Sun Devils were in the process of waving a white flag over their season. Yes, it was another bad season, but there are more smiles today in Pullman than in years after AD Bill Moos pulled coach Mike Leach out of his hat.

12. Colorado: Colorado isn't buried in the basement here. You could, in fact, make an argument for the Buffs promotion a couple of notches: They, after all, won two of their final three games, beating both Arizona and Utah. Still, 3-10 is 3-10 and 2-7 in conference play is 2-7 in conference play. As is finishing last in scoring defense and scoring offense among Pac-12 teams. The Buffs also have some big holes to fill in their starting lineup. Further, they don't have the "New Coach Is Here to Save Us!" storyline heading into year two with Jon Embree.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Pac-12 finishes bowl season 2-5

January, 3, 2012
First, how about those two BCS bowl games Monday? Brilliant. Thrilling.

Second, if Stanford could just make a field goal, the Pac-12 would have finished 3-4 with two BCS bowl victories. Three teams -- Stanford, Oregon and USC -- likely would have finished in the final top five.

But if wishes were fishes then cows would fly (my dad used to say that. I have no idea what it means, but it seemed better than "would-a, could-a, should-a").

The bottom line makes you want to cover your eyes: A 2-5 bowl record.

We provided an excuse Monday morning: If USC had been eligible for the postseason, the entire bowl schedule would have dramatically shifted and the Pac-12 would have put together a much better record.

There is also this: Oregon was the only one of the Pac-12's bowl teams that was favored. It not only beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, it covered. Utah also won, and it was an underdog to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Washington went blow-for-blow with No. 12 Baylor before yielding late because its defense was milquetoast.

So the Huskies fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and, on Monday, raided Tennessee, hiring away highly respected defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

How does a conference improve its bowl record? Play better, coach better. It's a good sign -- and an obvious benefit of the Pac-12's new $3 billion TV deal -- that the conference is hiring away good coaches from the SEC.

Still, 2-5 won't warm anyone's hearts on the West Coast, though the 3-6 Big Ten isn't feeling very good about itself either, at present.

Pac-12 needs to step up Monday

January, 2, 2012
With the two BCS bowl games to be played Monday, the Pac-12 blog is 5-0 picking bowls this year.

Thanks ... no thank you ... you are too kind ... please, stop clapping. OK, yes ... yes ... OK, you're right, I am awesome.

But I would be perfectly happy to have been wrong and eating crow served up in the mailbag. Gloating hurled at my wrongness is a Pac-12 blog tradition. It's much worse when you guys are unhappy, as it appears that is frequently my fault, and few are shy about telling me that.

The problem was when I looked at the Pac-12 bowl schedule, I saw the potential for a lot of losing. As did Vegas. Truth is, the Pac-12 is actually ahead of the game: It was underdogs in all five games played so far and it's now 1-4.

So, unless Oregon and Stanford pull a double-whammy on Monday and salvage the bowl season with a wins over top-10 teams, be prepared for plenty of trolling. The Pac-10 went 2-5 in bowl games in 2009 and that inspired plenty of tweaks. A 1-6 finish would evoke 14 times -- plus or minus -- more ridicule.

And there's little you can say. The record is the record is the record. But there is one trump card: The NCAA's shameful treatment of USC. As in most things, this is all the NCAA's fault.

If USC wasn't in the second season of a bowl ban, the Trojans would either be playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl or would have poleaxed Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. And if the Trojans were in the Rose Bowl -- I do think Oregon would have won a rematch in Autzen Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game, by the way -- the Ducks would have scored 200 points against the Bears.

Then Washington would have been in a favorable matchup with Texas in the Holiday Bowl, and California would have been a good match for Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Utah would have likely ended up with an unhappy ending for a second consecutive season in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. Arizona State in a rematch with Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would have been a toss-up, and UCLA would have had little trouble with Wyoming.

In other words, the Pac-12 would have gone from underdogs in six of seven games to probably favorites in two or three more.

I know: Would-a, could-a, should-a.

But if the final tally ends up 1-6, that's all the Pac-12 will have.

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

January, 1, 2012
The Granddaddy looks like a heck of a matchup between high-powered teams that do things very differently but equally effectively.

WHO TO WATCH: LaMichael James. He's had a brilliant career and is likely off to the NFL after this last hurrah, but the one thing lacking on his résumé is a big-time performance in a big-time nonconference game. Against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in last year's national championship game and LSU in the 2011 season opener, he never rushed for more than 70 yards and averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry. Most believe, however, that the Badgers' front seven and run defense as a whole are weaker than those of any of those aforementioned teams. James needs 122 yards rushing to pass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and move into second place on the conference's career rushing list. If he gets that, expect the Ducks' chances to go up considerably. Another thing: Despite not being much of a factor running the ball, James was a key receiver against Auburn and LSU, catching 10 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in those games. So watch for James getting short dumps in space to give him a chance to do his thing.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offense does everything well. For real. It is balanced and efficient and almost never turns the ball over. The Badgers' one issue: pass-blocking. They have given up 1.77 sacks per game this season, which ranks 73rd in the nation. Oregon ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game. The Badgers' passing game is based on effective play-action. So the first task is slowing down the Badgers' running game and getting them into third-and-long and obvious passing downs. If that happens, the Ducks likely will open up an exotic bag of Nick Aliotti blitzes and stunts, using their superior speed to keep the huge Badgers offensive line off-balance. But if the Badgers' running game is chewing up yards and leaving them with third-and-short, the value of an effective pass rush is muted significantly.

WHY WATCH: Because this feels like it's going to be a great game, for one. It's a true clash of styles: Wisconsin's power versus Oregon's speed. It's a traditional Rose Bowl between top-10 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. And there will be plenty of star power on the field from James to Badgers running back Montee Ball to Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. Finally, both teams are smarting because they've previously fallen short in BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost to TCU here last year. The Ducks have lost two BCS bowls in a row. Both are hungry to end talk that they "can't win the big one."

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Oregon 30. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Oregon will win. In the Big Ten championship game, a middling Michigan State team was able to make the Badgers' defense look slow on the perimeter. That's something that surely raised an eyebrow from Chip Kelly. This is not LSU's defense, or even Auburn's or Ohio State's. But Wisconsin's offense is the problem. It's power running, sure, but Wilson gives it an elite passing game. Expect a number of momentum shifts, but with the Badgers eventually grinding out a victory late in the fourth quarter. And, yes, a lot of this prediction is about the Ducks' needing to prove they can win one of these games. The Pac-12 blog is still smarting about picking the Ducks to win the national title game against Auburn -- and feeling an unusually high degree of certainty about it.

Pac-12 predictions: Non-BCS bowls

December, 26, 2011
Time to predict the non-BCS Pac-12 bowl games after Christmas. The season record is 67-24.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday, Dec. 28

Texas 24, California 21: Cal finished strong, Texas did not, but we still worry about the Bears. You want to believe. This feels like a defensive struggle, but Texas should have enough offense to win this in the fourth quarter.

Valero Alamo, Dec. 29

Baylor 44, Washington 38: The Huskies' defense might surprise some folks early, and the offense should be able to keep up with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III for a while. Just not for four quarters.

Hyundai Sun, Dec. 31

Utah 20, Georgia Tech 17: The Utes have a good run defense anyway, but extra time to prepare for Georgia Tech's option is a big boost. And the Yellow Jackets aren't terribly strong against the run, which should give the Utes' mostly one-dimensional offense a chance.

Kraft Fight Hunger, Dec. 31

Illinois 20, UCLA 14: Both teams enter amid down circumstances — fired coaches, late-season embarrassment. Both teams have damaging player suspensions/ineligibility. The difference is that, despite everything, Illinois does something well — play defense — and UCLA does not.

Bowl debate: Big 12 vs. Pac-12

December, 19, 2011
The Pac-10 and Big 12 nearly got married last year, but only Colorado ended up eloping with the now-Pac-12.

You know: The conference that can count!

But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.

Joy to the world.

So it seemed like a good time for the Pac-12 and Big 12 bloggers -- Ted Miller and David Ubben -- to say howdy and discuss all the coming fun.

Ted Miller: Ah, David, the bowl season. Pure bliss. Unless you’re the Pac-12, which is expected to get a whipping from your conference over the holidays. We have three Pac-12-Big 12 bowl games with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, the Valero Alamo with Baylor and Washington and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl matching California and Texas. And the Big 12 is favored in all three!

Poor ole West Coast teams. What are we to do? It’s almost like the Big 12 is the SEC or something. Speaking of which, how are things with your Cowboys? Are they over not getting a shot at LSU for the national title? Are they excited about getting a shot at Andrew Luck and Stanford? We might as well start with that outstanding matchup in Glendale, Ariz.

David Ubben: You know, I was actually a little surprised. I stuck around Stillwater for the BCS bowl selection show announcement, and the players took the news pretty well. They found out an hour before, but there wasn't a ton of down-in-the-dumpiness from the Pokes. When you've never been to this point before, it's a bit difficult to develop a sense of entitlement. If Oklahoma had OSU's record and was passed over by Alabama and sent to the Fiesta Bowl for the 17th time in the past six years, you might have had a different reaction.

But Oklahoma State's first trip to the BCS and first Big 12 title aren't being overlooked. These players are looking forward to this game. There's no doubt about that.

I know the Big 12 seems like the SEC, but I have a confession, Ted. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody, but I can't hold it in anymore. When the Big 12 began back in 1996 ... wow, I'm really going to do this ... then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer graciously allowed the league to keep two of his teams. The league made a similar arrangement with the Big Eight a century ago, and the Southwest Conference around the same time. Missouri and Texas A&M are really wolves in sheep's clothing: SEC teams just pretending to be in other leagues. So that might explain the Big 12's recent dominance.

These should all be fun games, though. I ranked two of the matchups among the top three in my bowl rankings.

As for the big one, they say you learn more by losing than by winning. Stanford got its first BCS win after last season. How do you think that experience plays into this postseason's game? I hate to ruin the surprise, but Oklahoma State's a bit better than the Virginia Tech team Stanford beat last postseason. OSU's loss to Iowa State this season is bad, but it's nothing like the Hokies' loss to James Madison last season.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeQuarterback Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its second consecutive BCS bowl, this season against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ted Miller: Not only is Oklahoma State better than Virginia Tech, it's still questionable whether this Stanford team is better than last season's. Since we're going all crazy and whispering about the SEC, there was a feeling out West that by the end of the 2010 season the Cardinal might not only be the best team in the Pac-12 but also in the nation. They were big and physical, and quarterback Luck actually had a solid receiving corps with which to work. After a loss to Oregon in the fifth game of the season, they didn't lose again until playing, er, Oregon in this season's 10th game. If we could go back in time and have the Cardinal play Auburn, I think Stanford would have won the national title.

But that's 2010. The differences this season are the season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who was an All-American candidate, and a slight step back on the offensive line and a lack of top-flight receivers. But if Oklahoma State fans are looking for something to worry about it is this: Stanford's running game.

The Pokes are bad against the run, and they haven't faced a team that is as physical and creative in the running game as Stanford. As much as folks talk about Luck's passing, it's his run checks that often ruin a defense's evening.

The Fiesta Bowl matchup looks like a great one, perhaps the best of the bowl season. But I’m excited to see Mr. Excitement, Robert Griffin III, in the Alamo Bowl against Washington. Of course, I’m not sure that the Huskies, their fans and embattled Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt are as thrilled. First, tell us about what Washington should be most worried about with Griffin. Then tell us about Baylor in general. Such as: Can the Bears stop anyone?

David Ubben: Nope. Not really.

Oklahoma State's defense unfairly gets a bad rap. Baylor's bad rap is earned. This is the same team that won five consecutive games late in the season -- but became the first team ever to win four consecutive in a single season while giving up 30 points in each.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireBaylor's Robert Griffin III will try to make it three straight bowl victories by Heisman Trophy winners.
That, if you ask me, says plenty about both the defense and the power of RG3. The Bears have a lot of athletes on the defense, but when four of your top five tacklers are defensive backs, well, you need a guy like RG3 to go 9-3.

The man is a nightmare. Top to bottom, he's the most accurate passer in a quarterback-driven league. Then you add in his athleticism, which he doesn't even really need to be extremely productive. It sets him apart, though, and forces defenses to account for it, and it buys him time in the pocket. How many guys break a 20-plus-yard run then hit a receiver for a game-winning 39-yard score to beat a team like Oklahoma for the first time?

How do you think Washington will try to slow him down? What has to happen for it to have some success?

Ted Miller: This game matches the 99th (Washington) and 109th (Baylor) scoring defenses. It has a 78-point over-under, the biggest of any bowl game. The offenses are going to score plenty, at least that's the conventional wisdom.

How does Washington stop RG3? His name is Chris Polk. He's a running back. Baylor gives up 199 yards rushing per game. Polk right, left and up the middle is a good way to contain Griffin. The Huskies' best hope is to reduce Griffin's touches with ball control. They also need to convert touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone. The Huskies are pretty good at that, scoring 36 TDs in 45 visits to the red zone.

The Huskies also have a pretty good quarterback in Keith Price, who set a school record with 29 touchdown passes this season. He and a solid crew of receivers have prevented teams from ganging up against Polk. But Polk is the guy who burns the clock.

Should be a fun game. As should, by the way, the Holiday Bowl. David, Cal fans are still mad at Texas coach Mack Brown and his politicking the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl in 2004. Every team wants to win its bowl game, but the Old Blues really want to beat Brown.

Of course, neither team is what it was in 2004. Cal has an excuse. It's not a college football superpower. Sure you've been asked this before, but give me the CliffsNotes version of why the Longhorns have fallen so hard since playing for the national title in 2009.

David Ubben: Cal fans are still mad? Really? I'd suggest they get over themselves. What's anybody on that Cal team ever done, anyway? It's not like the best player in the NFL missed out on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Now if that were the case, we might have a problem. But honestly, I don't think Tim Tebow cares all that much about the Rose Bowl.

As for Texas' struggles …

The easy answer is quarterback play. Texas relied on Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley more than anyone realized. When they were gone, Texas couldn't run the ball, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never made it happen. Two seasons later, the Longhorns still don't have a quarterback.

The other big answer last season was turnover margin. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions, and the Longhorns were minus-12 in turnovers, which ranked 115th nationally.

They were still only 90th this season, and without solid quarterback play in a Big 12 dominated by passers, they scored five, 13 and 17 points in three of their five losses. Texas keeps people from moving the ball and runs the ball better this season, but without a solid passing game and a defense that changes games, it's tough to rack up wins in the Big 12.

It's been awhile since Cal was in the mix for the BCS, even as USC has fallen. Oregon answered the call and rose, but what has prevented Cal from winning the Pac-10 and Super Pac-10 since the Trojans' swoon?

Ted Miller: You mention quarterback play. Cal fans ... any thoughts? You mention Aaron Rodgers. Cal fans? Oh well, that's not very nice during this festive time of the year.

Cal has become a solid defensive team, but it has lost its offensive mojo, and that can be traced to a drop in quarterback play since Rodgers departed. The latest Bears quarterback, Zach Maynard, started fairly well then stumbled, but then seemed to catch on late in the season. It's reasonable to believe the team that gets better quarterback play -- mistake-free quarterback play -- is going to win this game.

Nice to cover a conference in which quarterback play matters, eh David?

Speaking of quarterback play and winning, let's wind it up. Our specific predictions aren't coming on these games until after Christmas. But we can handicap the Big 12-Pac-12 side of things. We have a three-game series this bowl season.

I say the Pac-12, underdogs in all three games, goes 1-2. What say you?

David Ubben: And to think, before the season all I heard was the Pac-12 had surpassed the Big 12 in quarterback play. Did somebody petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jake Locker and/or clone Matt Barkley? You West Coast folk are geniuses; I figured you'd find a way. We can't all be Stanford alum ...

Clearing out all the tumbleweeds here in middle America, I'll go out on a limb for the Big 12 in this one. Every matchup is a good one, and I don't think Cal has seen a defense like Texas', and Washington hasn't seen an offense like Baylor's. People forget that, yeah, RG3 is outstanding, but the Bears also have the league's leading receiver and leading rusher.

Stanford-OSU is a toss-up, but I'll go with a perfect sweep for the Big 12. The Cowboys haven't played poorly on the big stage yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this one, and they clean up for the Big 12 against what was almost their new conference this fall.

Oh, what could have been. Ubben and Miller on the same blog? Divided ultimately by a little thing we call the Rockies.

What to watch in the Pac-12 bowls

December, 15, 2011
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.

Rating Pac-12 coaches' job security

December, 13, 2011
We are about to type that Oregon State coach Mike Riley is on the hot seat. It feels strange, but it is true. And that tells you a lot about being a college coach in an automatic qualifying conference.

Life is good, until it isn't. You make millions, but the put-up or get-out window has been reduced from five to three-to-four years. You win, win, win, win, lose, lose, and you're on the hot seat. Way it goes.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAfter two straight lowly seasons, Oregon State coach Mike Riley might call offensive plays in 2012.
So where do the Pac-12 coaches stand as we head into the bowl season?

Glad you asked (And, obviously, winning or losing a bowl game would affect these rankings).

We're going from most secure to least, and let's start with the three new guys (Arizona State isn't in this because it doesn't have a coach yet).

New hires

1. Mike Leach, Washington State: There seem to be exactly zero people who think Leach is a bad hire. The reaction in Pullman could be described as euphoric, but that sells it short. Still, there is pressure that comes with euphoria -- see that old "too high or too low" syndrome. Folks expect him to work miracles. To me, 6-6 or 7-5 would be a successful 2012 season. Get the feeling some Cougs expect to immediately take down Oregon.

2. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Folks in Tucson are reasonably juiced. Rich Rod is a heck of an offensive coach, and he's highly motivated to make sure folks see his ill-fated tenure at Michigan as an aberration. A lot of things are in place for Rodriguez to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game in year one. But, again, high expectations mean a 7-5 record -- a three-game turnaround -- might be met with a, "Meh. Stoops did that."

3. Jim Mora, UCLA: Mora's hiring hasn't been celebrated. In fact, it's been met with negative reaction among Bruins fans as well as the national media. Much of that reflects a lack of confidence in athletic director Dan Guerrero, but the negativity certainly won't help get the football program back on its feet. For Mora, he needs to understand the environment, remain pleasant and work his butt off to change it.

Returning coaches

1. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly has won three consecutive conference titles and played for a national title. If he wins the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, he'll officially become the King of Eugene. The NCAA and Willie Lyles? We shall see, but we leave you with our word of the day: Teflon.

2. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Seven years, seven winning records. His Utes nearly won that Pac-12 South Division without their starting QB. Sure, there jury is still out on whether the Utes can regularly win nine or 10 games in the Pac-12. But this jury looks favorably on it happening as long as Whittingham is around.

3. David Shaw, Stanford: You can write off an 11-1 year one as being brought to him by Lucky No. 12, but there was plenty of pressure on Shaw to win this year and he delivered. It seems almost certain the program will need to regroup next fall, and the measure will become truer thereafter. But Shaw is a Stanford man who is well-liked, and that will buy him more time than someone who is neither.

4. Lane Kiffin, USC: A 10-2 finish couldn't have come at a better time. It proved Kiffin can coach, and it seems there is a solid amount of sober realism around the program about what losing 30 scholarships over the next three seasons is going to mean. There will be some patience -- not a lot but some -- as sanctions tighten the screws. Further, Kiffin can help himself by continuing to be his new, mature and often surprisingly gracious self.

5. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: The Huskies took a step forward in 2011, as they did Sarkisian's first two seasons. Not a huge step but a notable one. Still, Huskies fans are eager to get back into the top-25 and the Pac-12 race. And they don't like seeing Oregon on top. Nine or 10 wins in 2012 will be the best way to keep the natives from showing any signs of restlessness.

6. Jeff Tedford, California: Tedford is actually in far better position now than he was on Oct. 29 after a bad loss to UCLA. And if the Bears beat Texas in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, there will be considerable offseason momentum. Cal looks like a potential factor in the 2012 North Division race, and playing in a renovated Memorial Stadium also will juice the fans. That said: A losing season -- or perhaps even a 6-6 one -- next fall would make his seat toasty.

7. Jon Embree, Colorado: A 3-10 finish doesn't make anyone happy, but it's best to post a 3-10 finish for your first season as a head coach. The reason Embree isn't on the bottom here is because it's unlikely, barring a complete collapse, that a bad 2012 season will get him fired. For one, the Buffs look to be mired in a rebuilding mode. It's possible next year's team will be worse than this year's, seeing they lose many of their best players.

8. Mike Riley, Oregon State: After the 2009 season, Riley was at or at least near the top of this list. But consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 faceplant this fall, have some Beavers fans believing they should and can do better. Oregon State has some young talent, and a return to a bowl game seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation in 2012. Another losing season, however, could put Riley's once-secure job status in jeopardy.

Ranking the Pac-12 bowls

December, 6, 2011
While many eyes will be on the national championship game -- the LSU-Alabama rematch -- it's possible the Pac-12 will produce two more entertaining bowl games.

Here's how we rank the Pac-12 bowl games.

1. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-1). If you gave LSU or Alabama one of these two QBs, the national title game would no longer only be about defense. This will be college football's goodbye to Andrew Luck, while Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden will want to make a simple statement: We should have played for the national title. This feels like a game that is certain to go into the fourth quarter.

2. Rose Bowl Game (Jan. 2): Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2). Two high-powered offenses. One that spreads you out and overcomes you with tempo and speed. One that lines up and plays smashmouth football, at least until flashy QB Russell Wilson arrived in Madison. Oregon has lost two BCS bowl games in a row, so the Ducks need to win to make a firm claim to a spot in the nation's elite. Wisconsin sort of feels the same way -- the Badgers lost here last year to TCU, if you recall.

3. Valero Alamo (Dec. 29): Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5). It appears Baylor will feature the Heisman Trophy winner: QB Robert Griffin III. Or RG3, for short. Both teams have plenty of offense and neither will scare you on defense. If there are fewer than 75 points on the board, we'll be surprised.

4.Bridgepoint Education Holiday (Dec. 28): Cal (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5). How can a matchup of 7-5 teams be a good one? Well, there's a rivalry angle here for Cal fans who have tenaciously remembered that Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied in 2004 for a Rose Bowl berth at the Bears' expense. For the Old Blues this is a chance at vindication. And both of these teams could use some positive offseason momentum.

5. Hyundai Sun (Dec. 31): Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5). It will be interesting to see how Georgia Tech's option attack does against a tough Utah defense.

6. MAACO Las Vegas (Dec. 22): Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6). This is a sad way to end the career of Boise State QB Kellen Moore. One of the great QBs in college football history is going out, not in the BCS bowl he deserved, but in the Las Vegas Bowl against a team that collapsed and fired its coach. I'd rate the Sun Devils' chances here only slightly above zero.

7. Kraft Fight Hunger (Dec. 31): Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7). You have two interim coaches because both teams fired their head coach. You have a certainty that one team will end the season with a losing record. You have one team riding a six-game losing streak. You have another that lost its final regular season game 50-zip to its archrival and needed a waiver from the NCAA to even be here. If you are watching this game on New Year's Eve, you are in need of some fairly strong New Year's resolutions about, you know, getting a life.

Where might the chips fall?

December, 4, 2011
What we now know: Oregon will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

I love that matchup, by the way. Two teams that were just outside the national title discussion with tons of offensive star power who do things differently.

Then what?

Stanford is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl. But who will it play? It looked like the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game until the Cowboys opened up a can of whup-butt in a 44-10 beatdown of their rival Sooners.

Now Alabama adherents are scurrying around telling folks not to do what their eyes and brains are saying to do: Put Oklahoma State opposite LSU, the most dominant No. 1 team of the BCS area, in the national title game and see what happens.

But that's another fight (and, yeah, if I were a coach, I'd rather play the Cowboys than the Crimson Tide).

The Pac-12 issue is if the Cowboys get promoted, who might play opposite Stanford? Likely the No. 2 team in the Big 12: Kansas State.

But there is a potential fly in the ointment, well-described here by Jon Wilner.
However, there is a remote chance that Stanford could get knocked out of the BCS. As the No. 4 team in the BCS standings, the Cardinal would be guaranteed a berth in all scenarios except one — the one that could become reality Sunday.

If Oklahoma State jumps Alabama, then the Crimson Tide would fall into the No. 3 spot and receive BCS protection as an at-large team.

In that case, Stanford would not be guaranteed a berth, and the Fiesta, under the letter of the BCS law, could invite someone else (best bet: Michigan). But would it? It seems highly unlikely that the Fiesta would pass on the No. 4 team in order to take a team ranked 8-10 spots lower. Never in the 13-year history of the BCS has the No. 4 team been left out.

Wilner also points out that the Fiesta Bowl's new executive director, Robert Shelton, is a Stanford graduate.

So let's assume a bowl that needs to do the right thing does so -- prioritizing merit -- and picks Stanford. Then with those two spots secure -- and the extra $6 million-plus it means for the conference -- there's the trickle down.

Washington is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl against an uncertain Big 12 opponent. First, we need to know what happens with Oklahoma State. Potential foes include Oklahoma, Baylor or Kansas State.

Then our guess is California goes to the Holiday Bowl (selected over Utah because they have the same conference record and Cal beat the Utes head-to-head). The Bears could face Baylor, Oklahoma or even Missouri or Iowa State.

Utah heads to the Sun Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech?), Arizona State goes to Las Vegas for Dennis Erickson's last game (TCU if it doesn't get a bounced into a BCS at-large berth, or Boise State if it does), and UCLA -- armed with its NCAA bowl waiver for a 6-7 record -- gets an invite to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against ... hmm... Illinois? Wyoming?

There would be an obvious angle, of course, for a UCLA-Illinois matchup.

We'll, of course, have more later on the bowls. I assume you knew that, though.