- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Pac-12 has never before had eight bowl teams. But so what? It's only been a 12-team league for two seasons. Eight bowl-eligible teams should become the standard.
What's more important is the final bowl record. And that should -- emphasis on should -- sparkle this bowl season.
While there is no line yet on the Arizona State-Navy matchup in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Pac-12 is favored in six of the other seven games, including both BCS bowls (and the Sun Devils figure to be double-digit favorites). The lone underdog is Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State, and I wonder if the 5 1/2-point spread is due largely to the Huskies' monumental choke against rival Washington State on Nov. 23.
In other words, 8-0 is a legitimate hope this bowl season. Going 7-1 would be good, too. And anything less than 6-2 will be disappointing.
The first priority is the BCS bowl games. Those are high-profile matchups that everyone will watch. And pass judgment on the Pac-12.
Stanford is in a tough position. Wisconsin certainly looked better than its 7-5 record when it drubbed Nebraska, but the Cardinal won't get much credit for beating the Badgers after the Big Ten suffered through a horrible year. If the Cardinal should get upset, it certainly wouldn't boost the Pac-12's Q-rating.
But Oregon's showdown with Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is the real measuring stick. The Pac-12 and the Big 12 have been battling all season for the spot of "Second Best AQ Conference" behind the SEC (the SEC could sweep its bowl games, so don't expect there to be much headway in the "SEC is overrated" argument). If the Ducks beat the Wildcats, the Big 12 champs, that would be the biggest step toward establishing supremacy.
Of course, then come two more Pac-12-Big 12 matchups: Oregon State-Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl and UCLA-Baylor in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. The Pac-12 is favored in each, but by less than a field goal in both cases.
If the Pac-12 wins two of three in these matchups, its claim to second-best conference would be legitimate, particularly if Oregon is one of those wins. Lose two of three, particularly if the Ducks take one of those losses, and this purely speculative trophy goes to the Big 12.
A couple more thoughts.
Before losing to Washington State, Washington was setting itself up as a team likely to generate plenty of 2013 buzz. The Huskies can recover considerable mojo and likely reserve a top-20 preseason ranking if they beat Boise State. But, really, it will be far more important for the Huskies to beat the Broncos in the 2013 season opener -- the re-opener for remodeled Husky Stadium -- than on Dec. 22 in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
The Arizona-Nevada over-under started at about 75 points. I like the over.
Baylor averaged 578 yards and 44 points per game this year, totals that ranked Nos. 1 and 5 in the nation. But I'd rather have Arizona's offense (37 points, 522 yards, playing against much better defenses), and UCLA held the Wildcats to 10 points. To me, that's the great matchup in the Holiday Bowl: Coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, longtime NFL guys, against one of the nation's most potent spread attacks.
Arizona State and USC both will be preparing for triple-option offenses. The extra time should help. But here's a guess the Sun Devils will be far more motivated than the Trojans, who certainly didn't anticipate ending up in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. And an unmotivated team trying to stop an option attack, which requires focused discipline, sometimes ends up looking bad. Really bad.
That said: It would be great if USC QB Matt Barkley comes back from the shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Notre Dame game and plays well. It hasn't been the season Barkley and his team imagined, but Barkley is a high-character, standup guy who remains a great ambassador for the game.
While it won't mean much of anything in either locker room, the Oregon-Kansas State scheduling "controversy" -- Kansas State canceled a home-and-home series with the Ducks, thereby killing a scheduled game for this season -- will be meaningful to both fan bases. The Ducks -- and a certain blog -- have trash talked the issue relentlessly, but now it's put-up or shut-up time, with each team's fan base knowing the postgame trash talk will be vociferous and seemingly unending.
And, again, here's the Pac-12 bowl schedule.
Sat., Dec. 15 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M. (University Stadium)
Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 22 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas (Sam Boyd Stadium)
Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Thurs., Dec. 27 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego (Qualcomm Stadium)
UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET/6:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Alamodome)
Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 29 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco (AT&T Park)
Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT, ESPN2
Mon., Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (Sun Bowl)
USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, CBS
Tues., Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Thurs., Jan. 3 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium)
Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
1dChantel Jennings and David Lombardi