What did we learn from the Pac-10's bowl season?
1. A 5-0 bowl season is more fun than a 2-5 one: Last year, the Pac-10 rolled through the bowl season 5-0. Pac-10 fans crowed, while Pac-10 critics said bowl games don't prove anything. This year, the Pac-10 went 2-5 in the bowl season. Pac-10 fans said bowl games don't prove anything, while Pac-10 critics crowed. Who's right? Both. Bowl games in large part operate as a separate season, and issues such as motivation and focus are telling. But bowl games are also football games. And if you lose, you lost. Shut up and stop making excuses. That said, I picked BYU to beat Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl, foreseeing a Civil War hangover. If they played on Saturday, I'd pick the Beavers.
2. It's fair to question Pac-10 defenses: As I wrote here, only USC beat its defensive season averages in yards and points allowed in its bowl game. UCLA eclipsed its season average in yards allowed and matched its points number (21). It's legitimate to raise questions about the performances of Pac-10 defenses, just as it was legitimate to point out the regular-season numbers, which went a different direction. Still, for the Pac-10 to genuinely enter the argument as the nation's best conference, it must get better on defense. Or, at least, it can't opt to take the bowl season off.
3. Oregon isn't ready to take over the Pac-10 -- and the nation -- just yet: The Ducks will be the Pac-10 favorites next year. They also could become national title contenders. But they need to get more physical on both lines and they need to refine their passing game to take the next step. The Ducks' offensive line was young. It will be better -- and more physical -- next fall. The defensive line is less certain. There's plenty of hope for the passing game, with the return of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and a host of talented receivers. Still, potential is just a word. Got to make it happen on the field over a 13-game schedule, which, of course, includes the bowl game.
4. We still don't know what USC will be like in 2010: Beating Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl shouldn't make USC fans think that the Trojans' ship has been righted. The game showed many of the same issues that the Trojans had all season -- inconsistency from quarterback Matt Barkley, the offensive line and the defense. And it also provided glimpses of Barkley's and the defense's upside. But when you combine the regular season, bowl game and the departure of Pete Carroll and a number of key players, 2010 feels like a great mystery.
5. The bowl flops may help the 2010 effort: For weeks preceding the bowl season, national pundits were touting the Pac-10 as the nation's best conference. Then: Splat. Maybe the talk went to a few teams' heads? The conference has rightfully taken some tweaks since going 2-5. But a quick review of what's coming back next fall suggest the Pac-10 should be even deeper and better top to bottom in 2010. With another rugged slate of nonconference games ahead, the conference should be plenty motivated to put the bowl implosion behind it with some marquee victories over other BCS conferences.