Pac-12: 2011 Las Vegas Bowl

Taking a look back at some of the best and worst moments from the Pac-12's bowl season.

Best overall performance (team): We're a field goal away from flipping a coin between Stanford and Oregon. But the Ducks won, and to the victor go the spoils. Say what you want about Wisconsin being overrated; Oregon beat a very good team with one of the most productive college running backs in history, and the Ducks did it on a major stage.

Best offensive performance (individual): Keith Price outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, passing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores. And the Huskies lost! Someone on the Washington defense better be carrying his books around campus until the start of next season.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireWashington's Keith Price passed for 438 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for another three touchdowns in a losing effort against Baylor.
Best offensive performance (team): As good as Washington's offensive show was against Baylor, Oregon did it against a tougher opponent and under a brighter spotlight. LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas both went for more than 100 yards, Lavasier Tuinei turned in season highs in catches (eight) and yards (158) to go with two touchdowns and the offensive line had its way with Wisconsin.

Best defensive performance (individual): In the conference's five losses, teams gave up an average of 41 points. Still, Cal first-team all-conference linebacker Mychal Kendricks did all he could to limit Texas to 21, notching nine solo tackles (10 total) and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Best defensive performance (team): Pass.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Andrew Luck's one interception was the lone stain on an otherwise fantastic performance, in which he completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He was 15-of-15 on all of Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive that set up the almost-game-winning field goal.

Worst offensive performance: Both Cal and UCLA faced fairly tough defenses in Texas and Illinois, respectively, and their 24 points combined reflected that. (For the record, Washington had 35 by halftime and Oregon had 28 at the half.) But the nod goes to Cal for 7 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That's 0.2 yards per carry. ASU was actually worse with minus-11 rushing yards, but at least it put up 24 points (well, 17 if you take away Rashad Ross' 98-yard kick return).

Worst defensive performance: As a conference, Pac-12 teams gave up an average of 455 yards in their bowl games. Washington was the worst offender with 777 yards yielded.

Best bang for buck: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Two carries, two touchdowns, 155 yards and a 77.5 yards-per-carry average.

Best supporting cast: While Price was fantastic, lest we forget that Chris Polk ran for 147 yards, Jermaine Kearse caught five balls for 198 yards and a score and Devin Aguilar added two receiving touchdowns.

Best holiday spirit: Cal certainly got into the season, giving the ball away five times to Texas.

Best "Oh jeez" moment: Stanford running back Jeremy Stewart taking out teammate Ty Montgomery after he tried to run a kickoff out of the end zone. Stewart, a fifth-year senior, stopped the true freshman right at the line and dropped him, much to the chagrin of 69,927 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Worst "Oh jeez" moment: Watching Dennis Erickson try to call a timeout when ASU had fourth-and-goal at the Boise 1-yard line. Then watching his face as Jamar Taylor picked off Brock Osweiler and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Pac-12 bowl season kicks off Thursday night in Vegas, as Arizona State tries against Boise State to save face after a late-season collapse.

Here's a quick preview of the matchup:

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. This is Kellen Moore's final game for Boise State after one of the best careers in college football history. To hear the skeptics who question his NFL potential, this might be the last start of his football career. He had another brilliant season, but -- not unlike his team -- fell off the national radar after a loss to TCU. A remarkably consistent performer, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't go out strong. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils offense flows through Brock Osweiler. He'll need to be at his best against a sound, statistically impressive defense.

WHAT TO WATCH: Both teams' fire. Arizona State lost its final four games and its coach, Dennis Erickson, was let go. Boise State was expecting a berth in a BCS bowl, not one before Christmas against a .500 team that fired its coach. The general expectations is a disciplined, businesslike Broncos team will do its usual thing while the Sun Devils won't be able to stay focused and intense after their ruined season. But it's possible the opposite will happen, right, with Boise State playing without interest and the Sun Devils trying to prove the pundits wrong?

WHY TO WATCH: Moore, for one. He's enough of a reason. And there has to be some curiosity about whether Arizona State will show up or not, not to mention whether linebacker Vontaze Burfict will play -- and, if so, how well and with how much discipline. Further, it's a Boise State matchup with an AQ-conference team. That always raises an eyebrow.

PREDICTION: Boise State 41, Arizona State 24. It's possible that the Sun Devils might try to win one for Erickson on his way out. Or that they might adopt an "us against the world" mentality and play with fire we haven't seen since October. But even at their best, the Sun Devils would be underdogs. Hard to imagine they'll be at their best after losing four in a row to end the regular season, blowing the South Division title and getting their coach fired.

Pac-12 prediction: Las Vegas Bowl

December, 15, 2011
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The Pac-12 blog enters the bowl season with a 66-24 record. This week, we predict the lone pre-Christmas Bowl in the conference.

MAACO Las Vegas, Dec. 22

Boise State 41, Arizona State 24: It's possible that the Sun Devils may try to win one for coach Dennis Erickson on his way out. Or that they may adopt an "us against the world" mentality and play with fire we haven't seen since October. But even at their best, the Sun Devils would be underdogs. And I doubt they'll be at their best after losing four in a row to end the regular season, blowing the South Division title and getting their coach fired.

Season recap: Arizona State

December, 7, 2011
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ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Record: 6-6, 4-5 Pac-12

Arizona State had two seasons. The good one and the bad one. The bad one, however, is the one that counts because it got coach Dennis Erickson fired.

The good one was a 6-2 start that featured quality wins over Missouri and USC and had the fan base energized. The offense was high-powered with quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Cameron Marshall and the defense was fast and opportunistic.

Then the Sun Devils collapsed. They not only lost four in a row, they lost four in a row to teams they should have beaten. The biggest problem was an implosion from the defense and a sudden inability to play well in the fourth quarter.

There's more bad news. While the fan base is more focused on a meandering coaching search, the Sun Devils are getting ready to play in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against an outstanding Boise State team, one that feasts on the mental cramps of more physically talented AQ conference teams. If ASU doesn't show up, it's going to get embarrassed.

Offensive MVP: QB Brock Osweiler played better early in the season than late, but he certainly wasn't why things went haywire. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,641 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 128 yards and three scores.

Defensive MVP: On a defense that lacked consistency, LB Colin Parker was consistent. He had 67 tackles with six tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Turning point: How might have things gone for the Sun Devils if UCLA hadn't converted that third-and-29 play late in the fourth quarter? You don't like to reduce a season to one play, but that 33-yard pass play from one of the nation's worst passing offenses is like a big, blinking red light.

What's next: Well, for one, the Sun Devils need to hire a new coach, and it's fair to call their coaching search thus far uneven. That new coach will inherit a team with some nice young talent, most obviously Osweiler, but one that loses a number of seniors who played major roles. The trajectory of the program is impossible to measure because there are so many variables. But it is safe to say things are worse than they appeared on Oct. 29, when the Sun Devils seemed like certain South Division champions.

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