Pac-12: Bowl-overview-2012

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Navy Midshipmen (7-4) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5)

Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET, San Francisco (ESPN2)

Navy take from Big East blogger Matt Fortuna: Navy kicked things off earlier than most this regular season, falling to now No. 1 Notre Dame during a 9 a.m. ET kick in Dublin, Ireland, on Sept. 1. Navy will end the regular season after everyone, too, facing Army in their historic matchup on Dec. 8. A Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl bid awaits the Midshipmen Dec. 29, when they will take on Arizona State.

Navy has won six of its past seven games following a 1-3 start. And, as usual, it has been led by the run game.

The Midshipmen rush for 285.45 yards per game, good for sixth nationally. An offense that scored 10 or fewer points in three of its first four games has clicked down the stretch, averaging nearly 32 points per contest over its past seven games.

Arizona State take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Expectations weren't terribly high for Arizona State in year one under new coach Todd Graham. The Sun Devils had just 10 returning starters -- fewest in the Pac-12 -- coming back from a team that finished 6-7 and lost its final five games.

The first big question in preseason camp was at quarterback. It was supposed to be a two-man race between Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici, but the dark horse contender prevailed: Sophomore Taylor Kelly. Kelly proved to be the right choice, and he is probably the biggest reason the Sun Devils finished 7-5.

Arizona State got off to a fast start. While it blew a winnable game at Missouri -- the Tigers were using their backup QB -- it was difficult to scoff at a 5-1 record. Hopes were high with Oregon coming to town for a Thursday night ESPN game on Oct. 18, but those were quickly doused by a Ducks offensive frenzy. The Sun Devils lost 43-21, but they trailed 43-7 at halftime.

That was the first of four consecutive defeats to ranked teams. While the Sun Devils were mostly competitive, it became clear this team was still not ready to compete at the top of the South Division.

Still, after blowing out Washington State, the Sun Devils went to Tucson facing a simple situation: Beat Arizona; celebrate a successful season. Arizona State did just that in a gutty 41-34 win.

The Sun Devils are strong on both sides of the ball. The offense has good pass-run balance, and the defense is led by DT Will Sutton, the Pac-12 defensive player of the Year.
Baylor Bears (7-5) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-4)

Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)

Baylor take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Baylor and UCLA will enter the Holiday Bowl in San Diego feeling very different about themselves. The Bears are riding high, hotter than any team in the Big 12. They’ve won three consecutive games, including one against then-BCS No. 1 Kansas State and another against a ranked Oklahoma State team. Along the way, they discovered a rising star in Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, who rushed for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his final five games of the season.

UCLA, meanwhile, has to be happy to have a team to prepare for that’s not Rose Bowl-bound Stanford. The Cardinal beat UCLA in consecutive weeks, the second time to clinch the Pac-12 title.

Baylor leads the nation in total offense, so expect a shootout with UCLA, which is No. 20 in total offense and taking on a Bears defense that, despite a late charge, still ranks 123rd out of 124 teams in total defense.

The Bears’ offense is even more amazing considering it lost Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and the Big 12’s leading rusher and receiver from last season’s team, but found a way to move up in the national offense rankings. Art Briles has turned quarterback Nick Florence into a star this season. Florence is the nation’s leader in total offense, ahead of even Texas A&M's Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel. Florence will be a load for the Bruins, who had a great season of their own in Year 1 under Jim Mora, but can the Bears keep their momentum into a second consecutive bowl win? This is Baylor’s third consecutive trip to a bowl game for the first time in school history, and serves as evidence that the Bears’ program was a lot more than just one transcendent player.

UCLA take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: When Jim Mora was hired as UCLA's head coach, there were a lot of "hmmms." But with his tough-as-nails attitude, a coaching staff heavy on NFL experience, and one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the country, the Bruins were within a missed field goal of sending the Pac-12 championship game to overtime.

Brett Hundley has matured with some haste in Noel Mazzone's system -- emerging as one of the most dynamic and efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. But the redshirt freshman has also benefited from an outstanding season by senior running back Johnathan Franklin, a Doak Walker award finalist for the nation's best running back.

Franklin finished second in the conference in total yards (1,700) while notching 13 touchdowns. Perhaps his finest performance of the year came against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game -- when he torched one of the nation's premier rush defenses for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 carries.

Defensively, the switch from the 4-3 to Lou Spanos' 3-4 has made a huge difference. The Bruins, on average, are allowing a touchdown less per game in the new scheme. Converted running back/fullback Anthony Barr has emerged as one of the country's best pass-rushers as an outside linebacker, and defensive end Datone Jones capped a sensational year after moving to the outside. A 10th win would take what has already been a highly successful first season for Mora and Co. and turn it into a resounding achievement.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Texas Longhorns (8-4) vs. Oregon State Beavers (9-3)

Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)

Texas take from LonghornNation's Carter Strickland: The Longhorns stumbled down the stretch, losing their last two games to finish the regular season third in the Big 12.

While most projections called for Texas to finish right around third in the conference -- second was a possibility but thought to be a distant one -- the 8-4 overall record is looked at as a disappointment because of who the Longhorns lost to and how they lost.

Oklahoma and Kansas State, the top two teams in the Big 12, beat Texas by a combined 60 points, but the fact that the Longhorns most likely were going to lose to both of those teams had been accepted prior to the start of the season.

The other two losses -- to TCU and West Virginia -- were seen more as swing games. Texas lost those two by a combined 10 points. That both losses were at home didn't exactly thrill the fan base.

Now Texas is at a loss as to which quarterback, David Ash or Case McCoy, should lead the team. Ash started the first 11 games but was pulled twice due to inconsistent play and turnovers. McCoy started the final game against Kansas State and threw for 314 yards with 17 straight completions at one point. But McCoy had two costly interceptions as well.

On defense, Texas was one of the most porous in both the conference and the nation. But a month of bowl practice may help heal defensive end Alex Okafor and build confidence in replacement linebackers Tevin Jackson and Peter Jinkens.

Texas needs one more win to finish one game better than last season's record of 8-5. If the Longhorns can do that it might lend slightly more credibility to Texas coach Mack Brown's continued stump speeches about the Longhorns having improved from last year.

Oregon State take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a decision to make. OSU's regular-season finale against Nicholls State was as much an open quarterback tryout between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as it was a quest for a ninth win. Both have had highs and lows throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see which way Riley goes in the postseason as the Beavers look for their first Bowl win since a 3-0 victory against Pittsburgh in the 2008 Sun Bowl.

Both quarterbacks looked outstanding against Nicholls State -- granted, it was against a one-win FCS team. Yet both made their cases with efficient performances.

But the true stars of Oregon's State's team this year have been seniors Markus Wheaton (receiver) and Jordan Poyer (cornerback). They were catalysts for one of the best turnarounds in college football in 2012. Last season, the Beavers were 3-9 and many questioned whether Riley's job was secure.

Wheaton is one of the most dangerous, yet underappreciated receivers in the country. He's not only made his quarterback better with his sure hands and blistering speed, but his presence also helped give rise to up-and-coming receiver Brandin Cooks. The duo went for more than 1,000 receiving yards each, so they'll test the Texas secondary.

Across the field, Poyer, an All-American, comes in with a Pac-12 best seven interceptions. He's supported by an outstanding defense that was second only to Stanford in points allowed per game. Scott Crichton (nine sacks, 15 tackles for a loss) headlines a front seven that was one of the tougher groups in the conference this season.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Washington Huskies (7-5) vs. Boise State Broncos (10-2)

Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET, Las Vegas (ESPN)

Washington take from HuskyNation's Mason Kelley: The roller-coaster ride that has been Steve Sarkisian’s fourth year as Washington’s coach started early.

In fall camp, the Huskies worked through injuries before entering an early-season gantlet that included games against ranked opponents in LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Washington weathered the wave of injuries and high-powered opponents and had a 3-3 record after six games. But when the Huskies were blown out at Arizona, 52-17, on Oct. 20, their season was tipping in the wrong direction.

Then they regrouped, ripping off four straight wins. They got the campaign back on track, starting with a 20-17 upset of Oregon State at CenturyLink Field in late October. The program’s young players started to mature with game experience and the early-season losses were quickly forgotten.

But the uncertainty surrounding the progress of this program returned when Washington State rallied from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit to upend the Huskies in the Apple Cup.

Washington heads into the bowl game with plenty to prove. The Huskies’ defense has been rejuvenated under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but the offense has been inconsistent and plagued by slow starts.

But, despite junior quarterback Keith Price’s periodic turnover trouble, and even though Washington has been hit with 106 penalties for 959 yards, the Huskies still have an opportunity to finish with their first eight-win season since 2001.

All things considered, Sarkisian has continued to make progress with a program that is heading to a bowl game for the third year in a row.

Boise State take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: The margin for error with Boise State is always small. That means a 10-2 season feels like a down year for the Broncos.

The season started with a tight loss at Michigan State. The Spartans were perceived as a Big Ten front-runner in the preseason, but when they struggled to reach .500 in the Big Ten, the performance lost some luster for the Broncos as the season went on.

The Broncos mostly cruised to a 7-1 start, and their BCS bowl hopes remained alive. But they lost at home to San Diego State, 22-19, which ended that. That was Boise State's second regular-season loss in 73 home games.

The win over Nevada in the season finale gave the Broncos a share of the Mountain West Conference title and ensured their nation's-best seventh consecutive 10-win season.

Things didn't come as easy this year, however, without quarterback Kellen Moore. The Broncos ranked 80th in the nation in passing, and they leaned heavily on a defense that surrendered just 14.9 points per game.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

Dec. 15, 1 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)

Nevada take from RecruitingNation blogger David Helman: Unlike in 2010, Nevada's upset bid against Mountain West rival Boise State fell just short in Reno. The 27-21 loss capped off a 1-4 finish that saw the Wolf Pack drop from 6-1 to 7-5.

The rushing attack that gained so much notoriety under Colin Kaepernick was at full throttle once again in 2012, as the Wolf Pack boasted the nation's No. 7 rushing attack with 260 yards per game. The bulk of that went to junior running back Stefphon Jefferson, who rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo added 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to go with an efficient 2,530 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air.

A scoring defense ranked among the worst in the sport is going to be the big regret for this Wolf Pack team. Boise State's 27 points were the lowest output by an opponent in Nevada's losses. The Wolf Pack defense allowed 32, 39, 48 and 52 points in their other four setbacks.

Arizona take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Arizona had an up-and-down season, one that featured some impressive wins.

The first four losses came to ranked teams. That was justifiable. But losing the finale at home to rival Arizona State quashed some of the momentum built up in new coach Rich Rodriguez's first year.

Still, this team, which entered the season with a highly questionable defense found ways to win -- mostly because of its high-powered offense. Senior QB Matt Scott took to Rodriguez's spread-option attack with aplomb, and running back Ka'Deem Carey finished second in the nation in rushing.

First, there was a fast start. The Wildcats started 3-0 with wins over Toledo -- it looked better as the season went on -- and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats went to Oregon with high hopes, but were stomped 49-0. They then lost in overtime at Stanford 54-48, but that was double what any other Cardinal foe would score against the conference's best defense.

Arizona then posted impressive wins over Washington and USC. The Wildcats were in the South Division race, which meant they had Rose Bowl hopes. But those mostly died at UCLA after a shocking 66-10 defeat.

The Wildcats bounced back with consecutive wins over Colorado and Utah, but the home loss to Arizona State in the season-finale leaves Arizona needing a bowl win to head into the offseason feeling good about itself.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

December, 2, 2012
USC Trojans (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-7)

Dec. 31, 2 p.m., El Paso, Texas (CBS)

USC take by WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz: It wasn’t the bowl scenario USC envisioned when the 2012 season began, but it offers the Trojans a chance to end the disappointing year on a good note.

One of the big storylines will be the status of senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who sat out the regular-season finale against Notre Dame with an injured shoulder. It remains to be seen if he will be able to play in the bowl game.

Barkley is the Pac-12 career leader in passing yardage (12,327) and touchdowns (116). Max Wittek got the start against the Irish in Barkley’s place and performed well enough to have USC fans talking optimistically about his role next season.

No matter who is at quarterback, they will have Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to throw to, and the pair is as good as it gets. Lee set the Pac-12 single season receptions mark this season with 112 catches to go along with 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy and the Biletnikoff Award. Woods set the USC career receptions mark this season, and currently has 249.

On the other hand, it was a season to forget for the Trojans defense. Not a single USC defender earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and the unit gave up so many points (24.6 per game) and yards (396 per game) that Monte Kiffin announced his resignation effective after the bowl game. T.J. McDonald and Wes Horton are among the seniors who will be playing their final game for the Trojans.

The Trojans finished the regular season 7-5 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12.

Georgia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Georgia Tech needed a bowl-eligibility waiver from the NCAA just to play in this bowl game. That pretty much sums up how good the Jackets were (or weren’t) this year.

Because Miami self-imposed a postseason ban, Georgia Tech backed into the Dr Pepper ACC championship game, which it lost 21-15 on Saturday to Florida State. It wasn’t for a lack of effort -- Georgia Tech was in position to actually win the game and play in the Discover Orange Bowl, as it had the ball and a chance at a game-winning scoring drive on its final possession late in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Tevin Washington threw an interception with about a minute remaining, though, and that sealed the Jackets’ postseason fate, dropping them to 6-7 and making that waiver of the utmost importance.

Georgia Tech dug itself into such a deep hole this season, it seemed an improbable candidate to win the Coastal Division, let alone play in a bowl game. The Jackets were 2-4, had lost a miserable home game to Middle Tennessee, and had just one ACC win heading into the bye week, when coach Paul Johnson decided to fire defensive coordinator Al Groh. While the move didn’t magically fix the Jackets’ defense, it did spark enough of a turnaround to keep the season from unraveling entirely. Georgia Tech won four of its next five games to cling to hopes of winning the division. Of course, it couldn’t have done it without the assist from Miami. Now Georgia Tech is looking for its first bowl win under Johnson (0-4), and will have to go back to El Paso, Texas, for the second straight season to try and find it. Unfortunately for the Jackets, they’ll have to do it against USC.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)

Oregon take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon began the season as the perceived second fiddle to USC. It finished as the second fiddle to Stanford, after the Cardinal handed the Ducks their only defeat, a 17-14 overtime loss. Still, another top-five ranking and a fourth consecutive BCS bowl game makes it difficult to call the season less than a success.

The big question entering the season was replacing quarterback Darron Thomas, who made an ill-fated decision to leave early for the NFL draft. One of the theories on why Thomas left early was that his two backups were better than him. Well, based on the way redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota played, it's easy to see why Thomas might have thought that.

Mariota ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency this season, with 30 TD passes and just six interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his throws. He also rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns. So quarterback questions were answered emphatically.

The Ducks blew through an easy early schedule. There was no marquee nonconference matchup to provide a test, and the early Pac-12 foes didn't offer much resistance, either. Arizona was supposed to offer a challenge, but it went down 49-0. Same with Washington (59-21) and Arizona State (43-21). The Nov. 3 game with USC was supposed to be a marquee showdown, but the Trojans didn't cooperate, arriving at the game with two losses, including a defeat the weekend before at Arizona. The Ducks rolled past the Trojans 62-51, despite numerous injuries on defense.

The dominance against solid, if non-elite foes, made Ducks look like a national title contender. By Week 12, they were ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings behind Kansas State. That looked like the potential national title matchup. But things changed for both.

After dusting California, the Ducks played host to Stanford, a team they had dominated the previous two seasons. Yet the Cardinal found its mojo on defense and shut down Chip Kelly's offense like few had before. Even with an impressive 48-24 win at Oregon State the next weekend, the Ducks couldn't get into the Pac-12 title game, because Stanford won the North, due to the head-to-head victory.

This Oregon team is strong on both sides of the ball. The defense faltered a bit late because of injuries, but it should be fairly healthy after a few weeks of rest.

The final question for Oregon fans heading into the bowl game: Will this be Kelly's last game leading the program? Many have already projected he will take an NFL job this offseason.

Kansas State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State can celebrate its first Big 12 title since 2003 with a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl, the Big 12’s traditional tie-in for its champion. The Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in their 11th game of the season kept them out of the national title game, but they rebounded to beat Texas in the finale and earn the Big 12’s automatic BCS bid, and face Oregon.

Just like he’s done so many times this season, the focus for Bill Snyder and his Wildcats will be slowing down an offense that loves to move fast, fast, fast. Even the fastest Big 12 teams might not move as quickly as Oregon, which has the nation’s fastest running backs and an offense that prides itself on pace. Kansas State’s offense is plenty effective, but will take its time at the line of scrimmage. Heisman candidate Collin Klein will face a worthy adversary in Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who received a little bit of Heisman hype himself. However, Kansas State’s defense, led by speedy, sure-tackling linebacker Arthur Brown, will try to contain Oregon’s duo of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who also spent some time on Heisman watch lists during the season. Expect two potent, but different, running games to go head to head. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage will win this one, but Kansas State will try to get back to its efficient self. The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin and starting field position, and they have committed the third-fewest penalties in FBS games, with just 42 in 10 games. That’s a recipe for success, and it’s exactly how the Wildcats won the Big 12 title and reached their first BCS game since 2003, the last time it won the league.

Like Oklahoma State last season, Kansas State successfully bounced back after a painful upset loss on the road ruined hopes of a national title and a Heisman Trophy. Can the Wildcats beat a solid Pac-12 opponent in Oregon like Oklahoma State did with Stanford a year ago?

This wasn’t the ending to the season Kansas State would have liked after reaching 10-0, but with a month between games, it’ll realize by then that reaching this point is no small accomplishment, and winning this game will be important in improving the way this season is remembered. Kansas State won the Fiesta Bowl back in 1997, but lost in 2003. Can this be another BCS notch on the belt of the Cats’ legendary coach?
Wisconsin Badgers (8-5) vs. Stanford Cardinal (11-2)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)

Wisconsin take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: In its 98 previous installments, the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio has never had a team quite like Wisconsin. The Badgers will be the first five-loss team to play in the Grandaddy, and they finished only third in their own division with a 4-4 Big Ten record.

Yet this isn't some fluky, out-of-nowhere program, as Wisconsin is playing in its third straight Rose Bowl and its fifth since 1999. While this year's team underachieved by going 7-5, it lost three games in overtime and two others by a field goal. The Badgers saved their best game for last, blowing the doors off Nebraska with a 70-31 rout in the Big Ten championship game.

The Badgers might have gotten to that title game only because of the NCAA probation at Ohio State and Penn State, but they seized the opportunity by running for 539 yards against the Huskers. With an offensive line that has steadily improved after some early-season struggles, the most prolific scoring running back in FBS history in Montee Ball and an underrated defense, Wisconsin is as dangerous a five-loss team as you'll ever see.

Bret Bielema will seek to capture his first Rose Bowl after falling short each of the past two years, and Stanford -- which plays a similar rugged style -- could prove a more favorable matchup than TCU or Oregon were. The Badgers are already a unique kind of Rose Bowl team; they might just end up being the strangest Rose Bowl champs.

Stanford take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't. Andrew Luck graduated -- along with high draft picks Coby Fleener, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin -- and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't.

Now, here the Cardinal are, back in a BCS bowl game for the third straight year and playing some of the best football in the country.

The Rose Bowl matchup with Wisconsin feels very much like a Big Ten-Big Ten showdown, because the Cardinal don't play stereotypical Pac-12 football. Stanford will pound away on the ground, take the occasional calculated risk downfield, and has no reservations sending its defense back on the field to get the ball back.

As has been the case the past few years, it starts with defense for the Cardinal -- who are first in the country in tackles for loss, first in the country in sacks and third nationally against the run. And those numbers include games against four of the top 27 rushing offenses in the country (Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and Notre Dame). Linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, along with defensive end Ben Gardner, are among the best in the country at getting penetration and tackles for loss. Safety Ed Reynolds ranks in the top 10 nationally with six interceptions.

But the boost Stanford needed on offense came in November when head coach David Shaw (two-time Pac-12 coach of the year) swapped out redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan at quarterback for the struggling and inconsistent Josh Nunes. Since taking over, Hogan is 4-0 as a starter -- including wins at Oregon and at UCLA.

But Stanford's offense is built on the power running game of Stepfan Taylor. He's a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and has totaled 1,442 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. Look for him to continue to be a major contributor in the passing game as well. He has caught 38 balls for 270 yards and two scores.

The Cardinal are going to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year -- a first in school history. Stanford lost in the Sun Bowl in 2009, won the Orange Bowl in 2010 and fell in the Fiesta in 2011. This is Stanford's first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1999.