Pac-12: Bowl-overview-2013

Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Michigan State Spartans (12-1)

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

Before last season, Stanford had never been to bowl games in four consecutive seasons. Following its dominant effort against Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal is not only on its way to a fifth straight bowl but a fourth straight BCS game and second straight Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe downhill style of Tyler Gaffney and the Michigan State defense are on a collision course.
Waiting in Pasadena for the 100th edition of the “Granddaddy” will be Michigan State. Winners of nine straight, including a 34-24 win against previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, the Spartans haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, when they beat USC 20-17.

The first thing that jumps out about this matchup is the similar styles. As was the case in Stanford’s 20-14 win against Wisconsin last year, points could be at a premium. Both Stanford (18.6 ppg) and Michigan State (12.7) allow fewer than 20 points per game, and the Spartans lead the nation in total defense. Neither team has allowed more than 28 points in a game this year; both allowed 28 on two occasions.

Considering how well Arizona State had been playing, Stanford’s 38-14 win in the Pac-12 championship might have been its most complete win of the season. Just as it did at home against the Sun Devils early in the year, it jumped out to a big first-half lead. This time, however, Stanford extended the lead after halftime to win going away. Running back Tyler Gaffney earned the game’s MVP honors and now has 1,618 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the season.

The teams’ only common opponent is Notre Dame. The Irish handed Michigan State its only loss of the season, 17-13 on Sept. 21., but fell 27-20 at Stanford on Nov. 30. Stanford has won its last 10 games against ranked opponents, with the last loss coming two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State.

Stanford is 6-7 all time in the Rose Bowl, while Michigan State is 3-1. -- Kyle Bonagura


As they’ve done after every win, the Michigan State Spartans held a Saturday night dance party in their locker room after upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDarqueze Dennard leads Michigan State to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987.
Noticeably absent from the hip-hop playlist: “Going back to Cali.” The Spartans are going back to California to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. After a disappointing 2012 campaign filled with close losses -- MSU dropped five Big Ten contests by a combined 13 points -- Mark Dantonio’s team made up the inches and became a complete team that won all nine of its Big Ten contests by 10 points or more this season.

“Pasadena, here we come,” said Spartans senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti, a Lakewood, Calif., native. “I’ve got to show them In-N-Out [Burger], it’s a West Coast staple, Animal Style and all that. I’m excited.”

The nation’s No. 1 defense propelled Michigan State for most of the season and will be featured in Pasadena alongside Stanford’s equally hard-hitting crew. The 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO boasts a traditional matchup of teams rooted in physical defense, the power run and solid special teams play.

Michigan State leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (248.2 ypg), rush yards allowed (80.8 ypg) and third-down conversions allowed (27.7 percent), and ranks second in pass efficiency defense and fourth in points allowed. Pat Narduzzi coordinates a unit featuring six All-Big Ten players, including an All-America candidate in senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

Elite defense is nothing new at MSU, but the team needed a complementary piece on offense and found one during Big Ten play. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook came out of nowhere to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors, throw 20 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and win MVP honors in the Big Ten championship game. Cook and dynamic running back Jeremy Langford play behind a much-improved line that will be tested by Shayne Skov and Stanford. -- Adam Rittenberg

Hyundai Sun Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-3)

Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m. ET, El Paso, Texas (CBS)

Virginia Tech played the way most people expected this season: Its defense was outstanding; its offense was not. There is little doubt the Hokies fielded a championship-caliber defense throughout the course of 2013, but offensive shortcomings ended up derailing any hope for a return to the ACC title game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Facyson
AP Photo/John BazemoreFreshman corners Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller (11) were keys to one of the nation's best defenses.
The same issues that plagued Virginia Tech last season ended up dooming the offense again. The Hokies could never develop a consistent running game, and nobody emerged as a go-to target among the receivers. The offensive line struggled for the majority of the season, as well. All of this put pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas to make plays.

When he made them, Virginia Tech won more often than not. The Hokies got off to a 6-1 start and climbed to No. 14 in the rankings after Thomas was particularly effective in their first three ACC games -- scoring six total touchdowns while throwing zero interceptions. But Virginia Tech proceeded to drop three of its next four games, including back-to-back downers against Duke and Boston College.

In those two losses, Thomas had eight turnovers. It is unfair to blame Thomas completely for both losses. There is plenty of blame to go around. The defense did not play particularly well against the Eagles, either, as Andre Williams ran for 166 yards and two scores.

Despite another overtime loss to Maryland at home, Virginia Tech held out hope of winning the Coastal going into the final Saturday of the regular season. But Duke would have none of that. So once again, the Hokies will not play for a championship, the first time they have failed to make it back to the ACC title game after missing the previous season.

The defense ended up ranking in the top 10 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks. True freshman Kendall Fuller won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after ranking fifth nationally in interceptions (six) and leading the conference with 16 passes defended.

Fellow defensive back Brandon Facyson is a candidate to join Fuller on the freshman All-America team. Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller and Luther Maddy were solid all year.

This puts into perspective how lopsided the performance was between the offense and defense: Of the 11 Virginia Tech players recognized on the All-ACC media teams, only two came from the offense. Both were honorable mention on offensive line. -- Andrea Adelson


With a 2-0 mark against USC and their head coach locked up for six more years, the UCLA Bruins enter the bowl season brimming with confidence.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr leads the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for loss.
Quarterback Brett Hundley led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (67.8) and has eight touchdowns to just one interception over his past five games. Offensive line issues -- particularly the fact that UCLA starts three true freshmen -- have taken their toll at times and forced Hundley into scramble mode perhaps sooner than offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone would like. But the Bruins, and Hundley, have still been able to adapt.

Stricken early in the season with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, coach Jim Mora rallied his team to five straight wins to open the year, including an emotional win at Nebraska. UCLA lost back-to-back games at Stanford and Oregon but closed out the year by winning four of its last five.

Defensively, linebacker Anthony Barr continues to be one of the most dominant players in the country. He led the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for a loss and was tied for second with 10 sacks. Complementary players such as Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack give UCLA one of the top front sevens in college football.

As depth issues impacted the running game, the Bruins got more creative in finding ways to score. Jack took over as a dual-threat option and added seven rushing touchdowns to his résumé. Marsh has a touchdown reception, and even defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has rushed for a score. The Bruins head into the postseason playing a very creative yet still physical style of football. -- Kevin Gemmell

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Arizona Wildcats (7-5) vs. Boston College Eagles (7-5)

Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET, Shreveport, La. (ESPN)

It’s been a season of highs and lows for the Wildcats in year No. 2 under Rich Rodriguez.

Arizona has been streaky; winning three, then losing two, then winning three and losing two. Lows include a 24-17 home loss to Washington State, while highs include a 42-16 thrashing of Oregon.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Casey
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona's Ka'Deem Carey ran for 100-plus yards in every game he played this season and had 1,885 yards and 19 total TDs on the year.
But the one thing that has been steady and consistent has been the play of running back Ka'Deem Carey, a Doak Walker finalist who has produced a 100-yard effort in every game this season and 15 straight games going back to last year. That’s the longest streak in the FBS. Carey, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year, led the league in yards per game with 156.0 and was tied for second in the conference with 17 rushing touchdowns. He finished the regular season with 1,716 yards on 322 attempts.

Quarterback B.J. Denker continued to show improvement throughout the season. After a sluggish start, he brought his completion percentage up to 60.5 with 14 touchdowns to seven interceptions. But he’s also shown to be a dangerous runner with 898 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.

After being one of the worst defenses in the conference last season (allowing 35.3 yards per game), the Wildcats showed a huge improvement in the second year of Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 scheme. Arizona has reduced its points per game allowed by nearly 11 in 2013 and is yielding 24.7 points per game.

The Wildcats are going to a bowl game for the fifth time in six years, including both years of the Rodriguez era. -- Kevin Gemmell


Gus Malzahn gets plenty of (deserved) credit for his turnaround efforts at Auburn. David Cutcliffe is picking up plenty of hardware for his miracle job at Duke. But let's not overlook what Steve Addazio has done in his first year in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyBoston College rode running back Andre Williams to seven wins after just two victories in 2012.
Boston College has more than tripled last year's victory total, from two to seven. The Eagles upset Virginia Tech and were the only team to come within 20 points of Florida State in the regular season. They were a few plays away from possibly winning at then-No. 3 Clemson, too.

A four-game winning streak ended in the regular-season finale at Syracuse, which scored a game-winning touchdown with six seconds remaining to become bowl-eligible. How did the Orange deny the Eagles a fifth straight win? By doing what few teams could: containing Andre Williams.

The Heisman Trophy candidate has rushed for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry and punishing attempting tacklers time and time again. He gained a ridiculous 339 yards in a victory over NC State to make BC bowl-eligible, and that came a week after his 295-yard effort helped the Eagles pull away late at New Mexico State.

Williams was held to just 29 yards on nine carries at Syracuse, though, before the senior left the game with an undisclosed injury. He is expected to be fine for the bowl game, and that could be troubling for the defense tasked with stopping Williams in his college finale. -- Matt Fortuna

National University Holiday Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)

Arizona State hit the 10-win mark in Todd Graham's second season as head coach and won the Pac-12's South Division. Despite a decisive loss in the conference title game to Stanford, the program appears to be on a decided uptick.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Will Sutton is a disruptive force for the Sun Devils.
The season did start with controversy. On Sept. 14 at Arizona State, Wisconsin appeared to have put itself in position to kick a winning field goal, but Badgers QB Joel Stave opted to unconventionally place the ball on the ground instead of just falling down himself, and the Pac-12 officiating crew melted down in a panic of indecision, allowing the clock to expire. It was embarrassing for the conference but nonetheless a win in the ledger for the Sun Devils.

After an impressive domination of USC, a 62-41 defeat that got Trojans coach Lane Kiffin fired, the Sun Devils played a flat game against Notre Dame in Cowboy Stadium. That, however, would be their last regular-season defeat. They rolled up seven impressive wins in a row and won the South and earned home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game.

Most notable was a road victory at No. 14 UCLA -- the Sun Devils had been notoriously inconsistent on the road -- and a 58-21 beatdown of archival Arizona.

While Stanford pushed Arizona State around in both meetings this fall, knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl, it clearly was a satisfying season in Tempe. The Sun Devils are led by DT Will Sutton, two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and QB Taylor Kelly, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. The only bad news over the final part of the season was an injury to RB Marion Grice, who missed the last two games and is questionable at best for the Holiday Bowl.
-- Ted Miller


Momentum is a strange thing. Texas Tech had an awful lot of it to start 2013, winning seven in a row to kick off Kliff Kingsbury’s debut season. The team climbed as high as No. 10 in the polls.

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBaker Mayfield will hope to step forward in the Texas Tech QB derby during the postseason.
Then came five losses in a row, by an average margin of 20 points, to the Big 12’s five other bowl-eligible teams. They had the third-worst turnover margin in FBS and second-worst run defense in the Big 12. A promising season fell apart quickly.

This bowl game gives Kingsbury a chance to regain some of that momentum entering the offseason, both for next year’s team and the next few months of recruiting. A victory would be Texas Tech’s first since Oct. 19, a win at West Virginia.

It’s also more time to shore up the weaknesses that the Big 12’s best teams were able to expose. The Red Raiders’ run defense gave up 294 rushing yards per game in its losses and should be seriously tested again.

Perhaps the biggest questions the bowl can answer for Texas Tech is this: Who’s the quarterback? Baker Mayfield started seven games in 2013, Davis Webb started five and Michael Brewer could still be in the mix. Getting another game and 15 extra practices could help bring clarity. -- Max Olson

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)

Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)

During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota should be at full strength and ready to run in the postseason.
That 8-0 start was a thing of beauty, as the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the nation, dominating on both sides of the ball. They hung 59 points on both Virginia and Tennessee. They turned a precarious seven-point fourth-quarter lead into a 45-24 stomping of hated rival Washington, a 10th consecutive victory in the series by at least 17 points. They showed some grit in the second half against UCLA, swamping the Bruins 42-14.

Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.

Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.

The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.

The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller


The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas will lean on its run game but will need Case McCoy to make a few plays to close out the season with a win.
If that ends up being the case, we’ll know before Texas takes the field for its bowl game later this month. These Longhorns could have plenty to play for in their finale, even if at 8-4 they’ve ended up in the same Valero Alamo Bowl they played in last year.

Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.

Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson

Fight Hunger Bowl

December, 8, 2013
[+] EnlargeKyle Van Noy
George Frey/Getty ImagesKyle Van Noy leads the BYU defense.

BYU Cougars (8-4) vs. Washington Huskies (8-4)

Dec. 27, 9:30 p.m. ET, San Francisco (ESPN)

After a year of playing all over the country, from Virginia to Houston to Wisconsin to Notre Dame, why not make one more trip? The Cougars finished their third season as an FBS independent with a win over Nevada last week and immediately accepted a bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

The Cougars won eight games, six against teams going to bowl games, thanks to a top-25-scoring defense and a potent run game led by quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams, who each surpassed 1,200 rushing yards and combined for 16 touchdowns.

BYU has won its past four bowl games and is bowling in California for a second consecutive season after knocking off San Diego State 23-6 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl last year. -- Max Olson


The news that coach Steve Sarkisian was headed to USC was quickly trumped by the hiring of Boise State’s Chris Petersen -- though it will be quarterbacks coach and former UW QB Marques Tuiasosopo who leads the Huskies into the bowl season.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBishop Sankey had 134 carries in Washington's final five games and topped 100 yards in four of them.
Led by Doak Walker Award finalist Bishop Sankey, the Huskies finally got over the seven-win hump that had been plaguing them of late. Sankey became a national name for his performance in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State. He has exceeded the hype this year and has been a workhorse back. Sankey has proven to be one of the most complete skill players in the country with 1,775 yards (5.8 per carry) and 18 touchdowns on 306 carries. He also has snagged 25 balls for 298 yards and a score.

Quarterback Keith Price has looked more like his 2011 self -- mostly because of stability along the offensive line, which has helped the Huskies average 38.5 points per game.

After a midseason skid that saw three straight losses (at Stanford, vs. Oregon and at Arizona State), the Huskies closed the year by winning four of their last five.

Washington’s defense, particularly the secondary, has continued to flourish. At question, however, is who will be calling the defense for the bowl game. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is rumored to be a candidate for the Boise State job, though he also could end up at USC with Sarkisian. Petersen is bringing Pete Kwiatkowski with him from Boise State, so Wilcox and the Washington defense remains in limbo. -- Kevin Gemmell

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Boise State Broncos (8-4) vs. Oregon State Beavers (6-6)

Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET, Honolulu (ESPN)

[+] EnlargeGrant Hedrick
AP Photo/Otto KitsingerGrant Hedrick took over at quarterback for the Broncos after Joe Southwick was injured.
The Broncos enter the bowl season for the first time in eight years without coach Chris Petersen, who accepted the head coaching job at Washington earlier in the week. It’s also the first time in three years they aren’t in the Las Vegas Bowl. Linebackers coach Bob Gregory will coach Boise State in Hawaii.

It’s been an off year for Boise, which has dropped four games in a season for the first time since 2005. After Joe Southwick broke his ankle against Nevada, Grant Hedrick stepped in as the starter and has been efficient, completing 68.2 percent of his throws with 15 touchdowns to five interceptions.

The Broncos have won their past four bowl appearances -- including the 2009 Fiesta Bowl and all three stops in Vegas. -- Kevin Gemmell

The Beavers limped to the finish line with five straight losses, but they have a chance to end the season on a good note in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against Boise State.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion and Cody Vaz
AP Photo/Don RyanSean Mannion is piloting the nation's third-best passing attack.
Quarterback Sean Mannion ranks No. 2 in the nation with 4,403 yards passing and is paired with receiver Brandin Cooks to become one of the nation’s most dangerous combinations. Cooks caught 15 touchdown passes and leads the nation with 1,670 receiving yards.

After losing the season opener against FCS opponent Eastern Washington, Oregon State rebounded to win six straight, but did not beat a team that finished with a winning record. The Beavers nearly upset Oregon in the Civil War, but the Ducks scored with 29 seconds left to win 36-35.

Without longtime coach Chris Petersen, who left to replace Steve Sarkisian at Washington, the Broncos will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory. The teams met five times from 2003 to 2010, with Boise State winning three, including the last two.

Mannion and Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick have been competing against each other dating back to their high school days in the Bay Area, where they were in the same league. It’s unclear if Southwick or Grant Hedrick will start the bowl game as Southwick continues to come back from a broken ankle.

Oregon State’s last bowl win came in the 2008 Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh. -- Kyle Bonagura

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

December, 8, 2013

USC Trojans (9-4) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1)

Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET, Las Vegas (ABC)

It's fair to say that probably no team in the nation dealt with more drama than USC this year. How many teams can say they've had four head coaches since August?

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOffensive coordinator Clay Helton will step in as head coach for the Trojans in their bowl game.
Lane Kiffin started the season on one of the nation's hottest seats, and that seat melted at Arizona State during a 62-41 defeat that dropped the Trojans to 3-2 on the year and 0-2 in the Pac-12. Kiffin was fired at LAX by athletic director Pat Haden, and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach. He beat Arizona in his debut, lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, then rolled off five consecutive victories.

At that point, many saw Orgeron as a serious candidate to take over the job full time. But his chances were doused when the Trojans were whipped 35-14 at home against archrival UCLA. When Haden told Orgeron he wouldn't get the job, he promptly resigned, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton will lead the Trojans in their bowl game.

On Dec. 2, news broke that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant under Pete Carroll, would be the Trojans’ next coach.

This was a far better team after Kiffin's termination, in large part because the offense got better with Helton calling plays instead of Kiffin. A unit that managed just seven points in a home loss to Washington State with Kiffin calling plays averaged 30 points per game during its 6-2 stretch under Orgeron.

The biggest win was a 20-17 takedown of then-No. 4 Stanford. But the Trojans’ biggest strength is defense. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit ranked among the nation's top 25 in scoring, total and rushing defense.


[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDerek Carr has 48 TD passes and just seven interceptions in 2013.
Fresno State was just a couple of plays from an undefeated season and a BCS bowl berth, but a 62-52 loss at San Jose State -- the college football season's ultimate offensive barn burner -- ended those hopes. The Bulldogs therefore had to settle for a Mountain West Conference title and a Las Vegas Bowl berth opposite USC.

The story with the Bulldogs was offense, and the leader of that offense was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Derek Carr, who led the nation with 405.5 yards passing per game, 39 yards more than anyone else. Carr threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

The Bulldogs still have something to prove in their bowl game because their pillow-soft scheduled was ridiculed most of the year. It featured an overtime win over Rutgers to open the season and victories over Boise State and Utah State that secured the conference crown. In terms of quality foes, that was about it.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Washington State Cougars (6-6) vs. Colorado State Rams (7-6)

Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)

Welcome back, Wazzu.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jesse Beals/Icon SMICoach Mike Leach has taken the Cougars to their first bowl game since 2003.
Not since beating Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl have the Cougars been bowling. Their time away from the postseason was a trying time in Pullman, where fans clung to little hope for several years.

Those days are over.

In his second season, coach Mike Leach brought the program back to respectability, re-energized the fan base and now has a chance to take another step forward against Colorado State, which is led by another second-year coach, Jim McElwain. Leach’s Air Raid offense, paired with the expectation that WSU will travel well, was enough for bowl officials to select the Cougars instead of Arizona or Oregon State.

The Cougars finished the regular season with a loss in the Apple Cup, but recorded consecutive wins at Arizona and home against Utah in the weeks prior to reach bowl eligibility. Before that, the season saw its fair share of ups and downs.

Looking back, the Cougars’ 31-24 loss at Auburn in the season opener looks even better now than it did then. Granted, both teams have changed a lot since August, but WSU -- which finished 4-5 in the Pac-12 -- was a few plays away from beating the eventual SEC champion. The next week, WSU went to Los Angeles where it contributed to coach Lane Kiffin’s dismissal by beating then-No. 25 USC despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.


After four years without a bowl game, the Rams are back in the postseason.

[+] EnlargeKapri Bibbs
AP Photo/Eric DraperColorado State celebrated touchdowns by Kapri Bibbs on a regular basis in 2013.
Colorado State returns to the New Mexico Bowl, where it beat Fresno State 40-35 in 2008, to play Washington State.

While the Cougars will throw the ball nearly every down, Colorado State, under second-year coach Jim McElwain is the epitome of balance. The Rams rank No. 39 in the country in passing (258.5 ypg) and No. 31 in rushing (202.7).

Despite its seven wins, Colorado State was far from a lock to reach a bowl. The six FBS opponents it beat were a combined 17-55. The Rams best showing of the year might have been their 31-6 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama.