Pac-12: Bowls watch 0802
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate from the upcoming Emerald, Holiday and Sun Bowls.
California will do its Best against Miami's run defense: As the intrepid Heather Dinich pointed out, Miami's run defense, solid much of the year, went belly-up at season's end, surrendering an average of 345.5 yards over the final two games, which, not surprisingly, were defeats. California, the Hurricanes' Emerald Bowl foe, averaged 184 yards rushing per game, and speedy running back Jahvid Best might be the most explosive running back in the nation. He busted up Washington for 311 yards -- in just 2 1/2 quarters -- in the season finale and is capable of going yard every time he touches the ball.
Which D takes a Holiday? Culturally, Oregon and Oklahoma State couldn't be much more different. It will be amusing to see the fans mixing in San Diego's Gaslamp District before the Holiday Bowl. But, statistically, the teams are very similar. Both have top-eight offenses: Oregon ranks seventh in points per game (41.92) and eighth in yards per game (478.17). OSU ranks eighth in points per game (41.58) and seventh in yards (489.25). The defensive numbers also are nearly identical -- mediocre. The scoreboard figures to be churning in this one -- only Ball State-Tulsa has a higher over-under -- but at some point the winner will get one or two more big plays from its defense.
Who steps up for the Rodgers Brothers? With playmakers James and Jacquizz Rodgers out of the Sun Bowl with shoulder injuries, Oregon State will face a good Pittsburgh defense without 50 percent of its offense. That means other guys are going to have to step up. Big time. First, 236-pound running back Ryan McCants, who looked like budding star in the preseason before the Jacquizz Juggernaut began, will shoulder the rushing load with Jeremy Francis and keep the running threat alive. Second, receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales and quarterback Lyle Moevao will have to make plays downfield to keep the Panthers from ganging up against the run.
The Bears need to pressure the true frosh QB: Miami will start true freshman quarterback Jacory Harris in the Emerald Bowl because starter Robert Marve was suspended for missing classes. That sounds worse than it is. Harris has been a better quarterback than Marve much of the year. Harris finished the regular season with 10 touchdown passes, one more than Marve, completed a higher percentage of his passes (60.8 vs. 54.5) and threw interceptions at a better rate than Marve. But three of Harris' six picks came in the final two games. Cal, meanwhile, finished third in the nation with 23 interceptions while recording 33 sacks. The Bears could make things easy on themselves by rattling a young quarterback and forcing the Hurricanes to make mistakes.
D-Boyz vs. Zac & Dez: If there is a difference between Oregon and Oklahoma State, it's that the Cowboys are a better passing team -- 233 yards per game vs. 200 -- with All-American receiver Dez Bryant and solid quarterback Zac Robinson. In the preseason, the Ducks secondary was widely touted as among the best in the nation -- the unit even gave itself a nickname, "D-Boyz". But results weren't terribly good. The Ducks yielded 24 touchdown passes -- tied with Washington for most in the Pac-10 -- and allowed opposing offenses to complete 58 percent of their passes. The Ducks also only grabbed 14 interceptions. While All-American end Nick Reed led the conference's best pass rush -- 38 sacks -- the D-Boyz need to prove their "D" doesn't stand for debilitated, decrepit or delicate.
Stop LeSean, who's the real McCoy: Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy might be the best running back in the nation. He rushed for 1,403 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging nearly five years per carry. He's he engine of the Pitt offense. Oregon State had a highly ranked run defense until Oregon rushed for 385 yards in the Beavers Civil War bloodbath. If the Oregon State defense doesn't regain its run-stuffing form, it could be a long day for the Beavers.
How tasty is homecooking? Miami is crossing the country to play in the Emerald Bowl. California is crossing a bridge. The Hurricanes are 3,500 miles from home. The Bears are sleeping in their own beds. The crowd at AT&T Park figures to be hugely pro-Cal. How much will all this work in the Bears favor? Or will the Hurricanes, who've been known to enjoy wearing black hats, be inspired by playing the incorrigible house guests?
Cowboys may want to Duck: Folks have been talking about fancypants offenses in the Big 12 this season, but that's mostly inspired smirks on the West Coast, where if your offense is simple -- you know, like the Big 12 almost every previous season -- you can't survive. Now, Oregon's offense? It just plays at a higher level because coordinator Chip Kelly is smarter than nearly every defensive coordinator. The only team that stopped the Ducks rushing attack was USC. The Cowboys aren't USC. In fact, not a single player on their defense would start for USC. And they've not seen a team that combines scheme, speed and physical play like the Ducks. Oklahoma State needs Oregon to make mistakes because that's the only way it will slow down the Ducks.
Are the Beavers still pining for Roses? Oregon State coach Mike Riley is great at preparing his team for the post-season, see a 4-0 record in bowl games. But his Beavers were sniffing roses most of the season, and the Sun Bowl is a bit of a let down. Big time. Toss in the dispiriting defeat in the Civil War and the absence of the Rodgers brothers, and there are plenty of reasons for the Beavers to be down. Or, perhaps, highly motivated to prove themselves anew.
Will the Pac-10 vindicate itself? Win or lose the Rose Bowl, USC doesn't need to prove anything. Every college football fan with a brain knows what USC is: The nation's best program. But when folks criticize the Pac-10, they mostly take shots at USC's competition, and the Pac-10 struggled this year against perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule in college football history -- 2-8 in games vs. the top-18 of the final BCS standings. But the conference already posted a decisive win over a ranked team to open the bowl season -- Arizona whipping BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl -- and three more ranked teams remain ahead. Only Oregon is an underdog -- by three points -- and a 5-0 or 4-1 b
owl record is not inconceivable. Such a tally could slam a glass of shutup down the throats of the Pac-10's critics.