Pac-12: Holiday Bowl

Last year, the chant of "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!" was heard in both Pac-12 and Big 12 country.

That other conference, however much it makes folks grumble, gets to be No. 1 until somebody dethrones it. But the debate among Pac-12 and Big 12 fans for second place was a spirited one.

The Big 12 just clipped the Pac-12 in the Stats & Info power rankings by 0.6 points after going 2-1 versus the Pac-12 in bowl game, with Baylor whipping UCLA in the Holiday Bowl and Texas outlasting Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.

Of course, Oregon, the Pac-12 North runner-up behind Stanford, blew out Kansas State, the Big 12 champion, in the Fiesta Bowl, and Arizona beat Oklahoma State in the regular season -- by 21 points -- to even the conferences' overall mark at 2-2. So even then there was some wiggle room.

The Pac-12 went 4-4 overall in bowl games, winning two BCS bowls, while the Big 12 went 4-5, losing its only BCS bowl. Both conferences finished with three Top 25 teams, but the Pac-12 had two teams in the top-seven compared to no top-10 teams for the Big 12.

Like we said: It was close. And highly subjective to judge.

This is all prelude to the new Pac-12 bowl agreements, which haven't yet been officially announced but we can strongly conjecture upon.

What the Big 12 could always counter in bowl matchups with the Pac-12 is a lower seed. The past three Alamo Bowls matched the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Pac-12 team against the No. 2 non-BCS bowl team from the Big 12. The Holiday Bowl featured the No. 2 Pac-12 team against the No. 4 team from the Big 12.

(There's even a Pac-12 counter to this, with the Pac-12 sending two teams to BCS bowl games the past three years and the Big 12 sending just one during the same span, which thereby evening out the seeds).

Guess what, though? Since the Pac-12 signed on with the Alamo Bowl, the Big 12 is 3-0 against it. Baylor beat Washington in 2012 and Oklahoma State crushed Arizona in 2011.

The new bowl contracts likely will match the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Rose Bowl Pac-12 team vs. the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Sugar Bowl Big 12 team.

Previously, the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team played in the Cotton Bowl, which is now part of the College Football Playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has already commented on the change for his conference.

What does that upgrade mean for the Pac-12?

Well, if we go by teams that played in the Cotton Bowl that means UCLA would have played No. 11 Oklahoma, Washington would have played No. 11 Kansas State and Arizona would have played No. 18 Texas A&M.

Now, these trades aren't exact and aren't always better because bowls have their own selection politics. For example, No. 16 Oklahoma State was ranked higher than Texas A&M in 2011 but the Cotton Bowl preferred a Texas-based team.

Still, this means the bowl competition for the Pac-12 is moving up. It will be a test worth watching.

And the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team might like getting out of the Cotton Bowl rotation. The Big 12 has lost nine of the past 10 Cotton Bowls to the SEC, and the lone victory was No. 7 Missouri over No. 25 Arkansas in 2008. Of course, the Tigers are now in the SEC.

By the way, the Big 12 and Pac-12 also appear headed to a matchup in the Buffalo Wild Wings in Sun Devil Stadium -- the Big 12 likely will be replaced by the Big Ten in the Holiday Bowl -- so the conferences will matchup at the top as well as measure each other's depth.

While both conferences would like to move up to No. 1, neither wants to yield the perception of being at least No. 2. The Alamo Bowl will provide a nice annual measuring stick for the two conferences.

New bowl arrangements?

May, 22, 2013
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has been a busy bee this week, yet we somehow missed his update on the Pac-12's progress with its new bowl game negotiations, which included Wilner projecting a potential future lineup.

It's an interesting article because it's clear Pac-12 administrators are trying to improve the configuration and selection process.

Wilner reported the likely addition of an eighth bowl game -- the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl -- which is run by the Fiesta Bowl and played in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. It's likely to feature a Big 12 foe.

He also projects the ascension of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl as it moves into the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. That will be another Pac-12-Big Ten matchup.

And, no, it doesn't appear there will be any Pac-12-SEC games, which many of you are clamoring for. I'm sure any of the Pac-12's bowl games would love to entice an SEC team to come on board but the SEC has a very strong lineup of bowls games, particularly at the top, and those games are played close to home.

Here's how Wilner projects the future lineup, which will begin in 2014, same season as the first four-team College Football Playoff.
1. Rose/playoff

2. Alamo

3. Holiday

4. Kraft Fight Hunger (Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara)

5. Sun

6. Las Vegas

7. Buffalo Wild Wings

8. New Mexico

That's a full lineup. Consider that some years you could have multiple Pac-12 teams in the playoff and even then have a team play in the Rose Bowl, though that might be a long shot.

Mailbag: Oregon fan hypothetical

December, 28, 2012
Greetings. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter here. It's where the Pac-12 blog tweets, which is a sight to behold.

Brian Mahuna from Portland writes: Do you think Oregon is on the cusp of having an elite group of receivers? Josh Huff will be a senior, the guys behind him are young but talented with the two true freshman Addison and Stanford. Plus the twins who will arrive in Eugene next year. Everyone is quick to talk about how good their running backs are (mainly because they are REALLY good) but I think in the next few years, we could be talking about a complete offense. Great QB in Mariota and a good group of young wide outs would certainly do that.

Ted Miller: You're forgetting Diante Jackson, Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon. How many passes did those once super-awesome recruits catch this season?

And, Brian, if it seems I'm being snarky -- seeing that none of the above are still with the team -- it's because you are asking me to entertain a hypothetical. Chip Kelly has soured me on those. Unless they serve my selfish purposes.

Oregon does have plenty of potential at receiver next year. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will get all of his top six receivers back, including De'Anthony Thomas and Huff, who posted a breakthrough year. And, if all goes according to plan, there are some incoming recruits who are promising.

Yet we now enter one of my pet peeve areas. It's called "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent."


"IDIOT," of course, is what fans often call me when I question a team's depth at one position or another entering a new season when it's OBVIOUS! I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't read recruiting messageboard X, and therefore don't know about incoming recruit 007 Batman Wolverine who is a mix of Dick Butkus, Jim Brown and Peyton Manning. Only better.

Oregon State fans right now are going, "Don't. Please. Don't mention him. This is a Duck question! Just leave us alone!"

Simi Kuli! (Sorry about that).

Kuli, for those who don't recall, was a five-star JC defensive end recruit for Oregon State in 2008, one of the highest rated guys the Beavers ever landed. He was reputed to be beastly, and proved to be just that. Beastly like a Sasquatch. I once told Mike Riley I doubted Kuli's existence. Oregonian writer Paul Buker's humorous tracking of Kuli's abortive progress to Corvallis was one of the more entertaining things I remember from that year.

Last I heard of Kuli is he ended up at West Texas A&M and got into a bit of trouble, but was still receiving wide-eyed speculation on NFL draft boards last year.

Or recall when a receiver by the name of "Marqise Lee" was a recruiting afterthought because of USC signing George Farmer. I recall watching Robert Woods getting asked if he was prepared to be the Trojans No. 2 receiver in 2011 with Farmer shortly to arrive.

Farmer, in fact, was an example of the Pac-12 blog falling for the hype. Having watched tape of Farmer, we wrote him in as a sure-thing for the Trojans. A hard lesson about IDIOT was learned again.

While there's no reason not to be optimistic about a touted guy's prospects, it's also premature to write him into a key role before he's even practiced with his college team. It's always best to subscribe to GTSITBI when considering incoming players.

Got To See It To Believe It.

Jim from Los Angles writes: What is the New Years wishlist for the CAL BEARS football program in the new era of Sonny Dykes?

Ted Miller: That's easy.

1. A great recruiting class that is strong on linemen.

2. A strong spring performance from a quarterback that creates a clear pecking order heading into the summer.

3. A team that is competitive in every game in 2013 while posting a winning record.

4. A Rose Bowl berth before the Old Blues become Dead Blues.

Austin from Tempe, Ariz., writes: What do you think will happen to Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall? He seems to have the size and tools to at least be a backup but will this season hurt him bad enough since he wasn't ever given the ball?

Ted Miller: It's always difficult to project NFL careers, but I think Marshall, who shared the ball this year but was still the Sun Devils leading rusher, is going to have a nice NFL career.

He's a physical guy with good-enough speed who can catch the ball. He's also got a nose for the endzone.

Brian Vancouver, Wash., writes: The second best conference, whatever it shall be, is henceforth to be referred to as the Second Eminent Conference. See what I did there? Signed, A Realistic Duck Fan.

Ted Miller: I do see what you did there.

What I realized this week before and after UCLA's Holiday Bowl debacle with Baylor was Big 12 fans share two things with Pac-12 fans.

1. They resent being automatically called a candidate for second-best conference and are not willing to automatically yield No. 1 to the SEC.

2. Big 12 fans think as little of the Pac-12 as Pac-12 fans think of the Big 12.

Lenlen from Wilkesboro, N.C., writes: I recommend you read the letter Abe Markowitz's Dad sent to NCAA president Mark Emmert and the thread that follows. Now we can see first hand how NCAA shenanigans affect student athletes economically.

Ted Miller: It would be great if the NCAA would appoint someone to the position of Smart & Reasonable. This person would be put in charge of reviewing appeals, such as Markowitz's. Their charge would be simple: Err on the side of the student-athlete.

This is where a bureaucrat shows up and talks about the importance of rules and the slippery slope for allowing flexibility.

I don't buy it. That position is merely a prop for folks who aren't skilled at being fair & reasonable.

The 2011 Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
Our All-Pac-12 bowl team has two quarterbacks and a position we made up. And it wasn't easy to pick the defense, because many of the conference defenses underwhelmed during a 2-5 bowl run.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireEven Andrew Luck would admire Washington QB Keith Price's seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.

K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

DL Josh Shirley, Washington
: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.

P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
What did we learn from the Pac-12 bowl games? Glad you asked.

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Harry How/Getty ImagesDarron Thomas and the Ducks won the Rose Bowl after losing many times on the big stage.
Oregon, it turns out, can win the big one: Some folks might not want to admit this, but it's a load off the backs of the Pac-12 as well as Oregon that the Ducks broke through with a win over a very good Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks, whether you like it or not, have been carrying the conference flag for three consecutive years, and their losing consecutive BCS bowl games hurt the conference's image, just as it prevented Oregon from being perceived as a legit superpower. Now, any residual doubts -- real or merely faked to annoy Oregon fans -- have no more footing. Oregon is what it has proven on the field: An elite program with two BCS bowl victories since the 2001 season.

It would have been nice for USC to be eligible: USC fans believe if the Trojans had been bowl eligible, they would have beaten Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and then won the Rose Bowl, just as the Ducks did. The Pac-12 blog believes Oregon would have won a rematch in Autzen Stadium, but it doesn't matter from our point here. The loser of the Pac-12 title game -- USC or Oregon -- would have gone to the Alamo Bowl, at which point it would have beaten Baylor senseless, perhaps scoring 100 points in the process. Washington then would have been a much better matchup with Texas in the Holiday Bowl than California was, and so-on. In other words, the root cause of a weak 2-5 bowl record is the Trojans not being there to put things into a proper pecking order.

Bowls aren't good when you fired your coach: Arizona State and UCLA both played in bowl games after firing their coach. Both looked terrible. At some point, we'll find out if they lost money while embarrassing their programs. UCLA should not have applied for a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game with a losing mark. Their final 6-8 record after getting downed by Illinois -- as best we can tell -- makes them the first 6-8 team in FBS history. Wow. That's awesome. Hang that on a banner in the Rose Bowl. No matter how the Bruins playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was framed -- a reward for the players! -- it was bad for the program. As for Arizona State, its 6-6 mark got it to a bowl game because its second-half collapse was so bad, it prevented the Sun Devils from losing the Pac-12 title game. There's just something unsavory about a team with a fired coach and a four-game losing streak playing in the postseason.

Defenses need to get better: Washington gave up 67 points. Arizona State yielded 56. Oregon won despite giving up 38. And Stanford yielded 41. California and UCLA didn't give up many points because they faced two of the worst offenses playing in bowl games. Only Utah can get a check mark for defense, and the Utes gave up 27 to Georgia Tech. We in the Pac-12 love offense. We love skilled quarterbacks and exciting running backs. But that doesn't mean the conference doesn't need to play good defense. By the way, Washington's hiring of Justin Wilcox and Arizona's expected hiring of Jeff Casteel sends the right message: We're going to pay big money to get better on defense.

Thanks, Utah: The Pac-12 has had some shaky bowl seasons. And some good ones, too. But the addition of Utah means the conference gets a team that is 7-1 in its last eight bowl games under coach Kyle Whittingham, including, by the way, the 2005 Fiesta Bowl (shared with Urban Meyer) and the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech included a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime. This is a well-coached team that plays with a lot of poise and consistent effort. Not every Pac-12 team can say that -- you know who you are. The Utes more than proved they can handle a Pac-12 schedule this season, ending up 8-5 despite losing their starting quarterback. And Utah's ability to show up in the postseason on a consistent basis is a valuable addition to the conference.

Pac-12 third in conference rankings

January, 10, 2012
After a 2-5 bowl season, it's no surprised the Pac-12 went backwards in the conference rankings. But the Big Ten went more backwards, therefore ensuring the Pac-12 ended up third in the final conference rankings.

The SEC was No. 1 overall and the Big 12 No. 2. The Pac-12 could have eclipsed the Big 12 with a successful run in three head-to-head games during the bowls, but the Pac-12 lost all three: Fiesta (Stanford-Oklahoma State), Alamo (Washington-Baylor) and Holiday (California-Texas).

The Pac-12 finished 14.4 points behind the Big 12 after a 1.8-point regression. The Pac-12 was 7.2 points ahead of the No. 4 Big Ten, which fell by 2.2 points.

The ACC fell to seventh after a miserable 2-6 bowl record, including losses in both BCS bowl games. The ACC finished behind the Mountain West and Big East.

Final Pac-12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
These are final power rankings of 2011-12. They look back and measure the totality of the season.

We're looking ahead with the next power rankings later Tuesday.

And, by the way, if you don't like where you ended up in the power rankings ... you should have played better.

Here are the Week 1 power rankings. And here are the pre-bowl power rankings.

1. Oregon: Chip Kelly and Oregon just can't win the big one. Oh, wait! They did. A thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin capped another great season in Eugene and left the Ducks, again, atop the Pac-12 at season's end. So, in the history of the program, which is the all-time best season: 2001, 2010 or 2011? Or should we hold off judgment on that until after the 2012 campaign?

2. USC: The win over Oregon, the stomping of UCLA and the final top-five ranking were cool, but the return of quarterback Matt Barkley created major momentum heading into the offseason. And if the Trojans had been eligible for the postseason, the Pac-12 bowl record would have been better.

3. Stanford: I'm sure Stanford fans were annoyed by the stunning ignorance among pundits discussing the Cardinal before the Fiesta Bowl. It seemed like many thought Oklahoma State was going to blow Stanford out -- calling the Cardinal "overrated" in the process. You and I knew that was an absurd position. If Stanford and the Cowboys played 10 times, the series would have gone 5-5. And that's being very generous to Oklahoma State. One last thing: Goodbye and good luck Andrew Luck. You were great for Stanford and great for college football.

4. Utah: Yep, the grind of a Pac-12 schedule really wore down the Utes. Yep, the Utes just couldn't handle it. But, with all due humility, how many other conference teams won four of their final five games and a bowl game? If you're looking for a sneaky-good team in the South Division next season, you might want to cast your gaze to Salt Lake City.

5. Washington: The Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor was, at least, an offensive spectacle. Quarterback Keith Price certainly introduced himself to a national audience by outplaying the Heisman Trophy winner. But, wow, that defense. After the Huskies lost four of their final five games, it's fair to say the best thing going their way at year's end was the hiring of A-list defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

6. California: Cal, Cal, Cal. The Holiday Bowl was winnable against a middling Texas squad, but not with a 5-0 turnover disadvantage -- 5-zip! As Charles Barkley might say: "Turrable." If the Bears had won, they would been a candidate for "potentially sneaky-good team in the North Division in 2012." Now we're holding off judgment. On the plus side, recruiting is rolling along nicely.

7. UCLA: Another season of inconsistency in Westwood earned coach Rick Neuheisel his walking papers, and the graceful way Neuheisel handled himself after getting fired made it seem all the more sad that he couldn't get the job done at his alma mater. Jim Mora takes over a program that needs an injection of discipline and a cultural shift.

8. Arizona: Sure, the Wildcats fired their coach and finished 4-8. But they won their last two games, including a win over Arizona State, and head into the offseason with positive momentum after the hiring of Rich Rodriguez.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils completely collapsed, losing their final five games. They fired their coach. Their coaching search was a meandering mess, and the hiring of Todd Graham away from Pittsburgh didn't exactly inspire much celebration. Then their best player and leader, quarterback Brock Osweiler, made a fairly surprising decision to enter the NFL draft. The good news is there has to be some good news ahead, right?

10. Oregon State: A second consecutive losing season, a 3-9 one at that, has Beavers fans understandably frustrated, particularly with what's going on in Eugene. Just two years ago, coach Mike Riley seemed certain to retire as the Beavers coach. So much for certainty. The good news -- or is it an excuse? -- is Oregon State was extremely young in 2011 and should be better in 2012. The surprising late-season win over Washington also provided some consolation.

11. Washington State: The Cougars started 3-1 and looked like a bowl team that would save coach Paul Wulff's job. They then lost seven of their final eight games and Wulff got canned. The late-season win over Arizona State was nice, but the Sun Devils were in the process of waving a white flag over their season. Yes, it was another bad season, but there are more smiles today in Pullman than in years after AD Bill Moos pulled coach Mike Leach out of his hat.

12. Colorado: Colorado isn't buried in the basement here. You could, in fact, make an argument for the Buffs promotion a couple of notches: They, after all, won two of their final three games, beating both Arizona and Utah. Still, 3-10 is 3-10 and 2-7 in conference play is 2-7 in conference play. As is finishing last in scoring defense and scoring offense among Pac-12 teams. The Buffs also have some big holes to fill in their starting lineup. Further, they don't have the "New Coach Is Here to Save Us!" storyline heading into year two with Jon Embree.

Protect the darn ball!

January, 9, 2012
You must protect the football. It's a football cliche that is a statement of fact when it comes to winning games, but also for winning national championships.

The Pac-12 played seven bowl games. It won two. The two it won -- Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Utah in the Sun Bowl -- it was even with turnovers. Four of the five it lost, it lost the turnover battle. The exception? Arizona State won the turnover battle 3-2 with Boise State. The Sun Devils, as their fans well-know, are always weird.

The bottom five teams in the Pac-12 in turnover margin each finished the pre-bowl season with losing records (we say pre-bowl rather than "regular" to include UCLA). The top seven had winning records, other than the Sun Devils, who were .500. The only team with a winning record that finished with a negative turnover margin was USC, but that was due in large part to a stunning lack of takeaways instead of protecting the football. The Trojans 18 turnovers this season was tied for second-fewest in the conference; their 17 takeaways was tied for second-fewest also.

Guess who's No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin this season? LSU, the nation's No. 1 team. Alabama, which plays the Tigers tonight for the national championship, is No. 25.

No national champion in the BCS Era has had a negative turnover margin.

The worst ranking for a BCS national champion in turnover margin was 39th, which was LSU in 2003. But most folks view USC as the "true" national champion that year -- no one really believes that LSU team would have beaten USC, even LSU fans -- and the Trojans ranked No. 2 in turnover margin.

Oh, stop it LSU fans, you know it's true.

Five BCS national champions ranked in the top-five in turnover margin.

Look at the teams at the top of this list and the teams at the bottom. Notice anything?

Anyone want to bet $1 that the team with fewer turnovers between LSU and Alabama wins tonight?
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Pac-12 lunch links: A bad night for a kicker

January, 3, 2012
Quick hits before I get on a flight from LAX.

Pac-12 finishes bowl season 2-5

January, 3, 2012
First, how about those two BCS bowl games Monday? Brilliant. Thrilling.

Second, if Stanford could just make a field goal, the Pac-12 would have finished 3-4 with two BCS bowl victories. Three teams -- Stanford, Oregon and USC -- likely would have finished in the final top five.

But if wishes were fishes then cows would fly (my dad used to say that. I have no idea what it means, but it seemed better than "would-a, could-a, should-a").

The bottom line makes you want to cover your eyes: A 2-5 bowl record.

We provided an excuse Monday morning: If USC had been eligible for the postseason, the entire bowl schedule would have dramatically shifted and the Pac-12 would have put together a much better record.

There is also this: Oregon was the only one of the Pac-12's bowl teams that was favored. It not only beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, it covered. Utah also won, and it was an underdog to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Washington went blow-for-blow with No. 12 Baylor before yielding late because its defense was milquetoast.

So the Huskies fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and, on Monday, raided Tennessee, hiring away highly respected defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

How does a conference improve its bowl record? Play better, coach better. It's a good sign -- and an obvious benefit of the Pac-12's new $3 billion TV deal -- that the conference is hiring away good coaches from the SEC.

Still, 2-5 won't warm anyone's hearts on the West Coast, though the 3-6 Big Ten isn't feeling very good about itself either, at present.

Pac-12 needs to step up Monday

January, 2, 2012
With the two BCS bowl games to be played Monday, the Pac-12 blog is 5-0 picking bowls this year.

Thanks ... no thank you ... you are too kind ... please, stop clapping. OK, yes ... yes ... OK, you're right, I am awesome.

But I would be perfectly happy to have been wrong and eating crow served up in the mailbag. Gloating hurled at my wrongness is a Pac-12 blog tradition. It's much worse when you guys are unhappy, as it appears that is frequently my fault, and few are shy about telling me that.

The problem was when I looked at the Pac-12 bowl schedule, I saw the potential for a lot of losing. As did Vegas. Truth is, the Pac-12 is actually ahead of the game: It was underdogs in all five games played so far and it's now 1-4.

So, unless Oregon and Stanford pull a double-whammy on Monday and salvage the bowl season with a wins over top-10 teams, be prepared for plenty of trolling. The Pac-10 went 2-5 in bowl games in 2009 and that inspired plenty of tweaks. A 1-6 finish would evoke 14 times -- plus or minus -- more ridicule.

And there's little you can say. The record is the record is the record. But there is one trump card: The NCAA's shameful treatment of USC. As in most things, this is all the NCAA's fault.

If USC wasn't in the second season of a bowl ban, the Trojans would either be playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl or would have poleaxed Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. And if the Trojans were in the Rose Bowl -- I do think Oregon would have won a rematch in Autzen Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game, by the way -- the Ducks would have scored 200 points against the Bears.

Then Washington would have been in a favorable matchup with Texas in the Holiday Bowl, and California would have been a good match for Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Utah would have likely ended up with an unhappy ending for a second consecutive season in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. Arizona State in a rematch with Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would have been a toss-up, and UCLA would have had little trouble with Wyoming.

In other words, the Pac-12 would have gone from underdogs in six of seven games to probably favorites in two or three more.

I know: Would-a, could-a, should-a.

But if the final tally ends up 1-6, that's all the Pac-12 will have.

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

January, 1, 2012
The Granddaddy looks like a heck of a matchup between high-powered teams that do things very differently but equally effectively.

WHO TO WATCH: LaMichael James. He's had a brilliant career and is likely off to the NFL after this last hurrah, but the one thing lacking on his résumé is a big-time performance in a big-time nonconference game. Against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in last year's national championship game and LSU in the 2011 season opener, he never rushed for more than 70 yards and averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry. Most believe, however, that the Badgers' front seven and run defense as a whole are weaker than those of any of those aforementioned teams. James needs 122 yards rushing to pass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and move into second place on the conference's career rushing list. If he gets that, expect the Ducks' chances to go up considerably. Another thing: Despite not being much of a factor running the ball, James was a key receiver against Auburn and LSU, catching 10 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in those games. So watch for James getting short dumps in space to give him a chance to do his thing.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offense does everything well. For real. It is balanced and efficient and almost never turns the ball over. The Badgers' one issue: pass-blocking. They have given up 1.77 sacks per game this season, which ranks 73rd in the nation. Oregon ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game. The Badgers' passing game is based on effective play-action. So the first task is slowing down the Badgers' running game and getting them into third-and-long and obvious passing downs. If that happens, the Ducks likely will open up an exotic bag of Nick Aliotti blitzes and stunts, using their superior speed to keep the huge Badgers offensive line off-balance. But if the Badgers' running game is chewing up yards and leaving them with third-and-short, the value of an effective pass rush is muted significantly.

WHY WATCH: Because this feels like it's going to be a great game, for one. It's a true clash of styles: Wisconsin's power versus Oregon's speed. It's a traditional Rose Bowl between top-10 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. And there will be plenty of star power on the field from James to Badgers running back Montee Ball to Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. Finally, both teams are smarting because they've previously fallen short in BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost to TCU here last year. The Ducks have lost two BCS bowls in a row. Both are hungry to end talk that they "can't win the big one."

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Oregon 30. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Oregon will win. In the Big Ten championship game, a middling Michigan State team was able to make the Badgers' defense look slow on the perimeter. That's something that surely raised an eyebrow from Chip Kelly. This is not LSU's defense, or even Auburn's or Ohio State's. But Wisconsin's offense is the problem. It's power running, sure, but Wilson gives it an elite passing game. Expect a number of momentum shifts, but with the Badgers eventually grinding out a victory late in the fourth quarter. And, yes, a lot of this prediction is about the Ducks' needing to prove they can win one of these games. The Pac-12 blog is still smarting about picking the Ducks to win the national title game against Auburn -- and feeling an unusually high degree of certainty about it.

Links: White leads Utes; Mora talks Bruins

January, 1, 2012
Happy New Year. Here's to 2012 being better than 2011.

Lunch links: Stoops Bros. together again?

December, 31, 2011
Behave tonight. Mostly.