Pac-12: Mountain West

Utes, Buffs share disappointing seasons

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
11:00
AM ET
The most disappointed Pac-12 teams as 2012 winds down, other than USC, are the conference's newest members: Colorado and Utah. While both came into the season with very different expectations, both fell well short of their hopes.

So their meeting Friday at Colorado is a bit of a Deflated Bowl.

Utah welcomed back 18 starters -- 16 position players -- from a team that went 8-5 overall and 4-5 in Year 1 of Pac-12 play and won the Sun Bowl over Georgia Tech. At 4-7, the Utes are going to finish with their first losing season since 2002. They began the year expecting to be USC's top challenger in what was supposed to be a weak South Division.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Russ Isabella/US PresswireKyle Whittingham and the Utes were expected to be contenders in the South Division, but they're buried at the bottom of the standings with the Buffaloes.
Colorado was a different story. It welcomed back just nine position players from a team that went 3-10 overall and 2-7 in conference play. The Buffaloes, while they didn't actively volunteer it, knew that they might take a step (or two) backwards in Year 2 under Jon Embree. Their biggest hope was pinned on an easy early schedule, but that ended up being fool's gold when even that proved too much for the Buffs.

"Both of us started the season with different goals and different mindsets of what we wanted our season to be," Embree said. "It hasn't gone the way either one of us has wanted."

Both coaches admit the Pac-12 has been a bit too much to handle, a big step up from their former leagues, the Mountain West Conference (Utah) and Big 12 (Colorado). A team needs depth and across-the-board speed in the Pac-12. And it needs a consistent quarterback, which neither team has had this season.

"When that position is playing well, it gives you a lot of confidence," Embree said.

Utah, however, took its biggest step back on defense. Last year, Utah ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring defense (19.7 points per game). This year, it ranks sixth (24.2 ppg).

The secondary often has struggled and the linebackers are young and often banged up.

"Linebackers, there's been a learning curve there," coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Things likely will get even more challenging for the Utes next year. For one, they lose several key starters, including defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and running back John White. Second, the conference schedule gets much tougher with the addition of a visit from Stanford and a road game at Oregon, teams the Utes missed in their first two seasons of conference play.

Colorado was lousy in 2011 with a veteran team, so it's not surprising it was completely overmatched with a youthful one. Colorado only has eight seniors on the roster, and 13 true freshmen are in the regular rotation, with 51 starts by true freshmen leading the nation. In fact, the Buffs use 18 first-year starters.

And all that youth showed. Colorado ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense in the conference for a second consecutive year, only they were more last this year. In 2011, they averaged 19.8 points per game. This season, it has been 16.3. Last year, the defense yielded 36.5 points per game. This year, it has been an eye-popping 46.4.

The solution is simple: Both teams need better players.

"We need to keep recruiting, that's apparent," Whittingham said.

Whittingham also added that playmaking is an issue. When the screws tightened this year, his team didn't convert.

"We've got to start making more of those plays that are tipping points in games," he said.

As for these new Pac-12 "rivals," there's still something to play for. Turning to offseason concerns is always easier after a win, even after a disappointing season.

Said Embree, "Everyone wants to win that last game."

Schlabach, Edwards project the bowls

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
1:15
PM ET
We'll find out bowl matchups for sure later today, but ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards have posted their final bowl projections.

Here's how they see the Pac-12 ending up.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Both have Oregon and Wisconsin because that's the game.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Both have Oklahoma State and Stanford
Valero Alamo: Both have Washington playing Oklahoma.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Both have California playing Texas.
Hyundai Sun: Both have Utah playing Georgia Tech.
MAACO Las Vegas: Schlabach has Arizona State playing Boise State. Edwards has the Sun Devils playing TCU.
Kraft Fight Hunger: Schlabach has UCLA playing Illinois. Edwards has the Bruins playing Iowa State

Cal fans: Any comments on playing Texas? Any feelings about Longhorns coach Mack Brown you want to express? Refresh our memory of 2004.

There's also an obvious angle for UCLA vs. Illinois.

Where might the chips fall?

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
10:53
AM ET
What we now know: Oregon will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

I love that matchup, by the way. Two teams that were just outside the national title discussion with tons of offensive star power who do things differently.

Then what?

Stanford is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl. But who will it play? It looked like the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game until the Cowboys opened up a can of whup-butt in a 44-10 beatdown of their rival Sooners.

Now Alabama adherents are scurrying around telling folks not to do what their eyes and brains are saying to do: Put Oklahoma State opposite LSU, the most dominant No. 1 team of the BCS area, in the national title game and see what happens.

But that's another fight (and, yeah, if I were a coach, I'd rather play the Cowboys than the Crimson Tide).

The Pac-12 issue is if the Cowboys get promoted, who might play opposite Stanford? Likely the No. 2 team in the Big 12: Kansas State.

But there is a potential fly in the ointment, well-described here by Jon Wilner.
However, there is a remote chance that Stanford could get knocked out of the BCS. As the No. 4 team in the BCS standings, the Cardinal would be guaranteed a berth in all scenarios except one — the one that could become reality Sunday.

If Oklahoma State jumps Alabama, then the Crimson Tide would fall into the No. 3 spot and receive BCS protection as an at-large team.

In that case, Stanford would not be guaranteed a berth, and the Fiesta, under the letter of the BCS law, could invite someone else (best bet: Michigan). But would it? It seems highly unlikely that the Fiesta would pass on the No. 4 team in order to take a team ranked 8-10 spots lower. Never in the 13-year history of the BCS has the No. 4 team been left out.

Wilner also points out that the Fiesta Bowl's new executive director, Robert Shelton, is a Stanford graduate.

So let's assume a bowl that needs to do the right thing does so -- prioritizing merit -- and picks Stanford. Then with those two spots secure -- and the extra $6 million-plus it means for the conference -- there's the trickle down.

Washington is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl against an uncertain Big 12 opponent. First, we need to know what happens with Oklahoma State. Potential foes include Oklahoma, Baylor or Kansas State.

Then our guess is California goes to the Holiday Bowl (selected over Utah because they have the same conference record and Cal beat the Utes head-to-head). The Bears could face Baylor, Oklahoma or even Missouri or Iowa State.

Utah heads to the Sun Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech?), Arizona State goes to Las Vegas for Dennis Erickson's last game (TCU if it doesn't get a bounced into a BCS at-large berth, or Boise State if it does), and UCLA -- armed with its NCAA bowl waiver for a 6-7 record -- gets an invite to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against ... hmm... Illinois? Wyoming?

There would be an obvious angle, of course, for a UCLA-Illinois matchup.

We'll, of course, have more later on the bowls. I assume you knew that, though.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 14

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
8:30
PM ET
It now appears that the Pac-12 will produce two BCS bowl teams and two empty bowl contracts.

I don't expect UCLA to ask the Pac-12 to apply for a bowl waiver if the Bruins finish 6-7 after a loss Friday at Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. The Bruins are almost certain to be looking for a new coach. It would be extremely awkward to deal with that during bowl preparations. Further, a likely trip to the Bay Area for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would be expensive. Probably not worth the, er, glory.

And I'm not sure the waiver would get rubber stamped, anyway. There will be more deserving teams available for the Kraft and New Mexico bowls. Heck, 10 Big Ten teams are bowl eligible.

By the way, expect some tough matchups. If Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State this weekend, the Sooners are a likely foe for Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Arizona State, with or without Dennis Erickson, probably would get TCU in Las Vegas.

Rose Bowl Game: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Big 12
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: California vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Utah vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Arizona State vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: No team vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: No team vs. Mountain West

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 13

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
8:30
PM ET
Things stay the same at the top with the Pac-12 bowl projections, but that's a change, because it seemed reasonable to start to look at Oregon's national title chances on Friday night when Oklahoma State lost.

No longer. The Ducks lost at home to USC, so their best possible destination now is the Rose Bowl.

The big mover is Utah. The Utes would close the season with five consecutive wins if they take care of business at home against Colorado on Saturday. That makes them the hottest and most compelling team after Oregon and Stanford. San Antonio likely will lure plenty of Utes to town, too.

After Utah, the other four bowl-eligible teams mostly arrive with a thud. No bowl wants to deal with a team that might fire its coach.

Rose Bowl Game, Jan. 2: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2: Stanford vs. Big 12
Valero Alamo, Dec. 29: Utah vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday, Dec. 28: Washington vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun, Dec. 31: California vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas, Dec. 22: UCLA vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger, Dec. 31: Arizona State vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico, Dec. 17: No team vs. Mountain West

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 12

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
8:00
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the 11 weeks of games.

Rose Bowl Game: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Big 12
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Utah vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: California vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: UCLA vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: No team vs. Mountain West

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 11

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
8:35
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the 10 weeks of games.

Allstate BCS National Championship Game: Stanford vs. BCS team

Rose Bowl Game: Oregon vs. Big Ten

Valero Alamo: Arizona State vs. Big 12

Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Washington vs. Big 12

Hyundai Sun: Utah vs. ACC

MAACO Las Vegas: UCLA vs. Mountain West

Kraft Fight Hunger: California vs. ACC or Army

Gildan New Mexico: No team vs. Mountain West

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 6

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
12:00
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the sixth week of games.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: California vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: UCLA vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: Utah vs. Big 12

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 5

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
12:00
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the fifth week.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Utah vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: California vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: Washington State vs. Big 12

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
12:00
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the fourth week.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Utah vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: California vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: no team vs. Big 12

Pac-12 bowl projections

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
12:00
PM ET
Projecting the bowls based on the opening week.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: California vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Arizona vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: Washington vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: Utah vs. Big 12

How the BCS rates the Pac-12

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
5:30
PM ET
ESPN.com numbers guru Brad Edwards has an interesting piece here on how the Mountain West actually is stronger than the Big East based on the BCS's official system for calculating conference strength.

But that's not why we're interested. Edwards includes the BCS' ranking of conferences by three criteria. Writes Edwards: "Those criteria evaluate the strength of the league's best team, the strength of its lead pack and its overall strength from top to bottom. All data are derived from the final BCS standings, so bowl performance is not being considered."

The Pac-12 ranks third behind the SEC and Big 12 in Criterion 1: Average ranking of highest-ranked team (final BCS standings, 2008-10).
1. SEC 1.3
2. Big 12 3.3
3. Pac-12 4.7
4. MWC 5.3
5. Big Ten 7.0
6. ACC 12.0
7. Big East 12.3
8. C-USA 27.7
9. MAC 38.0
10. WAC 38.7
11. Sun Belt 63.0

The Pac-12 ranks fourth behind the SEC, Big 12 and ACC in Criterion 2 (0.1 separate the Pac-12 and ACC): Average ranking of all teams (2011 conference membership) by the six BCS computers. The high and low rankings for each team are not discarded, as is the case when the BCS standings are calculated (BCS computers, 2008-10).
1. SEC 38.4
2. Big 12 41.5
3. ACC 45.2
4. Pac-12 45.3
5. Big Ten 46.6
6. Big East 50.3
7. MWC 63.1
8. WAC 77.0
9. C-USA 79.7
10. MAC 88.2
11. Sun Belt 98.4

And the Pac-12 ranks fourth behind the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten in Criterion 3: Adjusted top-25 performance ranking (final BCS standings, 2008-10), which accounts for the number of top 25 teams in the conference, with weight given to where those teams ranked and an adjustment made for the number of conference members.
1. SEC 100.0
2. Big 12 90.6
3. Big Ten 88.9
4. Pac-12 77.8
5. MWC 72.9
6. Big East 45.1
7. ACC 41.7
8. WAC 10.4
t9. C-USA 2.8
t9. MAC 2.8
11. Sun Belt 0.0

Sure many of you have thoughts on this, but the good news is the Pac-12 isn't the Big East or even the ACC.

You'll see that the ACC meets the first two criteria but doesn't reach the AQ standard on the third, while the Big East comes up short of the AQ standard on the first and third. Furthermore, the Big East ranks sixth in the second part, which means that it doesn't even achieve the level that's necessary for appeal.


While third- and fourth-place finishes won't inspire any chants of "Pac-12! Pac-12," at least the conference doesn't fall short by the very measures the AQ conferences established to protect themselves from the unwashed masses stuck outside the BCS gates.

Pac-12 bowl projections

August, 20, 2011
8/20/11
11:00
AM ET
Projecting bowl games before any games are played? Heck, why not?

Here's our way, way too early prediction on how things may stack up.

And yes, if Oregon beats LSU in Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 3, we will immediately shake things up. And add a bowl game.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Utah vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: Arizona vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: UCLA vs. Big 12

Note: These don't exactly correspond to our Power Rankings, which will be released later.
The big story in college football heading into this season is change. The conferences are dramatically different heading into 2011 than they were just a year ago.

Of course, we're talking about expansion -- and contraction in some cases -- which the Pac-12 was on the forefront of because, well, the conference was the Pac-10 last year and thereby changed more than anyone else.

The Big Ten, which was once 11 teams, is now a 12-team league with the addition of Nebraska. And still it's called the Big Ten.

The Big 12, which was once a 12 teams, is now a 10-team league with the subtraction of Nebraska and Colorado. And is still called the Big 12.

This, of course, is bat-pooh stupid, but perhaps counting is an overrated skill.

The Mountain West now features Boise State, late of the WAC. BYU, spurned by the expanding Pac-10, took its football and bolted the Mountain West to become an Independent. TCU will bolt the Mountain West for the Big East next fall.

The Pac-12 -- new owner of 12 teams; thus the new moniker -- added Colorado of the Big 12 and Utah of the Mountain West and then signed the biggest TV contract in the history of the universe. The college football universe, at least.

But you know all of this. The question going forward is how expansion makes the Pac-12 better, other than revenue.

And by better we mean on the field. We mean winning national titles, which the conference hasn't done since USC won two in a row from 2003-04.

Do all these changes -- within the conference and, tangentially, outside the conference -- bring the Pac-12 close to hoisting the crystal football, the BCS championship trophy?

The short answer is maybe.

Because it is now a 12-team league, the conference has split into North and South Divisions and will play a championship game. Nine of 13 BCS titles have been won by 12-team leagues that played a championship game.

Of course, seven of those are from the SEC and none from the ACC in its 12-team configuration (Florida State won in 1999 when the ACC had nine teams; Miami won in 2001 as a member of the Big East).

So 12 teams has been dandy for the SEC. Not so much for the ACC, an academically elite conference that better compares to the Pac-12.

What a 12-team league with a title game does do is present an extra opportunity for a team to distinguish itself. If the nation is comparing unbeaten or 1-loss teams for one of the top-2 spots in the BCS standings, a victory in the title game over a highly rated conference foe from the opposite division could bolster a Pac-12 team's chances.

Or, an unbeaten or 1-loss Pac-12 team could faceplant in the title game and end up not playing in any BCS bowl at all, as a, say, 3- or 4-loss Pac-12 team goes to the Rose Bowl as a upset winner.

Further, the Pac-12 is continuing to play a nine-game conference schedule even though that no longer provides a true round-robin format. That ensures the conference will hand deliver itself an extra six losses every season, losses the SEC, ACC and Big Ten (until 2017), which play eight-game conference schedules, will not be burdened with.

The nine-game conference schedule not only severely damages the Pac-12's national title hopes, it also lowers the annual number of bowl-eligible teams.

On the other hand, if the Pac-12 features a number of ranked teams -- say five or six -- and a champion emerges unbeaten or with one defeat, it should stand in good stead in the BCS standings.

So, again, the answer is maybe.

The newly expanded Pac-12 might have a better shot at winning a national title than the old Pac-10 did. And it also might not.

But you know what the real secret will be?

Recruiting good players and coaching 'em up. That would really help the Pac-12's chances.
For the 17th straight year, Stanford finished No. 1 in the Division I Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings.

The Pac-12 featured six teams in the top-21 and eight in the top-30.

California finished third behind Ohio State. UCLA was 11th, USC 14th, Arizona 16th and Washington 21st.

Competing in the Big 12, Colorado was 66th overall. Competing in the Mountain West, Utah was 71st.

The Directors' Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and USA Today. Points are awarded based on each institution's finish in up to 20 sports - 10 women's and 10 men's.

Here's how the Pac-12 finished.

1. Stanford
3. California
11. UCLA
14. USC
16. Arizona
21. Washington
27. Arizona State
30. Oregon
66. Colorado
69. Oregon State
71. Utah
135. Washington State

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12