Friday, January 3, 2014
Pac-12 bowl season? A gentleman's C
By Ted Miller
The Pac-12 went 6-3 in its bowl games. On Dec. 9, the Pac-12 blog noted, "Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment."
So the Pac-12 didn't notch a "major disappointment" this bowl season. And there was much rejoicing. Yay.
Sure, conference teams were favored in all nine games, but you can't win them all, right? A .667 winning percentage is solid by just about any measure. The super-awesome SEC is just 5-2 with a couple of tough games remaining.
Why then am I so underwhelmed?
Short answer: It should have been better. Our Pac-12 bowl season grade? A gentleman's "C."
Part of the problem was the matchups, which were unusually forgiving. USC's blowout win over No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl was the only win over a ranked team, mostly because the only other ranked team the Pac-12 played this bowl season was Stanford against No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO, a 24-20 Spartans victory.
Another part of the problem was how things went down.
While Washington State fans seem split on whether the Pac-12 blog is allowed to call the Cougars' monumental double-dog-derp against Colorado State by the term that everyone immediately thought of (don't worry, we won't type "Couged it"), that was a quintessential example of a team forcibly yanking defeat from the jaws of victory.
Then there was Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. For whatever reason, the Sun Devils simply didn't show up. We apologize for seeming to not give Texas Tech credit for a great win, but the Red Raiders need to understand the Sun Devils they played looked nothing like the Sun Devils of 2013. That game was utterly shocking, at both a player and coaching level. Todd Graham was right to take the blame afterward. His team wasn't ready to play.
That game reminded me of a coach who once told me that having a senior-laden team can become a mixed blessing for a bowl game. Sometimes, senior leadership provides focus to a locker room. And, sometimes, seeing that the seniors won't be accountable to the coaching staff and their teammates the following fall, they lose interest and start looking ahead to their own futures. My guess is the latter happened with Arizona State.
Stanford? It hardly played a perfect game, but the Rose Bowl was simply a good, hard-fought matchup that Michigan State took from Stanford, instead of the Cardinal giving it to the Spartans. The result served more as a validation of the Big Ten champs than a reduction of Stanford's national status.
Anthony Wilkerson and Stanford didn't slip up too badly in the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
That take mostly rings true for the Pac-12's bowl season. Going 6-3 won't represent a retreat; it won't cause a negative national re-evaluation of the strength of the conference. For one, if Auburn loses to Florida State in the national title game, no conference will post a dominant bowl season. Big 12 champion Baylor losing to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Alabama losing to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl showed that bowl-season nuttiness can affect even the heaviest of favorites.
So kudos to USC, Oregon State, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA for taking care of business in their bowl games.
USC and Washington won despite coaching turmoil. The Ducks showed what a healthy Marcus Mariota looked like and gave defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti a great farewell with a dominant performance on that side of the ball. Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA brought their A-games and dominated.
My general feeling is the carryover to 2014 will be at least four and probably five teams ranked in the preseason: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and maybe Arizona State.
The Pac-12 bowl season was only OK. It could have been worse; it could have been better.
That's nothing to aspire toward, but at least the conference won't have to spend the offseason wringing its hands over its national status as we head toward the first season of a four-team College Football Playoff.