Stanford Football: Derek Carr

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
9:00
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Pac-12 should roll through bowl games

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:08
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The Pac-12 is favored in eight of its nine bowl games, as Oregon State is the only underdog in its matchup with Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

That's good news and bad news.

The good news is the conference has an excellent chance to post an impressive bowl record. The bad news is it has a chance to embarrass itself, too. Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and the Ducks struggled to the finish line, but they hope to have a strong showing against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Of course, the Pac-12 blog has always taken a dim view of judging a conference by its bowl record, despite its annual inevitability. The college football postseason is filled with teams with varied motivation, not to mention coaching turnover -- see Washington and USC, as well as Boise State. Still, a program is responsible for itself.

The biggest reason the Pac-12 should thrive this bowl season is also the biggest negative for the conference: just one BCS bowl team, unlike the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12, and unlike the previous three seasons. Yep, the deepest Pac-12 perhaps in history ended up being a negative when it came to handing out bowl invitations.

The most aggrieved party is No. 10 Oregon, the only eligible at-large team to be passed over. The Ducks were hoping to be pitted against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the bowl went with Oklahoma, honoring a relationship with the Big 12 and perhaps thinking the Sooners will travel better than the Ducks.

Not to incur the wide-eyed wrath of Oregon fans, but the Sooners' case probably was stronger on merit, too. The Ducks lost two of their final four games, and they barely slipped by 6-6 Oregon State in the Civil War to conclude the season. Oklahoma is riding a three-game winning streak that was capped by impressive victory over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Paired with the Sooners other quality win -- at Notre Dame -- that's more impressive than the Ducks best wins (UCLA and Washington). And the Sooners losses, to Baylor and Texas, are at least comparable to the Ducks' (Stanford and Arizona). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oregon's and Oklahoma's schedules were pretty equivalent, the Ducks ranking 50th and the Sooners 55th.

Sure, Oregon would be favored against Oklahoma, but the Sugar Bowl folks took the temperature of the respective fan bases and found more smiles in Norman than Eugene.

Finally, to be honest, the way Oregon looked over the final month of the season suggests they'd be better off allowing the Sooners to deal with Alabama and Nick Saban.

As for the conference champions, kudos to Stanford for negotiating the nation's fourth-most difficult schedule with an 11-2 record. In fact, the Cardinal is ranked No. 1 in ESPN Stats & Information "Championship Drive Rating," which measures a team's overall merit -- the "difficulty of achieving their W-L or better and how well they control games using in-game win probability; both adjusted for quality of opponent."

Of course, Stanford, which opened as a 3-point favorite against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, is where the Pac-12's overall offseason perception will start. It figures to get a tough fight from the defensive-minded Spartans. A Cardinal loss would diminish the Pac-12's national perception as a whole -- as in trickle down from the Big Ten champion being superior to the Pac-12 champ.

Oregon's matchup with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl is interesting. If both teams show up with their best game, Oregon wins by two or three touchdowns. But the Ducks over the final four weeks of the season would lose to Texas. The Ducks need to be motivated. They need to know, for one, that the Longhorns figure to be fired up, as they are perhaps playing their last game with Mack Brown as their coach.

The biggest mismatch of the conference's bowl season might be Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. The Sun Devils have won seven of eight -- the loss coming Saturday in the Pac-12 title game -- and are among the nation's hottest teams. The Red Raiders? They've lost five in a row, the last four being blowouts.

UCLA is in a similar situation in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bruins have won four of five, while the Hokies have lost three of five. Virginia Tech's defense will challenge Bruins QB Brett Hundley, but the Hokies are horrid on offense.

USC and Washington will be the conference's biggest question marks due to coaching changes. The Trojans face a very good Fresno State team led by QB Derek Carr in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, while the Huskies face a BYU team that ran all over Texas earlier this season in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Under normal circumstances, both matchups would favor the Pac-12. But these aren't normal circumstances.

Oregon State will face a Boise State squad with the same deal in the Hawaii Bowl. While this is a down year for the Broncos, it's hard to bet against Boise State with Chris Petersen in a bowl game. But he's now in Seattle. The Beavers, by the way, really need to win this game, otherwise it's going to be a sour offseason in Corvallis.

Meanwhile, Arizona makes the longest trip to meet Boston College in Shreveport, Louisiana for the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. This is interesting just because you have the top two running backs in the country in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College's Andre Williams.

Finally, Washington State will be playing in its first bowl game since 2003 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. The Cougars have wins over USC, Utah and Arizona. The Rams' best win is over 5-7 Wyoming. Mike Leach and the Cougs should roll.

Again, when you added it all up, 9-0 is not unreasonable and 7-2 is almost pessimistic. But bowl games are funny things, and this has been a funny season.

As we move into a four-team College Football Playoff with a selection committee weighing who's in and who's out, perception might become even more important than it was with the quintessentially subjective BCS.

The Pac-12 seemed like -- at the very least -- the nation's second best conference, no matter the BCS bowl situation. It needs to make good on that during the bowl games.

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