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.
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.
- Arizona is going down south for its bowl game.
- Up next for Arizona State is a date with Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
- California's defense will get some JUCO help.
- Colorado picks up commitment No. 16.
- Oregon coach Mark Helfrich on a snowball fight that got a little out of hand.
- Oregon State is headed to Hawaii for its bowl game.
- Stanford and Michigan State have a lot of similarities.
- UCLA will approach the Sun Bowl differently than it did the Holiday Bowl last year.
- USC will get a tough Fresno State team in the Las Vegas Bowl.
- Utah got better in 2013, but things might be more difficult next fall.
- Washington and interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo are headed to the Bay Area for the postseason.
- Washington State will end its bowl drought in New Mexico.
The No. 59-ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 was once committed to South Carolina along with high school teammate Wesley Green, but Key backed off that verbal pledge on Sept. 22.
Fast forward three months and the athletic edge-rush prospect is looking at all his options with two programs in line to make an eventual trimmed list.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The great unknown of Texas’ future remains unsolved two days after Texas’ loss to Baylor. But the imminent future was at least settled Sunday: Texas is returning to the Valero Alamo Bowl, this time to take on No. 10 Oregon.
And that proposition looks about as scary as anything Mack Brown and his loyalists might see in the next few weeks.
We don’t know what’s next for Brown. He traveled to New York on Sunday with UT president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He’s supposed to hit the road this week for in-home visits with recruits.
The response from fans and pundits on Sunday night was relatively consistent: Texas (8-4) is going to get smoked by Oregon (10-2). It won’t be pretty.
Oddsmakers have made the Ducks a two-touchdown favorite, which is familiar territory for the Longhorns by now. This team liked playing the underdog role in 2013, so perhaps there’s no better way to end the year than with Texas’ most difficult matchup yet.
Oregon has a two-time All-Pac-12 quarterback in Marcus Mariota. He ranked No. 2 in the nation in QBR this season behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. If not for an MCL sprain that limited his game late in the season, Mariota would likely be New York-bound as well this week. The way this Heisman field fell apart, he still might.
The Ducks' famously fast tempo won’t be what causes this Texas defense trouble. The Longhorns have seen faster this season, and Oregon’s plays-per-game-average of 75 is down from a year ago.
The problem will be the option. Among spread offenses, nobody does that better in college football than the Ducks. It’s a big reason they’re 56-9 since 2009, the year former coach Chip Kelly took over.
Mariota rushed for 695 yards excluding sacks this season, his second as the starter. He says the knee injury that prevented him from running effectively should be 100 percent healed by the Dec. 30 bowl game.
And he’s surrounded by options: Three running backs surpassed 500 yards this season, led by second-year back Byron Marshall’s 995 yards. He has an ankle injury, but also plenty of time to recover.
And don’t forget De’Anthony Thomas, as explosive a player as there is in college football. He’s healthy again after missing four games with an ankle injury. Miss him once in space and he’ll hit the home run. And when you sell out to stop the run, Josh Huff (1,036 receiving yards, 11 TDs) can sneak behind the defense and make you pay.
“These guys are like Baylor," Brown said. "They can score fast and they do a tremendous job."
Read option, speed option, triple option, veer, packaged plays – the Ducks do it all. No other bowl team has more 20-yard runs this season than Oregon.
And few bowl teams struggled more to stop the option and the quarterback run than Texas. For all the progress Greg Robinson and the defensive staff made in the past 10 games, this remains the team's Achilles’ heel.
The Longhorns gave up the ninth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks in the bowl subdivision. As Brown joked midway through the season: If Texas’ opponents don’t run the option, they’ll put it in the playbook.
It was just too easy, even against a defense with a pair of All-Big 12-caliber ends. Injuries have rendered this unit thin at linebacker and defensive tackle. Robinson, his coaches and his defenders will need these 15 bowl practices to find answers.
Oregon’s defense is far from flawless, but it did hold foes to 19 points per game in its wins. It’s a top-three scoring defense in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in total defense. At the moment, though, the attention of Texas’ offense will be on fixing itself.
Case McCoy is coming off the worst start of his career. The Longhorns gained 59 yards in the second half Saturday at Baylor. Their only touchdown drive began at Baylor’s 11-yard line, and they still needed seven plays to score.
They’ll need every practice and film session afforded to them this month. Stanford beat Oregon with pure power. Arizona blew out the Ducks with an elite running back. What’s it going to take for Texas to pull this one off?
The Longhorns have their own problems to solve first, and plenty of preparation ahead. If you think the next three weeks will be rough and messy off the field, it can get a lot worse if Texas doesn’t stay focused on its toughest test yet.
Unidentified players reportedly organized the snowball fight and more than 100 students participated.
According to a video that went viral Monday, the group stopped several cars and pelted them with snowballs and dumped containers of snow on windshields. In one case, a driver who got out of his car -- identified by KATU-TV as former professor Sherwin Simmons -- was hit repeatedly and had a large container of snow thrown on him through the driver's side door.
"I was one of the many UO students involved in the snowball fight on Friday, and my actions escalated to an inappropriate level and, for that, I sincerely apologize," Brown said in a statement released by the university. "We never should have engaged innocent people, and I deeply regret my actions and will accept the consequences."
The suspension was announced Monday by coach Mark Helfrich, who has apologized to the targeted drivers. Helfrich had promised discipline during the weekend, saying the behavior shown in the video was "completely unacceptable and dangerous."
Other players involved in the fight received unspecified punishments but will be allowed to play in the bowl game. All students involved in the fight, including nonplayers, are subject to further discipline from the dean of students, the university said.
The Pac-12 conference has seen a flurry of action recently, with coaching news and rumors keeping recruits on their toes. Following a week where Steve Sarkisian took over at USC and Chris Petersen moved from Boise State to Washington, this past weekend was tame by comparison. But UCLA made some significant noise with a big commitment, while Oregon extended two intriguing offers. CIF championship games provided backdrops for huge performances from Pac-12 recruits, while the conference title tilt was only the appetizer in the battle between Arizona State and Stanford.
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2. College football is played by young men who are faster and bigger than any who have come before them. It is coached by men who have more information at their fingertips than has ever been available. And yet, if nothing else, the 2013 season proved that college football has never been more unpredictable. Auburn, Missouri and Duke were all picked to finished fifth or lower in their divisions. Baylor was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. I can’t explain it, but I thought it was worth pointing out.
3. My three favorite bowls other than the BCS Championship Game: a) the Rose Bowl -- No. 4 Michigan State and No. 5 Stanford play similar throwback styles. Fedoras welcome; b) the AT&T Cotton -- No. 8 Missouri (highest-ranked non-BCS bowl team) and No. 13 Oklahoma State features two explosive offenses and two physical defenses; c) AdvoCare V100 Bowl -- the tailbacks at Arizona and Boston College, Ka’Deem Carey and Andre Williams, respectively, combined to rush for 3,818 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Here's the slate.
Sat., Dec. 21 Gildan New Mexico Bowl : Albuquerque, N.M. (University Stadium)
WASHINGTON STATE (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 21 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Las Vegas, Nev. (Sam Boyd Stadium)
USC (9-4) vs. Fresno State (11-1), 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Tues., Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)
OREGON STATE (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4), 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Fri., Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl : San Francisco (AT&T Park)
WASHINGTON (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4), 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 Valero Alamo Bowl : San Antonio, Texas (Alamodome)
OREGON (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 National University Holiday Bowl: San Diego, Calif. (Qualcomm Stadium)
ARIZONA STATE (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Shreveport, La. (Independence Stadium)
ARIZONA (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl: El Paso, Texas (Sun Bowl)
UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, CBS
Wed., Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
STANFORD (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)
Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)
OREGON DUCKS BREAKDOWN
During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.
Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.
Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.
The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.
The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller
TEXAS LONGHORNS BREAKDOWN
The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.
Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.
Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson
The No. 19 Badgers (9-3) are playing in a non-BCS bowl for the first time in three seasons following three consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin lost those games, though, and will be looking for its first bowl win under coach Gary Andersen.
South Carolina (10-2) won its final five games of the season, including a double-overtime victory against then-unbeaten Missouri.
The Gamecocks are making their second Capital One Bowl appearance in three seasons, having beaten Nebraska in 2012.
South Carolina is also the only team to beat Fiesta Bowl-bound UCF, rallying in the final three quarters to claim a three-point victory.
It is the first meeting between the schools.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
SEC runner-up Missouri is headed to the Cotton Bowl, where the No. 8 Tigers will play No. 13 Oklahoma State on Jan. 3.
Missouri (11-2) is coming off a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game in only its second season in that league.
Oklahoma State (10-2) was on track for a Big 12 title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series before a 33-24 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, and nine of the last 10, over Big 12 teams. The lone exception was the 2008 game when Missouri, then in the Big 12, beat Arkansas 38-7.
The ESPN 300 receiver has offers from all over the country, and he hosted in-home visits from Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, last week. On Thursday, Iheanacho’s recruiting went up a notch, as he received an offer from Oregon.
This weekend, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound receiver said he will take a trip to Eugene, Ore., for an official visit to the Oregon campus. Iheanacho, who is set to announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, said he is looking forward to meeting the Oregon coaches and also getting a feel for the campus.
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Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Jan. 1, 2014): Stanford vs. Michigan State
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Oregon vs. Big 12
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): UCLA vs. ACC
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27): Washington vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21): Washington State vs. MWC
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31): Arizona vs. ACC
Texas (Dec. 27): Oregon State vs. Big Ten
When Stanford is on, it’s on: Home or away, when the Cardinal are at their best, they are tough to stop. And while Tyler Gaffney’s 22 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns were huge, obviously, it was the fact that the Cardinal could effectively set up play-action off of those runs that was a key to the game. Kevin Hogan was a very efficient 12-of-18 for 277 yards and a touchdown, including an average of 15.4 yards per completion. He was able to find Jordan Pratt, Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste (two catches, 120 yards) on some big plays. That more than anything kept the Sun Devils defense guessing all night.
Not so special: It was a rough night for Arizona State from a special teams perspective. Punter Alex Garoutte averaged just 33 yards per punt, Zane Gonzalez missed his only field goal attempt (31 yards) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery enjoyed an average of nearly 30 yards per kick return. Said Arizona State coach Todd Graham of his special teams: “It’s absolutely sad.”
Fun facts (via ESPN Stats & Information): With the loss, ASU falls to 7-1 at home this season and end an eight-game home winning streak. Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1970-1971. The Cardinal outscored ASU 80-42 in two games this season. In its past 10 meetings with teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Stanford is 10-0, including 6-0 this season.
Oregon to the BCS? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to hope. With NIU losing Friday night, it opened up the possibility of a second Pac-12 team, namely Oregon, going to a BCS bowl game since there are no non-AQ teams going to BCS bowl games this year. Michigan State’s win over Ohio State throws an additional wrench. Various projections are floating for Oregon. But the most likely scenario is still the non-BCS Alamo Bowl. Orange is all but a lock to be Ohio State-Clemson. Best bet for a BCS bowl is probably the Sugar against Alabama -- and of course the BCS ranking will play a role whether Oklahoma (currently No. 17) gets into the top 14. Texas beating Baylor and Oklahoma State taking care of business certainly would have helped. Neither happened.
The BCS bowl matchups won't be announced until Sunday night, but we can give our best projection now of what those matchups will be.
Here is how we think things will shake out for each of the five BCS games, including a look at what variables are still in play for each.
VIZIO BCS National Championship
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Instead, the defeat opens up another at-large spot for a major-conference team. That team will probably come from the Big 12 or Pac-12 and play in the Sugar Bowl, the most likely candidates being Baylor or Oregon.
Oklahoma could also have a chance to get that spot with a victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Best Pac-12 Position Group in 2014 Class
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35