Pac-12 bowl season? A gentleman's C

January, 3, 2014
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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.

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How would you grade the Pac-12's postseason?

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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.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Wilkerson
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony 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.
Bowl season is over for the Pac-12. And after high hopes with the conference being favored in all nine games -- at least in the eyes of Vegas -- it finished with a 6-3 record.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Comments? Criticisms?

The 6-3 record sounds good. But how good is it, really? Especially with both division champs losing their bowl games.

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How would you grade the Pac-12's postseason?

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    51%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,913)

Is this about how you thought the league would do? Or did it do better or worse? The three losses were doozies. Two of them involved blowing double-digit leads, another was a beat down. But the wins were substantial; at least the margin of victory was. The Pac-12 went 2-1 against the Mountain West, 1-0 against an independent, 1-1 against the Big 12, 2-0 against the ACC and 0-1 against the Big Ten. That’s 3-2 against teams from other major BCS conferences. Though one of those two losses was a BCS bowl game.

Time to weigh in. How would you grade the Pac-12’s postseason?

A: Considering how the league has done in previous years, six wins is outstanding. You’re bound to lose a few bowl games along the way, but the fact that nine teams were in bowls and six of them won is as good as we could have realistically hoped for.

B: Pretty good. The six wins were nice, but the two losses to teams from AQ conferences, and losing the BCS bowl game puts a mild stain on an otherwise pretty solid performance.

C: Considering the expectations, the league’s performance was average at best. Losing to a Mountain West team is frustrating and losing the BCS bowl game is frustrating. With the firepower the league had, there should have been more than six wins out there in those nine games.

D: Very disappointing. There is always one team that loses a game it shouldn’t in the postseason, but to only come away with six wins is a black mark on the league. For what the expectations were compared to how the league finished, this is disappointing.

F: Yucky! With only one BCS team, the Pac-12 could ill-afford to lose that game, let alone let a Colorado State team come back and win while watching ASU get run up and down by Texas Tech. It was an embarrassing end of the year -- especially to see both of the division champions go down in the postseason.

Army Bowl notebook: Jan. 2 

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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SAN ANTONIO -- Thursday’s practice session for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl saw players in more of a rhythm on offense, but it also saw defensive players showing their skills. If Thursday is any indication, Saturday’s contest could be a low-scoring affair.

Here are a few notes:

Cannon reaffirms Baylor commitment … again.

For the Baylor fans who read the late-Wednesday tweet coming from ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), don’t read anything into it.


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Some news and notes from Day 2 at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

Ducks and Bruins battle for McGraw

The fight for the nation's No. 194 prospect is down to Oregon and UCLA, as those two programs are the last standing for safety Mattrell McGraw (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). And perhaps surprisingly, whoever wins this recruiting battle will have a former USC star to thank.


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Pac-12's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
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This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.
FULLERTON, Calif. -- Four-star outside linebacker Jimmie Swain IV (Olathe, Kan./North) is listed as an uncommitted recruit, but that distinction is not exactly true.

Following the first day of practice for the 2014 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, Swain said he has known for a while where he will play his college football and he has let the coaches of his finalists know his decision. The public will be let in on the secret during the game on Sunday, when the 6-foot-3, 229-pound linebacker will announce his commitment.

Swain is down to four schools -- Arkansas, Michigan State, Oregon and Texas A&M -- and all but the Spartans have received official visits.

As for his leaders, Swain gave a quick look into why they stand out in the race for his signature.

"[Michigan State has] always been in my top five ever since I started watching college football," Swain said. "At Arkansas, I have a good relationship with Randy Shannon and I fit in well with the players on my visit. At Oregon, it's the whole coaching staff. My mom really enjoyed them when they came to visit. They've been at Oregon so long, and the football there speaks for itself, when a 10-2 season is considered a bad season. With Texas A&M, I had a fun visit down there. A lot of people worry about what happens to them when Johnny [Manziel] is gone, but their recruiting class is really good and I don't think they're going to skip a beat."

Swain has been avoiding interviews and any real talk of recruiting in recent weeks, as he said he's been "relaxing and enjoying time with family." But he'll make some significant noise on Sunday, particularly for the program that receives a verbal commitment from the standout linebacker, who plans on pursuing a double major in marketing and finance.


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Lunch links: Happy New Year!

January, 1, 2014
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And there’s a hand my trusty friend, And give me a hand o’ thine;
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

Army Bowl notebook: Dec. 31 

December, 31, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl -- on the last day of 2013 -- has come to a conclusion. Here is Tuesday’s notebook featuring some of the nation’s elite athletes:

LB Williams: Law and order equals '98 percent'


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Three days of practice are now in the books and overall execution was sharper as the players begin to move into final preparations for the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday. The productivity of the players picked up as did the speed of the play, and they’re continuing to think less and display their natural ability more. It was a physical day, with the pads popping and some big hits throughout the practice. Here are some of the highlights.

Top performers


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Pac-12's lunch links

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack.

3-point stance: Mariota puts on a show

December, 31, 2013
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1. The Marcus Mariota we saw for two-and-a-half quarters Monday evening before cramps took away his running game is the Oregon quarterback who made it deep into October as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Mariota is a good passer who can improve. Mariota on healthy wheels makes the Duck offense lethal. He and Jameis Winston will get the bulk of the offseason attention. With good reason.

2. The Pac-12 went into the National University Holiday Bowl on Monday night with a 4-1 bowl record, which means the league was a Washington State last-minute meltdown in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl away from a perfect record. You can argue that the matchups favored the Pac-12 teams and you would be correct. But that shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding year the league had. And with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington, the Pac-12 just got tougher.

3. The Seattle Times reports that Petersen asked Marques Tuiasosopo to stay at Washington, where he had been quarterback coach, where he remains the last quarterback to win a Rose Bowl. And Tuiasosopo wants to go with Steve Sarkisian to be USC’s tight ends coach. Maybe Tuiasosopo wants to flesh out his resume and show he will coach anywhere. Maybe Sarkisian knows how to keep a staff together. It wouldn’t be a long-term blow to Petersen. But it underlines the change that has come to U-Dub.

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.
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As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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Pac-12 lunch links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
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Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

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