With the Pac-12’s bowl season now over, Jon Wilner looks back at the best and worst of the conference’s bowl games.
Overall grade: B
The Pac-12 went 4-3 for its first winning postseason since 2015. The mark compares favorably to peer conferences in the current cycle:
ACC: 4-6 (one remaining)
Big 12: 1-5
Big Ten: 4-5
SEC: 7-2 (one remaining)
Include the ACC’s awful regular season and the Big 12’s terrible postseason in a final Power Five judgment, and a reasonable case could be made that the Pac-12 was the third-best conference in 2019, behind the SEC and Big Ten.
While Oregon’s narrow victory in the Rose Bowl was deeply impactful, let’s not forget that Wisconsin was either the second- or third-best team in the Big Ten — and by a considerable margin.
No case can be made that the best team in the Pac-12 was as good as the best in the country (Ohio State, Louisiana State and Clemson).
That needs to change.
We considered a higher grade for the Pac-12’s overall postseason effort but opted against because of the blowout defeats in the No. 2 and 3 games (Alamo and Holiday).
Best win: Oregon over Wisconsin
The Ducks received a helping hand from the officials with that pass interference call, but the scoreboard is all that matters for the Pac-12.
The conference hadn’t won a New Year’s Six game since USC beat Penn State in January 2017.
It was desperate for a big-stage victory, and the Ducks delivered. Hence, the B grade.
Best game: The Rose Bowl
It was sloppy, sure, and Oregon’s offense consisted of little more than a few Justin Herbert runs. But the back-and-forth nature, the close finish and the Granddaddy stakes produced the most entertaining of the conference’s seven games.
Then again, the bar was low.
The only other game decided by single digits was Arizona State’s hard-to-watch victory over Florida State in the Sun Bowl.
Best one-two combo: Oregon and Washington
Their victories over No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 18 Boise State, respectively, stand as the Pac-12’s only nonconference triumphs of the season over teams in the current AP Top 25.
There are nine defeats to ranked teams: No. 4 Oklahoma (UCLA), No. 9 Auburn (Oregon), No. 14 Notre Dame (Stanford and USC), No. 19 Iowa (USC), No. 23 Cincinnati (UCLA), No. 24 Air Force (Washington State and Colorado) and No. 25 Oklahoma State (Oregon State).
Best key to success: Not screwing up
The Pac-12 was plus-11 in turnover margin in its four victories, and the narrow nature of two victories indicate just how close the conference was to a clunker of a postseason: ASU was plus-four in turnovers and won by six, while Oregon was plus-three and won by one.
Best career finale: Justin Herbert
The Oregon quarterback passed on the NFL last winter for what amounted to a career-defining, legacy-shaping, two-minute drill, and he delivered … with his legs.
The 30-yard, game-winning touchdown run with seven minutes remaining was the play of the postseason for the Pac-12.
Best sendoff: Chris Petersen
Petersen’s current former team (Washington) beat his former former team (Boise State) with a performance that was crisp and complete (38-7) … exactly the kind of victory both of his former teams used to produce on a regular basis.
The Huskies were efficient on third down and in the red zone, physical on both sides of scrimmage, emotionally invested — their best all-around game of the season.
Best warning flare for 2020: California
The Bears thumped Illinois in the Redbox Bowl (35-20) and ended the season with a 7-0 record in games quarterback Chase Garbers started and finished.
With 18 returning starters, including Garbers, they have the look of a serious North contender next fall.
Best bad matchup: Washington State
It was a challenging assignment for WSU’s defense on paper, on film and on the field.
The Cougars, accustomed to facing the Air Raid in practice and versions of the spread offense in games, were matched against Air Force’s triple option in the Cheez-It Bowl.
The Falcons gained 371 yards on the ground — 75 more than their season average — and possessed the ball for 43 minutes in a 31-21 victory.
And their defense held the Air Raid to just three touchdowns and 90 yards below its average.
Best good matchup: Arizona State
The Sun Devils were without their top playmakers, tailback Eno Benjamin and receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and would have faced a daunting task in a high-scoring Sun Bowl.
Fortunately for Herm Edwards and Co., the opponent, Florida State, was incompetent on offense (six turnovers, 2-for-16 on third down).
Not unnoticed: ASU is tied for fourth in the country in turnovers forced (28), and Oregon is tied for eighth (27).
They have been the most opportunistic defenses in the conference from beginning to end.
Best no-show: Utah
The Utes were overpowered by five-loss Texas in the Alamo in much the same fashion that they laid waste to their competition in the South: a bludgeoning at the line of scrimmage. (The Longhorns averaged 6.2 yards a rush.)
What for so long appeared to be a breakthrough season for Utah ended with blowout defeats in the only games most fans will remember.
Best bad trend: Pac-12 runners-up
Utah extended an ignominious streak: The loser of the Pac-12 championship game is now 0-9 in bowl games.
Most of the defeats have been lopsided:
2011: UCLA to Illinois in the Fight Hunger (20-14)
2012: UCLA to Baylor in the Holiday (49-26)
2013: ASU to Texas Tech in the Holiday (37-23)
2014: Arizona to Boise State in the Fiesta (38-30)
2015: USC to Wisconsin in the Holiday (23-21)
2016: Colorado to Oklahoma State in the Alamo (38-8)
2017: Stanford to Texas Christian in the Alamo (39-37)
2018: Utah to Northwestern in the Holiday (31-20)
2019: Utah to Texas in the Alamo (38-10)
Good thing the conference’s bowl partners are contractually obligated to invite the runner-up, or else we might start seeing the games take a hard pass.
Best collapse: USC
The Trojans had the ball, the momentum and a slim deficit (four points) when Kedon Slovis left with an injured arm in the third quarter.
Then the offense stalled, the defensive wilted, and the final score of the Holiday Bowl (49-24) marked USC’s worst postseason defeat in 60 years.
Best harshest criticism by a former player: Reggie Bush
“It’s very difficult for us to watch this USC team get dominated the way they did today,” Bush said on the FOX set. “We can pull up all the stats that we want. At the end of the day, USC was outcoached.”
Bush forgot about the beginning of the day and the middle of the day, but we’ll cut him a break. These are tough times for USC’s former Heisman winners.
Next up for the Trojans, on Sept. 5: Alabama.