How we determine success for the Pac-12 this bowl season falls almost entirely on how the Huskies fare in the Rose Bowl, the conference’s most significant postseason game, one could argue, since their playoff appearance two years ago.
How should we define a successful bowl season for the Pac-12, which is in dire, desperate need of a successful bowl season?
It depends whether Washington wins the Rose Bowl, which, one could argue, is the conference’s most significant postseason game since the Huskies were in the playoff two years ago.
Actually, check that. It’s more important than UW’s semifinal duel with Alabama because back then, the conference wasn’t coming off two substandard regular seasons and one atrocious postseason.
Which makes the Huskies’ looming date with Ohio State the Pac-12’s most significant postseason game since Oregon’s appearance in the national championship at the end of the 2014 season.
Washington’s date is momentous because it’s the Granddaddy and because it’s Ohio State and because it’s Power Five champ against Power Five champ and because of the Pac-12’s less-than-stellar showing on the national stage in the past 12-24 months.
The conference has seven bowl games.
It is facing six opponents from the Power Five (one ACC, two Big 12, three Big Ten).
It is favored in four, a pick (even) in one, a slight underdog in one and a sizable underdog in one.
Given that breakdown, our assessment is as follows:
Four wins is perfectly reasonable goal, if not a notch too low.
If those four wins include the Rose Bowl, the postseason is a success.
If the four wins don’t include the Rose Bowl, well, then we’re in the mixed-bag realm.
Three wins, including the Rose Bowl: Passable.
Three wins and no Rose Bowl: Bad.
Three wins (or fewer) and Washington blasted off the field: Awful.
Generally, the Hotline expects a reversion to the mean. A combination of circumstances (matchups, coaching changes, etc.) led to the epic fail of 2017, making the quality of play in the Pac-12 appear worse than it is relative to other conferences.
(Of course, if you add the gruesome results from Sept. 2018 to the calculation, that appearance begins to look like reality.)
Fifteen days until kickoff in Pasadena, this much is clear:
A season that began with Washington as the conference’s flag-bearer ends in the same fashion.
Cheez-It Bowl: Cal vs. TCU
Dec. 26, 6 p.m.
Line: pick (total: 39.5)
Neither team scores much and both are among the best in the nation on defense. TCU has loads of postseason experience and will be aiming for a winning season. Will Cal simply be satisfied with the experience — it’s the first bowl game for the bulk of the roster — or play with the grit it displayed against the top teams in the North? We’re leaning to the former.
Alamo Bowl: Washington State vs. Iowa State
Dec. 28, 6 p.m.
Line: Washington State -3.5 (total: 55)
The Cyclones’ pass defense can’t compare to those that gave WSU so much trouble in November (Cal and UW), but Matt Campbell is one of the top young coaches in the country. Key question: How will the Cougars handle the psychological blows of losing the Apple Cup, missing out on the division and conference titles and getting snubbed in the New Year’s Six selection process?
Pick: Iowa State.
Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.
Line: Stanford -6.5 (total: 52)
The Cardinal is back in El Paso for the second time in three years, facing a six-loss team from a bad division that got clobbered in its conference title game. In other words: Stanford should win handily if it can muster the urgency under less-than-riveting circumstances. This would be a bad loss for the conference, folks — arguably the worst loss for the Pac-12 short of Washington getting run off the field.
Redbox Bowl: Oregon vs. Michigan State
Dec. 31, 12 p.m.
Line: Oregon -3 (total: 48)
Apples to apples: 5-4 and fourth place in the Big Ten East against 5-4 and fourth place in the Pac-12 North … and in Pac-12 territory, no less. The Spartans will make every first down difficult for Justin Herbert, but can they score enough to keep it close into the fourth quarter: MSU averaged just 8.6 points in its final three games (Ohio State, Nebraska and Rutgers).
Holiday Bowl: Utah vs. Northwestern
Dec. 31, 4 p.m.
Line: Utah -7.5 (total: 46)
Kyle Whittingham’s bowl winning streak has to end at some point … or maybe not. Another good comparison matching the winners of the lesser divisions the Pac-12 and Big Ten. The Wildcats were 0-3 against the top teams on their schedule, losing to Michigan by 3, Notre Dame by 10 and Ohio State by 21. Should feel like a home game for the Utes, but Northwestern as a touchdown (or more) underdog is typically a good play.
Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Ohio State
Jan. 1, 2 p.m.
Line: Washington +6.5 (total: 58)
The best test for UW’s defense this season by an order of magnitude: The Buckeyes are loaded with speed and playmakers and possess one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Dwayne Haskins, plus the added motivation that comes with Urban Meyer’s final game. But Chris Petersen should have UW ready for the stage. The Huskies held their own against Penn State (Fiesta) and Auburn, and they should do so again.
Straight-up winners: Arizona State, TCU, Iowa State, Stanford, Oregon, Utah and Ohio State.