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Pac-12 Football is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
They have eight bowl-eligible teams and although the favorite Oregon Ducks are not playing for the National Championship for the second time in three years, they are returning to Glendale, Ariz. This time the No. 4 Ducks will be playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl where they will take on the No. 5 Kansas St. Wildcats.
With two teams in top six in the final BCS rankings and four teams in the top 17, the Pac-12 is looking to dominate the bowl season as USC and Arizona State both received votes in the USA Today/Coaches Poll.
As unbelievable as it sounds, it was the UCLA Bruins that made a return trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game, not the Oregon Ducks.
Coach David Shaw took his 10-2 (8-1) Stanford Cardinal to the program’s first Conference Championship Game on Nov. 30 against the Bruins and beat them twice in a week to secure the Rose Bowl appearance and conference title.
After the final week of the regular season and Championship weekend, my original projections failed miserably. I am here now to set the record straight and give you everything that you need to know to be prepped for the bowl games from the “Conference of Champions.”
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
- When: Dec. 15, 2012
- When: 1 p.m. EST
- Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
In the battle of two 7-5 teams, the Arizona Wildcats take on the Nevada Wolfpack out of the Mountain West Conference. The real story is two of the top four rushers in the country will battle it out for ground supremacy.
Nevada started the season 6-1 but went on to lose four of their next five finishing the season with a disappointing home loss to the No. 20 Boise St. Broncos.
The Wolfpack have the nation’s No. 14 offense with 6,034 yards on the season and average 37 points per game. They have the 10th best rushing offense and the fourth best rusher in Stefphon Jefferson. Jefferson has accumulated 1,703 yards on 341 attempts and his 22 touchdowns rank him tied for second in the country.
The Arizona Wildcats know a thing or two about rushing royalty with the nation’s No. 2 rusher in Ka’Deem Carey. Carey’s 1,757 yards on 275 attempts garners him a 6.4 yard average, nearly two yards better than his adversary who averages only five yards per carry. His 20 touchdowns also rank him at seventh in the country.
That is where the positives ends for both teams.The Wolfpack and the Wildcats are pretty awful on defense, both giving up over 30 points a game.
Prediction: Nevada 35, Arizona 42
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
- When: Dec. 29, 2012
- When: 4 p.m. EST
- Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.
This will be an aerial spectacular much like the days when Barry Bonds played there. Taylor Kelly, the Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback is third in the Pac-12 with a passer rating of 153.3 and a completion percentage of 65.9 percent.
The Navy Midshipmen, who are independent have given up 41 points to Troy and 50 points to Notre Dame in the first game of the season in Ireland.
The MIdshipmen’s 3,140 rushing yards ranks them eighth in the nation and their average 285.5 per game puts them at sixth. Their triple-threat option is something new that the Sun Devils haven’t played against and have struggled containing the run in the past.
On the defensive side for Arizona State, they are stacked. Their 49 sacks and 20 interceptions are second and fourth in the country, respectively, and their three touchdowns have them tied for sixth in the nation.
Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton along with Keelan Johnson, Brandon Magee, Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor make this defense one of the best in the country.
Prediction: Navy 14, Arizona State 42
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
- When: Dec. 22, 2012
- When: 3:30 p.m. EST
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
Chris Petersen makes a return engagement to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl after finishing 10-2 (7-1) in the Mountain West. He will face the up and down Washington Huskies with a much less attractive record of 7-5 (5-4) in the Pac-12.
Boise St. started the year with a loss to preseason No. 13 Michigan State. The Broncos rebounded and won their next seven games and 10 of the next 11. Truth be told, with their week conference schedule and their loss at home to San Diego State, the Broncos were lucky to even be invited back to Sin City.
Giving up under 15 points a game ranks them sixth in the country but then again, look at who they played.They finished the year with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions, tied with Notre Dame in both categories.
The roller-coaster ride that is the Washington Huskies will be taking its show on the road to the Las Vegas Bowl, but nobody knows which Husky team will show up, including Steve Sarkisian.
The fourth year coach led his team to victories over top ranked teams Stanford and Oregon St. yet lost to in-state rival Washington State Cougars who had lost eight straight in the conference.
Although Boise St. plays well against the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico, the Huskies will man up and bring their ‘A’ game to make up for the embarrassment that was the Apple Cup.
Prediction: Washington 31, Boise St. 24
Hyundai Sun Bowl
- When: Dec. 31, 2012
- When: 2 p.m. EST
- Where: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Matt Barkley has had a tough senior season, but his USC Trojans have had arguably their most disappointing season in their storied history.
Entering the year as the preseason No. 1 team, Barkley and the Trojans had a lot of people to impress to prove that they deserved the ranking.
They handily beat Hawaii and Syracuse but dropped to No. 2 without warning, then came the unthinkable—a loss to open up conference play to then No. 21 Stanford. They won their next four games before the wheels came off, losing four of their final five games.
Although Barkley completed 36 touchdown passes, fourth best in the country, he will be remembered for the dreadful end of his 2012 season. After suffering an injury against the UCLA Bruins, Barkley is expected to play in the Sun Bowl.
The best quarterbacks always have the best targets, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, Marqise Lee was a true standout for the Trojans. He led the FBS with 112 receptions and his 1,680 yards were the second most receiving yards with his 14 touchdowns ranking third.
Georgia Tech finished third in the ACC Coastal division and still went to the ACC Championship game with a 6-6 record. Much like the UCLA Bruins last year, the Yellow Jackets backed into the conference championship due to better teams serving out post season suspensions.
Lane Kiffin will also make this realization and stomp on the Yellow Jackets as they are still stinging from the defeat from their cross-town rival weeks ago.
Prediction: USC 42, Georgia Tech 10
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
- When: Dec. 27, 2012
- When: 9:45 p.m. EST
- Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
The UCLA Bruins needed a change after last year’s embarrassing season. With a new head coach in Jim Mora Jr. and a freshman quarterback in Brett Hundley, the Bruins came alive.
They won their first three games including No. 16 Nebraska. They suffered tough losses to Oregon St. and a bad Cal team. After five straight wins, including two ranked teams in Arizona and USC, they lost their season finale to Stanford. Six days later, they lost to Stanford again at the Pac-12 Championship game.
At 9-4 (6-3), they are glad to get the invitation to the Holiday Bowl, just not psyched about their opponent.
The hottest team in the country right now is the Baylor Bears. They started the season 4-5 including losses to No. 9 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas and No. 12 Oklahoma.
With a daunting schedule ahead off them including the No.1 team in the country, Kansas State and a surging Oklahoma St., the Bears would be lucky to even get to be bowl eligible. They woke up, won out and went from being an afterthought to the most feared team in the country.
Their explosive offense has scored over 40 points four times, 50 or more four times and 63 points in a shootout loss to West Virginia.
UCLA badly needs a win to validate their season, but it won’t happen against this hot Baylor team.
Prediction: Baylor 49, UCLA 42
Valero Alamo Bowl
- When: Dec. 29, 2012
- When: 6:45 p.m. EST
- Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
The Oregon St. Beavers put on a scoring clinic in their final game of the season polishing off Nicholls St. 77-3.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the Pac-12 this season, the Beavers were definitely fun to watch. They started the season with six straight victories including marquee wins against No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 19 UCLA. Then the road got bumpy.
The No. 15 Beavers couldn’t string together two wins after losing to Washington and No. 5 Stanford.
The quarterback duo of Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion threw for nearly 3,800 yards and and over 316 yards per game—both ranked at 15th best in the nation.
The No. 23 Texas Longhorns are fresh off two straight defeats to Texas Christian and No. 5 Kansas St. They are looking to take out their frustrations on somebody and the Oregon St. Beavers are next in line.
Prior to the losses, the Longhorns were 8-2 including a win over then No. 18 Texas Tech. They had lost two straight games earlier in the season to West Virginia and were decimated by Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, 63-21.
Although Texas averages over 36 points per game, they also give up nearly 30 per game. The potent Oregon St. passing game will wreak havoc on the Longhorn secondary and not look back.
The Beavers defense is stout, giving up less than 20 points per game while scoring 33 points per game. This will be a close matchup at first, but Riley’s promise of In-N-Out Burger will get the team motivated for a big victory deep in the heart of Texas.
Prediction: Texas 28, Oregon State 34
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
- When: Jan. 3, 2013
- When: 8:30 p.m. EST
- Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
You can’t say enough about the stellar offense of the Oregon Ducks. With just over 6,600 yards on the year and averaging over 550 yards of offense per game, they rank fourth in the country.
They rank fifth in total rushing yards and third in the country with 323.3 rushing yards per game. All those yards must lead to points and they are second in the country with 610 total points and average 50.8 points per game!
Kenjon Barner’s 21 touchdowns are good enough to tie him for fourth most in the country and his 1,624 yards ranks him seventh. His 132 total points on the season are tied with Kansas St. quarterback, Collin Klein.
Speaking of Collin Klein, he was named the 2012 Johnny Unitas Gold Arm Award winner and is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
The former No.1 team in the country won 10 straight before they were shocked and shellacked by the Baylor Bears in Waco, 52-24. They rebounded with a big 42-24 win over Texas.
This bowl is looking to be the best bowl game not titled the National Championship pitting two 11-1 teams and both teams ranked in the Top Five in the final BCS poll.
The teams are formidable opponents and have high-scoring offenses with stingy defenses. This will be a shoot-out for the ages with the Ducks pulling away in the end.
Prediction: Oregon 49, Kansas State 41
Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio
- When: Jan. 1, 2013
- When: 5 p.m. EST
- Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
When the Wisconsin Badgers lost three of their last four regular season games, the Rose Bowl was the farthest thing from their minds. Fortunately for the Badgers, both Ohio St. and Penn St. are serving postseason suspensions and they found themselves in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This looked to be a mismatch as the Badgers were 7-5 (4-4) in conference and going up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers who were 10-2 (7-1). The mismatch went the other way as running back Montee Ball led the Badgers to a 70-31 rout of the Huskers.
The Stanford Cardinal, winners of the Pac-12 have won seven straight after losing a heart-breaker in overtime to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Cardinal were shocked in Week 4 in Seattle and were written off for all intents and purposes.
The Cardinal’s final three games came against ranked teams including the then No. 2 Oregon Ducks at Autzen. They also beat a surging UCLA Bruins team twice in six days to earn their Rose Bowl berth.
Stanford’s defense is what Oregon’s offense is—killer. They lead the nation in sacks with 56, are second in the country in yards lost due to sacks and their four defensive touchdowns are third best. They give up less than 18 points a game and held the great Oregon offense to a scant 14 points.
They are not a high-powered offense, but they always find the way to win, and I don’t see them having any problem against Wisconsin in the “Grand-Daddy of Them All.”
Prediction: Stanford 27, Wisconsin 14
Final Count 7-1
This is the year of the Pac-12, with the exception of a truly scary Baylor Bears team, the Pac-12 will clean up in their bowls and bring redemption to the Conference of Champions.
Long gone will be the days of the east coast bias, the SEC domination talks and the token trip out west by the ESPN College GameDay crew.
This is the beginning of something truly great for the conference and for all of college football.
We just need to work on getting the Pac-12 Network on DirecTV now.