Updated 12/26: Completed Pac 12 previews. Here is your Open Thread for the 2nd half of Bowl Season.
Bowl games have already kicked off today. Because it is the holiday season and your friendly neighborhood bloggers are just as far behind in managing the chaos as you are, we are going to combine our Pac 12 Bowl prediction thread with an open thread for all the Bowl games of the season.
Merry Christmas, ya' filthy animals.
My projections for the seven other Pac 12 teams competing in the post season will be completed in the remainder of the post. I'm going to post this before it is fully written because a) I'm in a hurry to get an open thread up and b) I'd like a little more time to gather some intel on the later Bowl games. With that, here are my initial takes on the upcoming Pac 12 Bowl games.
Las Vegas Bowl (Sat 12/20, 12:30 PT): Utah vs Colorado State
Considering the schedule that they played, the Utes return to the Las Vegas Bowl having completed their best season as a member of the Pac. Kyle Whittingham returns the Utes to their first bowl game in three seasons. Utah has a 7-1 all time post-season record with Whittingham at the helm and will go into Las Vegas as the favorites.
Colorado State will be playing short-handed as the head coach that brought them through a 10-2 season, Jim McElwain, has departed the program to take over as the new head coach at Florida. The Rams will soldier on behind a potent offense that averaged just less than 500 yards per game - good for 12th in the FBS. RB Dee Hart is a legit NFL prospect for the Rams. The former Alabama transfer runs with power and tremendous violence. If you've never seen him play, you'll enjoy watching what he can do. The Rams QB is Garrett Grayson, an athlete who was once recruited by WSU as a Safety and the reigning MWC Offensive Player of the Year. He can sling it and his headiness will make him a draftable prospect in his own right come next spring.
The Utes have a great deal of experience against Colorado St given their lineage. However, the team that Utah will be taking on isn't the same one that Whittingham last saw. To beat this team, even without their headcoach, that strong Utah defensive line is going to have to stand tall against the run and limit Hart's effectiveness. While putting the game in Grayson's hands isn't exactly ideal, they will have a significant advantage against the CSU offensive line.
On the flip side, the question remains as to whether or not Utah can score enough points to keep the pace. I think with WR Kaelin Clay and RB Devonte Booker, they can. I expect that this one will be close, but I'll go with the Utes.
Utah 30, CSU 28
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Sat 12/27, 11:00 PT): Arizona State vs Duke
The last we saw Todd Graham and his Arizona State Sun Devils, the intense ASU coach was fuddling away his chance at a Pac 12 championship game appearance by going ultra aggressive in his defensive play calling and swapping quarterbacks halfway through his Territorial Cup loss to Arizona. The Devils enter their Sun Bowl matchup on a bit of a down swing and with a controversy at QB between Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici. We already know that the Kelly will start the game, but how long will his leash be? How much confidence does the coach have in his multi-year starter? It is a big question mark across the board.
To me, this game feels a bit like the Holiday Bowl a year ago when ASU went in a bit disappointed in their seeding and got trounced by an underdog Texas Tech team. Duke is a capable if not glitzy team that is coached by one of the finest game day coaches in the game in David Cutcliffe. I expect that Todd Graham will come into this one with the same "throw the kitchen sink at 'em" attitude and will get burned by a coach who has already figured out plan Bs for his Plan B. I like the Blue Devils. They are built on conservative principles: sound defensive and solid O-Line play. I'm looking for the Duke upset here.
ASU 31, Duke 38
National University Holiday Bowl (Sat 12/27, 7:00 PT): Nebraska vs USC
Not unlike Colorado State, Nebraska enters their matchup against USC without the head coach that got them there. Bo Pelini was fired, replaced by Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, lost his shit, and is now the head coach at Youngstown State. With all of that controversy, it would be understandable if Nebraska enters this Holiday Bowl matchup without their full focus on the Trojans. This, of course, would be ironic given that the last time they played in the Holiday Bowl, they got their butts handed to them by Steve Sarkisian and Washington in a game where many Nebraska apologists argued that the Huskers weren't focused because of the disappointment of their seeding.
History has a strange way of repeating itself.
For draftniks, this will be an interesting matchup as the game features two high-level underclassmen DL sure to declare for the upcoming NFL draft in USC's Leonard Williams and Nebraska's Randy Gregory. Outside of that, USC seems to have a lot of advantages here despite the lack of a full roster. QB Cody Kessler has emerged as one of the most efficient QBs in the nation and has paired his talents with guys like Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen to craft an explosive offense. I don't see this unit having much trouble scoring the football against Nebraska and I'm looking for USC to win this one big.
USC 49, Nebraska 27
Foster Farms Bowl (Tue 12/30, 7:00 PT): Maryland vs Stanford
I'm not sure which is the biggest surprise: a) that Stanford stagnated at 7-5 under the heralded leadership of coach David Shaw and his veteran QB or b) that Maryland, who competed in their first year in the Big Ten East was able to scratch out seven wins. Regardless, both teams will enter the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, CA sporting the same record and pursuing that 8th win.
Maryland is a big underdog in what is essentially a home game for Stanford. And for good reason. The Terps, who are coached by Randy Edsall, are used to that role, having been seen by the pundits as a preseason after thought in their first year in the B10. However, the Terps have played tough football all season long. They started off the season at 4-1 and sported an impressive 5-1 road record for the season. However, they still only managed 3 conference wins on the year.
Stanford should be able to dictate the terms of this game with their physicality on Defense and the steady improvement of that offensive line. While I expect the Terps to keep it relatively close, I don't see how they will be able to move the ball consistently against the stout Stanford front seven. It almost feels like a game where the Terps have to figure out a route to 17 points if they want any chance to win.
I don't think it will happen. Give me Henry Anderson, Kevin Anderson, A.J. Tarpley, Devon Cajuste, Blake Leuders, Aundrey Peat, David Parry and Ty Montgomery playing in their swan song games for a Stanford team that is one step closer to their inevitable decline. One last time.
Maryland 10, Stanford 28
Fiesta Bowl (Wed 12/31, 1:00 PT): Boise State vs Arizona
The departure of Chris Petersen from Boise State was supposed to be the death knell for the Broncos. Instead, Petersen acolyte, Bryan Harsin, returned home to build on the foundation that his mentor had laide and had a pretty good season. In fact, they had the best season of any of the "Group of Five" conferences and were rewareded for their efforts with an automatic bid to CFP bowl game.
Their opponent in this one, the Arizona Wildcats, had a pretty good season in coach Rich Rodriguez's third year at the helm. The emergence of young stars like Scooby Wright, Nick Wilson and Anu Solomon complemented a core of upper classmen like Cayleb Jones, Austin Hill, Tremayne Bondurant, and Terrence Jones-Grisby to produce a campaign that saw them score a regular season victory over Oregon and a trip to the Pac 12 Championship game before missing out on playoff bid. The Wildcats did it with an explosive high tempo offense and with an opportunistic defense.
If they are to beat a tough and disciplined Boise State team, the Wildcats are going to have to make some adjustments from what they were the last time we saw them. For starters, Anu Solomon has to be more accurate with the ball then the 50% range that we saw from him over the last half of the season. Second, the Wildcat defense is going to have to be more patient and assignment sound then is their nature. They are an aggressive defense that likes to take chances. Harsin's Boise State offense is similar to Washington's in that they are all about creating numbers advantages in space and taking advantage of over pursuit by aggressive defenses.
This is not a good matchup for RichRod. Boise State has a very accurate QB in Grant Hedrick (71%) and an absolute stud RB that Husky fans know all too well in Jay Ajayi - the Pickle Juice King of the Pacific Northwest.
I think Boise is going to make fewer mistakes overall, win the field position battle and frustrate Rich Rod's offense just enough. Give me Boise State in a close one.
Boise State 45, Arizona 42
Rose Bowl (Thur 1/1, 2:00 PT): Oregon vs Florida State
Since their failure in their one National Championship Game appearance versus Auburn, Oregon fans have been clamoring for another opportunity to restore their reputation against a major college program from the south. Thanks to the new College Football Playoffs, they will have their chance.
The Ducks will trot out Heisman winning QB Marcus Mariota, the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year RB Royce Freeman, a healthy offensive line and their opportunistic defense to take on the reigning NCAA champs led by head coach Jimbo Fisher and mercurial QB Jameis Winston. It is a dream matchup on a variety of levels, not the least of which is the pitting of the last two Heisman winners face to face.
On paper, the Ducks would seem to be a narrow favorite. They've had a better all around year offensively than the Seminoles and their defense has finally come together in the past few games, showing a better pass rush and the ability to create more turnovers than what we saw earlier in the year. The plethora of playmakers that they have on offense seems a decided advantage when you consider what Mariota has to work with in the passing game - Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington - as well as in the rushing attack with Freeman and Thomas Tyner. The biggest wild card is receiver/rusher Byron Marshall. There are a lot of playmakers for FSU to account for.
On the flip side, FSU presents the deepest, biggest, and most athletic roster that the Ducks will have faced this season. Winston, of course, is a playmaker who has all the tools. He has a stud TE in Nick O'Leary, a 1300 yard receiver in Rashad Greene and a pair of feature RBs in Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams. Defensively, they are similar to the Ducks in that the stats of their D-Line underwhelm you, but the measurables and the athleticism they feature at all levels really impress.
In the end, I think FSU is going to outlast the Ducks. I think the absence of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a big loss for Oregon, particularly in run support. I think the FSU O-Line is an advantage against the Ducks front seven and I like what CB Jalen Ramsey brings to the table in freeing up a Safety to shadow Marcus Mariota. In addition, history has shown us that athletic teams given time to prepare for the Oregon offense can have success. A grizzled and experienced coach like Jimbo Fisher is sure to have an advantage over the less experienced combo of Mark Helfrich, Don Pellum and Scott Frost.
Florida State 41, Oregon 35
Alamo Bowl (Fri 1/2, 3:45 PT): Kansas State vs UCLA
With Black Monday in the NFL only a few days away, one can't help but to look at this Kansas State / UCLA game and wonder if Jim Mora will be on his way to an NFL job (the 49ers, perhaps?) while the Bruins are led on an interim basis by OC Noel Mazzone.
Regardless, the Alamo Bowl is going to be one of the more interesting matchups of the Pac 12 post season. On one side, you have a disappointing UCLA team that was expected by many to be the Pac 12 representatives in the playoffs this season. While they defintiely showed off the benefits of their size and athleticism during times of the season, they also consistently showed off a lack of creativity, discipline and effort that have come to characterize Jim Mora's up and down season. Nobody does drama like UCLA, am I right Jeff Ulbrich?
On the other side, you have the less athletic but very organized and well-managed Kansas State Wildcats. Head Coach Bill Snyder is one of the best game day managers in all of college football and represents a major advantage fort the Wildcats.
This one is a clear pick 'em for me. On one hand, I'd like to say that Bill Snyder will have his team better prepared than will Mora - especially if there is a controversy surrounding Mora and NFL rumors. On the flip side, I think UCLA boasts significant positional advantages across the board. In particular, Brett Hundley will be the most dynamic playcaller on the field and he will have at his disposal a thousand yard rusher in Paul Perkins. You also have to like what UCLA brings to the table on D and on ST with playmakers like Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack and Ishmael Adams.
Since I have to go with one, I'll pick UCLA. I think they will bore the heck out of us with their dink and dunk horizontal passing game, but that they will also minimize mistakes in doing so. Minimal mistakes is exactly how they neutralize Bill Snyder and his game plan.
UCLA 34, Kansas State 24
So, from one Dawg to another, enjoy the Bowl Season. Look for an update to this article later in the week as we preview the remainder of the games and re-post this open game thread.