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Ranking the Pac-12 bowl season

Quality over quantity.

Stanford v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Six Pac-12 teams will make appearances in bowl games over the course of the next four weeks. If you are a dedicated tailgater, you will recognize that as a half rack of PAC still kicking it going into the postseason.

I’ve been waiting years to drop that line.

It is clearly a “quality” vs “quantity” lineup, as six represents the fewest number of Pac-12 postseason participants since the league expanded to twelve teams. In 2010, the then-Pac-10 sent five teams.

But having fewer teams doesn’t mean that we don’t have some excellent games to schedule on our DVRs. The Pac-12 has been scheduled to play some intriguing opponents, all of whom come from the other Power 5 conferences. I haven’t gone back to look, but I suspect that this is the first time that has happened in the modern bowl game era.

So, how should you prioritize your viewing guide for the Pac-12 postseason? I don’t have a full Power Rankings this week, so I will instead rank these bowl games. Take them as you will.

6. Foster Farms Bowl (12/28, FOX): #19 Utah vs Indiana

Whenever I hear that the “Big Ten is the best conference in the nation,” I think first of Maryland. Then I think of Rutgers. Then I think of Purdue. Eventually I get to Indiana, which has historically been known better for its basketball and cow-tipping teams than its football program.

Even when things are going well for Indiana—such as a 2016 season in which they win six games and get bowl eligible—they find a way to screw it up. Head Coach Kevin Wilson was dismissed a few days ago for off-field issues.

On the field, Indiana doesn’t look like much of a threat. The quarterback is Richard Lagow. His claim to fame is having thrown a few more TDs than INTs (18 vs 16). This is sort of like giving the bus driver carting your children around the neighborhood credit for knowing how to start the engine. Not too impressive.

This game has the least sizzle of any the Pac-12 bowl games. The only interest that a casual fan ought to have in this one is in getting a sneak peek at what a healthy and tweaked-up Utah team might look like going into 2017.

5. Holiday Bowl (12/27, ESPN): Washington State vs Minnesota

Don’t sleep on the Gophers.

I had the chance to see, in person, Oregon State open the season against the Golden Gophers to kick off this football season. I came away from that game thinking that the Gophers had finally fielded a tough and gritty team with a QB/WR tandem that can connect on the occasional big play. Keep in mind that Minnesota has the same record as the Cougs (8-4) and can claim that three of their four losses have come to top 25 teams (Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Penn State). This is a quality opponent that doesn’t necessarily shine at any one thing, but does a lot of things pretty well.

The Cougs will have their hands full as they tend to not have the same kind of discipline that Minnesota has. However, the Cougs definitely have more overall depth and talent. This should be a game that they will win, but there is ample intrigue.

4. Rose Bowl (1/2, ESPN): #9 USC vs #5 Penn State

Everybody wants to see this game. At least, if you ask ESPN, everybody wants to see this game. The mothership’s talking heads will tell you that these might be the two best teams in the nation not playing in the playoffs. I’m not so sure about that.

There is no doubt that these are two of the hottest teams in the country. Penn State has won nine in a row including a remarkable 21-point comeback in the Big Ten championship. USC can claim one of this season’s strongest finishes, including handing UW their only defeat on the year.

Both teams boast offenses that can move the ball down the field. USC QB Sam Darnold is super hot; he hit nearly 69% of his passes as a starter and threw for 26 TDs. Penn State counters with one of my favorite RBs in the nation, junior Saquon Barkley, and a team that averages 6.5 yards per play. The big question for me is whether or not USC’s rapidly improving defense is enough of a difference maker to give USC a defining advantage. Either way, this shapes up as a game that could very well propel the victor into a preseason top 10 ranking next season.

3. Peach Bowl (12/31, ESPN): #4 Washington vs #1 Alabama

This isn’t the space for us to do a big analysis on the Peach Bowl. There will be plenty of that throughout this blog over the next few weeks. However, I will note that I ranked the Peach Bowl just ahead of the Rose Bowl for a couple of reasons.

First, the matchup of the UW and Alabama defenses, to me, is every bit as delicious as the corresponding one between the USC and Penn State offenses. Both teams are stacked with athletes who have the capability to take over ball games.

Second, the potential for an upset keeps the intrigue level very high. I’m in no way saying that UW is somehow more likely than any other highly ranked team to pull this particular upset. I am saying, however, that an upset of this Alabama team would be a remarkable accomplishment.

The Crimson Tide are truly the standardbearer of the NCAA. They have appeared in every single playoff. They’ve won four of the last seven national championships. Only Florida has won more than one since 2003. They are a 14-point favorite over a 12-1 Pac-12 champion.

Chris Petersen knows a thing or two about pulling off the most unlikely of upsets. His X-factor and the potential implications of an upset make this must-see TV.

2. Alamo Bowl (12/29, ESPN): #12 Oklahoma State vs #10 Colorado

Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph against Colorado’s pass defense is a classic strength-on-strength matchup of two teams that put up much stronger seasons than anybody expected going into the season.

I really like the potential for this game. Oklahoma State’s is the better offense, to be sure. However, they also happen to put on the field one of the weaker defenses, not just among ranked teams but among all FBS teams. Colorado is going to be able to move the ball.

This could really turn out to be one of those barn-burner types of games in which both teams get into the forties with the game coming down to a last possession. It might become a real classic that could come to define the career of Colorado’s senior QB Sefo Liufau.

1. Sun Bowl (12/30, CBS): #18 Stanford vs North Carolina

I may be reading this one wrong, but I am very interested in the Sun Bowl. Not only is this almost certainly the last hurrah for Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey (we won’t see another one of these guys), but I see two teams squaring off that are both very well coached and relatively balanced on both sides of the ball.

Games like this are generally very well played and quite hard to get a handle on. It is one of those matchups where four different experts could preview it and come away with four different assessments on which units or which players will provide the defining differences of the game.

I love it when games like this are played. I fully expect to see standout moments in offense, defense, and special teams happen and I expect them to come from both teams. It is not necessarily a matchup of the two best teams in the nation, but it is one of two of the better matched teams in the nation. I dig that.