One year after going an abysmal 1-8 in the postseason, and months after an officiating scandal in the conference office that played a role in shutting the Cougars out of the College Football Playoff race, the Pac-12 is in dire need of a development to turn around its fortunes. Unfortunately, there are precious few big-stage opportunities for that to happen — only three of the conference’s seven bowl games feature matchups of two ranked teams — and the Huskies are a touchdown underdog in the Rose Bowl, without question the conference’s biggest game this postseason.
Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 64-27 / 36-43-3
Game of the Week
The Valero Alamo Bowl — No. 24 Iowa St. Cyclones vs. No. 13 Washington State Cougars (Dec. 28, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Washington State -3.5, o/u 55.0
I know the Cougar faithful are upset (and rightfully so) about falling outside of the top 12 and missing a New Year’s Six game, but for a program that has played in just 15 bowl games since 1916, a late-December date against a top-25 opponent in the Alamo Bowl is nothing to sneeze at. As you might expect, Pac-12 offensive player of the year and Wazzu quarterback Gardner Minshew will be the biggest star on the field in this one. He developed into one of the country’s most dangerous offensive weapons this season, leading the nation in pass attempts and completions while ranking No. 2 in passing yards, and became the first Washington State player to receive votes for the Heisman Trophy since Jason Gesser finished seventh in 2002. In the Cyclones, he’ll face a defense that allowed 7.0 yards per attempt and surrendered 21 touchdown passes, and has corralled just one interception in the months of November and December.
Where the Cougars are most likely to run into trouble will be when Cyclones running back David Montgomery touches the ball. Montgomery eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six games this season and scored six touchdowns in his three most recent games, and if the Cougars devote too much attention to stopping him, they run the risk of exposing themselves to wide receiver Hakeem Butler, whose 22.1 yards per reception ranks best in the nation. Washington State 38, Iowa State 35.
All the Rest
The Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl — No. 21 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Fresno State -4.5, o/u 53.0
I’ll admit it: Back in August, I never thought Arizona State would figure into the Pac-12’s bowl picture, because I fully expected the Herm Edwards experiment to be a monumental failure. Instead, the Sun Devils bounced back from a demoralizing 3-4 start to the year to finish the regular season with seven wins, including a one-point victory over Arizona to claim their fifth Territorial Cup in seven years. In Fresno State, they face a program that Jeff Tedford has rapidly transformed into one of the Group of Five’s premier programs, thanks to Pac-12 alum Marcus McMaryion at quarterback (25 touchdowns versus three picks) and a defense that allows 4.76 yards per play and a miserly 13.7 points per game. Manny Wilkins and Eno Benjamin have proven themselves capable of moving the ball, but I think that N’Keal Harry’s decision to sit this game out in lieu of protecting his NFL future all but puts the nail in the coffin for the Sun Devils in this one. Fresno State 34, Arizona State 24.
The Cheez-It Bowl — California Golden Bears vs. TCU Horned Frogs (6 p.m., ESPN)
Pick ‘Em, o/u 40.0
Cal has a defense that can hang with anybody, but that offense simply doesn’t have the Jimmies and Joes to hold serve. That dynamic won’t change against the Horned Frogs, who boast the Big 12’s best defense (which, to be fair, is an honorific somewhat akin to being the best break dancer at the retirement community). Unless the Golden Bears break off a special teams or defensive score in this one, I have a hard time seeing how they win this one, even though this feels like the sort of game where the first one to double-digits is all but certain to win. TCU 13, Cal 9.
The Hyundai Sun Bowl — Stanford Cardinal vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (11 a.m., CBS)
Stanford -6.5, o/u 52.0
The Cardinal started their season 4-0, then lost four out of five to teams that all spent time in the rankings before finishing the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Despite not being ranked for much of the year, Stanford’s offense has a proven capability to move the ball on quality opponents, particularly if Bryce Love has been able to spend the last several weeks getting healthy in a way that he never seemed to during the regular season. Meanwhile, I don’t know how Pitt hopes to stop a player like JJ Arcega-Whiteside after they allowed 24 passing touchdowns on the year, of which 13 came in the red zone. Stanford 35, Pittsburgh 24.
The Redbox Bowl — Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks (12 p.m., FOX)
Oregon -3.0, o/u 48.0
Oregon’s whiplash-inducing regular season spanned the high of knocking off a top-10 Washington team at home to the low of blowing their path to the Pac-12 title via losing to lowly Arizona by 29, but the Ducks have a chance to put a nice bow on their inaugural season under Mario Cristobal with a bowl win over Michigan State. While the Spartans field one of the nation’s most dreadful offenses (just 4.70 yards per play and 19.8 points per game), their defense is the only unit in the nation to end the regular season with fewer than 1,000 rushing yards allowed. Justin Herbert will have to play at an elite level to win this one, as the Spartans passing defense looks statistically a whole lot like Washington’s, against whom Herbert struggled but did enough to keep the game competitive and eventually secure the win. Oregon 30, Michigan State 21.
The San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl — No. 22 Northwestern Wildcats vs. No. 17 Utah Utes (4 p.m., FS1)
Utah -7.0, o/u 46.0
The runners-up in the Big 10 and Pac-12 races face off in a game that might end up looking a whole lot like the offensive snooze-fest that was the conference title game between Washington and the Utes. Northwestern and Utah rank Nos. 107 and 68 in scoring offense, respectively, while those numbers for scoring defense are 40 and 16. Whichever team can establish a ground game and consistently stay out of third-and-long is going to be the program taking home the hardware at the end of the day. Utah 13, Northwestern 7.