Bowl season is upon us and we now know where every PAC 12 team is headed. Seven conference teams have qualified for the post season and will play in one of the conference aligned games.
Below I’ve included broadcast info and an “instant” preview of each game.
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl (December 15, 12:30pm PT, ESPN)
#21 Fresno State vs Arizona State
A couple of very experienced coaches get to tangle in Las Vegas in just a few weeks time. Jeff Tedford and his Bulldogs are riding high after taking out Bryan Harsin’s Broncos on the blue rug in Boise on Saturday.
The Sun Devils will present quite a challenge to the Bulldogs. The combination of Manny Wilkins, N’Keal Harry and Eno Benjamin might be the best QB / WR / RB combo in the conference. Whether or not QB Marcus McMaryion can keep the pace when the Bulldogs have the ball is a critical question.
Cheez-It Bowl (December 26, 6pm PT, ESPN)
TCU vs California
The Horned Frogs will be playing a PAC 12 team in a bowl game for the third time in the last four years when they take on the California Golden Bears the day after Christmas. Who can forget the famous come-from-behind, triple overtime win over the Ducks in the 2015 Alamo Bowl? God that was beautiful.
The Frogs returned to the Alamo Bowl again last year and beat Stanford in another barn burner of a game.
This year’s version of TCU isn’t quite as scary as the last few iterations. Their scoring offense is down 10 points per game from where it was a season ago while, at the same time, it’s scoring defense is giving up nearly 6 points more per game.
Nevertheless, I think Justin Wilcox can expect another defensive slug fest for his Bears squad. TCU coach Gary Patterson has cajoled remarkably consistent defensive performances from what is admittedly not his best squad especially after you adjust for the ridiculous offenses on their schedule this year including Ohio State, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Expect something in the mid-teens from both teams in this one.
Valero Alamo Bowl (December 28, 6pm PT, ESPN)
#24 Iowa State vs #13 Washington State
I’m not sure that there is any other way to put it: this is not the matchup that WSU was hoping for.
Before today, there was some thought that Texas might fall to the Alamo Bowl or - worst case - a compelling matchup with Will Grier, Dana Holgorson and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Either one of those games would have pit WSU against a “national” brand kind of foe and allowed them to play the role of underdog.
Iowa State is a clear worst case scenario. Not only does WSU miss out on the opportunity to be able to make a national statement, but they end up drawing one of the best coached and most dangerous teams in the country. This is no-win territory for Mike Leach and his Cougs.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (December 31, 4pm PT, FS1)
#22 Northwestern vs #17 Utah
If you are a student of the game and you enjoy watching great coaches work magic with underdog players, then the Holiday Bowl has all that you need in spades. Both Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald have been working such magic with their respective programs for years. Each just happened to bring their teams to cusp of their conference titles this season only to come up just a little bit short.
Neither team is all that effective offensively and both prefer to build their gameplans first and foremost against stopping the opponents rushing attack. It just so happens that Utah is much better at it across many quarters of football. In fact, when you go through the stats line item by line item, it is hard to find any major category in any phase where Utah plays wiht a deficit.
That said, Northwestern just has a certain “it factor” going on. QB Clayton Thorson is an inaccurate, dink and dunk kind of QB most of the time. But, lo and behold, in big games like the B1G Championship, there he was making plays and moving sticks while keeping the score close until that fateful fourth quarter.
This ought to be a fun one to watch even if it lacks some of the sizzle that a Utah/Wisconsin game may have presented.
Redbox Bowl (December 31, 12pm PT, FOX)
Oregon vs Michigan State
The Spartans (7-5) had a disappointing year. But an opportunity to finish strong against a team like Oregon that has a national following is a good one all things considered.
This will be the second time the Spartans will be paired against a PAC 12 team this season. They lost to Arizona State in week 2 in a game that announced to the world that Herm Edwards might actually have a clue as to what he is trying to accomplish in Tempe. In many ways, that struggle against ASU was a microcosm for the Mike Dantonio’s season as a whole: when MSU has had success, they’ve led with defense. When they haven’t, they’ve not led at all.
Oregon comes into this one with some momentum under their belt. The Oregon offensive line has really gelled and it has created opportunities for running backs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell to shine. But the big question is whether or not inconsistent QB Justin Herbert can put together a “first pick in the draft” kind of game against a legit Big Ten defense.
Hyundai Sun Bowl (December 31, 11am PT, CBS)
Pitt vs Stanford
Remember when Stanford’s Bryce Love was considered the best back in the conference and the PAC 12’s best hope for a Heisman?
On New Year’s Eve, Love may not even be the best back in El Paso. That honor might belong to Pitt RB Qadree Ollison. The senior has already rushed for his second 1000+ yard season and eleven touchdowns.
The Panthers will be really reliant on their rushing attack to compensate for their own horrific passing game and to keep the ball away from Stanford’s own air attack. It might take Ollison having a career kind of day to keep the Panthers from falling prey to the Cardinal in the Sun Bowl.
Rose Bowl (January 1, 2pm PT, ESPN)
#6 Ohio State vs #9 Washington
Defeating a national “blue blood” program is the only substantial accomplishment left incomplete on the agenda of a 2018 Washington senior class that has effectively engineered the return of the Huskies program to prominence. A date with Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes is their last opportunity to correct that situation.
It won’t be easy. The Buckeyes boast one of the top offenses in the nation. Their 75 touchdowns scored rank fifth in the nation overall just behind other prolific offenses like Oklahoma, Alabama and Clemson. Their quarterback, sophomore Dwayne Haskins, leads the nation in passing yards with 4580 and touchdown passes with 47 (!). He is a legit Heisman candidate who boasts a 70% completion percentage AND a 9.2 yards per attempt average.
The Huskies will counter with one of the nation’s best pass defenses and a philosophy of big play prevention. Whether or not UW can keep enough Ohio State points off the board while chewing up enough clock with their own rushing attack will be the key storyline to watch in the 105th Rose Bowl.