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Picking the Pac: The Footballiest Time of the Year

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Washington vs. Boise State and the rest of the Pac-12 in Bowl Season

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

So the bowl season is a collection of meaningless exhibition games? Try telling that to my 45-44 ATS Pac-12 picks record this year. Of equal importance is the chance for the conference to redeem itself after some pathetic bowl results in recent seasons. In the last two years, the Pac has gone 4-12 in bowls. In the last three, Pac-12 favorites are 1-9-1. Performances like that on a big stage do real damage to the conference’s reputation and a reversal could help rectify the bias against the west coast in CFP rankings.

#19 Boise State vs. Washington – Las Vegas Bowl, 12/21, Las Vegas, NV – UW -3.5

Forget the conference, this is the nation’s most narrative-laden bowl game, featuring a head-on collision between Chris Petersen’s past and his present. Even if Petersen had nothing else going on in his professional life, he’d be at the center of every story in this game. Since it’s his last game on the sideline for the foreseeable future, get ready for an episode of “Chris Petersen, this is your life,” chalk full of trick plays, on-field proposals, and commemorative rocking chairs.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with what happens on the field. Boise’s 12-1 record is impressive, even if their strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired. I give them credit for scheduling Florida State. It’s not their fault that the Noles got Willie’d into oblivion and that win meant very little. What we do know about Boise is that they steadied the ship despite the loss of freshman QB Hank Bachmeier. Senior Jaylon Henderson has been slightly less explosive (7.8 y/a vs. 9.1 for Bachmeier), but also less likely to throw a pick. The Broncos will lean on their running game, where George Holani and Robert Mahone have combined for about 1400 yards on over 5 y/c. Defensively, Curtis Weaver would be a nightmare if the Dawgs had an intact offensive line. Without Trey Adams and Jaxson Kirkland, his pass rush prowess is even scarier.

With injuries and unavailability plaguing both offenses, this looks like a defensive battle to me. The Huskies have trended upwards on that side of the ball since Edefuan Olofoshio plugged the biggest hole at ILB. The Husky offensive line will have to block better than it did in some of the let-down losses this year, but Terrell Bynum and Aaron Fuller should be able to get some separation against a defensive secondary that isn’t as physical as most in the Pac. If Jacob Eason can make smart, quick decisions, I think the Husky offense can score enough to support a solid defensive effort.

UW 27 – Boise St 20

#22 USC vs #16 Iowa – Holiday Bowl, 12/27, San Diego, CA – Iowa -2

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Even when they’re not playing, USC still manages to take its fans on an emotional roller coaster. Since their decisive win over UCLA in late November, the Trojans have flirted with outside coaches before ultimately retaining Clay Helton, fought off suitors for OC Graham Harrell, and signed an extremely disappointing recruiting class in the early signing period. Will any of that matter when they take on Iowa, a paragon of stability and corn? USC’s offense took a big step forward this year- 12th in success rate and 6th in pass success rate. Iowa was outstanding at preventing big plays (best in the country at limiting explosive rate), but just ok at creating big plays of their own on defense. The more important match-up might be the Iowa offense with the USC defense. In Iowa’s three losses to Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin, they averaged on 12.3 points per game. The Trojans’ defense was sub-par this season, especially against the run. Iowa should be able to take the air out of the ball enough to slow down Kedon Slovis and the USC receivers. Unless USC can buck the trend of bleeding out yards on the ground, they won’t be able to get to their strengths often enough.

Iowa 28 – USC 24

Air Force vs. Washington State - Cheez-It Bowl, 12/27, Phoenix, AZ - AFA -3

These are two teams that get to the same destination by wildly divergent routes. Air Force plays a slower pace, so their offense doesn’t look elite on the surface, by they are in the top 10 national in pass success rate and rush success rate. They don’t pass often, but they are #1 in the entire country in yards per pass attempt. WSU is somehow even better- #1 in offensive success rate and #5 in yards per play. Neither defense is great, but Air Force has at least avoided the type of implosion that cost Wazzu the middle third of the season. Air Force’s pace might suppress scoring a bit, but I think the Falcons will ultimately struggle getting off the field against Anthony Gordon’s air raid.

WSU 35 - AFA 31

California vs. Illinois - Redbox Bowl, 12/30, Santa Clara, CA - Cal -7

Cal has been a poor offensive team this year, but only if you measure by rushing, passing, consistency, explosiveness, and third down conversions. All the other stuff has been fine. For their part, the Illini have been every bit as bad on offense, and maybe even worse. Both teams are solid defensively, but neither is elite. Both teams have allowed far more yards than they’ve gained on the year. Cal has played slightly better toward the end of the year than Illinois has, and they are in their own backyard, which might translate into a friendlier home crowd. Even so, it’s hard to feel good enough about them to pick them to win by more than a touchdown.

Cal 23 - Illinois 20

Florida State vs. Arizona State - Sun Bowl, 12/31, El Paso, TX - ASU -4

These are two teams who have plenty to feel good about going into next season, but also who had some notable low points this year. FSU can look ahead to Mike Norvell potentially restoring them to prominence.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ASU made on-field strides behind talented freshman QB Jaylen Daniels and signed a recruiting class that should keep them trending upward. Even with lots of talent, like great RB Cam Akers, FSU has struggled all year on offense. ASU has a solid defensive front and will probably shut down the run game decisively. The game will turn on whether Daniels and Eno Benjamin are able to keep drives alive and turn them into points. They have been fairly conservative all year, but haven’t been great in the red zone. FSU lifer Odell Haggins has filled in as interim coach in a tough spot. Things have not gone well for him and I don’t think this will be where they right the ship.

ASU 27 - FSU 21

#11 Utah vs. Texas - Alamo Bowl, 12/31, San Antonio, TX - Utah -7

The Utes have to be kicking themselves that they played one of their worst games in the Pac-12 title game and missed out on a NY6 bowl at worst. The Alamo bowl is a step down, but at least they get a name brand opponent who will raise their profile if they can take care of business. There was plenty of preseason hype after they took down Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, only for the team to scuffle to a 7-5 record. While Sam Ehlinger can move the ball, Texas’s defense has been poor in all facets. In spite of Tyler Huntley’s subpar game against Oregon, I expect him to bounce back and play a this established level, which should result in enough big plays to give the defense some breathing room.

Utah 35 - Texas 24

#6 Oregon vs. #8 Wisconsin - Rose Bowl, 1/1, Pasadena, CA - Wisconsin -4

Although Oregon spoiled the conference’s chances to go to the CFP, they should be able to put up a good fight against Big 10 runners-up Wisconsin. These are two evenly matched teams and the game could absolutely go either way. Oregon has a less aggressive offense than in the Chip Kelly years, but Justin Herbert still generates big plays at a solid rate, while Wisconsin is one of the better teams at limiting big plays. Wisconsin’s only defensive shortcoming is that they give up a fair amount of yardage on the ground, which could play into Oregon’s preference to lean on CJ Verdell on the ground. Of course, the Badgers will prefer to play behind Jonathan Taylor. Oregon’s run defense is also very good. Both teams count their offensive lines among their greatest strengths. The question is which team will be able to make big plays on defense to force turnovers or end drives. Wisconsin has been slightly better in the havoc department.

Wisconsin 31 - Oregon 24

Picks

UW -3.5

Iowa -2

WSU +3

Illinois +7

ASU -4

Utah -7

Wis -4

Season ATS: 45-44

Season SU: 64-26