Oh, the irony.
It was a lack of fulfillment in the experience he had leading his football team to his first ever Rose Bowl that ultimately led Chris Petersen to this point. Now he will find himself over the next three weeks trying to stop and smell the roses as he leads his team to a much lesser bowl game in what will be his final game as a Power 5 head football coach.
And to add a twist of irony on top of irony, Coach Pete will be going back to where it all began.
Petersen and his Huskies learned on Sunday that their post season reward for going 7-5 during the regular season is a trip to Las Vegas to play #18 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Broncos (11-1) will present a challenge for Petersen and his Dawgs. Boise State has been stellar on offense this year (441 yds per game) with high levels of efficiency. Importantly, the Broncos have converted 90% of their red zone trips into scores. This will stress a Husky defense that plays the ultimate bend-don’t-break style and depends on red zone stops to prevent points. That said, it remains to be seen who coach Bryan Harsin will roll with at QB. Jaylon Henderson, the dual threat senior who opened the season third on the depth chart, appears to be the #1. Freshman Hank Bachmeier, who started to open the season but has struggled with injury, and sophomore Chase Cord have both played meaningful snaps with success this year. whomever starts will have the multi-faceted talents of WR John Hightower (nearly 20 yds per catch) and freshman George Holani (979 yards, 7 TDs) to work with.
The Huskies offense will be put to the test against Boise’s aggressive defense. The Broncos generated a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage this year including a stellar 89 tackles for loss and 37 sacks. While they haven’t faced any offensive lines as deep as Washington’s, they are probably licking their chops as they review tape on how poorly Jacob Eason and his line have handled pressure this season.
Immediately after this game, Washington Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake will assume the position of Head Coach and begin the task of evaluating his staff including starting the search for whatever coach will take the open position his move creates. Petersen has already agreed in principle to take on another leadership position within the Athletic Department reporting to UW AD Jen Cohen and will undoubtedly still have a great deal of influence over the culture and the conduct of the football program. But, until that moment, there are still yet a few weeks to smell those roses.
PAC 12 Bowl Game Lineup
Rose Bowl - #7 Oregon vs #11 Wisconsin
January 1, 2020 / Pasadena, CA
This will mark Oregon’s eighth trip to the Rose Bowl and their third trip this decade (and, yes, I’m excluding the 2010 Rose Bowl only because it technically is the previous decade). Only Stanford has represented the PAC 12 as many times during the same decade.
While future NFL first round QB Justin Herbert and their offensive line tend to get most of the press, Oregon earned this trip thanks mostly to a rejuvenated defense that head coach Mario Cristobal put in the hands of former Boise State DC Andy Avalos to begin the season. Avalos, who is a hot commodity in this year’s coaching carousel, unleashed an aggressive style of defense that played to the strengths of stars like LB Troy Dye, LB Lamar Winston, DB Jamere Holland and DB Thomas Graham, Jr. The Ducks led the conference in forced turnovers (23) and sacks (41).
The Wisconsin Badgers will present the Ducks with a different kind of challenge. They are a power football team that features the talents of junior RB Jonathan Taylor and one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Taylor, who has already stated his intention to play in the game, became just the seventh player in FBS history to eclipse the 6,000 yard rushing mark for his career.
Valero Alamo Bowl - #12 Utah vs Texas
December 31, 2019 / San Antonio, TX
Utah had what I view as the best season in the program’s history going an incredible season going 11-2 overall against a full Power 5 schedule. If it weren’t for a very weak overall non-conference schedule, poor luck with conference strength (Utah played no ranked P12 teams during the regular season), and a sloppy championship game that saw their vaunted run defense get shredded by CJ Verdell and the Oregon offensive line, we’d be talking about a NY6 Bowl Game for Kyle Whittingham and crew.
Nevertheless, Utah will go into the Alamo Bowl against a good not great Texas team with all of their strengths intact. The Utes led the conference in passing defense, scoring defense, and rush defense this season. In fact, they had not given up a 100 yard rushing effort to any opposing running back all year until the P12 Championship game. They feature upperclassmen at every level of the defense including stars such as DL Loki Fotu, DE Bradlee Anae, LB Francis Bernard and DB Julian Blackmon.
If their defense can’t carry the day, Utah also features the most efficient offense in the conference. RB Zack Moss will leave Utah has the most successful, if not the most physical, running back in program history. QB Tyler Huntley, also a senior, has had a breakout year and is the leading candidate for Offensive Player of the Year after posting a 76% completion percentage and 11 YPA as a passer.
The Longhorns (7-5) behind coach Tom Herman are generally viewed along with Washington as preseason top 25 teams to have put up the most disappointing seasons. Herman has already fired most of his coaching staff and will be going into the bowl game with a makeshift crew as he courts talents, including USC’s Graham Harrell and Oregon’s Andy Avalos, for similar roles in Austin.
Holiday Bowl - #22 USC vs #16 Iowa
December 27, 2019 / San Diego, CA
USC head coach Clay Helton got a stay of execution just a few days ago when new AD Mike Bohn announced that he was being retained for the 2020 season. That news did not go over well with a fan base that has grown tired of USC mediocrity and has been alarmed by the increasing successes of programs like Washington and Oregon in recruiting Southern California. In all fairness, Helton has earned the benefit of the doubt after posting what was clearly the third best season in the conference despite having one of the youngest rosters and dealing with the most extensive number of injuries to starters of any team in the conference.
With the Helton situation resolved, the big question for USC over the next few weeks is whether or not current OC Graham Harrell will be around to coach his offense in San Diego. Helton is thought to be in talks to take the same role in Texas and has been mentioned as a head coach candidate for a few of the west coast Group of 5 open positions.
Regardless, the Hawkeyes (9-3) are a brutal matchup for the Trojans, even in front of what will be a friendly home crowd. Kirk Ferentz has built up a defense that emphasizes pass defense and limiting scores in the red zone. Iowa gave up TDs on just 41% of opposing red zone trips in 2019 - second by a hair to Ohio State in the Big Ten. If Helton and crew can’t find a way to score on the Hawkeyes, it will be a very long offseason for he and Bohn.
Redbox Bowl - Cal vs Illinois
December 30, 2019 / Santa Clara, CA
Justin Wilcox and his Cal Bears have been a Tale of Two Teams in 2019. While it has been their terrific team defense that has paced the team, it has ultimately been the presence of QB Chase Garbers that has ultimately determined their success. The Bears are an incredible 12-2 in games where Garbers has logged more than 30 minutes of game time over the past two seasons.
That said, it will still be the performance of defensive stalwarts such as leading P12 DPOY candidate Evan Weaver, CB Camryn Bynum and S Jaylinn Hawkins that will define the outcome for the Golden Bears in their matchup against Illinois. On paper, it looks very favorable as the Illini struggled offensively for much of the season. They finished 12th in the conference in total offense while finishing 8th in scoring offense. One name that will be familiar to PAC 12 fans is Josh Imatorbhebhe, the former USC receiver who was a grad transfer and has posted a solid season for Illinois.
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl - Arizona State vs Florida State
December 31, 2019 / El Paso, TX
For a rebuilding team going to its second straight post season, you’d think that Herm Edwards would be a happy man. Even more so after you consider the fact that his team is the only conference team to have beaten the new PAC 12 champs. But this is apparently not the case in Tempe. After enduring a season where his Sun Devils generated just 25 points per game (by comparison, UW was 31.5), Herm fired most of offensive staff and goes into the Sun Bowl looking for new assistants.
That might prove to be a distraction for freshman breakout star Jaden Daniels. Fortunately, he has a group of upperclassmen including stars Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk that he can lean on in the bowl game.
The Seminoles (6-6) will be enduring their own form of distraction. Slick Willie Taggart, pulling his best Steve Sarkisian impersonation, was relieved of his dream job just halfway through his second season. Memphis head coach (and former ASU OC) Mike Norvell has been named his replacement but will not take over until after this bowl game. One would have to think this favors the Sun Devils.
Las Vegas Bowl - Washington vs #18 Boise State
December 21, 2019 / Las Vegas, NV, 4:30 pm PT, ABC
In some ways, this is the perfect irony. In others, I doubt that the Huskies or Chris Petersen wanted anything to do with what essentially is a home game for a program that most likely will be favored to win in Chris Petersen’s grand farewell.
Regardless of how things turn out on the field, one would have to imagine that there will be quite the reception for Petersen from the entirety of the fan bases and the corresponding staffs following the game. Most of the administrators and the coaches coming from both sides of the field will have had their careers touched by the Huskies Hall of Fame coach and I’m sure there will be an endless stream of adulations, congratulations, and well-wishes coming long past the expiration of the game clock. It ought to be a special night no matter the result on the field.
CheezIt Bowl - Washington State vs Air Force
December 27, 2019 / Tempe, AZ
After interviewing for the Arkansas job, head coach Mike Leach has re-upped for yet another season to lead Washington State. That’s good news for a program that is making its fifth straight post season appearance (a program record) and sixth in the last seven seasons under Leach.
Against Air Force, the Cougs will rely on the same formula that they’ve leaned on all season: an accurate and efficient passing attack led by Anthony Gordon combined with hopes of grace on defense. Despite rushing for just over 800 yards as a team on the season, the Cougs still led the PAC in total offense, by a lot, with more than 6200 yards and 39 points a game. They will need that and more against a disciplined Air Force team that averaged nearly 35 points a game behind an efficient 5+ yards per carry out of their triple option offense.