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PAC 12 Roundup and Power Rankings: Post-Season Edition

The one where we put a bow around the 2016 PAC 12 Football season.

Duck fans ... schadenfreude is yours.
Duck fans ... schadenfreude is yours.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In many ways, post-season college football is borderline meaningless.  It is, essentially, a collection of exhibition games that don't count towards anything meaningful, unless you happen to be one of the few teams in the college football playoff or competing in one of the more prestigious non-playoff bowl games.

At least that's the baseline logic among fans and analysts.

But don't tell that to head coaches who are looking to create momentum and get a leg up heading into the next season.  Don't tell that to players who are looking to improve their spot on the depth chart or to put up some highlight film on national television.  And don't tell that to PAC 12 officials who saw 10 of 12 teams become bowl eligible despite having to contend with a nine-game conference schedule which resulted in enough cannibalization to prevent the conference from being represented in the playoffs.

To them, the post-season matters.  Rightly so.

On to some observations on the PAC 12 Bowl Season:

PAC 12 Roundup

  • The PAC doesn't have any open head jobs as of now (we'll be watching what Jim Mora does with regards to the NFL).  That does NOT mean that PAC 12 teams won't be relevant in the annual coaching carousel.  In fact, a ridiculous number of coordinator and coaching positions are open across PAC staffs.  Here is a short list of they key departures:
    - Don Pellum, DC, Oregon
    - Scott Frost, OC, Oregon *
    - OPEN, OC, USC *
    - Justin Wilcox, DC, USC 
    - Kilani Sitake, DC, OSU *
    - Noel Mazzone, OC, UCLA
    - Jeff Casteel, DC, Arizona 
    - Mike Norvell, OC, Arizona State *
    - John Pease, DC, Utah *
    That's the short list of just the coordinators (there may be one or two that I'm missing).  For each one of those coordinators, there are one or two more positional coaches also getting replaced.  There is a lot of coaching churn, and resulting recruiting impact, on that list above.  Most interesting might be the fight between USC and Oregon for the services of Clancy Pendergrast.
  • Oregon's loss to TCU after giving up a 31-point lead was historic on several dimensions.  1,463 times before them (since 2006) had a team owned a 31-point lead in a CFB game without losing.  Oregon ended that streak against an opponent playing without their star QB and #1 WR.  That loss not only tied the greatest comeback in bowl history, it also ties the 2nd largest comeback in the history of sport (Michigan State came back from 35 against Northwestern in 2006).  Any way you slice it, this is a "Coug It" that eclipses anything our boys from the Palouse have ever suffered.  Keep in mind that the Ducks surrendered 35 second half points to OSU in the Civil War the game before.  Safe to say that this team is no longer the standard bearer for the PAC.

  • ASU squandered an opportunity for a win in their Cactus Bowl game.  Their 4th quarter TD put them up by five points pending the conversion.  With less than 5 mins to play, Todd Graham elects to kick the PAT instead of going for two.  Of course, West Virginia scores a TD on the next drive and takes the one-point lead on their own PAT.  Apparently, Graham uses the same chart that the UW offensive staff consults.

  • UCLA has to be disappointed with how the season concluded.  Not only did they squander a lead and lose a close one, but they did so against a former conference coach (Mike Riley) whose team wasn't technically bowl eligible after a 5-7 regular season.  The Bruins had designs on a playoff run in 2015.  But with a lot of senior leadership heading out the door and five early draft entry declarees, that goal seems further away.

  • On a plus note, the Cougs have to be feeling pretty good about the position that they are in.  Their 20-10 win over Miami was their first bowl win in 13 years which, I believe, was the longest postseason drought in the PAC (the Buffaloes last won a bowl in 2004).  They also find themselves having done so with a young nucleus of offensive players and a defensive unit that keyed the victory.  The hangover will be a positive one for a team that just extended members of its coaching staff, including head coach Mike Leach and DC Alex Grinch.

  • USC's Clay Helton is busy, no doubt, in recruiting to fill out not only his roster but also his coaching staff.  The move by DC Dave Aranda from Wisconsin to LSU took one big name off the coaching carousel.  Helton has already hired two offensive assistants from Western Kentucky, including his brother, Tyson Helton.  Could he be looking at another former USC coach now coaching at WKU?  Former Husky DC Nick Holt was previously the DC at USC and now performs that same role at WKU.

  • Oregon State also has some gaps to fill on their defensive staff following the departure of DC Kalani Sitake to become the head coach at BYU.  Sitake is a well-regarded coach and recruiter with extensive ties in Utah and in the Polynesian football community.  He'll continue to be a factor in the PAC 12 based on the kinds of recruits he's going to go after.  He notably flipped a few Utah recruits a year ago and is already looking to get some of his Oregon State commits to follow him to Provo.

The Cool Chart

The Power Rankings

Rank Prev Team Record Next Game
1 1
Stanford 11-2 (8-1)
Rose Bowl WIN Stanford 45 vs Iowa 16
Stanford made their case for having been a playoff team by obliterating Iowa from the get-go in the Rose Bowl. As the Cardinal look forward to 2016, they will have to figure out how good Keller Chryst will be at QB while breaking in several new players on the offensive and defensive lines. But the truth is that 2015 was the real "rebuild" year at Stanford - particularly on defense. Their offense was able to cover the gap. I expect that Stanford D to be nasty again in 2015 and to lead that team to contention.
Player of the Game RB Christian McCaffrey (368 APY, 2 TDs) The real Heisman scored a TD on the first play of the game, scored again on a punt return and became the only player in Rose Bowl history to record 100+ yards each in receiving and rushing. He proved on the biggest of stages that he is the best player in the country and will undoubtedly be the face of college football heading into 2016.
2 4
Utah 9-3 (6-3) ---
Las Vegas Bowl WIN Utah 35 vs BYU 28
This was a weird game to watch in that Utah absolutely dominated in the first quarter - they scored all 5 TDs in the frame - and then just barely held on the rest of the way. As expected, it was Utah's defense that carried the day. Given that the offense could do so little against the Cougars, you might wonder about the #2 ranking here. The rationale is two-fold. First, there isn't another obvious candidate. Second, Utah actually looks like it will improve - particularly in a watered-down South - with the graduation of QB Travis Wilson. A win against a hated rival is very good for establishing momentum and you have to like that Whittingham is bringing back another experienced class in 2016. The losses of guys like DE Jared Norris and LB Gionni Paul definitely hurt, but there is a lot of beef there - particularly on that defensive line. I'm bullish on Utah.
Player of the Game RB Joe Williams (34 carries, 192 yards, 1 TD) Williams looks like he is more than capable of taking over for Devontae Booker and proves that the Utah offensive line continues to be one of the least appreciated positional units in the PAC.
3 5
UCLA 8-4 (5-4) ---
Foster Farms Bowl LOSS UCLA 29 vs Nebraska 37
UCLA absorbed a difficult loss to Nebraska in a game that started out very well for them but turned into a great comeback by Mike Riley's squad. The backlash among UCLA fans has been palatable, particularly as it relates to the continued horizontal playcalling of Noel Mazzone - an approach that really limits the impact of QB Josh Rosen. Following the game, studs Paul Perkins and Kenny Clark joined Myles Jack (and two offensive linemen) in declaring for the NFL draft. This dampens the outlook for 2016, but UCLA still is perched in a nice spot. Rosen looks like a true star while other key talents such as DL Eddie Vanderdoes, RB Sosa Jamabo, and LB Jayon Brown all should provide some confidence that UCLA will contend in 2016. The bigger question is whether or not Jim Mora will be in the NFL once the season kicks off.
Player of the Game DL Kenny Clark (11 tckls, 1 sack, 2 TFLs) In his swan song appearance, the junior DT put up a strong effort that will definitely enhance his draft stock.
4 9
WSU Helmet
WSU 9-4 (6-3) ---
Sun Bowl WIN WSU 20 vs Miami 10
There is a good vibe around Pullman right now. The Cougs won a game against a Power 5 opponent with defense, they are returning most of their best players next year, and they just extended their coaching staff. Sure, the blowout loss in the Apple Cup still stings a little bit and, true, the records set by QB Luke Falk seem more like aberration than accomplishment (he's not REALLY as good as Bledsoe, Leaf or Gesser). But, in the end, there is a lot to like about what the Cougs are building. Their defense looks poised to take a step forward next year which would make their 9 win campaign this year seem like just a step in their journey.
Player of the Game CB Darrien Molton (8 tckls) Hard to pick a POG in this one given the sloppy conditions and how sluggish the Coug O was overall. I did like the game that Molton played - particularly in run defense. He had a number of 1:1 tackles. I thought his play really popped on the screen.
5 7
UW Helmet
Washington 7-6 (4-5) ---
Heart of Dallas Bowl WIN Washington 44 vs Southern Miss 31
It's hard to not like the trajectory that Washington is on under head coach Chris Petersen. Young talent was on full display against one of the best offenses - at least statistically - in the FBS. While it was a little disappointing to see UW's secondary get shredded against a team that was down its top rusher (we all knew that USM was going to have to throw), it was just as encouraging to see UW's ultra young offense continue on their sharp improvement curve. Jake Browning looks like one of the top 3 QB returning in the PAC right now and his support - particularly at RB and OL - looks poised to grow with him. Given that UW's defense is sure to project as one of the top two in the conference in 2016, Husky fans have a right to be hopeful about a big step forward.
Player of the Game RB Myles Gaskin (181 yds, 4 TD) The true freshman tied a UW post-season record with TDs scored. Ironically, he recorded just 11 yards on 9 carries in the first half. Once he got it going, however, he simply couldn't be stopped. Watching him make men 1.5 times his size fail to take him down was a sight to behold.
6 3
Oregon Helmet
Oregon 10-3 (7-2) ---
Alamo Bowl Loss Oregon 41 vs TCU 47 (3OT)
Oregon tied the record for largest blown lead (31 points) in bowl history against a TCU team that played the entire game without its starting QB and #1 receiver. It was a strange affair in that all of Oregon's points came in the first half with none coming in the second. Duck fans will point to the injury sustained by Vernon Adams which, of course, was a factor. But the game was eerily similar to Oregon's previous game - against Oregon State - where the Ducks got up by a large margin only to watch their opponent close the gap and almost steal the game. The disaster that is Oregon's defense is well understood. What is confounding is the inconsistency of Oregon's offense. There was no rhythm to it all year. The only sources of yards were runs by Royce Freeman and bombs by Vernon Adams. Nothing in the middle. The Ducks go into next season looking for a new defensive coordinator and with questions all over the roster. But don't count them out. Darren Carrington and Freeman may form the best WR/RB duo in the nation next season.
Player of the Game QB Royce Freeman (26 carries, 130 yds, 3 TDs) Freeman didn't touch the ball enough in the second half. Before that, however, Freeman was a major factor in helping Oregon establish their lead and, in the process, set the all-time single season rushing record for the Ducks.
7 2
USC Helmet
USC 8-6 (6-3)
Holiday Bowl LOSS Wisconsin 21 vs USC 23
The Trojans demonstrated some grit in a physical matchup with the always tough Wisconsin Badgers. In the end, they didn't have quite enough muscle or depth to pull it out in the end. Of real disappointment has to be the fact that Cody Kessler's last (relevant) drive of his football career ended with a game-clinching interception. It was a weird end to the most strange of seasons for USC, including the bizarre commitment of OL Chad Wheeler to psychiatric observation following a fight with a police officer. The Trojans will go into next season without the services of several key players - including star LB Su'a Cravens - but with a full roster stocked with young talent at most levels.
Player of the Game LB Delvon Simmons (11 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU) The senior transfer from Texas Tech had himself quite the night in the middle of that USC defensive line. He was a very active part of the game plan to muscle up the Wisconsin O-Line and may have put enough on tape to make himself a consideration in the NFL draft.
8 6
Cal 8-5 (4-5) ---
Armed Forces Bowl WIN Cal 55 vs Air Force 36
Cal finished the season with a bang as now ex-QB Jared Goff put on an aerial show in the big win over Air Force. The D, however, was questionable in surrendering 5.5 yards per rush and (shockingly) 10 yards per pass against the Air Force triple option. With Goff, WR Kenny Lawler, DT Mustafa Jalil, DE Kyle Kragen and LB Jalen Jefferson all off the NFL this spring, one has to wonder if Cal is due for a significant step back in 2016.
Player of the Game QB Jared Goff (467 yds, 6 TDs, 0 sacks) Give the man some credit - he's going out in style. In his last two games, Goff tossed for 1,000 yards and 11 TDs. He's going to be the first QB taken in the draft.
9 8
ASU Helmet
ASU 6-7 (4-5) ---
Cactus Bowl LOSS Arizona State 42 vs West Virginia 43
If you are looking for a team on the downswing, its hard to not see ASU in that light. I think Todd Graham is a good coach and will keep the Sun Devils relevant, but this kind of loss in the Cactus Bowl - one where your vaunted pressure D gets shredded - is not a good look. Layer in key losses like DB Jordan Simone, RB DJ Foster, LB Antonio Longino, CB Lloyd Carrington, WR Devin Lucien and QB Mike Bercovici - basically all of your best players - and you have a tough mix for 2016. The good news is that QB Manny Wilkins looks like a player (if he can beat out Brady White) and WR Tim White looks like a breakout star. However, until I see what they can do, I'm down on the Devils.
Player of the Game WR Devin Lucien (9 recs, 144 yds, 1 TD) The UCLA transfer really came on strong to close the season and leaves ASU as their best receiver. He was excellent against the Mountaineers.
10 10
Arizona 7-6 (3-6) ---
New Mexico Bowl WIN Arizona 45 vs New Mexico 37
Arizona won their final game of the season. That said, it didn't feel like much of a victory. Squeaking out a win against a triple option team that racked up more total yardage (508 to Arizona's 503) than you can have that affect. The truth is Arizona is reeling going into the offseason. Maybe the knowledge that their coach is staying put will buoy them. They do return key guys such as QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson. But with guys like LB Scooby Wright and DL Reggie Gilbert on their way out, there isn't much hope for an already poor Defense. In addition, having to replace several offensive lineman plus playmakers like Jared Baker and David Richards just feels like a lot for that team to absorb.
Player of the Game WR Cayleb Jones (4 rec, 182 yds, 1 TD) The junior WR made some critical big plays for Anu Solomon on a day where his accuracy was in question. Arizona doesn't win this one at all without Jones doing his thing.
11 11
Colorado Helmet
Colorado 4-9 (1-8) ---
Last Week ---
The Buffs go into 2016 with a "make or break" mindset. Bowl eligibility will be the clear goal for coach Mike MacIntyre who, I think, will face the hottest seat in the conference going into the season. The good news is that Mac has done a pretty good job at coaxing improvement out of his team every year. 2015 was, easily, the most physical Colorado team we've seen since they joined the PAC. There is enough talent there to get to six wins but momentum is not on their side.
Player of the Game n/a
12 12
OSU Helmet
Oregon State 2-10 (0-9) ---
Last Week ---
The Beavs have so many questions.  How will the defense shape up? Who will play QB? How will the offensive line come together? All are critical questions facing head coach Gary Andersen. There is hope. TE/RB Ryan Nall looks like an absolute baller, WR Jordan Villamin is still one of the best WRs nobody knows about and Utah State transfer QB Darrell Garretson is a legit talent. If OL Isaac Seumalo and Sean Harlow can come back strong ... and if OL Kammy Delp can make a giant leap forward against his huge potential, it wouldn't surprise me to see this OSU team surprise a few in 2016.
Player of the Game n/a ---