The bowl season is complete, meaning we can now take a look at how Pac-12 teams — and Pac-12 officials — made out in the post-season when it came to the ever-popular topic of penalties.
As I wrote shortly before UW played Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Huskies were near the bottom in the NCAA in penalties — but then so was most of the Pac-12. As noted in that story, when the regular season ended, five of the eight most-penalized teams in the country were in the Pac-12. And all but Arizona State were in the bottom half.
In fact, here are the final stats for penalties, showing that other than ASU, every Pac-12 team ranked 66th or lower in the country in penalties, all but the Devils averaging six or more per game (ASU, in one of the more amazing transformations of the season, went from one of the most-penalized teams in 2011 under Dennis Erickson to one of the least this year under Todd Graham, at 4.23 per game). UW, as you can see, finished 118th in the nation, out of 120 teams, at 8.31 penalties per game. UCLA was last at 9.29.
That so many Pac-12 teams ranked so low (or high, depending on how you view it — anyway, they all got flagged a lot) left many wondering if maybe it wasn’t so much that the teams had issues but that officials in the conference were particularly flag-happy. As you can read in the linked story, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said getting hit with a lot of flags was pretty much a reality that had to be accepted if you going to live life in the Pac-12 this year.
The bowl season, though, offered a chance to test that theory since bowl games employ officiating crews not affiliated with the conferences of either of the participating teams.
So that means all eight of the Pac-12 teams that played in bowls had a chance to be viewed by neutral refs. And it meant that Pac-12 refs did four games that did not involve conference teams — the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Purdue-Oklahoma State), the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (TCU-Michigan State), the Pinstripe Bowl (West Virginia-Syracuse), and the National Title Game (Alabama-Notre Dame).
So how did it turn out?
Well, in something that will add fuel to the argument that Pac-12 refs tend to be little, well, excited to officiate (to steal Seattle U basketball coach Cameron Dollar’s line after a UW-Seattle U game last season) no Pac-12 team was flagged more than six times in its bowl game — and as noted earlier, every Pac-12 team other than ASU averaged six or more during the regular season.
Here’s the Pac-12 breakdown:
Washington 2-10 (a season-low for the Huskies, who got at least four penalties in every other game and eight or more in nine);
UCLA 6-59 (as noted earlier, UCLA was last in the nation in penalties averaging 9.29 for 91.50 yards);
Arizona State 2-25;
Oregon State 2-10;
So yes, the above numbers seem to show that Pac-12 teams, when viewed by different eyes, maybe weren’t quite so prone to committing penalties.
On the other hand, Pac-12 officials didn’t throw quite as many flags in some of their bowl games as they had during the regular season.
West Virginia got hit for 11 for 116 in the Pinstripe Bowl (in which the head ref was Jay Stricherz, the most-veteran of Pac-12 officials). Otherwise, no team in a game officiated by Pac-12 refs got more than seven. There were 16 flags in the Pinstripe, 11 in the Heart of Dallas, 12 in the Buffalo Wild Wings and just seven in the national title game. So that’s three games in which the average was six or fewer.
Who knows? Maybe Pac-12 teams spent their 15 (or so) bowl practices cleaning up their act. And maybe teams outside the conference just don’t commit as many penalties. Whatever the case, the bowl season seemed to prove that maybe Pac-12 teams — and officials — can each make it through a game with a few less flags on the ground.