Overall, the Pac-12 has been positioned for some relatively appealing matchups in the 2011 bowl season. The heavyweight teams like Oregon and Stanford got inevitably good matchups, but Washington is playing a possible Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Cal gets a marquee program in Texas in the Holiday, and at the lower end, the Kraft Fight Hunger gets a BCS opponent for UCLA in Illinois, albeit one that’s lost six straight.
Overall, not bad, and the league schools each reap about half a million bucks for the extra BCS team in Stanford.
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon – No doubt Oregon will be ramped up to get a monkey off its back – that it can get to BCS bowls, but can’t win them. Both teams will spend the afternoon running the ball at each other; Ducks are 5th in the country in rushing at 295.7 yards a game, Wisconsin 10th at 237.4. The headliners are QB Russell Wilson (2nd in pass efficiency nationally at 191.6 a game, which is a record-setting pace, as well as a 31-3 TD-interception ratio) and RB Montee Ball and Oregon’s LaMichael James. This looks like one of the three best bowls. Grade: A.
Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford – Cowboys very nearly crashed the national-title game, and their reaction to falling to this one will be important. You’d think that since they’re not used to a high-level stage like this, they’d be excited about the Fiesta. Oke State is third in the country at 557 yards a game, and features QB Brandon Weeden and 2010 Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon. The Cardinal, of course, counters with Andrew Luck, completing 70 percent of his passes. Grade: A.
Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington — Get out the calculators, this one could top 80 total points. ESPN had Griffin on Sunday night, talking about his Heisman possibilities (I think he’s probably the favorite now) and if I’m not mistaken, I think I saw him salivating, thinking about matching up with Nick Holt’s Husky defense. Griffin is the nation’s top efficiency passer at 192.31 (ahead of the national record 186.0) and has a 36-6 TD-interception ratio. But Washington has some offensive guns as well, and Baylor’s defense is 114th at 477.5 ypg. The opportunity is there for the Huskies to co-opt the underdog role much as they did last year against Nebraska, since the spotlight clearly will be on Griffin leading up to the game. Grade: B-plus.
Holiday: Texas vs. California – This will be a good opportunity for Cal coach Jeff Tedford to ask Texas’ Mack Brown why he campaigned so fervently (and effectively) for the Rose Bowl in 2004 when the Longhorns were battling the Bears for the spot. (Cal went to the Holiday Bowl and, probably not into it, got waxed by Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team.) Unlike a lot of past Holiday matchups, this might be a defensive affair, with the Longhorns 14th nationally (315.3) and Cal 26th. Texas has a 34:03 time of possession, fourth in the country. I’m guessing a lot of ‘Horns faithful wonder why Brown is 12-12 his last two seasons. Grade: B.
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah – This could be the shortest bowl game of the season, because the ball will be on the ground. Tech is third in the country in run offense (316.8) and Utah is No. 7 (97 per) at stopping it. Meanwhile, rushing is what the Utes do best as well. If anybody around Tech has a long memory, they’ll refer back to the 2005 Emerald Bowl, when Utah clocked the Engineers, 38-10. Utes are good in bowl games; they won nine in a row until last year’s shellacking by Boise State. Grade: C.
Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State – Kellen Moore of Prosser is the NCAA’s career-winningest quarterback with 49, and this is it for his college days. Dennis Erickson, 64, is coaching his last game for ASU. Could it be the last of his career? Somehow, I doubt it. ASU is on the brink of pulling what its neighbor, Arizona did last year – lost five in a row to finish the season despite playing in a bowl. Grade: C-plus.
Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7) – Gary Cavalli, executive director, jokingly calls it the “Interim Coaches Bowl.” Vic Koenning takes over for fired Ron Zook for the Illini, while Mike Johnson, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, will handle it for deposed Rick Neuheisel. I believe it’s the first bowl matching teams with fired coaches. Ironically, it was against Illinois that Neuheisel had his most shining moment as a player, leading the Bruins to a big win in the 1984 Rose Bowl and being named MVP. Grade: C.