The post-season is in the books for the record eight Pac-12 football teams, and it ended at 4-4. Stanford, and then Oregon, rescued what was shaping up as a potentially disastrous bowl season. In fact, if you argue that the bigger bowl games are the ones that matter, the Cardinal and Ducks combined to win two BCS games, and that’s not an everyday occurrence for the league (matter of fact, it’s the first time it’s happened since the 2000 season, when Washington won the Rose Bowl and Oregon State the Fiesta).
Herewith, a top-to-bottom assessment of how each team performed this bowl season — not based merely on whether it won, but what the expectation was entering the game (was it a big favorite, etc.) and generally, how it comported itself around the game (not to single anybody out, Trojans):
1. Oregon. Funny, but I heard a couple of references to the Ducks’ “dominating” performance in the 35-17 win over Kansas State. It didn’t really feel that way to me, and I think that’s probably a more resounding vote for Oregon than anything else. The Ducks did have a few three-and-outs; the game’s MVP, Marcus Mariota, was only 12 of 24 for 166 yards passing, and the Ducks had a modest 385 yards total offense. But their defense was rock-solid, and if an 18-point victory over a respected, well-coached team comes off as less-than-smashing, well, that’s impressive.
2. Stanford. The Rose Bowl evolved into sort of a tedious affair, won 20-14 by the Cardinal over Wisconsin after an impressive start. This is what happens when you have two teams without playmakers on the outside. It wasn’t glorious, but it was enough, and you don’t look askance at BCS-bowl victories.
3. Arizona State. The Sun Devils blew out Navy, 62-24, in a ridiculous mismatch. Ever heard of a team scoring touchdowns on its first nine possessions? ASU was a two-touchdown favorite in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and to its credit, didn’t disappoint.
4. Washington. Here’s where it gets interesting. I give the Huskies, 28-26 losers to Boise State, the edge over Oregon State and Arizona because the UW was playing a 19th-ranked team, had the lead late and was an underdog, unlike the other two. Relative to the magnitude of the Las Vegas Bowl, having to play a battled-tested outfit that knows how to win like the Broncos isn’t a great draw.
5. Oregon State. What an empty feeling OSU must have had, leading throughout and letting the game slip away on a deep pass late in the contest to lose to Texas in the Alamo, 31-27. Think about this: If not for a clock-related gaffe late in the half, which might otherwise have resulted in an OSU field goal, the Beavers could have been leading by six late in the game — and thus been able to play softer coverage than they did when up by only three. To rewind, with the first-down sticks at the Texas 31, an OSU receiver caught a pass and went down with 10 seconds left in the half, the ball nudging the 31-yard-line hashmark. But the zebras inexplicably didn’t stop the clock for a measurement, and the second quarter ran out. OSU, on the other hand, should have recognized that and used its last timeout, but didn’t. That mistake (which I saw as chiefly the officials’, but in turn, OSU’s), plus the head-scratching unwillingness of the Beavers to give help against pass-rushing demon Alex Okafor, drops the Beavers down.
6. Arizona. The ‘Cats stage a hell-bent comeback to beat Nevada, 49-48, in the New Mexico Bowl, and this is all they get? Yes. True, it was a comeback for all-time. But ‘Zona was awful defensively, allowing 39 first downs, it was a nine-point favorite, and if it doesn’t manage to recover an onside kick — in part, always a matter of luck — the Wildcats don’t win.
7. UCLA. The conventional wisdom was that the Bruin running attack, which had blossomed in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford, would do damage against Baylor’s 119th-ranked defense. And that the Bruins’ defense might be able to do enough against the fleet and well conceived Baylor offense. Wrong, badly, on both counts. The Bruins looked overmatched and ill-prepared in losing 49-26. (In their defense, they were hurting on the offensive line.) If they don’t score a bogus touchdown on the last play of the game (it wasn’t reviewed, and would have been denied), the Bruins lose by 30 points.
8. USC. Let’s see. A couple of player tweets disparaging El Paso. Late to a joint Sun Bowl team dinner with Georgia Tech. A 21-7 loss to a team with a 6-7 record that had lost seven straight bowls. A completely out-of-whack offense that could only amass 107 yards passing. All in all, this was one of the most embarrassing performances by a Pac-12 team in years.