As usual, the Pac-12 bowl lineup offers the league plenty of opportunity for a successful post-season, partly because the opposing lineup isn’t, overall, that daunting. This is a menu in which the Pac-12 teams will be favored in most games. However, that’s also a recipe for the better team taking the game lightly, always a pitfall in the post-season, so beware. A quick look at the matchups, chronologically:
Las Vegas — Colorado State (10-2) vs. Utah (8-4), Dec. 20: Jim McElwain has flown the coop for Florida, so veteran CSU assistant Dave Baldwin takes the Rams on an interim basis. Utah’s defense will be a big test for Vancouver, Wash. quarterback Garrett Grayson, who has a 32-6 TD-interception ratio. Running back Dee Hart, a transfer from Alabama, has been a capable runner with 1,254 yards and a 6.7-yard average.
Sun — Duke (9-3) vs. Arizona State (9-3), Dec. 27: Duke will be trying for back-to-back 10-win seasons and likely will be the hungrier team here, inasmuch as it has lost late leads against Cincinnati and Texas A&M in its last two bowl games in 2012-13, denying the Blue Devils their first post-season win since 1960. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone has modest numbers, with a 116.8 efficiency rating.
Holiday — Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4), Dec. 27: The Holiday has to be delighted with finally landing USC, which somehow has never played in the bowl game. My information last week was that USC was lobbying the Holiday hard, which could have been a sign that the Trojans sensed they weren’t going to get picked over UCLA for the Alamo. It’s Nebraska’s first Holiday appearance since 2010, when it was ambushed as a big favorite by Washington, and the Huskers will be coached by interim head man Barney Cotton, with Mike Riley an interested spectator. Nebraska’s headliner is running back Ameer Abdullah (1,523 yards, 18 touchdowns), and pass rusher Randy Gregory is considered a likely NFL pick early in the first round.
Foster Farms — Maryland (7-5) vs. Stanford (7-5), Dec. 30: The Foster Farms, the former Fight Hunger Bowl, got its wish with nearby Stanford, which looks to build on a dominating, season-ending win at UCLA. Maryland, 108th in the nation in total offense, figures to have big trouble with the Stanford defense. The quarterback is C.J. Brown, who had pedestrian numbers — 13-9 TD-pick ratio and 114.3 efficiency rating.
Fiesta — Boise State (11-2) vs. Arizona (10-3), Dec. 31: Broncos made out OK under the new playoff/ranking format, winning the “Group of Five” spot in the New Year’s Six bowls, whereas, under the old format, they would have been relegated to an also-ran bowl. Boise State back Jay Ajayi is one of the nation’s best with 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns. The quarterback, Grant Hedrick, has been somewhat interception-prone with 13, but he’s also thrown for 22 TDs and has a healthy 157.8 efficiency rating. Arizona’s challenge will no doubt be matching the Broncos’ readiness to play.
Rose — Florida State (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-1), Jan. 1: In this national semi, the Ducks are getting uncommon love for a team going against an outfit that (a) won the national title last year; (b) is unbeaten despite a series of narrow escapes in 2014; and (c) has quietly won 29 in a row. The ‘Noles Jameis Winston has thrown a whopping 17 interceptions, unheard-of for a previous Heisman winner. His favorite target is Rashad Greene, who has 1,306 yards receiving. Florida State has been outrushed, not a great sign for the defending champs against a team that led the Pac-12 on the ground.
Alamo — Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3), Jan. 2: With its pick of a handful of Pac-12 South teams, the Alamo chose UCLA, perhaps on the strength of its victories over both USC and Arizona State. There’s little doubt the Bruins are more talented, but this is just the sort of team that might give them trouble — sound, disciplined, and having committed only 51 penalties to UCLA’s 89. The Wildcats also turned it over only 11 times in 2014. The K-State run game isn’t much, so the offense leans on QB Jake Waters’ 66-percent completion rate and Tyler Lockett’s 1,351 yards in receptions.
Cactus — Oklahoma State (6-6) vs. Washington (8-5), Jan. 2: The Huskies are more than familiar with the most influential donor in college football (Phil Knight); now they get a whiff of the No. 2 guy, T. Boone Pickens. This is Oke State’s least accomplished team since 2006-07, when the Cowboys went 7-6 both years. They got outrushed, outpassed, and their 37 sacks allowed should be incentive enough for the Huskies’ strong defensive line. State’s near-miracle overtime win against Oklahoma Saturday was the victory that got them bowl-eligible.