Utah got the Pac-12’s bowl season off to a proper start last week in the Las Vegas Bowl against Colorado State, winning 45-10, and I couldn’t help but think the Utes did to the Rams what Washington State should have done a year ago in the New Mexico Bowl (if somewhat less convincingly). The Cougars had a three-score lead against CSU, but weren’t mature enough to build on the lead, and then, when it got close, suffered an epic collapse. In retrospect, that was a game that cost WSU big on two fronts: It denied the Cougars a winning season, absence of which has stained the Mike Leach regime; and it called into question Leach’s ability to manage the clock at the end of a game.
Enough of 2013. On to Saturday’s resumption of Pac-12 bowls.
Sun: Duke (plus 8) vs. Arizona State — The Blue Devils (9-3) are capable, having beaten Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia. But their late-season meltdown against North Carolina is puzzling. Duke allows 196 yards a game on the ground, so look for ASU to pound it with D.J. Foster and Co. For ASU (9-3), it’s a chance for Taylor Kelly, who had a rough finish to the season after his foot injury, to re-establish that he’s one of the better quarterbacks in a bumper year for the Pac-12. Psychology? Duke hasn’t won a bowl since the 1960 Cotton, and was denied in near-miss fashion the past two years, so it figures to go all-out, while ASU might be going to school on the fact it laid an egg last year against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. My gut is that Duke hangs in in a shootout. Arizona State 43, Duke 37.
Holiday: Nebraska (plus 6.5) vs. USC — The Huskers are 9-3 and USC 8-4, with the Trojans believing they could have had so much more, with hairline losses to Arizona State and Utah. Since the regular season ended, Nebraska has had all sorts of distractions, with Bo Pelini’s firing, Mike Riley’s hire and then Pelini’s off-color, scathing rant against his athletic director that came to light recently. Can’t think any of that is especially good for Nebraska, which will be coached by Pelini aide Barney Cotton in the bowl. My guess is, USC tries to use this as a prelude to what it feels might be a big year in 2015. The Trojans, however, must put the shackles on Nebraska’s talented back, Ameer Abdullah (1,523 yards, 18 TDs). They’ll sell out to do that and not overly worry about Tommy Armstrong’s 52-percent completion percentage. USC 40, Nebraska 21.
Bowl record — 1-0. Against the spread — 1-0.