After Washington’s 30-22 loss Friday night to Oklahoma State, the Pac-12 finishes 6-2 in the post-season. With a Washington win and a 7-1 record, I was ready to say you could make an argument this ranked with the best Pac-12 bowl seasons in history, but that’s not the case now.
It still might be second or third.
First, the bowl season isn’t necessarily a reflection of the strength of a conference, but this year, the Pac-12 post-season performance surely validated what everybody thought most of this season: That the Pac-12 was no worse than the second-best conference in the season.
(In that vein, can we dispose of the myth of the SEC West? I usually hesitate to attach too much of a league’s strength to its bowl season because of the varying motivations — or lack of — the fact some teams come to play and some don’t, some guys treat bowls as a vacation, some are looking to the pros, etc. But in this case, I’ll make an exception. Auburn gave up 400 yards rushing to Wisconsin, Alabama allowed 42 points to Ohio State, LSU couldn’t handle a Notre Dame team that everybody was beating like a drum in November, and the state of Mississippi gave up about 400 points in its two games on New Year’s Eve.)
The two best Pac-12/10/8 performances in history were 2008 and 1984.
In 2008, the league finished 5-0, its most wins of several occasions when it went undefeated in the post-season. USC, Cal, Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon were the victors, and the Pac-12 vanquished teams that were ranked No. 6, 13, 17 and 18.
In 1984, when there weren’t a lot of bowl games, the Pac-12 went 3-0. But what a three: USC beat Ohio State in the Rose, Washington beat No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange and UCLA beat Miami in the Fiesta. That was three major New Year’s Day bowls. For top-shelf quality, that’s unsurpassed.
And in 1989, the league went 4-0, but one of the wins was Oregon over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl, 27-24, when the Ducks were a 14.5-point favorite.
So I’d put this year’s 6-2 maybe about fourth in history. The league took down teams that were AP-ranked No. 2 (Florida State), No. 11 (Kansas State) and No. 25 (Nebraska).
A fast synopsis of each performance, in order:
Utah — Clocked a 10-win Colorado State team in the Las Vegas Bowl, 45-10. Quite impressive, capping a redemptive season by the Utes. But there’s staff turmoil, with both coordinators having moved on because of conflict with AD Chris Hill.
Arizona State — Outlasted Duke, 36-31, in the Sun. It was hardly a command performance, but Duke is resilient and, not having won a bowl since 1961, had plenty to play for.
USC — Held off Nebraska, 45-42, in a game reflective of the Trojans’ on-and-off season. They were fabulous at times and flawed in a lot of others, allowing the Huskers back into a game they led 45-27 late.
Stanford — Buried Maryland, 45-21, in the Foster Farms in one of the worst matchups of the bowl season. Maryland, in a word, was awful.
Arizona — Had Washington’s first-half disease for the first 10 minutes of a 38-30 loss to Boise State in the Fiesta. The Wildcats had a terrific 10-4 season, but they were far from complete, and QB Anu Solomon didn’t end well.
Oregon — What can you say that a record-setting 59-20 punchout of Florida State in the Rose Bowl didn’t scream? The Ducks looked shockingly quicker than the Seminoles, and when did Florida State look that way against anybody?
UCLA — It was more athletic than Kansas State in the Alamo in winning 40-35. Brett Hundley finished well and Paul Perkins got it done on the ground.
Washington — All things considered, the most forgettable of the Pac-12 bowl performances, given Oke State’s 6-6 record. By the time the Huskies shook themselves awake, it was too late.