Pac-12 Football: One Reason Every Team Can Win Its Bowl Game

Jeff Poirier@@JJPoirCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2012

Pac-12 Football: One Reason Every Team Can Win Its Bowl Game

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    The Pac-12 Conference finished the 2012 college football regular season with eight bowl-eligible teams, including two BCS participants in Oregon and Stanford.

    In the majority of the postseason matchups, the Pac-12 squad is the favorite—with the exceptions of Washington's underdog status versus Boise State and the even line for UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.

    As a result, the Pac-12 is expected to have a successful bowl season overall, as every team has a legitimate shot to win its bowl game.

    The Arizona Wildcats got things started off right for the Conference of Champions, using a ridiculous fourth-quarter comeback to shock the Nevada Wolf Pack in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

    Led by senior QB Matt Scott, Arizona came storming back from a 17-point deficit in the last frame, scoring two touchdowns in the final 46 seconds to upend Nevada, 49-48.

    Scott was far from perfect, tossing two INTs in Albuquerque, but he made the necessary plays down the stretch to carry his team to victory.

    The win gave Arizona its first bowl triumph since 2008 and the Pac-12 an early 1-0 record in the postseason.

    Can the rest of the conference follow the Wildcats' lead and keep the Pac-12 record unblemished?

    Here's a look at each bowl matchup and the one reason to believe that every Pac-12 team can win its game.

Washington Huskies

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    After finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record, the Washington Huskies were matched up with No. 19 Boise State in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.

    The showdown in Sin City is slated for this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and figures to be the most difficult test for the Pac-12 Conference.

    The Huskies enter the Las Vegas Bowl as five-point underdogs, most likely a result of the Broncos' punishing defense, which ranks No. 6 in the nation in points against.

    Given neither team boasts a very potent offense, this matchup could turn into a defensive struggle.

    UW's offense is ranked No. 90 in scoring, No. 92 in rushing and No. 87 in passing: ugly statistics that don't bode well for the Huskies' chances against Boise State.

    But if Washington is going to pull the upset and knock off the Broncos, the key will be defense, where the Huskies have been drastically improved in 2012.

    The UW defense currently ranks a respectable No. 37 in the country in scoring, allowing 23.8 points per contest, as well as No. 16 against the pass.

    Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox came to Seattle from Boise State in January, so he provides a valuable source of insider knowledge that could lead the Huskies to victory.

    If Wilcox and the UW defense can keep it close in the fourth quarter, the Washington offense will have a chance to make a play and bring home the W for the purple and gold. 

UCLA Bruins

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    While the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas is gearing up to be a defensive battle, the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl is going to be quite the opposite.

    The UCLA Bruins and Baylor Bears, two teams with explosive offenses and inconsistent defenses, are set to clash in San Diego on Thursday, December 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET.

    UCLA enters the matchup ranked No. 17 in the BCS Standings after narrowly missing the Rose Bowl, while Baylor finished the season fifth in the Big 12 with a 7-5 record.

    The key to victory for both teams is offense, as the Bruins and Bears rank No. 29 and No. 5 in scoring, respectively.

    If UCLA is going to erase the bad memories of consecutive losses to Stanford and finish 2012 on a high note, senior RB Johnathan Franklin will need to have a monster day.

    Franklin, a Doak Walker Award finalist, has rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 TDs this season, a high level of productivity that should continue against Baylor's No. 89 run defense.

    Freshman QB Brett Hundley also appears to be primed for a big outing, as the Bears rank No. 118 in passing defense and No. 119 in total defense.

    As long as the UCLA defense can find a way to bottle up the Baylor passing game, UCLA's potent offensive attack should carry the Bruins to victory.

    Beating Baylor in the Holiday Bowl would mark the first postseason win for UCLA since 2009 and the first 10-win season in Westwood since 2005. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Arizona State ended the season with a thrilling victory over in-state rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup, earning the Sun Devils a spot in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

    Lining up opposite ASU in San Francisco on December 29 at 4:00 p.m. ET is Navy, a football independent that finished the year by winning seven of its last eight games.

    The Midshipmen employ a heavily run-favored offense that ranks No. 6 in rushing and No. 121 in passing.

    The Sun Devils' defense will have its work cut out stopping the Navy ground game, but the Arizona State offense should be able to move the ball.

    Led by first-year starting QB Taylor Kelly, ASU has been efficient and balanced on offense, ranking No. 21 in scoring with 36.4 points per game.

    The Mid's defense has shown flashes, ranking No. 31 in points against, but a No. 78 ranking versus the rush is troublesome. RBs Marion Grice and Cameron Marshall should be able to gash the Navy front seven for big gains, opening up the passing game for Kelly and TE Chris Coyle.

    If All-American DT Will Sutton and the Arizona State defense can corral the Midshipmen's triple-option attack, the Sun Devils offense will be sending Bill the Goat home unhappy.

Oregon State Beavers

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    As No. 13 Oregon State prepares to face the No. 23 Texas Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, the Beavers' advantage is pretty obvious. OSU ranks No. 38 in the nation in scoring, while the Texas defense sits No. 73 in points against.

    Led by WRs Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, the Beavers boast the No. 15 passing offense in the country, averaging 316.5 yards per contest.

    The Longhorns pass defense is significantly better than their rushing defense, but OSU should be able to move the chains either way.

    The Beavs' defense ranks No. 22 nationally in scoring, allowing just under 20 points per game, but the biggest reason to buy into Oregon State is the offense.

    The quarterback situation is still unclear for the Beavers, as Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz alternated quarters in OSU's season-finale win over Nicholls State, but that shouldn't be an issue.

    Mannion and Vaz have both shown an incredible ability to distribute the ball, and either should be able to carve up the Texas defense.

    If RB Storm Woods can get himself going against the Horns' No. 100 ranked rushing defense to bolster the vertical effort, it will be a very long day for those donning the burnt orange in San Antonio.

USC Trojans

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    In perhaps the most unexpected bowl pairing of 2012, the USC Trojans and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are set to do battle in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve.

    Southern Cal enters the game after taking consecutive losses to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, so you can count on the Trojans being fired up to finish the year off right.

    Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets (6-7) needed a waiver from the NCAA to compete in the Sun Bowl after suffering their seventh loss in the ACC Championship Game.

    Starting QB Matt Barkley is expected to return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him versus the Irish, which should be the deciding factor in this matchup.

    The connection between Barkley and Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee has been electric all season, as Lee has piled up 1,680 yards receiving and 14 TDs.

    Needless to say, that explosive duo should fare well against a Georgia Tech defense that ranks No. 79 in points against, allowing close to 30 points per game.

    Barkley will be looking to end his USC career with a decisive victory in El Paso, hoping to propel himself back into the first-round conversation for the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Unless the Trojans defense crumbles against Tech's No. 4-ranked rushing attack, Barkley and Co. should have no trouble offing the Jackets and improving to 8-5.

Stanford Cardinal

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    The No. 6 Stanford Cardinal earned its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1999-2000 season by outlasting the UCLA Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game, 27-24.

    The key to Stanford's success has been defense, as the Cardinal ranks No. 3 in the nation against the run and No. 14 in points against.

    The Stanford offense has been much improved since freshman QB Kevin Hogan took the reins in early November, but defense is still the Card's calling card.

    Stanford's opponent in The Granddaddy of Them All is Wisconsin, an 8-5 squad that stole a ticket to Pasadena by stunning Nebraska in the B1G title game, 70-31.

    Unfortunately for the Badger faithful that make the trek to the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin will be hard-pressed to move the ball against the Cardinal.

    The Badgers rank No. 12 in rushing on the back of Doak Walker winner Montee Ball, but they have absolutely zero vertical threat, ranking No. 115 in passing yards.

    The Stanford defense, led by LBs Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley and Chase Thomas, is far too talented to be fooled by such a one-dimensional attack.

    Unless interim head coach Barry Alvarez has some mind-blowing tricks up his sleeve, Wisconsin is destined for a third-consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon Ducks

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    Had it not been for a heart-breaking overtime loss to Stanford, the Oregon Ducks might be playing for the BCS National Championship Game.

    Instead, the No. 4 Ducks will travel to Glendale, Arizona to face the No. 5 Kansas State Wildcats in a highly anticipated Fiesta Bowl matchup.

    Both teams boast highly-potent offenses, as Oregon ranks second in the nation in scoring, while KSU ranks No. 10 with Heisman finalist Collin Klein under center.

    The Wildcats have been strong defensively this year as well, ranking No. 24 in points against, but every team is bound to struggle against Chip Kelly's insanely up-tempo offense.

    Other than the Cardinal, no team has held Oregon's offense to fewer than 42 points, mostly due to the three-pronged attack of Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas.

    The key for the Ducks in this game will be to spread the KSU defense out, opening up running lanes for the backs and getting one-on-one coverage for leading receiver Josh Huff.

    The Oregon defense will certainly have a tough task containing Optimus Klein and the Wildcats offense. But, ultimately, an offensive slugfest favors the Ducks' unstoppable running game.

    Look for the Ducks to cap the season on a high note, winning a second consecutive BCS bowl game and improving to 12-1 on the year.