Bowl season is time for the Pac-12 to match its hype off the field with its play on it.
Media pundits and conference commissioner Larry Scott have touted the 2013 season as a new milestone in the strength and success of the Pac-12. A record nine bowl teams and the best non-conference record of any league support those assertions, but a sub-.500 bowl record can quickly erode most accolades.
Pac-12 bowl results have been ho-hum in recent years. The league went 4-4 in 2012 and 2-2 in 2010, the very definition of so-so, with a 4-3 finish sandwiched in between. Last year's .500 bowl finish included an underwhelming 2-3 mark against BCS conference competition.
|Team (Final Record)||Bowl Game||Opponent (Record)||Result|
|Arizona (8-5)||New Mexico||Nevada (7-6)||W, 49-48|
|Arizona State (8-5)||Fight Hunger||Navy (8-5)||W, 62-28|
|Oregon (12-1)||Fiesta||Kansas State (11-2)||W, 35-17|
|Oregon State (9-4)||Alamo||Texas (9-4)||L, 31-27|
|Stanford (12-2)||Rose||Wisconsin (8-6)||W, 20-14|
|UCLA (9-5)||Holiday||Baylor (8-5)||L, 49-26|
|USC (7-6)||Sun||Georgia Tech (7-7)||L, 21-7|
|Washington (7-6)||Las Vegas||Boise State (11-2)||L, 28-26|
The last time the conference had as much all-around parity as this season was 2009, the first season after USC's seven-year reign of dominance. The 2009 campaign may have been a fascinating follow, but its bowl season was a dismal 2-5, without a win in any of the conference's higher-profile games.
|Oregon||Rose||Ohio State||L, 26-17|
|Oregon State||Las Vegas||BYU||L, 44-20|
|USC||Emerald||Boston College||W, 24-13|
This year's Pac-12 bowl slate looks promising. Eight of the nine bowl participants are favorites, according to VegasInsider.com. Of those eight, six in particular can define the conference's identity with their postseason play.
As the conference's flagship bowl game, the Rose Bowl is the must-win affair. This year's installment is especially noteworthy: It's the 100th edition; the Pac-12 is undefeated against the Big Ten in it since 2000, save Oregon's loss during the awful 2009 postseason; and it's the last of the BCS era.
The Rose Bowl is also the most intriguing of the Pac-12's postseason matchups. No. 4 Michigan State is ranked just ahead of No. 5 Stanford in the BCS polls, and the two mirror each other in their structural makeup, as Michael Felder examined.
USC and UCLA both come into their bowl games with nine wins, one more notch in the W-column away from that all-important double-digit mark. Clay Helton, who was tabbed to guide USC in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl as interim head coach, touted the significance of a 10-win season.
Clay Helton: "That number of 10 [wins] is a big number. It would be a dramatic statement for them to finish the season off the right way."— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) December 11, 2013
Ten wins means plenty to UCLA, as well. The Bruins haven't had a 10-win campaign since 2005.
The Los Angeles-based programs can give the Pac-12 five double-digit game winners, easily an all-time best for the conference, which has produced three 10-plus game winners in the past decade—2005, 2006 and 2011.
This year, three 11-game winners is very much in reach.
An Alamo Bowl defeat of 13-point underdog Texas gives Oregon its fourth consecutive 11-win season. For Arizona State, handling another 13-point underdog in Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl matches the Sun Devils' most wins since their run to the 1997 Rose Bowl.
Arizona is playing to match its program-best win total since 1998 when it faces Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but the Wildcats' postseason affair is almost as much about the profile of the conference's individual stars as it is for the Pac-12's team recognition.
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College's Andre Williams are both First Team Consensus All-Americans at running back, but Williams beat out Carey for the Doak Walker Award and a spot at the Heisman Trophy presentation.
"I don't know why Andre Williams is nominated over Ka'Deem Carey. He's the best RB in college football hands down." Jake Plummer RE: Heisman— Sports360AZ (@Sports360AZ) December 13, 2013
Heisman snubs such as Carey's attest to the uphill perception battle the Pac-12 is still fighting. A big game from Arizona's star and a Wildcats win can inch the respect needle ever so slightly in the Pac-12's favor.
Wins in these six bowl games promise the Pac-12 its highest postseason win total, a 5-0 record against BCS conference competition and the conference's strongest stake to the claim of this year's best overall league.