Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for the Pac-12 Bowl Games Before Christmas
More than a quarter of the 35 bowl games this postseason feature teams from the Pac-12. That's because the conference qualified a record nine teams this year, and the action starts early. The season's first two games feature Pac-12 teams.
Washington State kicks off the New Mexico Bowl early Saturday, and USC plays in the Las Vegas Bowl shortly thereafter. Oregon State spends its Christmas Eve in the Hawaii Bowl a few days later.
These first three games will set the tone for an important postseason in the Pac-12. The conference has an opportunity to make a statement nationally, with eight of its nine bowl teams tabbed as favorites.
All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Regular Season: 75-16 (52-39 against the spread)
New Mexico Bowl: Washington State (-4) vs. Colorado State
Saturday, Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET
Washington State's first bowl appearance in 10 years could realistically go in two ways: The Cougars become deer-in-headlights playing in their first postseason game and Colorado State standout running back Kapri Bibbs pounds the ball on them early and often.
The second and more plausible scenario is a decade of bowl-less frustration is exorcised on Colorado State via Mike Leach's potent passing offense.
Rams head coach Jim McElwain employs a balanced offense, which has produced a 3,327-yard passer in quarterback Garrett Grayson, and a 1,572-yard rusher in Bibbs. Bibbs also leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with an astounding 28.
While Bibbs poses a significant challenge to coordinator Mike Breske's defense, Washington State's pass-happy offense should have a field day on the opposite end. The Rams rank No. 111 nationally against the pass with 265.4 yards surrendered per game. That bodes well for an air-raid offense that called for quarterback Connor Halliday to throw 656 times, most in college football.
One reason for Colorado State's futility against the pass is its inability to generate interceptions. The Rams have just nine in 13 games. Washington State's offense is best contained when Halliday is forced into turnovers. While linebacker and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Shaquil Barrett can bring plenty of pressure—he has 12 sacks on the year—it won't be enough to rattle Halliday, who should have a big performance in the Cougars' return to the postseason.
Prediction: Washington State 42, Colorado State 24
Las Vegas Bowl: USC (-7) vs. Fresno State
Saturday, Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET
One of the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season pits the thin-on-numbers but big-on-heart USC Trojans against the one-time BCS-buster Fresno Bulldogs. Vegas has its favorite—USC—but it's difficult to tab either as the underdog.
Aside from playing with a ridiculously undermanned roster, the Trojans are playing for their third head coach this season in interim Clay Helton.
Fresno State senior Derek Carr could be the best quarterback the Trojans face. In a season USC was opposite Keith Price, Sean Mannion, Taylor Kelly and Brett Hundley, that's saying something. Combine his prolific passing with sophomore Davante Adams, one of the most productive wide receivers in the nation, and the Bulldogs will test the weakest portion of USC's defense, its secondary.
The onus is on USC's outstanding front seven to neutralize the Bulldogs' uptempo offense as much as possible and force Carr into uncharacteristic mistakes. Maximizing its offensive opportunities is paramount for the USC offense, and sophomore running back Buck Allen will be alone in the spotlight with running mates Silas Redd and Tre Madden likely sidelined.
Fresno State should score some points and put a scare into the Trojans, but injury-and-sanction-depleted USC has just enough to survive a close one.
Prediction: USC 31, Fresno State 28
Hawaii Bowl: Oregon State vs. Boise State
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET
Intangible forces abound in the Christmas Eve tradition that is the Hawaii Bowl. It's momentum—or lack thereof in the case of Oregon State—vs. continuity and the lack thereof for Boise State.
Oregon State stumbled to a five-game losing skid to conclude the 2013 regular season, while Boise State said goodbye to its head coach of the last eight seasons, Chris Petersen.
Boise State fans should take comfort from Adam Kramer's eye-opening examination into the impact of interim coaches, which says—SPOILER—impact is negligible.
Broncos interim head coach Bob Gregory told The Idaho Press-Tribune he's tried to keep the regimen consistent, and one constant for Boise State is defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. His ability to get to Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is crucial for the Broncos slowing the Beavers' passing attack.
Mannion struggled with interceptions down the stretch, not coincidentally as the Beavers faced some of the nation's top sacking defenses in USC, Washington and Stanford.
Even as Oregon State's overall numbers dipped, wide receiver Brandin Cooks remained highly productive. The Biletnikoff Award winner's lowest total in the losing streak was 80 yards, and he caught three touchdowns in that span. If Boise State cornerbacks cannot contain him off the line, Mannion's ability to get quick passes to Cooks will spell trouble for the Broncos.
This tidbit falls into the meaningless intangible category, but it is worth noting that the favorite is 2-5 in the Hawaii Bowl since 2006, including Boise State's loss to East Carolina in 2007.
Prediction: Oregon State 35, Boise State 28