In losing 37-23 to Texas Tech, the Arizona State Sun Devils gave the Pac-12 its second loss of the bowl season. For a team that finished the season as Pac-12 South champions, boasting a 10-3 record and a No. 14 BCS ranking, the loss in the Holiday Bowl certainly was a major blemish to a conference that entered the game riding high.
For the Sun Devils and the Pac-12, it is more than just the loss that is the problem. Rather, it is the manner by which Todd Graham's team went about losing the game that creates the black eye for the league.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona State found a myriad of ways to help Texas Tech put points on the board. The Sun Devils gave up extended, methodical drives to the Red Raiders. Graham's team also gave up explosive plays for big scores.
Offensively, the Sun Devils could not get out of their own way. A team that was without Marion Grice, Arizona State showed sparks of success but was unable to sustain the positives and put together a legitimate threat.
Even with quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back D.J. Foster both going over 100 yards on the ground, building continuous success escaped Sparky.
Failure to consistently convert third downs was a big killer for Graham's team as the Sun Devils failed to pick up first downs in two-thirds of those situations, going 6-for-19.
For all of the bad that Arizona State exhibited in the ballgame, things were compounded by just how outstanding one of the Pac-12's top three teams made the middling Big 12 opponent look. A Texas Tech team with a first-year head coach, one of its big contributors at quarterback transferring and riding a five-game losing streak looked to be world beaters in San Diego.
Quarterback Davis Webb through for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Jace Amaro did what he's done all season—prove to be a matchup nightmare for the opposition. Kliff Kingsbury's team handled the blitz well, hit its spots in the passing game and carved up the Sun Devils defense.
Most confounding bowl tradition is how awful Pac-12 often seems to be in Holiday: Cal '04, Zona '09, UCLA '12, ASU this season— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) December 31, 2013
In the Pac-12, this is nothing new, as B/R Pac-12 lead writer Kyle Kensing pointed out, this has become a sort of tradition for the conference in San Diego. Thus, after a season where it seemed the Pac-12 truly improved and was pushing toward the top of the sport, Arizona State's loss leads to folks, such as Brian Ethridge of Bear Truth, pointing out that perhaps the league is overrated.
The past two years, 7-5 Big 12 teams have gone into the Holiday Bowl and dismantled a Pac 12 Division Champ. Can the love stop for the Pac?— Brian Ethridge (@TruthOrBear247) December 31, 2013
This was the Big 12's last hurrah in the Holiday Bowl. Next season, the game will host a Big Ten and Pac-12 matchup, as the Big 12 went out with a bang. Another 7-5, middling team takes down a ranked Pac-12 opponent as a parting gift.
On the Pac-12 side of things, this loss takes some wind out of the league's swelling sails. Heading into the playoff cycle, where conference perception will continue to play a critical role, bad losses are black eyes the league can ill afford.
With Arizona, UCLA and Stanford still set to play, the Pac-12 can end on a strong note, but a divisional champion being trounced by a less than stellar Texas Tech is not a good thing.
With the losses of players like Grice, Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, Arizona State will have some big shoes to fill in 2014. For the Pac-12, the rebuilding will have to come with getting wins to end the bowl season, something Arizona State failed to do in a big way.