This is the best time of the collegiate football season. The bowl eligibility picture is clearing up but there is still plenty of room for speculation.
Three Pac-10 teams are bowl assured: Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. Four are fighting for six wins, which is the bench mark for bowl eligibility, and two are out of the running, USC due to sanctions and Washington State with a 2-9 record.
Let’s begins with the 10-0 Oregon Ducks. Does anybody not believe they will run the table and be in the BCS National Championship Game? The Cal 15-13 close call was clearly an anomaly, not a vulnerability. Consider the entire season, not one game.
Even though the annual Civil War Rivalry game with Oregon State is at Corvallis, and considering the fact most years one could throw out the stats and maybe see a monkey wrench thrown in Oregon’s National Championship aspirations, it will not occur this year. Oregon is just too deep, too talented and on a mission.
Their sped-up offense is fueled by a constant rotation of players. When the fourth-quarter begins, the opponent’s defense is exhausted and Oregon usually dominates.
Call me a Pac-10 homer, but I believe the 9-1 Stanford Cardinal to be the third best team in the nation: Boise State, Oregon and Stanford. Stanford’s 3-4 swarm defense is impressive, and is there a Pac-10 quarterback with better field vision and touch than Andrew Luck?
Reflecting on how the 17-13 victory over Arizona State brought his team unity and confidence, coach Jim Harbaugh said, “They feel good about each other now after that game, and the reason they do is they know they themselves and their teammates played like champions.”
Many thought it was all over for the 7-3 Arizona Wildcats when Quarterback Nick Foles went out with a knee injury and former starting QB Matt Scott took over. Matt Scott acquitted himself well, but Foles is back, and although losing a close one to USC, 24-21, he has Arizona playing like they deserve to be in a bowl game.
I believe Nick Foles is the best quarterback in the Pac-10. He reminds me of ex-Denver Bronco QB John Elway when he played at Stanford.
Washington needs to win its remaining three games to become bowl eligible. In their wins they beat a weak Syracuse team and then won two games by one point (USC and Oregon State). These one-point victories could have easily gone the other way, leaving Washington with a 1-8 record and landing them in the Pac-10 basement.
Hoping their team can produce a three game winning streak the Husky faithful are barking, “Can we? Will we? Is it possible?” Wake-up and don’t smell the coffee, get a dose of reality, its not going to happen! In their last three consecutive losses the Huskies were outscored by a combined total of, 138-30. True it was a gauntlet against the Pac-10’s elite: Arizona, Stanford and Oregon. However, the games were not close and the Stanford game was a 41-0 shut-out. No bowl game for Washington.
4-5, Oregon State needs to win two of its remaining three games to become bowl eligible . Their 31-14 home meltdown against Washington State is a prime example of overlooking a team, not bringing the ‘A’ game, and summarily getting thumped. This puts their backs against the wall and the wall is crumbling. I mentioned the three game gauntlet Washington faced, and Oregon State’s final three is no less of an ordeal: 7-3,USC who is playing the role of spoiler, powerful 9-1, Stanford, and the nation’s top-ranked team, 10-0, Oregon. Turn out the lights, play taps, its over. No bowl game for Oregon State.
5-5, California also needs a victory to become bowl eligible. This season has been a enigma for the Golden Bears-who is this team? They smash Colorado 52-7, UCLA 35-7, Arizona State 50-17 and have a close, 15-13 loss to the number one-ranked team, Oregon. They also get stomped by Nevada 52-31, USC 48-14 and Oregon State 35-7. Cal will not win its last game against Stanford. Ah, but they do have an ace in the hole, and sometimes it is better to be lucky than good! They have a home game against a Washington team who has only one road victory in three years. Coach Jeff Tedford has taken Cal to six straight bowls games, he will take them to their seventh.
4-5, UCLA needs to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible. Coach Rick Neuheisel left the Colorado and Washington programs in state of turmoil, looking for a rope and the nearest tree. Grumblings are now beginning to arise at his beloved alma mater where UCLA’s recent 35-7 road loss to Cal, and 35-0 home pasting by Stanford have been bitter pills to swallow by even the most loyal Bruins fan. The good news for coach Neuheisel is that since his tenure began in 2008 he has two consecutive wins against his next opponent the Washington Huskies. Quarterback Jake Locker might play but is nursing sore ribs, and his backup Keith Price doesn’t have much experience. The Bruins should be 5-5 facing a desperate Arizona State team on the road. This should be a loss and so everything will descend upon their rivalry game with USC. Although this is a home game for the Bruins, they are the inferior team. 5-7, UCLA does not become bowl eligible.
Arizona State needs to win its remaining games against UCLA and Arizona to become bowl eligible. Fourth-year coach Dennis Erickerson was brought to Tempe due to his impressive resume. He won National Championships with Miami and took other teams to bowl games.
He has got to be under a little scrutiny. He took the Sun Devils to the Holiday Bowl in 2007, losing to Texas 52-34, but since then has done nada. The lament of this season has been "the close ones." They lost to Wisconsin 20-19, Oregon State 31-28, USC 34-33 and his last game against Stanford, 17-13.
In addressing the impact these close losses have had, coach Erickerson said, “It's harder than getting beat badly.” Really? A 50-0 total thrashing where your team shows absolutely nothing is easier to take than near victories where you see competitiveness and great potential?
The Sun Devils get the victory over UCLA, which is a home game, then travel to Tucson where they lose to Arizona. The redeeming season for coach Erickerson and the Sun Devils is not going to happen. Arizona State does not go to a bowl.
This bowl critique is a mixture of fact and speculation, and of course upsets can and do happen, but as I see it the Pac-10 will be sending four teams to bowl games: Oregon goes to the National Championship Game, Stanford goes to the Rose Bowl, and Arizona and California go to bowls as well.