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December 11, 2012

Ranking the PAC 12 Bowl Games

College football bowl season officially gets underway on December 15 when the first of 35 bowl games kicks off on ESPN. The Pac-12 conference has eight teams heading to bowl games. How do the games rank in order of appeal? Glad you asked.

1. Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v. Kansas State (January 3 in Glendale, Ariz.): Less than a month ago, the Ducks and Wildcats were nicely positioned to meet in the BCS national championship game had they kept winning. But they couldn't hang on and fell short of the ultimate prize. The Fightin' Phil Knights were upended at Autzen Stadium by Stanford in overtime, while simultaneously, Kansas State was whacked at Baylor.

As a result, the national championship dreams of both teams died on the vine. But this remains an eye-catching game. The quarterback battle between Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Kansas State's Collin Klein (no, not Calvin Klein) should be a doozy.

The tough K-State has been solid against the run all season (16th nationally, 119.2 yards per game), but they'll be sorely tested by arguably the quickest rushing attack in the country (323.3 ypg) and certainly one of the most prolific. More drama: Will this game be Chip Kelly's last as head coach of the Ducks? Intense speculation, which will only grow more forceful in January after the game is over, already suggests he will accept a NFL job this offseason. Then again, couldn't NFL adversaries just watch the Stanford film to get a clinic on how to stop Oregon's high-powered offense, and shouldn't NFL defenses possess even better athletes than the Cardinal? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. Alamo Bowl - Oregon State v. Texas (December 29 in San Antonio, Tex.): Even though the Beavers have a better overall record than the Longhorns, this matchup screams 'David v. Goliath' and that's how the game will be marketed by TV executives and bowl folks alike.

For many people, Oregon State is seen as the little team that could, forgetting the Beavers have extremely talented players on both sides of the ball. Texas, meanwhile, is the underachieving B.M.O.C. that nonetheless always seems to find a way to attract the best looking girls based on appearances alone.

Oregon State's chances of prevailing inched up on Thursday when it was revealed guard Trey Hopkins, one of Texas' best offensive linemen, will miss the game because of a stress fracture in his right lower leg.

Much like the Fiesta Bowl, a sideshow to the Alamo Bowl is the future of Texas head coach Mack Brown, who was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the Texas president earlier this week. Brown, who received a four year contract extension last year, is signed through 2020 and 'earns' $5.3 million per year despite being little more than a CEO these days. If Oregon State wins, the howling in the Lone Star State won't just belong to the prairie animals.

3. New Mexico Bowl - Nevada v. Arizona (December 15 in Albuquerque, N.M.):b Admit it, you didn't know that the New Mexico Bowl existed. But this year, you should pay attention because it should be a wildly entertaining game.

The Wolfpack and Wildcats have prolific offenses and terrible defenses. 50-49? Oh, yeah. Nevada is seventh nationally in rushing offense, 11th in total offense and 86th in total defense. Arizona is 15th is rushing offense, seventh in total offense and 116th in total defense. Tackling will be an afterthought in Albuquerque. You know Nevada craves the opportunity to knock off a Pac-12 team. Rich Rodriguez wants to conclude his first season in Tucson on a positive note. Should be fun.

4. Rose Bowl - Stanford v. Wisconsin (January 1 in Pasadena, Calif.): Most years, the 'Granddaddy of Them All' is high on the list of best bowl games. But not this year. Five-loss teams like Wisconsin don't belong in the Rose Bowl, but the Badgers benefited from divisional rivals Ohio State and Penn State being handcuffed by bowl bans.

Obviously, former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema wasn't exactly caught up in the emotion since he bolted for Arkansas within days after the Badgers blasted tepid Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game. Maybe he's allergic to flowers.

Stanford is here because they picked a good time to play their best defensive game of the season in the upset win at Oregon. Ironically, the Cardinal (No. 6) is two spots behind the Ducks (4) in the latest BCS standings. David Shaw is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Stanford will win, but it won't be pretty.

5. Holiday - UCLA v. Baylor (December 27 in San Diego): If RGIII was still the quarterback for Baylor, this matchup would be higher in the list. But he's now in the NFL toiling for the Washington Redskins. As a result, Baylor took a step back this season with a 7-5 record even though they have the nation's top offense (578.8 yards per game) under coach Art Briles.

Unfortunately, the Bears don't scare anybody on defense (119th in nation), so the UCLA should be able to tally enough points with the 20th best offense (474.5 yards per game) in the land to win the game. But it might take 40 points or more to get the job done. Plenty of Bruin fans should be on hand because the stadium isn't far from the UCLA campus. Expect a high-scoring game, but with Baylor outside the Top 25, will it matter?

6. Las Vegas - Washington v. Boise State (December 22 in Las Vegas): Are the Huskies the closest Pac-12 team to the lunatic fringe? Another important question - does any team that blows an 18-point fourth-quarter lead to Washington State deserve to play in a bowl game even after beating Stanford and Oregon State earlier in the season?

Steve Sarkisian faces mounting pressure at UDub to deliver wins, especially with the new Husky Stadium debuting in 2013. We haven't heard much from Boise State because they lost the season opener at Michigan State, effectively shutting them out of the national championship race after Week 1.

But the Broncos rebounded with 10 wins in their last 11 games and quietly stand at No. 19 in the BCS rankings. Another reason this bowl isn't all that great - these two teams square off in Seattle in the 2013 season opener, so the bowl serves as little more than a preview for next season, a prequel if you will.

7. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - Arizona State v. Navy (December 29 in San Francisco) : Uh oh. The Sun Devils don't match up well with the Midshipmen because they've struggled to stop the run all season, ranking 76th in the country in rushing defense (172 yards per game).

Navy, meanwhile, is all about operating the triple option with flawless precision and they rarely throw the football. Thus, they put an incredible amount of pressure on defenses and force them to play with inordinate discipline.

Most teams have trouble handling it.

Navy is sixth nationally in rushing offense (285.5 yards per game). So, the fact the Sun Devils possess the top passing defense in the Pac-12 is meaningless. It should be a struggle from start to finish for Arizona State. This bowl game is aptly titled because when it's mercifully over Sun Devil fans will be hungry for some run defense.

8. Sun - Southern Cal v. Georgia Tech (December 31 in El Paso, Tex.): So, we're all being forced against our will to watch a potentially unmotivated Trojans team take on an under .500 Georgia Tech in a West Texas outpost where few fans look forward to traveling to.

By my count, three strikes and you're out.

It's doubtful USC quarterback Matt Barkley envisioned this when he decided to come back for his senior season. How bad has it become in Los Angeles as Barkley's NFL Draft stock plummets faster than that daredevil who skydived 128,000 feet (more than 24 miles) to the Earth's surface in October?

The Trojans quarterback questioned Lane Kiffin's play-calling on a national radio show this week, contending they focused too much on Marqise Lee and not enough on other offensive weapons. Kiffin, of course, disagreed. All of a sudden, an episode of 'Family Feud' has broken out in LA.

Who are the Trojans facing?

Just a disappointing Georgia Tech team that needed a waiver from the NCAA to appear in a bowl game because they're 6-7 after losing to Florida State in the ACC Championship game. And the only reason they faced the Seminoles is because Miami begged out in order to potentially soften the blow from looming NCAA sanctions.

How many Yellow Jacket fans will show up in El Paso? Nevada sold about 10 tickets through the school to the 2011 Hawaii Bowl. Georgia Tech will sell more than that, but I'll set the over/under at 50.



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