Before we dive into the details, three storylines worthy of discussion and monitoring:
1) The carousel spins.
Of the nine teams in the postseason, two have fired their head coaches and two more could have vacancies:
Washington State: Will Mike Leach leave?Oregon: Whither Willie Taggart?UCLA: Jedd Fisch in charge with Chip Kelly looming.Arizona State: Lame duck Todd Graham will coach the bowl game.
Change at the top always adds a dynamic to the equation, elevating the level of unpredictability.
Some teams rise up; some tank.
We should be prepared for both from the Pac-12.
2) Falling behind its peers.
Commissioner Larry Scott said last week that he judged the health of the conferences football product by the quality of its depth, not the quantity of elite teams.
The Pac-12 is lagging in the latter, based on the best indicator.
In four years of the new postseason system, the conference has a total of seven bids to the College Football Playoff and New Years Six games.
2014: Oregon (CFP) and Arizona (NY6)2015: Stanford (NY6)2016: Washington (CFP) and USC (NY6)2017: Washington (NY6) and USC (NY6)
How does that compare? Here you go
Big TenPlayoff: ThreeNon-playoff: NineTotal: 12
SECPlayoff: FiveNon-playoff: FiveTotal: 10
ACCPlayoff: FourNon-playoff: FourTotal: Eight
Pac-12Playoff: TwoNon-playoff: FiveTotal: Seven
Big 12Playoff: TwoNon-playoff: FourTotal: Six
3) Cleanup on aisle 17.
The Pac-12 bowl pairings include eight games against Power Five opponents, giving the conference a chance to sweep aside much of its regular season mess and build momentum for 2018.
As of now, the muck is an inch thick when taking into account the disappointing (and partly self-inflicted) performance on the field, the PR hits off the field with the lack of a playoff participant for the second time in four years.
A breakdown of the pairings:
*** Five games against higher-ranked teams:
No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio StateNo. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn StateNo. 18 Washington State vs. No. 16 Michigan StateNR Arizona State vs. No. 24 N.C. StateNR Oregon vs. No. 25 Boise State
*** Four games against the Big Ten:
USC-Ohio StateWashington-Penn StateWashington State-Michigan StateArizona-Purdue
*** Three games against the Big 12:
Stanford-TCUUtah-West VirginiaUCLA-Kansas State
*** Two brand-name games (both as underdog):
USC +6.5 vs. Ohio StateWashington +3 vs. Penn State
If somehow the Huskies and Trojans managed to win
Drilling down to the matchups themselves:
Best game: USC-Ohio State. Easy call. The programs have combined for 13 national championships and 14 Heisman Trophy winners and\ havent dueled in the postseason since the 1985 Rose Bowl. The most attractive of all the non-playoff matchups, by far.
Best matchup I: Saquon Barkley vs. the Washington defense. The Penn State tailback hasnt produced Bryce Love-esque stats, but hes every bit Loves equal as a running back. Meanwhile, the Huskies are No. 1 in the nation in run defense (93 ypg).
Best matchup II: Bryce Love vs. the TCU defense. The Stanford tailback should have a healthy ankle when he takes on the Horned Frogs, who are No. 4 nationally against the run (99.9 ypg).
Worst matchup in theory: Arizona vs. Purdue. Not exactly a duel of traditional powers in the Foster Farms Bowl, but anything with Khalil Tate is worth watching. Would be a heck of a basketball matchup. (Oops, already happened. Purdue won by 25.)
Worst matchup in actuality: Oregon vs. Boise State. The Ducks are a top-15/20 team with Justin Herbert. The Broncos are ranked No. 25 but not that good. Expecting Oregon the steamroller BSU, with or without Taggart in charge.
Take the under: Stanford vs. TCU. Havent seen the betting info yet, but this figures to be close and low-scoring: Well-coached teams that dont beat themselves and are content grinding it out.
Best bowl coach: Utahs Kyle Whittingham. The Utes stammered and stumbled through the regular season, but now its Whittingham Time: His 10-1 record in bowl games is the best of any coach in college football history (with at least 10 games). Good chance he gets No. 11. West Virginia could be without starting QB Will Grier.
Best bowl player (opponent): North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb. Apologies to Barkley, but Chubb has been a singular force this season as an edge pass rusher. He leads all Power Five linemen with 25 tackles-for-loss. Arizona State had best be on its game, unless Chubb pulls a McCaffrey and doesnt play.
Best bowl player: USC QB Sam Darnold. Until we see otherwise, from anyone, anywhere, Darnolds Rose Bowl masterpiece makes him the best postseason performer in the conference, if not the country.
Best bet: Washington State. Not sure what the point spread will be for the Holiday Bowl date with Michigan State, but the Hotline is prepared to bet the college fund that the Cougars wont score 12 points again this year. They might score 11, but not 12. No chance. (Youre welcome.)
Worst overlap: Alamo and Holiday bowls. Yep, more schedule woes for the conference: The No. 2 and No. 3 bowls in its contracted lineup kick at the same time on the same night (Dec. 28), thereby undercutting two prime exposure opportunities. Yes, this is a seven-party issue involving two bowls, three conferences and two TV networks, but it sure seems like more evidence for the creation of a governing body to oversee all football matters. Stuff and thats the PG term happens to the Pac-12 that simply doesnt happen to other conferences.
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