After a cold windy night in Las Vegas, and an unimpressive Oregon St. performance against a motivated BYU unit, the Mt. West went to two and oh over the Pac-10, and three for three against the west coast, when Utah romped past Cal 37-27, in San Diego in a Poinsettia Bowl game that wasn't nearly that close.
Coupled with Wyoming's 35-28 overtime win over Fresno St., the Mt. West conference has at least laid the foundation for a push to become an additional BCS conference. Talk of replacing any of the existing six is silliness, because almost all of the markets in each of the existing conferences are larger than even the biggest the Mt. West can bring. But when (not if) Jerry Jones, and more importantly, Jerry Jones' dollars, gets the Cotton Bowl relocated to Cowboys' Stadium, and elevated to be the sixth BCS bowl, the logical step will be to expand the at large pool by only one, and add an additional guaranteed berth.
If you think that's far-fetched, remember, TCU, a Mt. West team, is from just down the street in Ft. Worth. And BYU has already been a part of the series of auditions for such a spectacular. Jones has his detractors as a football personnel man, but he has few peers at the business of football productions. And the Mt. West and their top teams know it.
Back to the matters of the moment, if Oregon St.'s effort had Beaver Believers (and beat writers) in a state of confusion, imagine the mindset in Berzerkley, not to mention buildingthedam's peers at californiagoldenblogs.com.
The Golden Bears were thinking big things again after their impressive 34-28 win at Stanford in the first "Big Game" in several years that was actually of fair sized importance. But their two game win streak was fool's gold, with losses to the Washington Huskies and Utah that were undeniably ugly. I was expecting to see a tarnishedgold.com writer feeding himself to the seals after Wednesday night.
Earlier three game winning streaks had hopes high, just as the Cal's impressive wins over Arizona and the Cardinal did again. But when the Bears went against the big name programs this year, they were beaten, and beaten badly. I'm including once, and maybe soon enough again, Washington here as well, based on where they are headed, and what the somewhat casual, but TV viewing, fan is watching.
Against Rose-Bowl bound Oregon, USC, Oregon St., Washington, and then Utah, the Bears weren't even good circus Bears, losing by an average of 25 points. A lack of overall speed, especially in the middle of the field, and an over-reliance on a few stars, worked against teams that were out-manned, or a little short on quickness (No one fears Stanford first for speed).
But a few stars, like Syd'Quan Thompson and Shane Vereen in relief of Jahvid Best, can and were controlled or avoided by teams with speed and depth. Wondering whether Jeff Tedford can still coach won't matter until it is determined whether he can recruit at a higher level.
The Pac-10 bowl trail then lead back north, to AT&T park in San Francisco, for the Emerald Bowl. With off-filed events eliminating several USC players, the question about commitment to the first-week bowls by the Trojans, and the whole conference, was valid. After all, Middle Tennessee, Wyoming, and even Ohio University (not the State one) in a loss had looked better than Pac-10 teams.
Fortunately for Pac-10 revenue sharing, Pete Carroll and a lot of the Trojans took Boston College seriously, and on a cold wet night in a muddy baseball park, put on a solid, if not vintage, performance. One that probably sends Damian Williams off to the NFL early, riding a 12 catch, 189 yard evening that probably tipped the decision toward next-level dollars.
But the game was also a performance that proves one of Carroll's primary recruiting lines, that if you stay the course, your turn shall come. Of all the blue chip players the Trojans have had on the field in the last four years, senior fullback Stanley Havili hasn't been one of the primary concerns of many (any?) opponents. This reporter, I must confess, can't recall him from any of the several USC games I've seen during his stay. He didn't even play against Oregon St. earlier this season.
Three touchdowns later, not Havili, or his mother, nor Boston College, will forget Boxing Day evening in San Francisco.
The game was also evidence that the Trojan's freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has now climbed over the wall he ran into late in the season, when USC lost three of five games. Barkley completed 27 of 37 passes for 350 yards, and two touchdowns.
Yes, he also served up a pair of picks, and the still young USC defense over- or under-pursued several times. But experience is what a lot of Carroll's players, and his coordinators, lacked this season, and the lack thereof diminishes with each game the Trojans are challenged in. Carroll was probably happier with the 24-13 win than he would have been with a walkover.
The Emerald bowl looked like so much of a better start to the 2010 season than anything to do with Las Vegas did.
So why the slow start for the Pac-10, which swept bowl season last year?
It appears that too many on too many levels listened too much to the message that the Pac-10 was the deepest conference, and second best (to the SEC) overall.
The Mt. West, and those afore mentioned mid-majors, have, by contrast, been repeatedly reminded that they are not on the same level as the "majors", and that they need to show up and prove their worth. So they did.
Oregon St. didn't even use all their allotted practices. Even if you don't want to bang up your players, does anyone think a talk-and-walk-thru about adjustments to the wind wouldn't have helped?
Cal can't consider contending until they actually compete every week. Beating ‘Furd wasn't and shouldn't ever be the ultimate goal of their year. But it was the last thing they bothered with this year.
Did both programs really think their athletes were good enough to just show up and get the win sans any emotion? Or an actual game plan?
The second week of bowl week starts for the Pac with the Eagle Bank Bowl in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, when the 6-6 UCLA Bruins battle the 9-3 Temple Owls (you remember them; they reneged on a trip west to play the Beavers in a return game after OSU went to Philly a few years back).
Played at rush hour locally, and in the middle of the afternoon on a work day for the west coast audience, this has a chance to be the bowl played before the smallest audience, both in the stadium, and on ESPN, of the season. I suspect (and hope) UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel won't have a problem getting the Bruins interested though.
By no means is this a "destination" bowl for the Westwood crowd. But when you are coming off consecutive losing seasons, and haven't won a postseason game since the 2005 Sun Bowl, this becomes an important stepping-stone bowl.
Next up is the Holiday Bowl, back in San Diego Wednesday night. The Arizona Wildcats (8-4) take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4), who come in with the best defensive weapon in the land in Ndamukong Suh, from Oregon's own Grant High School in Portland.
This is the first Pac-10 bowl game that going in looks to the whole country like an interesting contest. Mt. West vs. Pac-10 isn't on the pre-Christmas radar for many east of the Rockies, and BC's best bet a continent away was for the Trojans to not show up. Coach Pete hasn't had back to back losses since the infamous four game losing streak in the first half of his first season in 2001, and there are a lot of reasons for that, so expectations for the Eagles weren't very high.
The key is whether the ‘Cats can claw out some scores, because there's not much reason to believe the Huskers will be able to run it up. As much as any game this season, the higher the score goes, the more the outcome is likely to favor ‘Zona.
The Stanford Cardinal (8-4) take on the Oklahoma Sooners (7-5) Thursday in El Paso in the Sun Bowl, and this should have been the Pac-10's opportunity for consecutive wins against the Big XII, especially against a Sooner squad that is well below standards in Norman.
Now that we are unsure if the Pac-other 9 is ready for the big time, pending the outcome in San Diego, the news that Cardinal freshman quarterback Andrew Luck is a question mark (or less) with a broken finger, makes this first bowl game since the 2001 Seattle Bowl for Stanford a huge game for the conference. The prospect of the Big XII being able to assert some degree of dominance over the Pac-10, even, or especially, with what they will acknowledge as less than their best if they do win, would be very damaging when heaped upon the dual defeats to the Mt. West.
Pac-10 bowl week two wraps up with the Rose Bowl on New Years' Day, when the eighth ranked Ohio St. Buckeyes (10-2) take on the seventh ranked Oregon Ducks (10-2). Since the Buckeyes haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1997, and lost their last three bowl games for Coach Jim Tressel, and the Ducks were last in the Rose Bowl in 1995, and lost that one 38-20, neither team is going to be dis-interested.
With ten bowl games still to follow, featuring all ten of the other conferences (thanks to the terrible bowl sequence the conference has), and if the second week of bowl season doesn't see a (much) more spirited and successful effort that the first week did, a very good showing by the Ducks might be massively important for the Pac-10.
Else there will be no such problem next year of the conference being overconfident, or, apparently, over-promoted.