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The Pac-10 Went 2-5 in Bowl Games in 2009: What Does That Mean for the Future?

AndyPanda and ConnorOSU also contributed to this post. 

After having several weeks to digest the Pac-10's abysmal showing in bowl games this season, it's time to revisit the issue. The conference was 2-5 in the football postseason, with only UCLA and USC winning their bowl games. Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford, and Cal all came up short. 

In this post, we'll first quickly revisit each of the Pac-10's bowl games, then dive in to assessing what these results mean for the Pac-10 conference. 

Rose Bowl: Ohio State slips by Oregon, 26-17

It was the game played on the biggest stage and the game with the most hype-- especially in the state of Oregon-- and the Ducks couldn't finish off Ohio State in the Grandaddy of them all. Taking the lead on a touchdown run by Jeremiah Masoli at the beginning of the third quarter, Terrell Pryor and the Buckeyes scored the next ten points to seal the victory. 

Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly on Terrell Pryor, who threw for 266 yards and rushed for another 72 against the Ducks:

No, you know, when I saw him in high school he was a man amongst boys, and at times tonight he looked like a man amongst boys. He's a lot bigger, stronger, physical. He looks like a defensive lineman. He's an impressive player when you see him up close. He certainly beat us on how he threw the ball. 

Holiday Bowl: Arizona gets stomped by Nebraska, 33-0

This game was the biggest mismatch for the Pac-10, but it doesn't stop it from being the most embarrassing loss as well. The Nebraska defense, featuring Grant High School's  Ndamukong Suh, held the Arizona offense to just 109 yards of total offense. It was 23-0 at halftime, and Nebraska cruised through the second half to a sizableshutout victory. 

Arizona head coach Bob Stoops on his team's performance: 

This game is humbling in many ways. When you think you've arrived, that's when you are going to get whacked. We got whacked by a very good team. Nothing was right all night. We certainly didn't show up in any way and I apologize to our fans.

Sun Bowl: Oklahoma's Passing Attack Outduels Stanford Rushing Game, Sooners Win 31-27

He tried, but Heisman trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart just couldn't beat Oklahoma on his own. Gerhart rushed for 132 yards on 32 carries, a number below his season average of nearly 150 yards per game. The Cardinal only picked up 117 yards through the air on Tavita Pritchard's eight completions, and rushers other than Gerhart only gained ten yards.

For Oklahoma, Landry Jones had a career day, throwing for 418 yards on 30-51 passing, while scoring three touchdowns. All three of those touchdowns were thrown to receiver Ryan Broyles, who had 156 yards receiving in the game.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on the game:

"I wish I could have put us in better situations especially in the second half. I wish we could have been a little better in the second half, put our guys in a better situation; move the ball score points. Overall, Toby (Gerhart) ran hard, line blocked. Oklahoma has a heck of a defense. Our guys fought as hard as they could. They've been to the top of the mountain, looked over and seen what's on the other side and said, ‘This is where we want to be'."

Emerald Bowl: USC 24, Boston College 13, 24-14

It was the first time in seven years that the Trojans weren't playing in a BCS Bowl, but USC made the most out of what they were dealt, knocking off Boston College to end a disappointing season. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkey threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the game, providing the Trojans with reasons to be optimistic for next season. But this was all before head coach Pete Carroll left to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. 

"We needed this 'W,'" Havili said. "We're happy to start next season with a win. We had a great two weeks of practice and it was all a matter of executing. Yeah, we're used to playing in the Rose Bowl but we're still motivated to play and to win this game, since this is where we played. We had a great game plan up front. It was a growing season. We had a lot of young guys step up."

Las Vegas Bowl: Wind, Cougars Too Much for Beavers as BYU wins, 44-20

The game didn't look pretty then, and it looks even worse now that I go back to revisit the statistics. After Oregon State quickly went up 7-0 in the game, the Cougars scored 37 points, and by the time the Beaver offense scored again it was all but over. Jacquizz Rodgers was held to 61 yards rushing, and Sean Canfield threw 21 incompletions, an inordinate amount by his standards. For BYU, Max Hall was 19-of-30 for 192 yards, and Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga combined for 114 yards rushing. Utah held just a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and would widen that margin to nine early in the fourth quarter on a field goal.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley said:

"We hate leaving that opportunity out there. "They controlled the ball, converted third downs, and scored when they were going into that gale force, and that was very good by them."

Poinsettia Bowl: Utah 37, California 27, 37-27

If you thought the bowl game winning streak that Mike Riley and OSU had accumulated prior to the Las Vegas Bowl (five games) was long, look again, as Utah won their ninth straight post-season game against Cal. Much like what happened in the Vegas Bowl, California took an early lead (14-0), then Utah put up 27 unanswered points to turn the tide in the game. 

The turning point in the game, was a Kevin Riley interception that was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Utah's Stevenson Sylvester. That play put Utah up by 16 points with five and a half minutes left. California would score once more, but Utah had already done enough damage to make the deficit too much for Cal to make up.

"We didn't come into this game overconfident," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "That's a good football team there. I don't know what the perception is throughout, but we give them a lot of respect. They did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage."

EagleBank Bowl: UCLA Finishes off Temple in Fourth Quarter, 30-21

A bit out of their element on the chilly east coast, UCLA was able to pull together a late fourth quarter charge in the EagleBank Bowl to give the Pac-10 its first bowl victory. For UCLA, it was their first bowl win since 2006. But for Temple, it was their first bowl appearance in 30 years. After being down 21-10 at the half, the Bruins blanked Temple 20-0 in the second half to win.

Here's what UCLA Linebacker Reggie Carter had to say:

"I know they were saying the West Coast Cali boys were going to be soft and used to surfing and things like that.I'm not going to lie; it was cold. But football is football, the field is still 100 yards long and we still played. They ran the ball; we stuffed it. We got the victory, so hopefully they can never say we're soft. We were down 21-7, and you never seen us quit."

Temple did outgain UCLA 123-93 on the ground, but Kevin Prince's two 30+ yard touchdown passes were enough for UCLA to clinch a win. Also, Akeem Ayers returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. 
Coach Neuheisel on the game:

"It's a start. The pendulum was sitting right in the middle; we were 6-6. This was going to determine what kind of season we had in the eyes of a lot of people. Now we're a winning team in 2009, so the expectation is they're going to take a notch forward. ... We want to start collecting these wonderful trophies and memories that college football provides."

Now, for the important part. What do these results mean for the Pac-10 conference?

Connor's thoughts: To me, the 2-5 record in Bowl Games really doesn't mean that much. In my opinion, except for the National Championship, Bowl Games are purely exhibition.There is no telling how a team will respond to anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks without a Football game. If you take the Beavers for example, they left everything on Rich Brooks Field on December 3rd, and were in no position to compete with a tough BYU team. The difference in result is HUGE when you play into a Bowl Game, or fall into one.

With what I've said above, I think it would be extremely unfair to judge a conference's strength on their performance in Bowl Games. In my opinion, the only way to do that is by the way they fare in Regular Season Non-Conference games. I think the Pac-10 does that better than any conference with scheduling teams like Maryland, LSU, Wake Forest, Tennessee, and Ohio State. Even though we lost a couple of those games, we stepped up and scheduled them, hung with them in all of the games, and beat most of them. That's how you earn respect and show people the strength.

AndyPanda weighs in: The Conference had a lot youth on the field, and that partially accounts for the problems that arose, and also holds promise for the future. But there was a surprising and disturbing pattern that emerged that can't be blamed on youth.

That the Pac-10 lost most of their bowl games isn't that significant, but the way they lost the games revealed problems that need attention, or there will be more poor performances to come when the conferences' teams take on better teams from other parts of the country.

The Pac-10 generally needs to get tougher on the offensive line and the defensive front seven. Oregon was beat on both sides of the ball by Ohio St. Oregon St. couldn't get upfield against BYU. Any physical advantage Cal might have had was negated by Utah's more aggressive style. Stanford did better, but in the later stages of the game, they couldn't score, and were badly out-gained by an Oklahoma team that appeared to wear the Cardinal down. It even took UCLA a while to figure out a physically out-manned Temple team. And the Bruins are losing a lot of their best players in this area. Arizona was man-handled all night by Nebraska.

The idea that the conference was suddenly more physical just because there is an abundance of good running backs was debunked. It's not going to be quickly fixed either; a recommitment to off-season training can't change players' body types. The conference has built on the fact that quick and athletic beats big and strong. But it doesn't beat big strong guys that are also quick and athletic. Recruiting will need to refocus on the kind of athlete being sought to change that.

The problems weren't just with the talent level on the field either. In all the losses, the Pac-10 was also out-coached, and they were generally out-performed overall, by programs that took the task at hand more seriously.

Oregon brought good enthusiasm and presence to the Rose Bowl, the biggest stage. However, they were out of their element, while Ohio St. just overall was more comfortable. The Ducks had a rookie coach in Chip Kelly up against a veteran in Jim Tressel, and it showed. Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal had something of an excuse, as losing your starting quarterback has to tear some pages out of your play book. But Oklahoma didn't seem as disrupted by that. The Wildcats were totally unprepared for wet, sloppy conditions, though that is hard to prepare for when you don't ever see it. Still, everything about Nebraska looked better. Oregon St. and Cal were not prepared, and there were no built in reasons why they shouldn't have been.

Those wondering why USC has commanded the conference, and the country's respect, for years, and are likely to continue to do so, need only examine the Emerald Bowl. The Trojans also faced poor conditions, and had more of the disruptions that troubled them much of the season. Yet they demonstrated depth, and appeared the most prepared and committed of all the conferences' representatives and under circumstances where that was least likely.

A number of the programs in the Pac-10 play impressive football when they get "up" for a game, but still seem to only treat some games as "big" games. Until every game is a "big" game, they won't have the consistency to avoid a poor non-conference performance like last year, or a poor bowl record, like this year.

--Jake, ConnorOSU, and AndyPanda