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Sizing Up The Pac-12 Situation

Did anyone really believe at the start of the 2012 season, 15 months ago, that Todd Graham would hold the most cards in the Pac-12 football poker game at this point?
Did anyone really believe at the start of the 2012 season, 15 months ago, that Todd Graham would hold the most cards in the Pac-12 football poker game at this point?
Christian Petersen

Rivalry weekend did what it usually does; deliver both clarity and confusion to the football landscape, after a variety of outcomes, many more surprising than less.

Oregon beat Oregon St. as expected, but not as expected, with the Beavers nearly beating the Ducks, before the Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff connection ultimately led to a 36-35 Oregon win in one of the wilder and most competitive Civil Wars ever, and Huff being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. The competitiveness Oregon St. exhibited on national tv doubtless took some of the heat off of Head Coach Mike Riley, and made the Beavers more appealing to prospective bowl committees despite their season ending 5 game losing streak.

And coupled with other events, Oregon may have found themselves back in the BCS bowl at-large picture for 1 of the 3 at large slots with the win. Which, by the way, is good for Oregon St. too, and not just because of the difference in each school in the conference's share of a BCS bowl payout compared to a 1/12 split of the payout of the second at large bid someone in the conference hopes to get.

The Pac-12 has 9 bowl eligible teams, and only 7 guaranteed slots, so 2 teams have to find an at-large invitation. If one of those is a BCS bowl game, finding just 1 minor bowl berth unfilled by another conference is obviously easier than 2.

Arizona St. demolished Arizona 58-21 to claim the Territorial Cup, and home field advantage in next Saturday's Pac-12 Championship Game, in a game where the stats don't suggest the large margin until you see the +3 difference in turnovers in favor of the Sun Devils, another episode of the stat that over-rides all other,s and doomed the 'Cats.

Stanford prevented Notre Dame from winning the Pac-12, with a 27-20 win that stopped a 4 game Irish winning streak against the conference, behind another monstrous night by Tyler Gaffney, who ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.

The Cardinal and the Sun Devils are both ahead of Oregon at the moment, and one will claim a Rose Bowl berth, but one will lose. Whether the loser drops behind Oregon in terms of attractiveness depends a lot on how competitive they are, and also a business decision.

The Fiesta Bowl has the last pick in the BSC bowl selections, and could face a business decision. Oregon was there last year, and twice in the last 3 years, so may be less attractive than otherwise, but then how many fans will Stanford bring? Might Arizona St. with a close loss in a great game be the best option to sell tickets in Phoenix?

One of the three at large bids will go to Alabama, but the SEC will ONLY get 1 at large team by rule. Baylor gets one with a win over Texas, unless Oklahoma upsets Oklahoma St., and it becomes the Big XII's automatic bid. Clemson likely subtracted themselves and the ACC from the BCS picture with their 31-17 loss to South Carolina, though an upset win by Duke over Florida St. in the ACC Championship game will push someone from the Pac-12, Big 12, or Big 10 out of the picture.

The biggest wild card for the Pac-12 in the BCS pool is the Big 10 Championship game. If Ohio St. wins, they get the automatic bid, and Michigan St. probably drops out, just as Wisconsin did, with their loss to Penn St. that took literally tens of thousands of traveling Badgers out of the picture they were squarely in previously. But if the Spartans win an guaranteed trip to the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes are still going BCS-ing with a 12-1 (and really 24-1) record unless the B1G title loss is an epic meltdown blowout. Never underestimate the bowl attractiveness of a Big 10 crowd anxious to escape miserable weather, be it a BSC bowl or some lesser destination.

The scramble for the New Mexico Bowl, at least one non-Pac-12 tie in bowl, and either the Las Vegas Bowl or a second at large one, is what Oregon St. is in the middle of, along with Arizona and Washington St.

USC is still safely ahead of that pack, despite being beaten fairly lop-sidedly by UCLA in the Cross-Town Confrontation. The Bruins 35-14 win, powered by Brett Hundley throwing for 208 yards and running for 80 more, and 2 touchdowns, might be good for a Sun Bowl berth, since UCLA was in the Holiday Bowl last year, but the Trojans are still a national brand, and would seem to have a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl bid, though Washington could also climb into that picture.

The Huskies appear to have a return to the Las Vegas Bowl at the worst locked up, though the bowl's dislike for repeats could prompt some horse trading for USC with the Kraft Bowl, after Washington reclaimed the Apple Cup, with a 27-17 win that left Washington St. at 6-6 for the season, just like the Beavers, except Oregon St. does own a dominant head-to-head win, and a better traveling crowd, though the prospect of the first bowl trip in a decade should prompt a considerable number of Cougs to hit the road for even sites like Detroit, MI, or Shreveport, LA.

Bishop Sankey wrapped up the conference rushing title, and an All-Pac-12 first team spot at running back beside Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, rushing for an even 200 yards, and a touchdown, on 34 carries, and tacked on a 40 yard reception for good measure.

Keith Price capped his Apple Cup career by running and passing for touchdowns, as Washington took control of the game with a 17-0 third period.

Carey had 157 yards and a touchdown, on 32 carries for the 'Cats, but B.J. Denker was picked off 3 times by the Sun Devils, negating Carey's efforts.

Arizona has a 1 game advantage in the standings over both the Beavers and the Cougs, and that signature upset over Oregon, but was in Albuquerque last year, and so even being a near-by trip easy for 'Cat fans to drive, the New Mexico Bowl may be leary of how large a return crowd may come over, which could play to Oregon St.'s advantage.

San Jose St.'s stunning upset of previously unbeaten Fresno St. also created ripples, not only knocking the Bulldogs out of the BCS bowl picture, it earned the Spartans bowl eligibility, and potentially increased the Mt. West's contingent eligible for other bowls by 2, to 7 teams. The upset win made San Jose St. suddenly attractive, with a win over a top 20 opponent.

Of course, more upsets and other surprising outcomes in games Thursday through Friday are possible, and will keep bowl committee chairmen and athletic directors cell phones humming.

Next year, the bowl picture expands, not only with the expansion to a 4 team playoff, but also the addition of several other bowls. The Pac-12 could have stood to have all that happen a year sooner.