The Pac-12 put 9 teams in bowl games this season, a record for the conference in any of its incarnations. And won 6 of them,also a conference record, all in dominating fashion. Included were a pair of demolitions of ACC opponents that should help dispell the oft-repeated myth that the east coast conference is somehow in the conversation for being on the same plane as the west coast one.
But the losses are the games that will be remembered and discussed nationally, especially since the Pac-12 teams were favorites in all 9 games. And all 3 losses were high-profile case studies in coaching ineptitude.
One could have expected the Cougs to "Coug" it; after all, their track record for doing so is how the term got copyrighted. And the Sun Devils also have a reputation for folding on the big stage, something they did repeatedly again this season.
But Stanford? The one team/school that's supposed to be smart enough to understand things like 11 > 9.
First a disclaimer; Michigan St., Texas Tech, and Colorado St. all deserve plenty of credit for their wins in the Rose, Holiday, and New Mexico Bowl. They did what they were supposed to do; play to their capability AND play smart enough to win when their favored opponent did neither.
Cardinal coach David Shaw's game management, play calling, and clock management were indefensible, and a direct contributor to the Spartan's 24-20 Rose Bowl win. Gambling unnecessarily in a tie game on 4th down in a game where field position was EVERYTHING, wasting a time out, and then running between the tackles when there were 8, and then with the game on the line 11 Spartans in the box (and not having your best player even be involved) were the most obvious worst examples, but the game calling after the first drive of the day was a recipe for the failure it led to.
Cougar coach Mike Leach gets essentially all the blame for Washington St.'s 48-45 loss in Albuquerque. It's hard to blow a 15 point lead with less than 3 minutes left, but the Cougs found a way. 2 fumbles had a lot to do with it, but when Washington St. could have run the clock out and Colorado St. couldn't have done anything about it, but elected not to, it made the impossible possible.
The Sun Devils played at an elite level most of the season, yet lost to Notre Dame, and twice to Stanford, including in the Pac-12 Championship game, in their highest profile games, prior to heading to San Diego. It's worth noting that the only time Arizona St. struggled, it was against physical teams, something Texas Tech certainly isn't.
Against up-tempo, pass oriented teams, which the Red Raiders are, the Sun Devils dominated. And Texas Tech stumbled into the Holiday Bowl having lost 5 in a row, and only 1 was even competitive, with all their other losses by multiple score double digit margins.
Sun Devil coach Todd Graham, named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, had his team easily the least prepared of any of the 9 conference teams to go bowling. After all, Stanford led early, and by double digit margins multiple times, and Washington St. led by 22 points in the first half, and by a double figure margin for most of the game. Arizona St. never led, and played like they thought they could roll their helmets out and win in a walk.
Had even 1 of those winable game actually been won, the Pac-12 Conference would have won as many bowl games as any conference ever has. Take 2 of 3 and the Pac would have made a statement, having had the best bowl campaign in history, especially if one of them had been the Rose Bowl.
The Rose Bowl is the most watched game other than the National Championship game, and impressions from it far outweigh anything else that happens. So Stanford's self-destruct mode came in the worst possible place.
The New Mexico Bowl ordinarily doesn't even register on the national radar. But the worst last minutes melt down of the bowl season does.
And when the team that played for the conference championship loses to a team with a losing record in conference, and finished in 6th place, that's what the media will notice nationally.
So congratulations to USC and Washington, who won with interim coaches, Oregon St., who beat a team with one, Oregon for beating a team with a coach forced into resigning before the bowl game that extended the record for most bowl games by a school, and to Arizona and UCLA for dismantling ACC opponents that weren't a step slow, they were a lap slow. It will be a better winter in LA, Seattle, Corvallis, Eugene, and Tucson than Tempe, Palo Alto, and Pullman.
But don't be surprised when the Pac-12 gets a lot of night games instead of prime-time time slots, and has a slew of games relegated. And be prepared for having a hard time getting a team into the National Championship 4 team playoffs, or a second team into one of the "select" bowls.
The post season always provides an opportunity to make a statement; this year, the one the Pac-12 made wasn't what it should have been. The kids deserved better.