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Pac-12 Froze Out - Stanford To Rose Bowl

Cardinal Claim Conference, and today we find out who plays who for the Championship, and where 10 Pac-12 teams are headed for the post-season.

Stanford ran by USC for their 3rd Pac-12 Championship in 4 years, but will be headed back to the Rose Bowl, instead of to the FBS National Championship.
Stanford ran by USC for their 3rd Pac-12 Championship in 4 years, but will be headed back to the Rose Bowl, instead of to the FBS National Championship.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As long as the FBS National Championship playoffs are capped at 4 teams, at least one Power-5 conference is going to be frozen out. In the first year, it was the Big XII; this year, its the Pac-12, and Stanford. The Cardinal were the first out of the top 4, winding up at #5 in both the AP & Coaches polls.

Clemson, as the only undefeated FBS team, after defeating North Carolina 45-37 in the ACC Championship game, got the top seed, and will head to the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve Day (kickoff at 4 PM EST; 1 PM PST).

They will meet Oklahoma, the champion of the Big XII. The Sooners were destroyed by the Tigers 40-6 last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but got not only the benefit of last year's snub of the Big XII conference, but also the attempt of the committee to create what would be the best ratings driving matchup in the championship game, which would be Alabama-Oklahoma.

Alabama is the #2 seed, after defeating Florida 29-15 yesterday in the SEC Championship game. The Crimson Tide is headed back to Jerry World, where they kicked off the season by beating Wisconsin, and the Cotton Bowl (kickoff time 7 PM CST, 5 PM PST, New Year's night), where they will meet 3-seed Michigan State.

The Spartans came from behind to beat Iowa 16-13 last night in the B1G Ten Championship game.

Stanford got a good consolation prize, a trip to the Rose Bowl, after moving up to 5 in both the AP & Coaches polls, a result of their convincing 41-22 win over USC in last night's Pac-12 Championship game, behind a record setting performance by Christian McCaffrey, who eclipsed Barry Sanders' season record for all-purpose yards in the process.

The Cardinal wound up 6th in the final College Football PLayoff (CFP) rankings, because Iowa only fell to #5. The Hawkeyes got the other half of the best of the consolation prizes, as Iowa will also head to Pasadena, to meet Stanford in the Rose Bowl (2 PM New Year's Day, as always).

Defending National Champion Ohio State dropped all the way to #7, the lowest of the 1 loss teams besides non-Power 5 Houston. The Buckeyes get a pretty good parting gift though, a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they will meet #8 Notre Dame. The Irish are the next highest ranked 2 loss team behind Stanford.

Stanford's fate, and the conference's, was probably sealed when the Cardinal couldn't conclude what looked like the game winning drive at Northwestern, back on the opening Saturday morning of the season; had they scored, with 1 win, they would likely have been in instead of Oklahoma, even given that the Big XII was owed one after last year.

The solution, of course, is to expand the playoffs to 8 teams, but it will take more teams and conferences being frozen out before that happens.

Florida State is ranked #9 in the CFP rankings, edging out fellow ACC team North Carolina, who wound up 10th. As a result, the Seminoles are headed to the Peach Bowl, where they will meet Houston, champions of the American Conference, after their 24-13 win over Temple. The Cougars, ranked 18th despite having only 1 loss, got the berth in the New Year's 6 bowls reserved for the highest ranked team from the Group of 5 conferences, and the Tar Heels, despite a 1 loss season, and a top 10 ranking, got frozen out of the NY6.

The Sugar Bowl bypassed not only North Carolina, but also #11 TCU, taking #12 Mississippi, and then also bypassed Northwestern, Michigan, and Oregon, for 16th ranked Oklahoma State, earning the undisputed title of the Snub Bowl. The Sugar Bowl's desire to match the SEC with the Big XII, similar to the Rose Bowl's tie in where they match up the Pac-12 and B1G Ten when possible, drove this decision.

That will relegate Oregon to the Alamo Bowl, for the second time in 3 years. Oregon State fans know this is an excellent bowl destination, one of the best beyond the NY6 bowls, but had what would have been the winning touchdown toss in the Oregon-Michigan State game not been dropped, Stanford would have been in the CFP, and Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

Had the failing on the final drive at Northwestern OR the drop at Michigan State not happened, every member of the Pac-12 would have banked in excess of $1M more, the result of everyone bumping up. Not that even in September, there's nothing riding on any given play in any given college football game.

Oregon will face TCU in San Antonio, on Sat., Jan. 2. The Horned Frogs will have the decided home crowd advantage that Pac-12 teams playing in the Alamo Bowl against Texas teams always encounter. It will be one of more anticipated matchups of the post-season, given the explosive offenses of both teams.

Utah and USC were the other 2 Pac-12 teams in the final polls until after the bowl games, with the Utes #20 in both the AP & Coaches' polls, and #22 in the CFP, and USC at #25 in the CFP.

The Trojans will be making the short drive down to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl for the second year in a row, where USC will meet Wisconsin (kickoff 7:30 PM PST on Dec. 30). The Badgers wound up 23rd in both the AP & Coaches polls, and are a very frequent opponent for the conference, as well as one of the few mid-west teams that's willing to travel west on a regular basis, making this another good bowl matchup that's been Rose Bowl fare for these programs some years.

Washington State is Sun Bowl bound, and the Cougars will meet Miami in El Paso, at noon MST (11 AM PST) on Saturday, Dec. 26, in a matchup of 8-4 teams. The Hurricanes being one of many teams to beat Nebraska at the very end of the game. And the new employer of former Georgia Coach Mark Richt, though interim coach Larry Scott will direct Miami in the bowl game.

The Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara will matchup former Oregon State coach Mike Riley's Nebraska Cornhuskers, the highest ranked in APR of the 5-7 teams, which determines the pool of teams to fill out the bowl berths, with UCLA. The FFB, and the conference, have to be more than happy with getting a team with a large alumni base in the Bay Area as well as the state in the Bruins, and a national name brand that also has a lot of history with the Pac-12 on a number of levels in the 'Huskers out of the 5-7 pool.

Utah fell all the way to the Vegas Bowl, a fate teams as diverse as Oregon State and USC have encountered after losing a Rose Bowl berth in the last game of the season. It will be a renewal of the Holy War, as the Utes, who are headed to Las Vegas for the second year in a row, will encounter BYU (also a frequent visitor to Vegas). The Utah-BYU rivalry was put on hiatus for 2 years in order for the Utes to fit their home and home series with Michigan (which they swept) into their schedule. Turns out there will be only a 1 year break in one of the most heated rivalries in the west.

Arizona State will stay home for bowl season, but still get to play; indeed they will play the last bowl game of the season other than the National Championship game, down the street from their campus and home stadium, in the Cactus Bowl, which is played in the Arizona Diamondback's stadium. The Sun Devils will host West Virginia. The Mountaineers are a great land for the Cactus Bowl, even at 7-5, as they are the 5th place team from the Big XII.

That pushes California, Washington, and Arizona all into the at-large bowl pool, and reminds us of how much Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott needs to bolster the conference's tie-ins.

The Huskies are headed to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Washington will face Southern Mississippi the day after Christmas in the "old" Cotton Bowl Stadium. The Golden Eagles (9-4) reached the Conference-USA Championship game, falling to Western Kentucky 45-28 yesterday. It's a surprisingly good opponent for a bowl so far down the ladder. The bad news is the game is opposite the Sun Bowl, so the conference and the state of Washington audience will be divided.

The Golden Bears also didn't come up golden, even though they gettto go to Texas as well. California will face Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX, on Dec. 29, which is a Tuesday, and at 1 PM CST, which is 11 AM PST. On a work day. Arguably the worst tv window available in the bowl season.

The Falcons are another surprisingly quality opponent for a bowl of this stature, as Air Force won the Mt. West Mountain Division, before falling to Hawaii bound San Diego State 27-24 last night. The game is also a rematch of the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, which was a Cal come from behind win.

Arizona is headed to the New Mexico Bowl, which used to be a Pac-12 Bowl (and should still be, though this year, it turns out they are anyway), where they will meet "host" New Mexico (the game is played in Albuquerque, on the Lobos' home field) from the Mt. West, on Sat., Dec.19.

It's a great place for a team that lost 4 of their last 5 to land, and a very manageable trip for Wildcat fans, who are 1 year removed from the Pac-12 South Championship, and the Fiesta Bowl. The bad news is the scheduling of the game, which overlaps the Las Vegas bowl by a half; too bad this scheduling snafu wasn't planned out better, given the likelihood of potential Mt. West/Pac-12/western US audience overlap.

All in all, not a bad slate of bowl games for the Pac-12, which sends a record 10 members of the conference to the post-season, and without benefit of the 5-7 exception, which will qualify 3 teams with a sub-.500 record in order to fill all the now 80 slots in bowl games.