Before the season, it was fun to brag about how good the PAC-12 Conference was, and how our favorite teams were ready for a big year, and how we all believed commissioner Larry Scott when he assured us that someone from the PAC-12 would be knockin’ on the Natty.
So how did that turn out?
Well, not one PAC-12 team was even considered for the playoff and that snub was validated when the Conference lost eight of its nine bowl games. It didn’t help that the PAC-12’s top team, USC, embarrassed everyone by stumbling and fumbling its way to a 24-7 loss.
All of those would be stinging condemnations against any Power Five conference, but for the PAC-12, things just get worse.
If Mr. Scott is going to brag about the PAC-12 being among the best, then his teams need to beat those other conferences and certainly not finish 0-2 against lesser ones.
It would be nice if I could tell you that the PAC-12 was at least competitive with others and lost by just wee margins. But, when all of the scores are tallied, the PAC-12 lost by a combined EIGHTY-SEVEN freaking points!
Some of the bowl game problems were on defense where PAC-12 teams yielded an average of 35.2 ppg. That’s the equivalent of being ranked 112th during the regular season. If you play defense only slightly better than the 20 lowest FBS teams, then why are you even in a bowl game?
I know. It all sounds harsh. Worse yet—I’m a PAC-12 fan.
Bowl games come and go based on many factors. With the hope of producing a more concise analysis of what happened to PAC-12 bowl teams, I am going to disregard teams that were in the middle of coaching changes— UCLA, ASU, Oregon, and for the most part Arizona since rumors of Rich Rodriguez’ demise were more prickly than tumbleweed in a haboob (and causatively not dissimilar) since October.
I think we can also opt Utah from our analyses because the Utes won.
That leaves us with USC, Washington, Stanford, and Washington State. After considerable inspection, I want to focus on what these teams did in terms of their effectiveness on the ground:
USC vs rushing the football:
The Trojan rushing attack could manage only 1.58 yards per carry. (The Trojans lost the turnover margin 4-1.)
WASHINGTON vs rushing the football:
The Huskies ran the ball 33% less than Penn State even though Myles Gaskin had seven yards per carry and two touchdowns. The Huskies were within one-possession so there was no reason for Washington to diminish its run emphasis. That was not something players could control. That one is all on the coaches.
STANFORD vs rushing the football:
Behind by only two points and with nine minutes to play, the Cardinal didn’t hand the ball to Bryce Love even ONE time. Instead, Stanford went with the arm of a sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello completed one pass in those nine minutes and had the last one intercepted to seal the loss. Love was a Heisman finalist, he had a 69-yard touchdown run in that bowl game, and he had already amassed over 140 yards rushing. During the regular season, he averaged more yards per run than Stanford’s passing attack did per pass. Why did the Cardinal not choose to give him the ball?
WASHINGTON STATE and rushing the football:
No one expects the Cougars to do anything except pass but did you know they only attempted EIGHT runs in their entire bowl game.
And—that number EIGHT—even that’s not real. Actually, it’s inflated because four of those “rushes” were by quarterback scrambles.
So, if you’re playing your second string qb, why would you not turn your focus more to rushing the football? Although not given many opportunities, the rb’s were performing better in the bowl game than they had in the regular season.
Altogether, these teams rushed the football 16% less in their bowl games than they had in the regular season while their opponents ran the ball 16% more.
If the PAC-12 cannot—or will not—stay committed to running the football, then this conference will never live up to Mr. Scott’s bold blustering. The time has come to do what it takes to win when it counts. Get your mud hawgs, feed them well, let them bulldoze, and don’t panic at the first sign of trouble.
Simply put, the PAC-12 plays “pretty ball”. Run nice patterns. Be graceful. Fast and clever and dancy-dance. On your tippy-toes if necessary.
But, those are not the traits of recent national champions. Oregon has tried it and the Ducks have gotten to the big dance—twice—thereby proving that nicey-nice can at least get you there. But nowadays, it’s the butchy-girls who rule the prom. Just ask Utah.
So Pac-12, you are fun to watch. You are exciting. You are a smile a minute and worth the price of admission. But, let’s not fool ourselves. Sometimes, you just don’t wana get down and dirty.
This is going to hurt me more than it does you, but PAC-12, right now, you are just too danged pretty to wear the big tiara.