With the bowl schedule complete for PAC-12 teams, we can take a look at how the Conference did in comparison to others and perhaps set our sights on what to expect in 2023.
Before we do that, we need to remember that last year’s bowl season was awful for the PAC-12. The self-proclaimed Conference of Champions sent five teams to bowl games and all five of them lost.
I suppose after that, PAC-12 fans should be grateful to have won three this year. But, with seven PAC-12 teams going to bowl games and only three wins, we know the PAC-12 finished 3-4.
So yes, more wins, but when you boil things down, the PAC-12 is still a loser when it comes to bowl games.
With the national championship game yet to be played, my Savvy Index prediction system is currently 32-9 in predicting bowl winners compared to 27-14 by the betting lines. The Index is an amazing 10 games better in predicting point spreads.
In years past, predicting bowl games was precarious. I felt like I could have used help from someone like comedian Steven Wright’s girlfriend whose name was Claire Voyant. Unfortunately, he informed me that I couldn’t talk to her because she left him before they met.
Alas, we move on.
Oregon State started things well for the PAC-12 with a 30-3 thrashing of Florida. That win was tainted somewhat by Florida’s roster which was as heavily redacted as Hunter Biden’s phone records. Those losses included Florida’s top two quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Oregon State had both of its top two quarterbacks and almost no off-season attrition. Those roster differences led analysts and my Index to project OSU winning by at least two possessions.
With Oregon State’s fast start, it seemed the Conference would have a magnificent bowl season.
Until it didn’t.
Later that same day, Washington State was stymied by Fresno State 29-6 in the L.A. Bowl. It wasn’t just that WSU was outgained 502-183 and allowed FSU running back Jordan Mims to rush for more than 200 yards, but also that FSU is a mid-major program led by a different coach than last year.
Oregon returned the PAC-12 to a winning position after a precarious 28-27 win over North Carolina.
It shouldn’t have been that close since everyone knew the UNC pass defense was more high heels than Tarheels. Throughout the season, that defense had politely permitted opposing quarterbacks to complete 66% of their passes for more than 25 touchdowns. How was a defense like that going to survive against the likes of Oregon’s elite passer Bo Nix?
The air should have been filled with footballs and UNC defenders rocked back on their — uh — heels.
Instead, Oregon did not make the winning score until the final two minutes of the game. It was a win but clearly incongruous with heels.
Despite losing a game it should have won, the ‘Heels came away with a measure of consolation when they learned that Drake Maye won the battle of the elite passers. Maye finished with 206 passing yards. Nix only had 205.
Washington followed in the PAC-12 bowl lineup with a 27-20 win in the Alamo Bowl over Texas with former UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. It was an impressive showing by the Huskies and one that led PAC-12 admins to strut and suspender-snap, what with their 3-1 bowl record and all.
But, there was an even louder snap when the next three games all ended with losses.
UCLA lost to Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl. Then, USC lost to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl by one point (as Savvy Index predicted), and Utah was routed by Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
With three straight losses, the Conference finished 3-4. Only the Big 12 was worse (2-6).
The PAC-12 won more than last year, but it’s clear that it has a long way to go before it regains its luster from years gone by.
It’s not often we look to the Northwest for rays of sunshine but that is where this conference will find its best hope.
Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington all won their bowl games so all of the wins came from the PAC-12 North. Not a single win came from the South.
Between Ducks, Beavers, and Huskies, Washington’s win over Texas was the best of the litter. UW was rock-solid throughout and no program brought more prestige to the PAC-12 than UW. (I went to UO so that’s not easy to say, but hats off to the ‘dawgs.)
If we could ignore economics, we might find that USC and UCLA leaving the PAC-12 for greener allotments is addition by subtraction in other ways. Yes, it’s hard to lose two urban giants but those two have done very little to elevate PAC-12 prestige.
Think about it — without those two in the bowl lineup, the PAC-12 would have posted a winning record in 2022.
In fact, neither USC nor UCLA has won a single bowl game since 2017! The big sports media complains about lack of respect for the PAC-12 but the problems are right there in their own backyard.
So let the L.A. schools take their marbles and leave. That isn’t going to change the true prestige winners that come from schools like two-time PAC-12 champion Utah or the fast-rising leaders of the North.
Utah defeated USC twice in 2022. One of those wins was by 23 points and the rematch showed USC quarterback with Utah-defaming obscenities written on his fingers before the PAC-12 title game.
That didn’t bother Utah quarterback Cam Rising who said he could care less what Williams thought. Rising then proceeded to demolish the Trojans.
Until the L.A. schools fix their defenses, Utah will continue to prevail.
Rising is undecided about returning to Utah in 2023. He was considering the NFL draft but that has been shaded by a severe leg injury suffered in the Rose Bowl. If he returns, Utah will once again win the PAC-12 South and be the fashionable favorite for the Conference crown.
What will he do? For the moment, there is no decision but I might be among the first to know since we live in the same town.
The North appears to be a toss-up between Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. All three programs return their head coaches and will be led by what is probably the best trio of elite quarterbacks in any conference in America. Washington appears to be more complete and has greater momentum.
The Huskies produced more positive metrics on Savvy Index than any team in the North so it is likely UW will be the preseason favorite in the North next Fall. If not for a much harder schedule in 2023, I would project the Huskies as a playoff contender. But, I don’t see them winning 10 or 11 games against a schedule that includes Boise State, at Michigan State, at Oregon State, at USC, followed by back-to-back home games against Oregon and Utah.
As it stands today, I see Utah and Washington playing for the Conference title and they will once again bring pride to PAC-12 bowl efforts. Both will earn prestigious bowl games but fall just short of making the national playoff.