With the Beavers out of the post-season picture for the third year in a row (the last 2, by Veterans’ day, never mind Thanksgiving), and 5th time in 7 years, Oregon State fans (and reporters) are again in the position of being third party observers to this weekend’s championship games, and the next month’s bowl fun.
Especially with a men’s basketball team headed for a long and likely less than exciting season, a result of youth, injuries (getting Stevie Thompson back helped, but that didn’t happen until after Tres Tinkle’s hand injury), and being a turnover machine (Oregon State is one of the worst in the country when it comes to taking care of the ball), and a women’s team that’s playing off the continent, never mind off the radar, right now.
At least the Ducks are done for the football season too, though March Madness will be in their future.
Some Oregon State fans, and some of the local media, will largely look the other way rather than at the Pac-12 in the post-season, but that deprives them of some of the most interesting football of the year. That also means missing out on what it means for the Beavers down the road, which will be notable on a number of levels.
But first, lets review what’s happened, and take a look at some of the reasons why.
4th ranked Washington won the Pac-12 Championship, with a dominating 41-10 rout of #8 Colorado. The game was close early, tied at 7 apiece after the first quarter, and with the Huskies up 14-7 at halftime.
But the Dawgs blew the game open in the third quarter, leaving the Buffs well behind. Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau suffered a sprained ankle early on, a result of a sack, and struggled throughout the second half. Steven Montez was under-effective in the interim.
Meanwhile, it was typical Purple Reign ball, as both Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman rushed for more than 100 yards. It was the Washington defense, and most notably, their secondary, that controlled the contest.
As a result, Washington was rewarded on Selection Sunday morning with a trip to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, as the 4-seed in the College Football Playoffs.
The Huskies will encounter unbeaten and season long #1 ranked defending National Champion Alabama. This may be the best Crimson Tide team ever, and that the program that’s won 4 of the last 7 National Championships.
As a result, USC has managed to bounce back from a 1-3 start, and parlayed wins over both Colorado and Washington in Seattle into a Rose Bowl berth, where they will meet Penn State. The Nittany Lions won the B1G Ten Championship last night, coming from 21 points down to outscore Wisconsin 31-3 on their way to a 38-31 win over the Badgers.
Penn State also has the only win over Ohio State, though the Buckeyes were still picked for the CFB semifinals, against ACC Champion Clemson, becoming the first non conference champion to be selected for the CFB playoffs. But an early blowout loss to Michigan, as well as a loss to cross-state rival Pittsburg, put Penn State 5th overall, and sent them to Pasadena. Pretty decent consolation prize. The Trojans own the Rose Bowl though, and it will be interesting to see who is even favored in this one once the lines settle.
Colorado will go to the Alamo Bowl, and face Big XII runnerup Oklahoma State. This is a winable game, and still a great outcome for a team that was merely hoping to attain bowl eligible status this season, only to complete the biggest single season turnaround, and the first ever last to first single season swap, in the history of the Pac-8/10/12.
Washington State is headed to San Diego, where the Cougs will meet Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl. It’s a matchup of two teams that claimed come from behind close wins over Oregon State, and it will be interesting to compare a pair of familiar foes the Beavers could have beaten, which would have earned a trip to Las Vegas (more on that later). Washington State should win this, but then again, Cuoging it can always occur.
Stanford will get Its day in the Sun, specifically in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, against North Carolina, where the Cardinal could complete a 10 win season. It’s a good bounce back for a team that saw what many predicted to be a Pac-12 North winning season literally blow up in back to back blowout losses at Washington and to Washington State. Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora already admitted his wife doesn’t let him stay up late enough to watch Stanford, and #Pac12LongAfterDark football, so Christian McCaffrey could actually still come as an unpleasant surprise.
Utah slid all the way to the Foster Farms bowl in Santa Clara, against Indiana, after another November collapse. The Utes lost their last 2 games, and 3 of 4 in November. They should be able to right the ship against a Hoosier squad that just replaced their head coach amidst rumors of possible player mistreatment, and whose’ most notable win was against Maryland.
That’s it for the conference though, as the Pac-12 can’t fill it’s Las Vegas Bowl slot, so Houston, who spent much of the season as the most widely regarded Group of 5 team, will get it, against San Diego State (Beaver fans will remember especially RB Donnel Pumphrey, who ran for over 2,000 yards this year), after the Aztecs beat Wyoming 27-24 in Laramie Saturday night to win Mt. West. It was actually the second try in War Memorial Stadium in three weeks for SDSU, who lost there the first time through, and had to win in a 7,200 foot high freezer.
The Pac-12 also can’t cover the Cactus Bowl in Tempe, so Baylor, another team facing a post-scandal coaching transition, will come in to take on Boise State, another team that beat the Beavers.
Again this year, there weren’t enough teams that finished with .500 records to fill all of the Bowl berths, which is another reason why a couple of leads not lost would have sent Oregon State bowling. However, California, Arizona St., and Mt. West Nevada, were all left home with 5-7 records. Hawaii got the 1st sub-.500 bid, to their own bowl game, with a 6-7 record. Never discount the value of that extra game, one that Oregon State kicked down the road as recently as 2 seasons ago.
Two 5-7 teams got in this year, using the same loophole that old friend and Beaver coach Mike Riley parlayed into a Foster Farms Bowl win last year. Mississippi State is going to St. Petersbug to play Miami (O, not U), much to the chagrin of co-5-7 Ole Miss.
The other is North Texas, headed in from suburban Denton to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, in the old Cotton Bowl, which Washington was at just last year. Grades matter, as while the Mean Green being from a nearby suburb, will still bring a decent fan contingent downtown, there’s no doubt that North Texas (!) would never be playing in Dallas over not only 2 Pac-12 teams (don’t believe all that California academics noise the next time you hear it), but especially SMU (who is from Dallas), as well as Texas, & Texas Tech, if the bowl committee had any choice in the matter!
Speaking of Coach Riley, he and his Nebraska Cornhuskers are headed to Nashville, for the Music City Bowl, against Tennessee. It’s the second best bowl trip Coach Riley has ever led, behind only the Alamo Bowl trip 4 years ago.
And one last thing of note, for those still discounting Washington for their non-conference schedule, which was built for a team that expected to be attempting to qualify for the Holiday Bowl, not the CFP, when it was contracted, it should be noted that one of those teams, Idaho, wrapped up an 8-4 season, and will meet Colorado State, one of Oregon State’s non-conference opponents next year, in the Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.
Everyone in the Pac-12 shares bowl proceeds evenly (we are the only conference that does this), so it doesn’t matter who goes to which bowl as much as it does that someone goes to as many as possible, with preferably 2 of them being NY6 games. The lack of a second such high-paying contest last year had something to do with those conference payout distributions this year lagging behind a lot of our competitors, though last year’s at large berths helped a little.
The real differential affects of bowl season come in terms of their impact on the future, starting with tv contracts and selections. With only 6 teams in the postseason, the conference’s exposure problem will only get worse this year. Performance also matters though, and the Pac-12 will be favored in at least 4, if not all 5, of the non-CFP contests, and even in the event of losses, should be competitive and entertaining at worst.
The problem will probably be a bad loss for Washington to Alabama, further fueling the arguments of those who didn’t feel the Huskies should have been selected to begin with. Chris Peterson and his crack assistants could well come up with a great game plan, especially given a month to work with. And they have done it before with Boise Sate.
But ‘Bama is ‘Bama, and even most Husky Honks realize that Washington is a year ahead of schedule, with a young squad that will be better prepared for a playoff run next season. Plus, while most associated with the Tide think water can only be red, not purple, Coach Nick Saban started out as an assistant to Don James. And Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffen knows all about what the Huskies are capable of. That will take care of any chance of Alabama taking Washington lightly.
Indeed, the trip to the CFP instead of a #5 ranking and a Rose Bowl appearance could be the worst thing that could have happened.
Atlanta is the second most distant NY6 trip that Washington and their fans could make, behind only going to Miami. Worse, Atlanta is a home away from home for Alabama. It’s a day-trip by car from Tuscaloosa, and the Tide has won 7 in a row in Atlanta. Husky fans are going to be out-numbered 10-1 (and Beaver fans who were in San Antonio can relate to that!).
And while Atlanta is nice, its going to be an expensive trip for Washington supporters. If things do not go well, and they rarely do where Saban is involved, the buzz-kill could be a 1-2 punch that puts a big dent in the off-season investment bump that a good bowl game generally generates for a team.
And there will be zero recruiting advantage gained from this; Washington isn’t going to pull a quality recruit out of the middle of SEC & ACC territory because they were on Peach Street.
Contrast this with USC, who will once again have all the benefits of the Rose Bowl experience, and do so free of expense. If you hadn’t noticed, this arrangement has proven quite beneficial for the Trojans previously.
The Huskies and Trojans won’t meet in the conference season next year, but at this point, are already the favorites to meet in the Conference Championship game at Levi’s. Maybe more than just next season too. It will be interesting to see how fortunes are trending for both a year from now.
Colorado will get a Texas presence recruiting bump from an Alamo Bowl trip as well (imagine if the Buffs, and Buff fans, had gotten to Pasadena for the first time!), as they do still recruit Texas, which is as wide open recruiting wise as it has ever been. Buff fans won’t face a big bill for this trip either, but will be in a great mood, ready to invest in order to go for more.
Cougar fans will have a blast in San Diego, a much nicer place in mid-winter than Pullman, and will get in front of a lot of realistic recruits in the process.
Certainly there are some things to watch this bowl season!
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)