The Pac-12 will feature six teams competing in bowl season this winter, including a representative in the College Football Playoff.
‘Tis the season.
Below, Connor Pelton and I answer questions regarding each game involving a Pac-12 team, and give our takes surrounding the national perception of the conference as a whole.
1. What are your thoughts on No. 4 Washington getting into the Playoff, and whether the Huskies actually have a chance against No. 1 Alabama?
Pelton: In my mind, there wasn't really a wrong answer for the selection committee. I don't know if Washington is one of the four best teams in the country, but I think they were definitely one of the four most deserving. Now they are rewarded with a trip to SEC country to face Alabama. I doubt they pull the upset, but if there is a coach that can beat Nick Saban in a bowl game, I think it's Chris Petersen.
Jones: I thought the committee got it right. Washington’s lone loss was against a quality opponent in USC, and it looked dominant throughout the season. As far as having a chance against Alabama... Good luck with that.
2. So, No. 9 USC is in the Rose Bowl. What do you expect vs. No. 5 Penn State, and does this clarify the Trojans are finally back?
Jones: I think the Trojans pull this one out, although Penn State matches up pretty well.
Does it mean USC is back? As an elite program, not yet, but its on the cusp. The Trojans have reestablished themselves as the No. 1 force out of the South division moving forward, but the rise of Chris Petersen’s Washington makes it uncertain USC will hold sole right to the conference’s throne next year and beyond.
Pelton: I don't know if USC is "back" to the days of Pete Carroll, but this eight-game winning streak has certainly impressed me. I think they match up very, very well against Penn State, but bowl games are always tough to predict. Nevertheless, I think they roll to a big win against the Nittany Lions.
3. No. 10 Colorado faces No. 12 Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. How important is it for Mike MacIntyre to get the win to close the season?
Pelton: Eh, not all that important. What Mike MacIntyre has done this season with Colorado has been incredible, and those accomplishments won't be diminished by a bowl loss against a good Oklahoma State team.
As an aside, this and San Diego State-Houston is my favorite non-New Year's Six game. The Alamo got a good one.
Jones: I think winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year validated MacIntyre’s impact and the job he’s done with the program. I don’t think he needs a win to call the season a success, but against such a tough non-conference opponent a victory further proves the Buffaloes are a legitimate top-15 team, and a program to be respected.
4. No. 18 Stanford takes on North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. Do the Cardinal run away with this and did the quiet year hurt the program’s standing?
Jones: I wouldn’t say run away with this. Unless, you know, Stanford literally runs away with it because of Christian McCaffrey.
While the down year was inopportune, Oregon’s struggles and Washington’s arrival overshadowed Stanford’s season. The Cardinal finished the year strong too, so there shouldn’t be too much to worry about.
Pelton: Stanford has quietly had one of the best second half's in the country this season (albeit against a weak schedule), so I don't think their prestige has taken too big of a hit at all. I think they likely roll against North Carolina, but weird things can happen in El Paso.
5. No. 19 Utah takes on Indiana in what could be an interesting Foster Farms Bowl. What does this matchup say about the Pac-12’s tie-in games?
Pelton: The conference's bowl arrangements are incredibly weak. Adding the Alamo a few years ago was nice, but the league needs to add one more high profile game (preferably against the SEC, because that matchup doesn't currently exist).
It just doesn't seem fair to me that a top-20 team like Stanford is forced to go to El Paso to face a mediocre ACC team. They should be getting an opponent like LSU or Florida in an attractive locale.
Larry Scott has done a lot of good for this conference, but the next step is restructuring the league's bowl tie-ins.
Jones: This matchup in particular has the potential to be fun. Indiana and Utah both portray the gritty, you-won’t-win-this-one-without-a-fight aura, so matching these two up with one another provides some intrigue to me.
Each of Pac-12 games pit a Pac-12 school against at least a decent Power-5 team, so I don’t have any real issue with how it’s all set up for the conference. I could very well be underselling, though.
6. Washington State is facing Minnesota. Does a Cougar win make the season a success?
Jones: This team was probably expecting a Pac-12 North title with Stanford and Oregon having down years, but making—and winning—a bowl game should be determined a successful season in Pullman.
Pelton: This is pretty much along the same lines as my Colorado answer, but what Mike Leach did with Washington State after that 0-2 start was really impressive, and I don't think that can be undone with a loss to Minnesota.
Still, it's never good to end the season on a three-game losing streak, and considering the fact that they should roll against the Golden Gophers, a defeat wouldn't look great heading into the long offseason.
7. What’s your prediction for the Pac-12’s record in bowl play?
Pelton: Love these matchups for Pac-12 teams. I'll say 5-1, with a chance at 6-0 if the Huskies can shock Alabama.
Jones: I think the Pac-12 goes 4-2, with the two losses being Washington and Colorado.
8. How does the conference stack up against other Power 5 conferences after this year?
Jones: Despite not touting as much recognizable powers as recent seasons, I’d say the Pac-12 is in pretty good standing following this year.
The Big Ten may be the only conference that can say it’s clearly ahead at the moment, but the Pac-12 is right up there in terms of depth and elite-tier programs as the SEC, Big 12, and ACC.
Pelton: Right in the middle at No. 3. The SEC is always going to be at the top, and while the battle for No. 2 was tight this year, the Big Ten was slightly better in my mind. It was huge for the conference to get a team back to the Playoff though, and who knows, maybe Washington goes on to win the whole thing. That would definitely change my rankings.