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BRANDON: Pac-12 should go 7-2, at least, in bowls

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Can Byron Marshall (9) and the Oregon Ducks run past Texas in the Alamo Bowl?The Pac-12 owes me one.

Actually, the conference owes me three.

Last year, I picked the then-record eight Pac-12 bowl teams to go 7-1 in their postseason games. They went 4-4.

So it is with trepidation that I look at this year's bowl lineup and note that the new-record nine Pac-12 entries all are favored by oddsmakers — and by an average of seven points per game.

Could the Pac-12 really go 9-0?

It does look that way.

But things looked almost as good a year ago.

I wrote that one of the shoo-ins was Arizona over Nevada, and the Wildcats had to scramble in dramatic fashion to pull out a 49-48 victory in the first bowl game involving a Pac-12 team.

Not much later, though, USC and UCLA both gave us stinkers. USC looked like it wanted to be anywhere else than El Paso, where it got clobbered by Georgia Tech 21-7. Baylor annihilated UCLA 49-26.

I said Washington would have trouble with Boise State but win — and the Broncos beat the Huskies 28-26.

I predicted that OSU would lose to Texas, and the Longhorns rallied to win 31-27. I had Oregon over Kansas State 43-35, and the Ducks were even better, winning 35-17. Stanford came through as I predicted, beating Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl.

My other "shoo-in" was just that, as Arizona State routed Navy 62-28.

That was then, this is now, and the same eight Pac-12 teams, plus Washington State, are bowl-bound.

It all starts Saturday with the Cougars and Trojans in separate games.

I'd go with 9-0 for the Pac-12 — but on the theory that you can't win 'em all, I'll pick two perhaps fairly wild upsets. One is Fresno State over USC, which might prove that I truly have lost it. And I've switched my mind on Oregon State and decided to pick Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, which very well may put the Beavers over the top.

But, if upsets are going to happen, they just as easily could come over WSU, UW, Oregon, Arizona, UCLA or Stanford. It wouldn't shock me if any of those teams lost in the next two weeks, or if they all won.

Let's look at each Pac-12 bowl game:

Dec. 21

New Mexico Bowl

Albuquerque, N.M.

Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6)

11 a.m. (ESPN)

At first glance, one has to think mad scientist Mike Leach might come up with an offensive explosion that gives Washington State a lopsided victory, having so much time to prepare the Cougars.

The one thing about the Rams, though, is that they've had a balanced offense. They'll need that, and more.

A Pac-12 loss isn't out of the question, but I still like WSU 35-33.

Dec. 21

Las Vegas Bowl

Las Vegas, Nev.

Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)

12:30 p.m. (ABC)

The thing I don't like about this game is that it overlaps half or more of the WSU-Colorado State game.

That aside, USC football should never lose to Fresno State football, barring major NCAA violations and sanctions.

FSU's offense and 45.3 points per game are impressive, though, so I think the Trojans will be in more of battle than some might think.

It's hard not to like USC's horses and defense, too, and surely the Trojans will want to erase memories of their horrific showing in last year's Sun Bowl.

It will take the Bulldogs' best effort of the season, but a win is possible for them.

I've got to take a couple of chances on Pac-12 losses, so let's go with Fresno State 32, USC 30.

Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl

Honolulu

Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)

5 p.m. (ESPN)

I'd like to think the Beavers will carry the momentum — not that there is much, really — of their good Civil War effort into this game and finish above .500.

Can Sean Mannion play like the Sean Mannion of the first half of the season? That's the big question, and it also may come down to the Oregon State defense having to make a game-saving stop.

When it comes to the Broncos, the loss of coach Chris Petersen has to have an impact, and might cost Boise State a game that I think on paper it should win.

Still, I'll say Boise State 35, Oregon State 30.

The Beavers could come out on top, though, which would be a tribute to coach Mike Riley and the program's continuity.

Dec. 27

Fight Hunger Bowl

San Francisco

BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)

6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

This should be another close one.

In this case, the loss of Husky coach Steve Sarkisian, who has flown south to USC, doesn't bother me so much. I think the UW players will be motivated to show things to their new coach, Chris Petersen. That incentive might help pull them through against BYU, which has beaten them the last three meetings (the teams are 4-4 head-to-head, all in regular-season play).

A BYU victory wouldn't surprise me at all, but I'll go with Washington 30, Brigham Young 28.

Dec. 30

Alamo Bowl

San Antonio, Texas

Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)

3:45 p.m. (ESPN)

On paper, Oregon is better. I'd say nine points better, probably a couple of touchdowns better if the game were at Autzen Stadium.

But, for various reasons (including injuries and suspensions), the Ducks keep making things hard on themselves.

So this game would scare me, as a UO fan, and because the Longhorns a) will be so fired up to send coach Mack Brown out with a win b) will want to impress their new coach and c) will have a huge, huge homefield crowd advantage.

Of course the Ducks need QB Marcus Mariota to be healthy (i.e., able to run regularly and pick up at least 50 to 100 yards on the ground). He should clearly be the best quarterback in the game, and that often makes the difference in college football.

But I think this one is on the Oregon offensive line and basic run game. Texas runs well, but has given up almost as many yards on the ground as it has gained, and opponents have averaged 4.3 yards per carry against them. An effective UO run game would open things up for Mariota and his receivers.

But again, can Byron Marshall return and make lots of positive yardage on Texas? How banged up is Thomas Tyner? Tyner was a key in the win over Oregon State. The Ducks could use his speed. And, is the Oregon O-line good enough?

This might be the game to pull out all the creative stops with De'Anthony Thomas -- get him more touches, use him in a couple of quasi-trick plays, make the Texas defense have to pay serious attention to him, at least.

And I think UO coach Mark Helfrich has to be more like Chip Kelly than he has been — i.e., really push the tempo as often as possible with the Texas defense, create some confusion and mismatches and fatigue on the Longhorns' side of the ball.

I don't like the Ducks' field-goal game still is suspect, although showing a sign or two of life.

This is going to be a battle, and my instincts say the Longhorns have the intangibles to win, although Oregon should.

It really does depend on the Ducks, if they play well.

I'm clinging to that paper, but not overly confident that what it says is what will transpire.

Oregon 35, Texas 34 — and if the time off has helped the Ducks, it'll be closer to the two-TD oddsmakers' line.

Dec. 30

Holiday Bowl

San Diego, Calif.

Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

7:15 p.m. (ESPN)

After watching Oregon-Texas, it's going to be hard to stay seated for another four hours and follow this game.

I think this might be the most lopsided of the Pac-12 bowl games (unless Washington State goes crazy on Colorado State).

Sure, ASU could make mistakes or melt down, but these aren't the Dennis Erickson Sun Devils anymore.

And Texas Tech has lost its last five games, not a good sign.

Arizona State 40, Texas Tech 30.

Dec. 31

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

Shreveport, La.

Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

9:30 a.m. (ESPN)

First, what's an AdvoCare? Or a V100? A V6 I know, sort of.

Without taking the trouble to go to Google to find out, is this a Louisiana version of what we would call the Moda Bowl?

I do like having a morning game on New Year's Eve, though. Something to watch while eating breakfast, and it doesn't interrupt any later festivities.

Here's another game that could go into the loss column for the Pac-12.

Except that the BC pass defense looks suspect to me, and the Eagles haven't had a lot of recent bowl success.

Arizona has lost three of its last four games (beating Oregon in the other, though).

I'll pick the Wildcats to win 35-28.

Dec. 31

Sun Bowl

El Paso, Texas

Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)

11 a.m. (CBS)

Here's another good test of conferences. I like the way the Bruins put it together to beat USC at the end of the regular season.

Let's go with UCLA 27, Virginia Tech 24.

Jan. 1

Rose Bowl

Pasadena, Calif.

Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1)

2 p.m. (ESPN)

Funny how so many Oregon fans and national college football experts are saying that the Ducks' two-loss season has been so bad and yet Stanford, with two losses, is said to be having a great year.

The Cardinal got a good draw in the Spartans, and Stanford should be able to prevail by about a field goal, although Michigan State has allowed just 2.7 yards per rush and 12.7 points per game.

The flip side of that, though, is what happens and can the Spartans win a game if their run defense isn't as successful?

This is a game Stanford needs to validate its high ranking all season in the polls. It's no gimme, but I'll say Stanford 24-21, and the score might go higher.