The college football landscape is all about rankings. Players, teams and conferences all get rated and stacked against one another to try and create quantifiable lists of who is the best. It’s in our nature to rank things and nowhere is it more prevalent than college football.
In terms of conferences, the SEC is unquestionably No. 1 (winning six straight national titles will do that). However, the No. 2 position has been hotly contested this year between the Pac 12 and Big 12. That debate will be put to rest (at least momentarily) during this bowl season as the two conferences will face off in three bowl games, giving an opportunity to say definitively which is superior.
First up is the UCLA Bruins against the Baylor Bears on Dec. 27 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium. The Bruins were the champions of the Pac 12 South this season and were a missed field goal away from forcing overtime with a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. They’ll have a tall task ahead of them trying to tame the potent Baylor offense, which averaged 578 yards of offense and 44 points per game this season–good for No. 1 and No. 5 in the nation, respectively.
But this won’t be UCLA’s first game against a spread offense that likes to pass the ball down the field. The Arizona Wildcats ran a similar style of offense this season, averaging 522 yards and 37 points per game against arguably better defenses. When Arizona faced off with UCLA, the Bruins defense shut down the Wildcats potent attack and held them to just 10 points. Can Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos dial up another defensive gem against a potent spread attack? Or will Nick Florence light up yet another defense with his aerial assault?
Next up is the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio between the Oregon State Beavers and the Texas Longhorns. Oregon State was one of the biggest surprises in the Pac 12 this season as Mike Riley found a way to get his team to play amazing football all season long. Their quarterback situation undercut them down the stretch, but the Beavers’ defense was one of the best units in the conference all season long.
They will face a Texas team that has been up and down all year long, showing flashes of excellence with some major setbacks sprinkled in for flavor. The Longhorns have been a frustrating team to watch as their defense inexplicably forgets how to tackle for long stretches. Will Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton be able to get loose in the Texas secondary? Or will Mack Brown get this talented team to play up to their potential and end the season on a high note?
Finally, the marquee matchup between the two conferences takes place Jan. 3 when the Oregon Ducks face off with the Kansas State Wildcats, champions of the Big 12. Plenty of talk between these two fan bases this season has heated up this matchup even before this game was announced as everyone debated what caused the dissolution of their scheduled game this season and who would have won had the game been played. We’ll finally get the answer to the second question, at least.
Both teams are run-heavy programs who use their quarterbacks in the rushing game. For Oregon, Marcus Mariota has been exceptional as a freshman, being named first-team All-Pac 12, while Collin Klein has put together a Heisman Trophy campaign for K-State. Where they differ is the speed at which their offenses run. Oregon wants to pick up the pace and snap the ball as soon as possible, scoring quickly and often to gas the opposing defense. The Wildcats prefer to control the clock with their offense, methodically working their way down the field before punching it in for six. Which team will be able to impose their tempo on this game?
While the Fiesta Bowl matchup is the biggest of these games, winning two out of three at least would go a long way in settling the debate over which conference is superior. Sweeping the series would give one side the trump card in the debate for all of next season at the very least.
So which conference will reign supreme? Make your case in the comments below!