Home for the Holidays: Pac-12 Football
Four Pac-12 Teams Staying Home This Bowl Season
The 2012-13 bowl season starts in earnest on Thursday night with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and rolls on through New Year’s Day, with a brief recess for Christmas and, of course, the Sunday NFL slate.
The Pac-12, which at times during the regular season had as many as seven teams ranked in the Top 25, sends two teams to BCS bowl games this year.
Oregon, which missed out on another trip to the national championship game with a late-season loss to Stanford, will take on Kansas State, another team that lost a shot at the title, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 3.
The Cardinal will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio on New Year’s Day, hosting Wisconsin. With former Badgers’ head coach Bret Bielema now at Arkansas, athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez will lead the team in the bowl game, at the request of the senior class.
Arizona kicked off the bowl season with its thrilling 49-48 win over Nevada last weekend, and the Washington Huskies hope to continue the conference’s winning streak against Mountain West teams Saturday afternoon, when they take on Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
Pac-12 South champion UCLA takes a quick jaunt down the I-5 to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. Arizona State and Oregon State, two teams that made vast improvements since last year, both play on Dec. 29 – ASU hosts Navy in San Francisco’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and OSU is the home team in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas. On New Year's Eve, the USC Trojans take on Georgia Tech, a team that was 5-7 and needed a waiver just to become bowl eligible, in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso.
It’s a busy bowl season for many Pac-12 programs – but what about the teams that didn’t make the cut?
For the first time in nine seasons, the Utah Utes aren't playing in a postseason bowl game. They'd won eight of those nine, including the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl, but Kyle Whittingham's squad fell just short of bowl eligibility this season, finishing with a 5-7 record.
Whittingham has spoken publicly about the tough transition period from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 last season, and while stronger competition hurt their bowl hopes - the Pac-12 was especially deep this season - the Utes had other issues as well.
Tailback John White IV, a JUCO transfer turned 2011 breakout performer, was slowed by a ankle injury, although he still managed to become Utah's first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher (breaking his arm in the process). Senior quarterback Jordan Wynn medically retired early in the year after yet another shoulder injury and was replaced by true freshman Travis Wilson, who had to learn on his feet as the season progressed.
Wilson was a raw talent who should only get better with experience, but if the rest of the conference continues playing at a high level, the Utes' road back to a BCS bowl won't get much smoother.
It's safe to say that Mike Leach's first season in Pullman wasn't quite rousing success the Cougars' PR department would've liked. Ticket sales were up, but the team went just 3-9, battling quarterback controversies, public criticisms by the coach, and allegations of abuse from a former star.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel has announced he will end his injury-ridden WSU career, and receiver Marquess Wilson, a second-team All Pac-12 selection a year ago, left the team partway through the season, claiming emotional and physical abuse by the coaches. (A school investigation found no evidence of wrong doing.
With more clarity at quarterback, and less drama from other members of the team, the Cougars will have a better chance of regrouping, and getting back on their feet in Leach's second full season.
Coach Jeff Tedford built a winning program at Cal, which made him able to help the school build new football facilities, including a nearly two-year renovation of Memorial Stadium. The team's disappointing 3-9 record didn't go so well with the program's shiny new features, and because of that, Tedford won't be the coach who gets to lead a winning team onto the new field.
The Bears have tapped Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes to bring the same energy to the team that the renovations brought to the physical facilities. He'll get to start fresh, as Cal graduates their starting quarterback, wide receiver, and several starting O-linemen. (On the positive side, a handful of All Pac-12 Honorable Mention recipients will return).
Dykes is hoping to get the Cal community more engaged with the program again by holding open practices, and he told beat reporters that rather than play coy about injuries like many Pac-12 coaches, he'll tell "everything that won't get [him] sued." It's too early to know for sure, but it certainly seems like a more exciting era for Cal football is underway.
It's hard to say things are looking up in Boulder but, well, they truly couldn't get too much worse. The Buffaloes went just 1-11 in 2012 and were the consensus "worst team in America," but the administration rubbed some fans the wrong way when they fired head coach (and CU alum) Jon Embree after just two seasons.
Embree will be replaced on the sidelines next season by Mike MacIntyre, who took San Jose State from 1-12 to 10-2 in three seasons on the job. The Buffs have some talented players already on the roster, and MacIntyre should have more resources to entice recruits than at SJSU, so he could be in a pretty good position to pull off another rebuilding project, one that will turn Colorado football into a respectable program again - if the athletic department lets him stick around long enough.