PAC-12 moves up in Power Five rankings

The PAC-12 made some statement wins during bowl season, while other conferences fell flat.

As the regular season wound to a close, everyone’s eyes turned to who would be competing in the Playoff. While the PAC-12 was excluded for the third time in five years, they found great success in their bowl games. Seven teams played in various bowls around the country, with four claiming victory. All in all, the conference may have taken a step up, while others, such as the BIG 12, may have taken a step back.

Related Article: The Big 12 Is In Trouble

Below is a brief breakdown of the various winners, in order of significance, followed by the three losing teams.

Ducks over Wisconsin 28-27

The Ducks put a major step forward this season under second-year coach Mario Cristobal. They managed to finish with double-digit wins, as well as win the PAC-12 North for the first time since 2014. That same year, they also won the Rose Bowl, then advanced to the National Championship. Another similarity to this season? An outstanding signal-caller leading the way with Marcus Mariota (Heisman winner) and this year with Justin Herbert.

The offense didn’t look pretty in Pasadena, nor were they expected to given the tenacity of Wisconsin’s defense. Wisconsin didn’t account for how important winning the turnover battle might be, and by losing it, they basically lost the game. Oregon’s defense had recorded several interceptions throughout the season and added another in their win. Tack on a fumbled punt attempt, scoop, and score, along with a crucial fumble late.

This win boiled down to three main keys, defense, special teams, and Herbert’s mobility. Regardless, the Ducks ended up edging out the Badgers and their future,and therefore the future of the PAC-12, is bright as they start to pool star recruits.

Huskies shut down Boise State 38-7

Hammering home the point that Chris Petersen won his final game as a Husky in the best way possible. It’s not often coaches get to play against their former teams, but Petersen got that rare shot to end his tenure at Washington. The Huskies began this season with high hopes, ranked within the top-15 for three weeks. Eventually, they slid out of the rankings altogether, beating one ranked squad and coming just shy of upsetting Oregon and Utah.

Winning two of three, the Huskies had some minor momentum going into their bowl game. Boise State had suffered just one loss during the regular season and held a ranking since week two. The experience of future-NFL QB Jacob Eason made a big difference while the Broncos’ freshman, Hank Bachmeier, failed to find pay dirt once.

Washington raced out to a 24-point lead before Boise State got on the scoreboard. Eason is projected as a top-five QB in the NFL draft and finished with over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season.

Petersen announced he’d step down from coaching and went out with a final hoorah. He ended up winning 92 games (lost 12) with the Broncos and won another 55 games (lost 26) with the Huskies.

Sun Devils beat struggling Seminoles 20-14

Herm Edwards has started to turn around Arizona State’s football program in the two years he’s been coaching. Florida State has been in a world of hurt since Willie Taggart took over. Arizona State had been looking to find their identity under Edwards, and they began to turn a page this season. A strong start to their year resulted in two upset wins and being upset once they reached the rankings. The Sun Devils won two of their last four, including a massive upset over Oregon, and lost the other two by a combined six points.

The Seminoles practically gifted ASU their bowl win after throwing four picks and fumbling twice. The Sun Devils couldn’t convert early, but a critical pick-six all but sealed the win for the Sun Devils. Their defense forced a turnover on downs, interception, and fumble to halt the Seminoles at the end of the game. It wasn’t the prettiest bowl game by any means, but a win is a win as the Sun Devils finished the season 8-5.

Golden Bears deal L to Illinois 35-20

The PAC-12 should be put on notice because Chase Garbers is the real deal. Cal’s quarterback has shown flashes of promise in his young career and could be one of the best in the conference going forward. Considering how much of an achievement it was to just make any bowl game, you’d expect the Illini to show up. Either that, or they were mostly content with their season, taking another step in the right direction, but didn’t want to raise the bar too high going forth. Illinois did bring that spark early, as most underdog teams seem to do, but they couldn’t maintain it for four quarters.

The Illini were very much in the game at halftime, only trailing by eight despite giving up three touchdowns. Garbers and the Golden Bears pulled away in the second half with a pair of scores. The Illini were already feeling the squeeze with time winding down and back to back turnovers (interception and fumble) killed any chances of a comeback. Garbers finished his day with 272 passing yards and four touchdowns with nine incompletions.

The following are listed in order of disappointment:

Utes impaled by Longhorns 38-10

Talk about getting beat down, did Utah even show up to play? Granted, there’s some precedent of teams that fail to reach their goals have less chance of showing up. In this case, Utah came within one game of supposedly making the Playoff but were routed by Oregon in the conference championship. A similar story continued nearly four weeks later as Texas put the hammer to Utah, barely letting them hit double digits. The Utes were averaging 34 points per game and had only been held in check twice this season when scoring 15 against Oregon and 23 against USC, both losses.

Utah was expected to have one of the best defenses in the country, complemented by an offense that could compete with the best. Meanwhile, the Longhorns had scored 30+ seven times this season and in four of their last five, were held under 30, winning one. Maybe the Longhorns offense actually showed up in a predominantly home field game, with the game being played in Texas. Maybe Utah just had a bad night but getting routed in the last two games of the 2019 season doesn’t bode well in terms of momentum. Utah was the lone team to have a Big 12 team beat them. Not only was it a team that was considered the worst of the Big 12 teams going in, but they were in turmoil near the end of the season. Utah should’ve won this game hands down, but they didn’t even come close.

Air Force impedes Cougar air raid 31-21

This was expected to be a good game, and it delivered. On one side you have the Air Force, who ironically use the ground and pound method, and the other is the pass-happy Wazzu Cougars. Mike Leach and Co. have a knack for finding the perfect quarterback candidate to fit their system of slinging it around the field. This season, that was grad transfer, Anthony Gordon. The difference between him and Gardner Minshew, last years’ QB was his mobility. If he had the skills Minshew did outside the pocket, this may have been a different result.

Air Force had enough pressure throughout to rattle Gordon, while their offense ate up the clock and kept Wazzu’s strength on the sidelines. One thing the Cougars have seemed to lack in the recent past is a strong defense. Any time you let a team keep possession 2/3 of the game, the chances of winning are slim, but that was Air Force’s game plan. The Cougars were outgained 371-15 on the ground, while Wazzu out-threw them 351-30, talk about clashing styles.

Gordon finished his season with 5,559 passing yards (FBS lead), 51 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. While they lose him and star-receiver Brandon Arcanado (167 yards on 11 catches against Air Force), the Cougars should be fine offensively going forward. As long as Leach is still their coach, don’t expect them to abandon their style, even if it leads to their demise.

Hawkeyes burn Trojans 49-24

When you think about it, these two would be a fun matchup to see in a fight. A character straight out of the movie 300 against a tactical bird. Surely it seems like the armor-clad warrior would win right? Only if he can catch the bird, however, and in this case, USC could not catch the Hawkeyes. Iowa dealt several body blows in what turned out to be a rout late in the second half. Kedon Slovis, the freshman sensation, the Chosen One, tore through Iowa’s defense like butter to start.

Neither team wanted to budge as the Hawkeyes found some rare offensive explosion. They got a big boost from Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the junior playmaker and primary receiver. Turns out he can do more than just haul in ridiculous catches, as he also ran back a 98-yard kickoff return and took a six-yard jet sweep in for a score. As if that wasn’t enough, he came within inches of passing for a touchdown as well, the pass going off the fingertips of Brandon Smith.

USC was in this game until Slovis got injured. He sustained what looked to be a concussion, stayed in, then injured his shoulder on a pass. After being taken out early in the second half, it was game over for the Trojans, who couldn’t find any rhythm after pulling back some momentum. USC needed this win badly for a program heading in the wrong direction. They have a host of playmakers returning on offense, and hopes are Slovis will be healthy again next season. That won’t matter if they can’t win. As a result of their season, and their bowl game performance, USC fired their special teams and defensive coordinators.

The PAC-12 Is Moving Up

It looks like the PAC-12 is moving up in the power 5 rankings. Sure the PAC-12 didn’t make the playoffs but their bowl season was spectacular compared to the Big 12. They may not be the SEC or Big 10 but they’ve shown they deserve more respect.

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