With nine teams competing over the next three weeks and two kicking off today, the Pac-12 will be busy during the bowl season. The Star’s Jon Gold takes a look at the league’s 10 best storylines:
Battle of the Backs
Bowl season is dream season for major matchups, but Arizona’s Advocare V100 Bowl tilt with Boston College offers perhaps the most scintillating one-on-one battle in recent memory. On the Wildcats’ side, Ka’Deem Carey, an All-American running back. On the Eagles’, Andre Williams, an All-American running back. For the first time since The Associated Press began picking only two All-America RBs in 1981, the two will square off in a bowl game, which pits the nation’s top two rushers. Williams won the regular-season rushing title with more than 2,100 yards and 175.2 per game, while Carey gained 100-plus in every game in which he played, averaging 156 yards per game. This should be epic.
Will Real Mariota Please Stand Up?
After injuring his knee against UCLA in late October, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota lost a major part of what made him – and the Ducks offense – so dangerous. Mariota’s relatively limited mobility led to late-season struggles, as either his legs – negative-34 rushing yards in Weeks 9 and 10 – or his arm failed him. Mariota started the season with no interceptions through 10 weeks, then threw two picks in both Weeks 11 and 12, which included a 42-16 loss to Arizona. The Ducks play Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Cooks On Receiving End Of History
Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks had unquestionably one of the great seasons in conference history, reeling in a league-record 120 receptions for 1,670 yards and capping it off with a Biletnikoff Award. With a big game against a Chris Petersen-less Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, Cooks might be able to fend off Fresno State’s Davante Adams for the national receptions and receiving yards title.
Speaking Of Petersen
The new Washington head coach is dealing with some major issues with UW assistant coach Tosh Lupoi under investigation for allegedly paying a recruit’s tutoring bills. The former Boise State coach inherited a good team that beat the new coach’s old team, 38-6, in Week 1. But can Petersen make the Huskies a great team? We’ll have to wait a couple more weeks to find out — Huskies legend Marques Tuiasosopo will guide the team in an interim role in the bowl game. Washington lost to the cream of the Pac-12 crop — Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State – and when things got tough, the team wilted. A Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game against BYU should be a good test.
Feeling A Draft
Bowl season provides a last look at many NFL prospects, the best of who is UCLA’s Anthony Barr. The senior linebacker has a chance to go No. 1 in the draft, but it will take a big game against Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. The Bruins’ Jordan Zumwalt, Shaquelle Evans and Cassius Marsh can bump up their stock as well. So, too, can Arizona State’s Will Sutton, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and David Yankey, Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and De’Anthony Thomas and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, among others.
Welcome Back, Wazzu
Washington State is back in a bowl for the first time since the 2003 tean, which concluded a brilliant three-year run of a Sun Bowl, Rose Bowl and Holiday Bowl. WSU won two of those, reminding us that yes, the Cougars once were good. They may be getting there again under Mike Leach. Year 2 went roughly a billion times better than Year 1 for the Cougars, who battled effort and focus issues last year. Now Leach has them confident and on the rise.
The Sun Devil Also Rises
Like Washington State, Arizona State’s second year under coach Todd Graham was a big improvement. Behind a dominant defense, the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South title before being throttled by Stanford. Texas Tech, ASU’s Holiday Bowl opponent in San Diego, is no Stanford. Plus, Red Raiders quarterback Baker Mayfield decided to transfer, surprisingly, before the bowl game. His backup, Davis Webb, isn’t a bad quarterback, and Texas Tech, which started 7-0, isn’t a bad team. But the Sun Devils should trample them.
The Young and the Restless
It’s not so often that a freshman linebacker finishes second in the conference in tackles. It’s even rarer that said stud freshman linebacker doesn’t win a conference freshman of the year award. But Addison Gillam’s breakout year — 107 tackles for the Colorado Buffaloes — was overshadowed by UCLA’s Myles Jack, who, for good measure, added offensive freshman of the year honors as well after playing just a bit of running back late in the season. Jack was a media sensation, and a bowl game should prop up his profile even more.
Stanford’s Run For The Roses, Part 2
When Jim Harbaugh bolted for the NFL, people wondered if Stanford would droop back into its woeful ways. Only David Shaw had something else in mind. Back-to-back Rose Bowls, perhaps. Stanford’s last three seasons have ended in the following year with New Year’s-or-later bowl games — Orange, Fiesta and Rose, in that order — but a second straight flowery victory would really put the Cardinal in the nation’s elite. Michigan State will be an arduous task, but one for which Shaw is prepared.
Will USC Be Clay Pigeons?
The Steve Sarkisian Era is on hold at USC, for now, as offensive coordinator Clay Helton will man the reins in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State. The Trojans’ offense has been a mixed bag this year, but the defense certainly hasn’t. Only problem: USC runs up against the Bulldogs’ brilliant Derek Carr, whose passing attack guided the team to the top aerial assault in the country at nearly 410 passing yards per game.