Bowl season — a time to reach elite status or salvage a season. A time to knock off the big boys or cement your team’s success. A time to prove how competitive your conference is.
Someone forgot to tell the Pac-10.
After the regular season, many people, including yours truly, thought that the Pac-10 was the best — and certainly deepest — conference in all of college football. Seven of the 10 teams made bowl games. Five teams finished the regular season in the BCS Top 25, more than any other conference.
The Pac-10’s juggernaut USC had not just been dethroned — the Trojans were embarrassed, falling to fifth in a conference they once dominated. What some would call parity was thought to be depth. Six Pac-10 teams won eight or more games in the regular season and five of the six were in contention for a Rose Bowl berth in the final weeks.
This, combined with the Pac-10’s success in previous bowl seasons (5-0 last year and 4-2 two years ago), made fans excited about this year’s bowl games. Finally, a chance to show East Coasters that the best football in the nation is played out west. A chance to prove the doubters from the SEC wrong and to further legitimize the protests that Toby Gerhart is the true Heisman Trophy winner.
You might have heard what happened to Stanford. Losing 31-27 against perennial powerhouse Oklahoma when the Cardinal was missing its starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Andrew Luck, is certainly nothing to hang your head about — particularly for a program coming off seven consecutive losing seasons.
Of course, detractors like to point out that Oklahoma was missing its starting quarterback as well, former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Clearly this was an enormous loss, especially combined with the loss of All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham, but the Sooners have been playing nearly all year with backup quarterback Landry Jones — this was not as big of adjustment as it was for Stanford to miss Luck.
Stanford was an underdog by just over a touchdown, thus it’s no shock that it fell short. Still though, the Cardinal had an experienced backup Tavita Pritchard filling in and Stanford led at halftime, so there isn’t much of a sense of a moral victory. At least the Cardinal did not disappoint as much as the rest of the conference, though.
Of the six other Pac-10 teams, only two won their bowl games, while three lost by double digits. The games went as follows: Oregon State looked outmatched against BYU 44-20 in a game that was expected to be nearly a dead heat; Cal was dominated by Utah, 37-27, in a game Cal led 14-0; USC overcame a lackluster first half to outlast offensively-challenged Boston College, 24-13; UCLA came back from a halftime deficit to defeat Temple (which hadn’t been to a bowl game in 30 years), 30-21; Arizona got flat-out embarrassed by Nebraska 33-0; and Oregon laid an egg against Ohio State 26-17 in the Granddaddy of Them All. What makes this 2-4 bowl record even worse is that all six of these Pac-10 teams were favored to win their games by the oddsmakers.
As a Pac-10 fan and a hater of East Coast bias, this bowl season really hurt. I knew the Mountain West teams were very talented, so I thought BYU and Utah had a chance against Oregon State and Cal, but I expected the Beavers and Golden Bears to at least put up respectable performances. The wins by the L.A. schools were dull and expected, but at least they won. I cannot believe how poorly Arizona played against Nebraska — I would never have thought the Cornhuskers could score 33 points, not to mention hold Arizona scoreless.
Despite all these embarrassing performances, the toughest to handle for me was Oregon losing in the Rose Bowl. For once, all the experts predicted a win for the Pac-10 and Oregon seemed to finally be getting its share of hype. There seemed to be no way the Buckeyes could stop the high-powered Ducks offense, yet that’s exactly what they did.
Conferences are judged by their best teams and the Pac-10’s best teams could not deliver. The top four teams in the Pac-10 were outscored a combined 134-64 in the most important games of their seasons, which is frankly unacceptable.
I still believe the Pac-10 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation, but it’s hard to make a very compelling argument to support that now. Instead, Pac-10 fans have to resort to one of the most common clichés in sports.
There’s always next year.
Jacob Jaffe feels incredibly guilty about rooting for USC. Give him some joy by discussing the Trojans’ latest NCAA infractions at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.