It was a bowl season to forget for the Pac-12.
The conference’s nine bowl teams went a combined 1-8 in bowl season. Utah was the only team to win a bowl game and the previously 6-6 Utes beat a West Virginia team that didn’t have Will Grier at quarterback.
Utah has long been a bowl bright spot for the conference. Coach Kyle Whittingham is a remarkable 11-1 in bowl games. His only loss came in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl against a Boise State team quarterbacked by Kellen Moore, one of the most productive college quarterbacks of the last 20 years.
If Whittingham is at Utah for another 12 years (and the Utes make 12 more bowl appearances), expecting him to continue that winning percentage is unrealistic. You can expect some course correction, just like you can regarding the Pac-12’s future bowl record.
Heck, in the random world that can be college football’s postseason, maybe the Pac-12 was due for a bad year. The conference has been reliably good in bowls over the previous nine seasons. The 1-8 record in 2017 brings the conference’s record over the most recent 10 seasons to 37-36. When you can withstand a 1-8 record and still stay above .500, you’re doing pretty well.
*Oregon had a 1-1 record in the College Football Playoff
Yeah, the Pac-12 does have a few concerns. After missing the playoff this season it joined the Big 12 as the only Power Five conference to miss the playoff in two of the format’s four seasons. The conference’s revenues aren’t what they could be because of the struggles of the Pac-12 Network, meaning schools aren’t as flush with cash as their Big Ten and SEC counterparts.
And there’s the bizarre conflict regarding the conference’s “late” kickoffs, which aren’t much different than start times for teams in the East and Central time zones when adjusted for local time.
But to make a sweeping judgment about the conference’s future relevancy thanks to a couple weeks in December is a bold leap. This is a conference that will have quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Khalil Tate back in 2018, and, potentially, Sam Darnold too. Oh, and Chip Kelly is now UCLA’s coach. The sting of this bowl season could wear off pretty quickly.
Here are the rest of our bowl season winners and losers.
Big Ten: The conference went 4-0 against the Pac-12 and ended up going 7-1 over the course of bowl season. That record included a key victory by Purdue over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl and easy victories by Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State over their Pac-12 bowl opponents.
The conference’s best got the best of the Pac-12’s best. Though that shouldn’t be too surprising. The Big Ten was probably the best conference overall — yes, we’re well aware the SEC has the two National Championship Game participants — and the conference’s depth was on full display this year.
New Mexico State: If you caught the final seconds of New Mexico State’s win over Utah State in the Arizona Bowl it was impossible to not feel happy for the school.
The overtime win, sealed when Larry Rose III scampered in for a touchdown, was the school’s first bowl win since the 1960 Sun Bowl. Yes, that’s a drought of 57 years. The high from the bowl win is going to last a long time.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, it doesn’t net them a conference in 2018. The game was NMSU’s last as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Aggies will go forward as an independent in 2018 and beyond. And the road to a bowl game can be pretty tough for a team without a conference.
Army: Speaking of independent teams, what a turnaround it’s been for the Black Knights. Jeff Monken’s team finished the season 10-3, the first 10-win season for Army since 1996.
Army won six games in Monken’s first two seasons at the school and has won 18 games in 2016 and 2017. The most recent win came against San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl after Army scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with 18 seconds to go.
John Wolford: The Wake Forest quarterback had the game of his career in the Demon Deacons’ 55-52 win over Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl.
Wolford was 32-49 passing for 400 yards and four touchdowns in his final game at Wake Forest. It was just the second time he’s thrown for 400 or more yards and just his second game with four or more touchdowns. He threw for 461 yards and five scores earlier this season in a win against Louisville.
But the Belk Bowl was probably sweeter for the four-year starter, who threw for 3,192 yards, 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2017. His performance was a big reason why Wake Forest’s offense went from sluggish to now sometimes spectacular.
Michigan: The fly in the Big Ten bowl ointment was wearing khakis and attacking said ointment with enthusiasm unknown to fly-kind.
Yup, the Wolverines were the lone Big Ten team that lost a bowl game, choking away a 19-3 lead to lost 26-19 to South Carolina. And after the game, South Carolina defensive back JaMarcus King made it clear that Michigan’s passing attack wasn’t the most complicated of schemes.
— Orion Sang (@orion_sang) January 1, 2018
Brandon Peters started the game at quarterback and with Wilton Speight transferring and John O’Korn graduating, he enters the season as Michigan’s most experienced starting quarterback. But Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson could be eligible in 2018 because of the Rebels’ NCAA sanctions.
If he is, Patterson will probably be the team’s starter. And have the weight of Michigan fans’ massive expectations. Quarterback play has haunted Michigan throughout Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. While an 8-5 record isn’t a failure in 2017, the Wolverines need to find competency at quarterback in 2018.
Sam Darnold: The USC quarterback entered the 2017 season as the Heisman favorite and the guy that many thought would be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Darnold didn’t come close to sniffing the Heisman and may not even be in the draft at all and come back for his redshirt junior season in 2018.
Darnold didn’t live up to the lofty standards placed before him in 2017 because of turnovers. Darnold threw 13 interceptions, fumbled 11 times and saw his completion percentage drop four points from 2016.
USC’s 24-7 Cotton Bowl loss to Ohio State was a microcosm of his season. Darnold completed just 58 percent of his passes, was tortured constantly by a marauding Ohio State pass rush, fumbled and threw an inexplicable interception.
He showed flashes of his immense talent too, making some exceptional throws. But the game showed that Darnold may be best served with another year at USC and some tampered expectations
SMU: The Mustangs entered the Frisco with a depleted coaching staff thanks to Chad Morris’ departure to Arkansas and some assistants going along with him. That included Jeff Traylor, who was appointed the team’s interim coach after Morris’ departure.
So instead of appointing a second interim coach, SMU had new coach Sonny Dykes coach the bowl game with the skeleton crew that was left. It didn’t work out well at all. SMU was blitzed 51-10 and gave up 42 points in the first half.
Things are much better at SMU than they were when Morris got there, so Dykes should have SMU competing for bowl games on a regular basis. But man, Dec. 20 was a flashback to uglier times for many Mustang fans.
Virginia: Here’s another team that hoped to build on a promising rebound season in its bowl game. Oops.
Virginia was thrashed 49-7 by Navy in the Military Bowl. The Cavaliers were going for their first winning season since 2011 and ended up giving up 452 rushing yards to a Navy offense that attempted just one pass. It fell incomplete.
The 6-7 season is still a four-game improvement from coach Bronco Mendenhall’s inaugural 2-10 season with the school a year ago. But Virginia started the season 4-1 and ended the season with four-straight losses. It’s hard to be too optimistic after a second half like that.
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