Do you remember when bowl games were special? Those days of old in which programs had to win the majority of their games to get into a bowl?
In fact, there will be 41 bowl games this season, and that means that more than 80 of the nation’s 131 FBS teams qualified in 2022. Since that is over 60% of all teams, then we know without looking that some are less than average and do not even have winning records.
I mean, think about it: UNLV just fired its coach because he failed to produce a winning record in three seasons, and in 2022, he only won 40% of his games. Yet, the Rebels qualified for a bowl game. They won’t actually get one, but they did qualify.
UNLV might seem like an extraordinarily unqualified bowl qualifier, but if we went back in history, we would find that the Orange Bowl intended to host one team but wound up with a two-year college.
Miami of Florida was one of the teams to appear in that Orange Bowl, but its opponent was an impostor. Fans didn’t know until later that their heroic Hurricanes had narrowly defeated a two-year college. As if that wasn’t enough lunacy, the two-year college only lost by four points and didn’t understand until later that they weren’t supposed to be there. If you want to know the full story, you can read it here.
This year, there are some outstanding bowl games on tap, and PAC-12 teams are involved in their share of them. So, let’s take a look at the PAC-12 bowl season and see if we can predict what will come.
#14 Oregon 9-3 vs North Carolina 9-4
Both Oregon and North Carolina have fabulous dual-threat quarterbacks as the Ducks come to San Diego with senior Bo Nix and the Tar Heels have freshman all-American Drake Maye. Although they have both been very successful, it is Nix who has a higher completion rate, more yards per pass attempt, and twice as many rushing touchdowns despite only having half as many rushing attempts as Maye.
Oregon has an advantage in diversification because the Ducks have two running backs with more than 125 carries, while North Carolina’s leading rusher is Maye, and he is the only Tar Heel with more than 125 carries.
Oregon’s offensive line is tops in the nation for protecting the quarterback, while North Carolina is ranked 105th. Although Oregon has a terrific advantage in protection, it is not likely to make a difference since both defenses are in the bottom ten of the nation for getting to opposing quarterbacks.
The Tar Heels are on a three-game losing game skid and have yet to beat a ranked team. In their last outing, the ‘heels were embarrassed by Clemson, 39-10. To their credit, they are 6-0 in true road games.
The Ducks have played a decidedly more difficult schedule and stand 3-2 against ranked opponents. They are 4-1 in true road games.
There don’t appear to be many significant leverage points for North Carolina, which explains why my Savvy Index is calling this 39-30 for Oregon.
Florida 6-6 vs #13 Oregon State 9-3
Las Vegas Bowl
I don’t recall anyone predicting Oregon State to finish the season ranked higher than Oregon, Washington, Texas, and Notre Dame, but that is exactly what the Beavers have accomplished.
They’ll have their hands full against the strong ground game of Florida under first-year head coach Billy Napier.
The Gators have used a three-pronged approach to moving the ball on the ground this year. However, they are now down to just two prongs because quarterback Anthony Richardson has declared for the NFL draft and will not be with the team in Las Vegas. Richardson had more than 650 yards on the ground (6.4 ypc).
Also gone is backup quarterback Jalen Kitna who was dismissed from the team a week ago. Florida now has no experienced quarterbacks to face Oregon State.
That won’t work well against an Oregon State secondary that has been sensational. In 12 games, that group has been in the top 40 in three key categories: intercepting passes, keeping passes out of the end zone, and stifling quarterbacks’ completing percentages.
The two rushing prongs that remain for Florida are running backs Montrell Johnson Jr. and freshman sensation Trevor Etienne who have combined for more than 250 carries and gained more than 1500 yards at six yards per carry.
Snooping around the Florida blogs reveals that the Gators have also lost several defensive players to the transfer portal, so we can expect UF’s 103rd-ranked defense to have some difficulty stopping Oregon State’s powerful rushing attack.
Oddsmakers favor Oregon State by 10. Savvy sees the Beavs prevailing 32-21.
#22 Pittsburgh 8-4 vs UCLA 9-3
The football world favors UCLA in this one, and most of the ranking world shows UCLA in the top 25. Savvy Index doesn’t agree with any of that.
UCLA has underperformed nearly all projections throughout 2022. Although I’m a big Chip Kelly fan, his Bruins should not be in anyone’s top 25 when its defense can’t get higher than 85th for either total defense or points defense and is nearly dead last in the nation for allowing pass completions. Opponents have averaged over 275 yards per game through the air.
Can Pitt take advantage?
Well, let’s take a look at the Panther’s starting quarterback. Oh, wait. He transferred. Kedin Slovis was once the star darling of USC football, and he was the starter and primary quarterback for Pitt this year.
But his absence might just be addition-by-subtraction for the Panthers because Slovis has fallen on hard times and thrown only one more touchdown pass all year than he has interceptions. And that falls on Slovis and not the Pitt system or the Pitt coaches because this is the program that last year produced Kenny Pickett, who led the nation in many passing categories, was on most Heisman lists and is now the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL.
With Slovis gone and no other quarterback has thrown more than 20 passes this year, we might expect Pitt to have trouble through the air. Well, it’s a little late for that. Pitt has had trouble through the air all year, but with Slovis gone, maybe that “air” will clear a little.
I mean, how hard would it be for a replacement quarterback to complete 58% of his passes for more than 7.6 yards per attempt and actually hurl the ball into the end zone more often than once every 31 attempts? Those are the numbers Slovis left behind. Whoever steps in will have plenty of opportunities because UCLA ranks 110th for most yards allowed through the air.
UCLA will, of course, counter with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and he will have a lot of fun smashing into linebackers and getting a few passes to click. He’ll see to it that the Bruins score plenty of points.
Zach Charbonnet is indeed one of the best ball carriers in the land, but that’s not going to be enough to save UCLA, especially when we see that Pitt has the nation’s tenth-best rush defense.
The Bruins will put up plenty of points, but its defense will give up even more.
Bookies see this as a seven-point win for UCLA. The Index sees it 32-28 for Pitt.
#23 Tulane 11-2 vs #12 USC 11-2
This is going to be a great bowl game with plenty of back-and-forth excitement and high-quality offensive play.
The two primary differences between these teams are:
1) Running the ball
Tulane has a full stable of running backs led by Tyjae Spears, who already has 1376 rushing yards at 6.5 yards per carry. The Green Wave complements Spears with sensational dual-threat quarterback Michael Pratt who is simply unstoppable, and they finish things off with two freshmen who have each rushed the ball more than 50 times.
Meanwhile, USC lost its top running back to a career-ending injury and has only one other running back with more than 40 carries.
The Trojans can’t stop anything. They rank 106th against the rush and 121st through the air.
Tulane is undefeated against nationally ranked teams after beating both Kansas State and Cincinnati on the road.
USC is 2-2 against ranked opponents.
USC has the flash, but Tulane will get most of the Cotton Bowl cash. Vegas likes USC by two. My Index sides with the Green Wave, 32-31.
#5 Penn State 10-2 vs #8 Utah 10-3
How long has quarterback Sean Clifford been at Penn State? Well, he signed with the Nittany Lions in July of 2015, he’s since thrown 1335 passes, and he is now 24 years old.
He has often been heralded for being PSU’s all-time leader in passing attempts, passing completions, and passing touchdowns. That might not impress you since Clifford has been in college football for so many years, but you might your thoughts might change when you discover that he also has the highest career completion percentage of any quarterback in PSU history.
As a kid, Clifford’s family vacationed in Southern California, and Sean stood before the Rose Bowl and proclaimed that he would someday play there.
Well, in two weeks, he will do exactly that.
Utah has the advantage of a stronger rushing attack which the Utes rely on more than the Nittany Lions rely on theirs.
The Utes have Cameron Rising at quarterback, and he is noticeably more effective than Clifford in passing efficiency and his ability to make big plays by running the ball.
The Utes still have that bitter taste from having lost last year’s Rose Bowl to Ohio State after they caved in the fourth quarter. Utah had the Buckeyes down but didn’t finish the job, and the disappointment from that has become a great motivation to battle this Rose Bowl to the end.
Penn State was 0-2 against ranked opponents this year, but those losses were to Michigan and Ohio State, programs that are right now in the national championship playoff.
Utah is 3-2 against ranked opponents, with the best of those wins coming against USC, which is currently ranked higher in the Coaches Poll than Penn State.
If Sean Clifford has a great game, the Nittany Lions will win. Otherwise, most of the leverage points belong to Utah.
My prediction Index favors Utah 30-28 with the notation, “The star will be Rising.”
#17 Texas 8-4 vs #15 Washington 10-2
Both of these teams have exceeded projections this year, but Texas has played against much better competition.
While Washington was playing a non-conference schedule against two losing programs and one from the FCS and combined 14-21 records, Texas was playing three FBS teams that were 25-12 and included #5 Alabama and #16 UTSA.
Both teams have outstanding quarterbacks, so we can expect a lot of aerial fireworks, but Texas has a much better defense against those attacks than Washington, which ranks 116th for yielding the most touchdown passes in 2022.
Another key element is that Texas is another of those teams that rush more than they pass (56% tp 44%) and is good at it. Washington is nearly the opposite, as the Huskies pass the ball 60% of the time and have trouble getting four yards per rush attempt. Consequently, if the passing game doesn’t work for Washington or Michael Penix Jr. has a bad day, the Huskies are stuck.
Washington has a noticeable advantage at quarterback, where Penix has been the nation’s most prolific passer in 2022. Although his final four games produced a concerning 7-to-3 touchdown ratio and his completion percentage dropped four percentage points, he has been terrific overall.
Meanwhile, Texas freshman Quinn Evers was given a lot of hype, but when you boil things down, that appears to have been more fabrication than fact. Evers completed only 56% of his passes with an interception rate (2.4%) that was higher than average and a yards-per-attempt rate that was less than average (7.3). His legs weren’t newsworthy unless you like your quarterback to end the season with negative rushing yards.
We can’t forget that Evers spent much of the season on the injury list, and if he comes up lame against the Huskies, there is no one behind him with experience since Houston Card announced last week that he is now in the transfer portal.
The Longhorns have enough power on the ground to keep the ball moving, and they have a top-20 defense to keep UW’s under control.
Betting lines say this will be a game with 68 total points. The Savvy Index has been fantastic in declaring the over/under of betting lines, and it clearly shows this game won’t reach that total, and Texas will win 31-30.
Washington State 7-5 vs #21 Fresno State 9-4
Washington State has played one of the more difficult schedules in the nation and survived quite well because of its aggressive and impressive defense. Teams struggle to move the ball against the Cougars, and defensive coordinators have had fits trying to figure out ways to stop WSU’s relentless pressure.
Quarterbacks don’t have time to throw, and that is the reason WSU is one of the more exceptional interception programs in America. Fresno State has an offensive line that rates a little less than average (my estimation: rank is 77th), so WSU pressure should be effective in this bowl.
As good as the Cougar defense has been this year, WSU has a few problems going into the LA Bowl.
1) Offensive Line
It’s not a secret that Washington State just does not have the bodies up front to open holes for running backs or keep marauding linebackers away from an outstanding quarterback in Cameron Ward, who has literally been fleeing blitzes all year just to keep himself healthy. That offensive line ranks no higher than 115th in either tackle for loss allowed or sacks allowed.
In FCS play a year ago, Ward ran the ball with effectiveness. At Washington State, he runs for his life. We know that because he has been credited with 96 carries but hasn’t even reached 100 total after 12 games. Fresno State doesn’t have a lot of ability to get to quarterbacks, but they will look pretty good against WSU.
2) Fresno State
The Bulldogs come to Los Angeles on an eight-game winning streak, and they wear the crown of Mountain West Conference champions. Coach Jeff Tedford has done a brilliant job of molding a new scheme into the FSU program and sticking with it all the way to the Conference title. FSU is one of the hottest teams in America.
3) FSU quarterback Jake Haener
Haener was once a Washington Husky, but he transferred to Fresno State and has been magnificent for two years. The 6’1″, 200-pound senior completes more than 72% of his passes with an astounding interception rate of less than one percent.
Neither of these teams has beaten a ranked opponent despite six attempts between the two of them. Fresno State is the only ranked team in this bowl game.
FSU is favored 28-23 by my prediction Index.
You can see predictions by my Index for all of the bowl games here.