After an ugly decade on the gridiron for the Pac-12, 2020 got off to a good start for the Conference of Champions.
On the first day of the 2020s, the No. 6 Oregon Ducks beat No. 8 Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl.
That win gave the conference a NY6 Bowl win and a 4-3 record in the bowl season. But more importantly, it gave the conference some much-needed respect.
Nobody in their right mind would argue that the Pac-12 is the best football conference. That claim will be held by the SEC until the end of time, but it sure looks like the Pac-12 has climbed from the cellar of the Power Five.
And while making bold proclamations based off the bowl season is not the best way to measure conference success, here is a look at how the Power Five conferences did in postseason play.
Power 5 bowl records:
Big Ten: 4-5
Big 12: 1-5
There are only two conferences that had a winning record in bowl games and one of them is the Pac-12. That is a great sign for a conference that needs all the good publicity it can get.
In fact, one could reasonably make the argument that the Pac-12 is now the third-best Power Five football conference. The SEC is the best, and even though the Big Ten was not spectacular in the bowl season, it sent three teams to major bowl games and one of its losses was a close defeat in the College Football Playoff.
Still, the Pac-12 as a whole was demonstrably better than the ACC this season even with Clemson’s dominance. The Big 12 did send a team to the College Football Playoff, but that does not excuse the conference’s awful 1-5 bowl record this season.
Wherever the Pac-12 ranks among other conferences, Larry Scott and co. have to be happy that the conference at least has some wind at its back.
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 teams fared individually in their bowl matchups.
1) Oregon had the most important win for the conference. Even though the Ducks probably did not play their best overall game in their one-point win over Wisconsin, they avoided a stinker on the biggest stage and secured another Rose Bowl win.
2) What a way for Chris Petersen to go out. In his last game as head coach of the Huskies, Washington dominated No. 19 Boise State 38-7 in the Las Vegas Bowl and went out strong after a disappointing regular season.
3) How much better would Cal have been if Chase Garbers had stayed healthy the entire season? The Golden Bears are a completely different animal when he was under center and showed their full strength in a 35-20 molly whopping of Illinois in the RedBox Bowl. Garbers accounted for all five of Cal’s touchdowns, throwing for 272 yards and four scores along with a rushing touchdown.
4) The 2019 Sun Bowl was not a banner day for Arizona State’s offense, but the Sun Devils survived with a 20-14 win over Florida State. ASU benefitted from six FSU turnovers and the offense did just enough to get by without Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk, the team’s top rusher, and receiver.
5) No. 22 USC’s defense was absolutely awful in its 49-24 loss to No. 16 Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. The Trojans hung in the game until Kedon Slovis got injured in the second half, but USC could not slow down Iowa’s offense the entire game, which is an especially troubling sign since the Hawkeyes were not exactly offensive world-beaters in 2019.
6) In what turned out to be Mike Leach’s last game as head coach of Washington State, the Cougars put together a one-sided performance in their 31-21 loss to Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl. It looked like the Cougars had not practiced at all for the triple-option rushing attack of Air Force, which was especially embarrassing because they had extra time to prepare for it.
7) No. 11 Utah had the worst showing of any Pac-12 team in its 38-10 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. The Utes were blown off the field by an inconsistent Texas squad, and although an 11-win season is nothing to scoff at, that game further illustrated some of Utah’s issues when it plays talented teams.