We now know the final pecking order for the 2013 Pac-12 football season. As someone who followed the league pretty closely this season, below are my season-end "awards" and predictions for the upcoming bowls Pac-12 teams will be playing in.
Pac-12 North Winner: Stanford (10-2 overall, 7-2 in league play). While Oregon had the identical record, Stanford memorably beat Oregon in Palo Alto and therefore owned the tie breaker over the Ducks - vaulting them into the league championship game. While perhaps not the best Stanford squad of the past few years, they accomplished similar results with a stifling defense and a grind it out/slow down run-heavy offense. They did lose twice, but turned out to be OK for them.
Pac-12 South Winner: Arizona State (10-2, 8-1). ASU upped the ante this year after so many seasons of failing to live up to the hype always surrounding them as "the next big thing." They actually had the best league record of any team North or South, only losing to Stanford earlier in the season. Key wins over USC, UCLA, UW and OS helped secure their division title.
2013 Pac-12 Champion: Stanford (11-2, 7-2). The Cardinal easily beat Arizona State in the league championship game to take the crown and the automatic appearance in the 100th Rose Bowl game in early January.
Most over-rated team. Oregon. Now, the Ducks had a 10-2 year and currently sit at #10 in the nation, so you can't say they didn't have a quality season. But, when you start inside the top 5 and the expectations were either National Title or Rose Bowl, that isn't great. And, it's not just the record, but the way they faded in the latter few weeks - going from blowing out everyone to becoming speed bump for even less-than-good teams. So, I say...overrated.
Most under-rated team. This one is easy: WSU. The Cougs looked horrible last year, but started this season with an "encouraging" loss to now #2 Auburn. From there, the Cougs suffered through a few challenges in the first part of the season when they played the better teams, but then came on nicely to finish at 6-6...which for long suffering Coug fans might as well have been 12-0. So, congratulations Cougs!
Best game: Stanford vs. USC in LA. OK, I know many of you will say it was Stanford's win over Oregon or maybe ASU vs. UCLA, or even the WSU win over Arizona. But what I'm talking about here is the most "entertaining" game. The Stanford/Oregon game was big, but wasn't that good. Stanford just kept running it up the middle and Oregon couldn't stop them, and then when the Ducks were on O they either turned it over or got stuffed running the ball. Boring to everyone outside of Palo Alto. Meanwhile, the Stanford game vs. USC the next week was not only huge in terms of implications it was back-and-forth and went down to the wire with USC winning on a last second field goal. I'll go with that one.
Most pivotal game: Stanford's win vs. Oregon. Reverse it and Oregon is in the Pac-12 title game and likely a BCS bowl while Stanford is probably in a second or third tier bowl. So, it was big.
Worst game: Cal vs. Colorado. This also doubles as "most meaningless" game. Here you had two teams who by the time this game was played knew they were going to finish in last place in their divisions and they proceeded to play a game had no bearing on the league and was lopsided with Colorado winning big.
The Pac-12 finished with five ranked teams and nine bowl bids for its 12 teams with only Colorado, Utah and Cal missing out with losing records. Here's what I think will happen in order of when the games will be played...
New Mexico Bowl. Washington State vs. Colorado State on Dec. 21. I like the Cougs in this one! They showed heart down the stretch and want this one badly. Colorado State has a better record and less distance to travel, but I saw a couple of their games this year believe it or not and, well, they didn't look that great. WSU 21-CSU 20.
Las Vegas Bowl. #25 USC vs. #25 Fresno State on Dec. 21. Hmmm. I wonder which team has the most talent? It's not Fresno. But, they are a salty bunch, so who knows. Barring some sort of turnover-fest by the Trojans, I think they'll prevail and do so pretty easily. I say USC 31-FSU 20.
Hawaii Bowl. Oregon State vs. Boise State on Dec. 24. Two mediocre teams from the cold, wet northwest playing in Hawaii on Christmas Eve. I wonder who will watch? Neither team lived up to their own or fan expectation this season. Heck, Oregon State is 6-6. So, this is a bowl game between not-very-good teams. The Beavers played well against Oregon in the Civil War and one suspects that Boise will be on form for a bowl as usual. I'll say the Broncos win. BSU 28-OS 24.
Fight Hunger Bowl. Washington vs. BYU on Dec. 27. UW came on nicely toward the end of their season, then their coach quit in order to take the job at USC. Will that deflate them or motivate them? I think the later. BYU is always decent, so this could be a pretty good game. I think UW will win though. I'll say UW 35-BYU 21.
Holiday Bowl. #14 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech on Dec. 30. Despite losing to Stanford in the league title game, ASU is still a hot team and I think they'll be able to outlast the TT attack. I say ASU 52-TT 45.
Alamo Bowl. #10 Oregon vs. Texas on Dec. 30. OK, which teams will show up? Will it be the hot Oregon team from their 8-0 domination streak or will it be the lackluster, mistake prone, soft D version that took the field in the last few games? And for Texas, will it be the early season saps that got rolled or the late season studs who clawed their way within on game of the Big 12 championship? For all of our sakes, I hope its the better version of both squads...and I think it will be. And that, my friends, favors Oregon. Too much talent if it's all heading in one, positive direction. Either team could win, but I think Oregon will. UO 48-UT 26.
V100 Bowl (formerly the Independence Bowl). Arizona vs. Boston College on Dec. 31. Boston College has one of the best running backs in the nation and who is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Arizona has not shown to be a consistent or particularly good team (except for one game...the one against Oregon) all season long. I think BC wins. BC 32-UA 20.
Sun Bowl. #17 UCLA vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31. I'll cop to the fact that I have no idea how good VT is...just that they won enough to get into this bowl. I saw UCLA a couple times this season and was impressed with them. Based on that flimsy bit of info, I'll say the Bruins win. UCLA 27-VT 17.
Rose Bowl. #5 Stanford vs. #4 Michigan State on Jan. 1. OK, I want MSU to win this one. I am not fan of Stanford whatsoever. I respect what they've done, but they too often ruined my Ducks big bowl aspirations - particularly the last two seasons. That and it's uncanny how many things so consistently go their way - the bounce of the ball, penalties, ball spots, bizzaro decisions by the referees, etc. Can't stand 'em. But, I think they'll win this game. MSU is a very good team, it's true. But almost everything they are good at, Stanford is better. The one thing they might have is a slightly better QB, so if they get behind they may have a better shot at coming back than the run it left, run it right, run it up the middle Cardinal. In the end, I think Stanford will control the ball on O and stop MSU consistently on D - holding them to FGs instead of TDs for the most part. I think Stanford wins a low scoring affair. I'll say Stanford 24-MSU 16.
If all that happens, the Pac-12 would be 7-2 in bowls. That would be outstanding. It would also mean the Pac-12 could finish with three teams in the final Top 10 and perhaps six squads in the final Top 25.