Though the Pac-12 was collectively shut out of the College Football Playoff, the conference quite literally has more reason than ever to look forward to the postseason. That’s because a record 10 Pac-12 teams are participating in bowl games, giving the league a FBS-best 83.3 percent representation this postseason.
Each of the conference’s 10 bowl matchups offer varying levels of intrigue. For those mapping out their bowl-watching schedule amid the hustle of the holiday season, consider the following your guide for the Pac-12.
1. Rose Bowl Game – Stanford (11-2) vs. Iowa (12-1)
Jan. 1 – 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
No matter the season, the Rose Bowl Game will always rank atop any list for Pac-12 bowl games. The Granddaddy of ‘Em All remains a benchmark for excellence in the Pac-12 and Big Ten alike, even in the College Football Playoff era. As Stanford head coach David Shaw quipped after the Cardinal’s Pac-12 Championship Game win earlier this month: "If the worst thing we do is go to the Rose Bowl, I think that's pretty cool."
Iowa and Stanford promise to bring some old-school flavor to the oldest bowl game. The Hawkeyes rode Kirk Ferentz’s brand of stifling defense and power-run offense to a 12-0 regular season mark, and they came just one stop shy of the College Football Playoff. Stanford’s defense took a slight step back from recent years, but the Cardinal run game is perhaps the best it’s ever been with Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey setting the pace.
2. Valero Alamo Bowl – Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)
Jan. 2 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Injuries cost two of the more popular preseason picks to reach the College Football Playoff, but both Oregon and TCU ended the regular season with a flourish. Oregon upset rival Stanford in a late-season showdown, which ostensibly kept the Cardinal out of the Playoff, while TCU exacted some revenge on rival Baylor over Thanksgiving weekend.
At their best, both of these teams can put up huge point totals. Trevone Boykin and Vernon Adams are two of the nation’s most electrifying quarterbacks, and each will look to end his illustrious college career with a bang.
3. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl – BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
Dec. 19 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Holy War hiatus didn’t last quite as long as anticipated. This Las Vegas Bowl pits the longtime, bitter rivals against one another amid a two-year series layoff. With matching 9-3 records and the bragging rights inherent in any rivalry, the Las Vegas Bowl arguably has more at stake than nearly any other postseason game.
Decades of hatred fuel what is an otherwise an already intriguing matchup. Both teams feature hard-hitting, aggressive defenses and unpredictable offenses. The winner on the scoreboard will likely be whichever squad wins the turnover battle.
4. Holiday Bowl – USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
Dec. 30 – 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
No Pac-12 team has played in the Rose Bowl more in the 21st century than USC. Likewise, Wisconsin boasts the most Big Ten appearances in the Rose Bowl since 2000. Thus, it’s ironic that the Trojans and Badgers meet in a bowl game for the first time since January 1963, and do so 100-plus miles south of the Rose Bowl.
San Diego is host to this showdown of traditional powers, both of which employ smash-mouth styles. However, USC’s ability to speed the pace provides enough of a styles clash with Wisconsin’s stifling defense that the Holiday Bowl should be a must-watch.
5. Hyundai Sun Bowl – Washington State (8-4) vs. Miami (8-4)
Dec. 26 – 2 p.m. ET, CBS
A worthy nickname for this year’s Sun Bowl? The Overachievers Championship. Washington State was picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 North, but instead, entered the regular season’s final month with a chance to win the division. Miami opened 2015 sluggishly enough that it cost Al Golden his job, but the Hurricanes rallied under interim coach Larry Scott, winning four of their final five.
Exceeding expectations isn’t the only quality these teams share. Miami and Washington feature two of the more exciting, young quarterbacks in the nation: Brad Kaaya and Luke Falk.
6. Foster Farms Bowl – UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)
Dec. 26 – 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
A sub-.500 team playing in the postseason was an inevitability with the proliferation of bowl games over the last decade. Nebraska ostensibly became the first 5-7 program selected for a bowl bid, leading this year’s candidates by virtue of its APR. It’s easy to see that record and dismiss Nebraska against 8-4 UCLA, which was playing for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game the last week of the regular season.
However, the Huskers dropped six games by a combined 20 points – eight of those were the difference against Iowa in the regular-season finale. As Playoff participant Michigan State discovered, Nebraska can be dangerous.
Head coaches Mike Riley and Jim Mora faced only once when Riley was at Oregon State. His Beavers beat Mora’s Bruins at the Rose Bowl in 2012, 27-20.
7. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl – Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (9-4)
Dec. 26 – 2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
There may not be a better story in FBS this season than the resurgence of Southern Miss under third-year coach Todd Monken. The Golden Eagles went winless in 2012 and staggered through trying campaigns in each of Monken’s first two seasons, but behind the prolific passing numbers of quarterback Nick Mullens, Southern Miss won the Conference USA West Division and can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2011.
Whereas Southern Miss is at the pinnacle of a rebuilding project, Washington's is approaching an important phase. The Huskies endured growing pains in head coach Chris Petersen's second season, but a bowl victory would send the young team into the offseason with confidence and momentum.
8. Motel 6 Cactus Bowl – Arizona State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Jan. 2 – 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arizona State’s seniors get one more home game, thanks to the Cactus Bowl. Many of the Sun Devils donning maroon-and-gold for the final time spent their entire collegiate careers playing under Todd Graham, who spent one season leading the most bitter rival West Virginia has in Pittsburgh. In that one installment of the Backyard Brawl – the last in the rivalry’s 104-game history until 2022 – current Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen bested Graham and the Panthers, 21-20.
Both offenses have the capacity for big point totals, though this is Arizona State’s first game without Mike Norvell coordinating the offense.
9. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl – Cal (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5)
Dec. 29 - 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Air Force, meet the air raid. Cal returns to the postseason for the first time under head coach Sonny Dykes, and for the first time since 2011 after an up-and-down regular season. The Golden Bears peaked early with an appearance in the top 25, slid late, but ended on a crescendo, rallying to beat Arizona State.
The Falcons are on a decidedly different trajectory, losing their last two after clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division with an upset of Boise State. Air Force fell to New Mexico to cap the regular season, then lost the MW Championship Game to San Diego State.
The opposing offensive styles of Cal's "bear-raid" offense and Air Force's triple-option could make for one of the more unique postseason matchups.
10. Gildan New Mexico Bowl – Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5)
Dec. 19 – 2 p.m. ET
After a breakthrough 2014 season, which included 10 wins and a Pac-12 South Division title, Arizona regressed in 2015. Injuries hit the Wildcats hard, most notably costing them All-American linebacker Scooby Wright for almost the entire campaign. Wright’s projected return for the New Mexico Bowl adds some luster, and a much-needed run-stopping presence against New Mexico's option offense.
The host Lobos are in the midst of their own breakout campaign, returning to the postseason for the first time since 2007. A bowl appearance is a fitting culmination for head coach Bob Davie's remarkable turnaround. New Mexico was arguably the worst team in FBS when he arrived before the 2012 season.
Arizona needs this win to finish over .500 for a fourth consecutive season, a feat the program has not accomplished since doing so from 1992-95.