A classic Rose Bowl matchup headlines the Pac-12's postseason slate
An author pennnig a book on the Pac-12's 2017-18 bowl season could title it, "The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Postseason" (with an epilogue on the NCAA Tournament). The conference's 1-8 mark a year ago sent the Pac-12 limping into an offseason full of abuse from the national punditry.
A strong bowl showing won't completely undo the rhetoric Pac-12 programs have endured for the past 11 months, but it is a step in the right direction heading into 2019. The conference will have some opportunities to score high-profile wins over the course of seven bowl matchups.
Note: All times are ET.
1. Rose Bowl — Washington (10-3) vs. Ohio State (12-1)
Jan. 1 — 5 p.m., ABC
A remarkable factoid that speaks to the seismic shifts the College Football Playoff has already initiated in the landscape: The 2019 Rose Bowl Game is the first pitting the Pac-12 Conference champion against the Big Ten Conference champion since Stanford played Michigan State in January 2014. That touch of nostalgia adds an extra element of excitement to a matchup that's intriguing in its own right.
While some have deemed the playoff the end-all, be-all of the sport, this Rose Bowl pairing suggests room for college football's historic milestones remains. Washington is in its first Granddaddy of 'Em All since 2000, a significant achievement in the program's resurgence under Chris Petersen. Meanwhile, for all its successes under John Cooper, Jim Tressel and the outgoing Urban Meyer, this marks only the fourth Rose Bowl appearance for Ohio State since 1985.
Both the context and the matchup itself make this the most intriguing Pac-12 bowl game — as the Rose Bowl always should be. Washington's outstanding defense must slow Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins and the last hurrah of offensive guru Meyer in a clear clash of styles.
2. Alamo Bowl — Washington State (10-2) vs. Iowa State (8-4)
Dec. 28 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Washington State finds itself in a predicament that's faced other Pac-12 programs during the BCS and College Football Playoff eras. The Cougars deserved a spot in one of the New Year's Six bowls but were relegated to the Alamo Bowl to face an 8-4 opponent in Iowa State. Washington State runs the risk of becoming a 2004 Cal or '16 Colorado, two teams that were skipped over for elite bowl games, and came out uninspired in ugly postseason losses. Coupled with the Cougars having looked flat in Holiday Bowl defeat each of the previous two years, and the possibility of a lull is real.
On the flipside, the high-powered Washington State offense playing under a dome has the potential to produce basketball numbers.
3. Redbox Bowl — Oregon (8-4) vs. Michigan State (7-5)
Dec. 31 — 3 p.m., FOX
In 2014 and '15, Oregon and Michigan State faced off in a home-and-home series — an increasingly rare but wonderful thing among Power 5 programs — preceding the winner of each advancing to the College Football Playoff. The stakes are much different this time around, though the unofficial rubber match can serve as a springboard into 2019.
Oregon looks much different now than the last time it faced Michigan State. First-year head coach Mario Cristobal implemented a more physical style of football, which will be put to the test against a Michigan State program long known for its hard-hitting approach under Mark Dantonio. It's a shame this bowl is no longer played at AT&T Park; this could turn into a slugfest worthy of the former home of Barry Bonds.
4. Holiday Bowl — Utah (9-4) vs. Northwestern (8-5)
Dec. 31 — 7 p.m., FS1
The Holiday Bowl has a rich history that prominently features a variety of high-scoring shootouts. The 2018 edition will not be reminiscent of those games. Pac-12 and Big Ten runners-up Utah and Northwestern bring two of the nation's stingiest defenses to San Diego. Hard hits will be in abundant supply, but points should come at a premium.
If the Holiday Bowl committee hopes to up the physicality, a halftime steel cage match between head coaches Kyle Whittingham and Pat Fitzgerald should be in order.
5. Sun Bowl — Stanford (8-4) vs. Pitt (7-6)
Dec. 31 — 2 p.m., CBS
Ten years ago, Pitt visited El Paso for a Sun Bowl date with Oregon State. The Panthers lost, 3-0. It's a game that lives in infamy. The possibility of the 2018 edition providing a redux exists; head coaches who place heavy emphasis on defense lead both Stanford and ACC Coastal division champion Pitt. The Cardinal and Panthers have both been prone to stretches of offensive anemia this season.
At the same time, both sides have offensive playmakers capable of delivering some explosive moments. The Pitt running back duo of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall average 6.3 and 7.5 yards per carry, while Stanford's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is one of the most jaw-dropping big-play threats in the nation. This matchup is unpredictable, which adds to its intrigue.
6. Las Vegas Bowl — Arizona State (7-5) vs. Fresno State (11-2)
Dec. 15 — 3:30 p.m., ABC
The prospect of two of college football's most outstanding wide receivers taking the stage is off the table; as Arizona State's N'Keal Harry is not playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. That leaves Fresno State's excellent KeeSean Johnson to shine.
Fresno State is in search of its program-record 12th win, and solidifying a spot in the final Top 25. Arizona State's motivations for the Las Vegas Bowl are less clear, but exceeding expectations has been the M.O. of this bunch throughout 2018.
7. Cheez-It Bowl — Cal (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)
Dec. 26 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Cal surpassed virtually all outside expectations in a breakout season under head coach Justin Wilcox. In contrast, TCU — considered a preseason contender in the Big 12 title race — eeked its way into the postseason with a pair of one-score wins on the final two weeks of the regular season.
Both teams dealt with offensive inconsistencies throughout 2018. Combined with their similarly solid defenses, that increases the likelihood of a low-scoring affair at Chase Field. It is worth noting that when TCU meets a Pac-12 opponent in the postseason, things get weird.