Bowl predictions: Pac-12 should finish 7-1

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly hands the ball off to senior running back Cameron Marshall during the Sun Devils’ 45-43 loss to UCLA on Oct. 27. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

After qualifying eight of its teams into bowl games — including two BCS berths — the Pac-12 is once again turning heads in the college football world.

From the upsets to out of conference victories, the Pac-12 earned itself a No. 2 power ranking just behind the SEC according to ESPN.com. If the Pac-12 can finish the bowl season with all eight wins, the benefits and attention brought to the conference would be overpowering.

The State Press examined those eight bowl games, and analyzed how each Pac-12 team fares against their respective opponent.

 

Dec. 15: Gildan New Mexico Bowl — Nevada vs. UA

The first bowl game scheduled should open the postseason with a bang.

This game features two of the country’s premier halfbacks. UA senior running back Ka’Deem Carey has the second-most rushing yards in the nation with 1,757 yards, but Nevada junior running back Stefphon Jefferson isn’t far behind him at No. 4 with 44 less yards.

Both teams are fairly similar, as the two have high-powered offenses, but rank in the bottom 25 in the nation in points allowed per game. This game should feature nothing but scoring and will likely go down the wire, but UA’s (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) close-game experience in a much tougher conference in the Pac-12 should help the Wildcats be the first bowl winner of the year over the Wolfpack (7-5, 4-4 Mountain West).

 

Dec. 22: MAACO Bowl Las Vegas — Washington vs. No. 19 Boise State

The annual game at Sam Boyd Stadium might be as lopsided as last year, but it still could be another party for Boise State (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West).

The Broncos’ offense is nothing to get excited about, but Boise State gives up just 14.9 points per game — good for No. 6 in the nation.

Washington (7-5, 5-4) pulled off two major wins this season over Stanford and Oregon State, so the upset factor is clearly there for this game. The Huskies, however, slipped against a mediocre Washington State team in overtime in its regular season finale. Boise State should be a safe pick in this one.

 

Dec. 27: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl — No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor

The Bruins (9-4) and redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin will face off with senior wide receiver Terrance Williams and Baylor (7-5) for the first time in both program’s history.

Anything less than a high scoring game would come as a shock, as both team’s passing defense ranks at the bottom of all college football.

Regardless of Baylor’s record, the Big 12 was no joke this season and the Bears made sure to shake it up. After upsetting then-No. 1 Kansas State, Baylor made a final three-game run to qualify for a bowl game — including a win over then-No. 23 Oklahoma State and an overtime victory over Texas Tech. The Bears rely on a passing game that ranks No. 5 in yards per game and points per game, plus a backfield that averages 225 yards per game on the ground. Williams ranks No. 1 in receiving yards this season by a hefty margin and will be the Bears only hope to remain even with the Bruins.

Baylor can be a deadly “UPS” team — on air and ground — but its defense is the kryptonite. Expect UCLA to expose the Bears’ weaknesses on defense to lead to a high-scoring, late game victory for the Bruins including 250-plus total yards from Franklin.

 

Dec. 29: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl — ASU vs. Navy

Navy (7-4) and the Sun Devils (7-5) are two polar-opposite teams in many ways. The Midshipmen run a triple option offense that relies heavily on the run. While Navy averages 285.5 rushing yards per game, freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds and the Midshipmen average a dismal 108.6 yards per game through the air.

The Sun Devil pass defense ranks No. 12 in the nation, thus forcing Navy to beat ASU on the ground. For Navy, that may seem like the Sun Devils working towards the Midshipmen’s strengths, but ASU’s front seven will put that to rest.

With redshirt junior and All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton and ASU’s No. 2 tackles for loss defense, the Sun Devils will cause mass disruption in Navy’s option-ran backfield. The inexperience of Reynolds against the ASU turnover-hungry defense will result in a bad day for the Midshipmen. The Sun Devils will control the entire game in San Francisco for the Sun Devils first bowl win since 2005, and Graham’s first with ASU.

 

Dec. 29: Valero Alamo Bowl — No. 23 Texas vs. No. 13 Oregon State

Oregon State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) has a chance to end its Cinderella story-esque year with a win over another ranked team, but the Beavers would need to fend off Texas (8-4, 5-4 Big 12), which will play just an hour away from campus.

The Beavers are heading into San Antonio in a little bit of a slump, as Oregon State only went .500 in its final six games of the season (one which was a make-up game vs. Nicholls State).

A pass-happy Beaver offense should have no problem moving downfield against the Longhorns’ mediocre defense, which gives them the slight advantage in Texas’s own state.

 

Dec. 31: Hyundai Sun Bowl — USC vs. Georgia Tech

The Trojans (7-5) will travel to El Paso to participate in their first bowl game in three years. After being suspended for the past two years due to sanctions by the NCAA, senior quarterback Matt Barkley will lead his senior class in his last game as a Trojan. Barkley missed the last game of the season due to a sprained shoulder but is expected to return for the Sun Bowl. He will be the x-factor for USC, as sophomore wide receiver and Heisman candidate Marqise Lee depends on Barkley — like Batman and Robin.

The Yellow Jackets (6-7) like to run a triple-option offense, thus resulting in three players with over 600 yards rushing — including redshirt senior quarterback Tevin Washington. Senior running back Orwin Smith averages 9 yards per carry and is a prime target out of the backfield for Washington.

The Georgia Tech defense has allowed over 3,100 yards through the air this season, and though the Yellow Jackets were a few plays away from being in the Orange Bowl, the ACC’s competition doesn’t compare to the depth of the Pac-12. USC’s experience and athleticism will push the Trojans to an emotional bowl victory for Barkley and the program in the Sun Bowl.

 

Jan. 1: Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio – No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin

This game shouldn’t even be occurring. While the Badgers (8-5) did have an impressive win over then-No. 12 Nebraska in the Big 10 Championship game, the fact that Wisconsin was in the title game was a fluke in itself. If it weren’t for Penn State and Ohio State’s suspensions, the Badgers would be in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl. Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball has had a spectacular season after being assaulted in early August prior to the season. Ball finished No. 3 in total yards rushing this season, but the Cardinal (11-2) defense will be Ball’s toughest test yet.

Stanford ranks No. 1 in tackles for loss and No. 14 in points against per game with 17.5. Wisconsin won’t be lighting up the scoreboard like they did against the Huskers, and the Badgers will fall hard to Stanford.

The Cardinal will redeem their Fiesta Bowl heartbreaker from last season and be able to bite down on those bright, red roses.

 

Jan. 3: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl — No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State

The Fiesta Bowl has always brought out the best bowl game in college football each season, and this year’s edition shouldn’t be any different. Had both teams not have lost on Nov. 17, this same matchup could’ve easily been set as the BCS National Championship game instead.

If the Wildcats (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) wants to pull off the big win over the Ducks (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12), Kansas State’s defensive line must find a way to limit Oregon senior running back Kenjon Barner (which obviously is much easier said than done). Even though Kansas State is No. 16 in the country in rushing yards allowed, Baylor burned the Wildcats and ran for 342 yards in Kansas State’s only loss of the season. It’s tough to imagine that the Wildcats can recuperate against the No. 3 rushing attack in the nation.

It would be surprising if this game wasn’t close, but Oregon’s high-tempo offense should earn them a second win in the Grand Canyon State this year.

 

Reach the columnists at jnacion@asu.edu and mterrel@asu.edu