What did we learn from the bowl season?
Oregon is on the rise, but it's not there yet: Oregon has won two consecutive Pac-10 titles and will be the favorite to win a third in 2011. The Ducks are solidly atop the conference. But they also have now lost two consecutive BCS bowl games. And after both losses, coach Chip Kelly cited his offensive line losing the battle at the line of scrimmage versus Ohio State (Rose Bowl) and Auburn (BCS National Title Game) defensive lines. Further, it seems that a defense can overcome the Oregon offense when it gets extra time to prepare. For the Ducks to take the next step, they need to win a BCS bowl game. Of course, beating LSU in the opener -- a likely top-10 team with an "SEC defense" -- would certainly make a statement early in 2011.
Jim Harbaugh built an elite team: Harbaugh's transformation of the Stanford program -- 1-11 the year before he came to 12-1 the year he left -- will rate as one of the great reclamation projects in conference history. Sure, it helped to have Andrew Luck, but Stanford's demolition of Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl was a complete effort on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal under Harbaugh were tough and physical and innovative. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal look under their next coach, who would be wise to try to maintain the present culture as best he can.
There will be life after Locker: Washington finished the season with a four-game winning streak that wasn't due to quarterback Jake Locker asserting himself. Locker was more of a game manager and leader down the stretch as the Huskies played better defense and ran the ball consistently -- see an average of 237 yards rushing during the winning streak. The Huskies over the final third of the season were more physical, and that indicates that the program will be in good shape going forward, even with some big losses on both sides of the ball. Of particular good news is the return of running back Chris Polk, who will be an All-American candidate in 2011.
Arizona is regrouping: Arizona started 7-1 and then the wheels came off with a five-game losing streak, including a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Things went wrong on both sides of the ball, but the defensive struggles were most glaring. The Wildcats will welcome back quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Juron Criner in 2011, and that's a good start. But the offensive line will need to be completely rebuilt, while the defensive line loses three of four starters, including standout defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. Further, coach Mike Stoops lost three coaches, so he's rebuilding his staff, too.
It will be another "Year of the QB" in 2011. Only better: Luck, Foles, USC's Matt Barkley and Oregon's Darron Thomas: Does any conference match that foursome of quarterbacks? The answer is no. Toss in up-and-comers like Ryan Katz at Oregon State, Jeff Tuel at Washington State, Jordan Wynn at Utah and Brock Osweiler at Arizona State and it looks like another season of marquee quarterback play.