Bowl games are rewards for successful seasons. At least that's the theory.
But what if you lose your bowl game? What does that say about that so-called successful season?
It's hard to call a bowl game a "must-win" because it's really not -- rarely does a bowl, for example, determine a coach's fate. But it seems reasonable to measure the four Pac-10 bowl games in terms of "need to win."
Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The set up: Two unbeaten teams. The SEC versus the Pac-10. The SEC going for a fifth consecutive national title. Oregon trying to win its first ever and establish itself as the preeminent power on the West Coast. Two Heisman Trophy finalist, with the winner, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, squaring off with the nation's leading rusher, the Ducks LaMichael James. Newton is a monster -- he's 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- and has passed for 28 touchdowns and rushed for 20 touchdowns, but the Ducks enter the game with the nation's most potent offense. Both teams have owned the fourth quarter, so no lead is safe. Only one team came within 10 points of the Ducks: California. Auburn beat six teams by eight or fewer points. Is Auburn more battle tested? Tigers fans think Auburn played a much tougher schedule. Pac-10 fans think Arizona State would have won the SEC East and Mississippi State would have finished ninth in the Pac-10, so the Ducks schedule was just as tough.
Why Oregon needs to win: You don't get many chances to win national championships. A perfect season is a rare thing in college football. When you have a chance to finish No. 1, No. 2 is the worst thing in the world. Further, the entire nation is rooting for the Ducks (other than Washington and Oregon State fans). The rest of college football wants to see the SEC humbled. The rest of college football -- including many SEC adherents -- have issues with the controversy that surrounds Newton. It's fair to say that the Ducks are wearing the white hats (and, by the way, will wear angelic white uniforms). It also would mean a lot for a second Pac-10 team to win a BCS national title, particularly with the conference becoming the Pac-12 in 2011 and negotiating a new TV deal. Finally, while Auburn is a slight favorite, a lot of "football people" think the Ducks are going to win and that they are a more complete team. It's probably an exaggeration to say Oregon "should" win. But they should.
Why just getting there is enough: Oregon has never won a national championship, so just getting to the Big Game is enough. After all, how many 12-1 seasons has Oregon had? The Ducks are a program on a steady climb, winning the national title would be great, but it would be pure gravy for a team with just one top-five ranking (2001, No. 2) in the final AP poll, one that has won its second consecutive outright Pac-10 title for the first time. And have you seen Newton and Auburn DT Nick Fairley? They are huge and they may be cannibals. Those guys are likely to eat Chip Kelly during a pregame function! Then what will those itty bitty Ducks do? No more gimmicks or sleight of hand or Autzen Advantage. Finally, Oregon is playing an SEC team. Eeeeek! Poor ole Oregon has no chance.
Conclusion: These are two very good, evenly matched teams. Newton is the best player in the nation -- perhaps the best college football player of the past decade. And Oregon has had a great season, win or lose. But this is the biggest stage in college football. Oregon can't waste this opportunity. Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted. One moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip? Oregon, this is your moment. Win the day.
Needs to win meter (scale of 1 to 10, "10" being a must-win): 8