The Pac-12’s bowl season has come and gone, and the Pac-12 Blog is left to reflect on the bowl season that was. Here’s a look back at the conference’s six bowls and a ranking of each game for pure entertainment value.
1. Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual | USC 52, Penn State 49
The Granddaddy of Them All was not only the best Pac-12 bowl game this year, but many considered it to be the best bowl game -- bar none -- of the 2016 season (we’ll see what Alabama and Clemson have to say about that on Monday night). The Rose Bowl featured two teams that came into Pasadena with such momentum after strong finishes to their season and ended with a thrilling, game-winning field goal. USC was largely written off after the Trojans got bounced by Alabama in Week 1, so a national audience was able to see how this team happened to catch lightning in a bottle this year. Answer: Quarterback Sam Darnold. The redshirt freshman led the Trojans to victory while also catapulting himself onto several early 2017 award watch lists.
2. Foster Farms Bowl | Utah 26, Indiana 24
In typical Utah fashion, it was the special teams and defense that came up big during the home stretch for the Utes. Kicker Andy Phillips put the Utes up 26-24 with a minute-and-a-half to go. Then the Utah defense followed that up by not letting Indiana cross the 50 on its final offensive drive. But the offense wasn’t left out of the plan -- running back Joe Williams, like he did for much of the season, made sure of that even though coach Kyle Whittingham was unsure if Williams would be available due to a pregame illness. But, in his final game for the Utes, Williams rushed for 222 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. The win also further reinforced Whittingham's postseason prowess, giving him the 10th bowl win of his career.
3. Hyundai Sun Bowl | Stanford 25-UNC 23
Christian McCaffrey was supposed to be the hot NFL prospect playing in this game, but when he decided to sit out, the name to watch became UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He also took center stage in the waning moments of the game as the Tar Heels attempted a two-point conversion to tie, but Trubisky was surrounded, and later enveloped, by five Cardinal players. The fact that McCaffrey didn’t play actually made this a very interesting matchup because it gave Stanford fans a glimpse into the future as Bryce Love (115 rushing yards, 22 carries) carried the load for the Cardinal.
4. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl | Alabama 24, Washington 7
Quarterback Jake Browning led the Huskies to the end zone on their second offensive drive, but then everything went south for Browning and his offense. The next five offensive drives consisted of three punts, a fumble and a pick-six. But, the defense showed up and frustrated Alabama for a good portion of the game. It held the Crimson Tide to just 10 first-half points and 57 passing yards. And though it can’t be entirely attributed to Washington’s defense, Alabama coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin parted ways after this matchup (which puts Steve Sarkisian as the playcaller for the national title game). It certainly wasn’t the way Washington wanted to end its season, especially with that kind of a showing for its offense, but on that stage against that great of an opponent, teams could do a lot worse. Chris Petersen won’t be happy with that final result, but moments within that game show that he’s building a power in the Pacific Northwest.
5. Valero Alamo Bowl | Oklahoma State 38, Colorado 8
Most people expected a possible dip from the Colorado defense, which had just lost defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon, especially considering the Buffs were staring down one of their toughest offensive challenges of the season. Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph made his job look easy, throwing for three touchdowns and 314 yards. The Cowboys' defense harassed the Buffs, which didn’t account for a single passing touchdown. But, like Washington State and Washington, Colorado can head into the offseason knowing it put together an impressive season ... that just didn’t end the way those players might have wished. As quarterback Sefo Liufau said: “We did something special [this season]. We didn't finish with an exclamation point.”
6. National Funding Holiday Bowl | Minnesota 17, Washington State 12
What is there to say? The Gophers had every reason to come into this game mentally unprepared -- the called-off boycott, rumors of their coach eventually being canned (which came true) -- and yet, it looked like the Cougars were the ones who had little business being in San Diego. Minnesota’s pass defense -- which had been good, but not great this season -- held Luke Falk to a season-worst adjusted QBR and near season-lows in completions, yardage and completion percentage. On top of that, the Wazzu run game, which had been dynamic all season, accounted for only 39 yards.