Pac-12 bowls rich in storylines

The bowl season is upon us. And with 10 Pac-12 teams participating in the postseason, there is plenty to chat about for the next few weeks. Here’s a quick guide:

The "True Rose Bowl" Bowl: Remember Michigan State’s final drive against Iowa? Expect back-and-forth drives like that for 60 minutes in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. Not unlike Stanford’s win over Wisconsin in 2012, this year’s edition should be classic, hard-nosed football. Could also be the second year in a row that a Pac-12 Heisman winner plays in the Rose Bowl ... maybe.

Bet the Over Bowl: The Valero Alamo Bowl features Oregon (43.2 points per game) and TCU (41.7 points per game) in what on paper looks like a track meet hopped up on Red Bull. On the flip side, the Ducks yielded 36.8 points per game defensively while TCU comes in at 26.1. Don’t blink, seriously.

The Bitter Bowl: How do you make thousands of Utah fans cry? Put them in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against BYU. The matchup is scintillating from a storyline perspective. Holy War in Sin City … Bronco Mendenhall’s last game … the rivalry renewing months before it was expected to next September, etc., etc. But from a Utah fan perspective, they felt like their team deserved better for finishing tied atop the Pac-12 South standings. And they’re not wrong.

The Other Bitter Bowl: Utah fans aren’t the only ones who feel they got snubbed. At least one Washington State player tweeted at the Holiday Bowl his dismay that they were passed over (which has since been deleted). But Washington State still ends up with a very intriguing matchup against Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. For a team playing in just its second bowl game since 2003, this isn’t a terrible landing spot.

Back to ABQ Bowl: New Mexico hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2007, when it went to the New Mexico Bowl. Now New Mexico is back in a bowl, the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. The hosts end a pretty dark stretch in program history. But they are doing it against an Arizona team that is 5-0 against Mountain West squads in the Rich Rodriguez era. For those with short memories, Arizona played in one of the most thrilling games in the last few years in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl.

The Air-and-Ground Bowl: Has there ever been a matchup with more contrasting offensive styles than Cal’s Bear Raid vs. Air Force’s option? That's what we'll see in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The Bears don’t mind running, don’t get me wrong. They have a 55-45 pass-rush ratio. But the Falcons rush 83 percent of the time. For perspective, Air Force is to throwing as Washington State is to running. The Falcons have gained more than 4,000 yards on the ground this season. Cal’s rush defense yields more than 203 yards per game. In Air Force’s one game against an upper-echelon quarterback, Michigan State’s Connor Cook tossed four touchdowns in Week 3.

The Broken Hearts Bowl: Welcome back to Pac-12 competition, Mike Riley, though he brings a 5-7 Nebraska team that’s had more heartbreaks than Taylor Swift. UCLA has had a couple of heartbreakers as well (see: State, Washington). The Foster Farms Bowl is not where either of these teams thought they would end up. This one is all about motivation … and who actually has some.

Could Be Sneaky Good Bowl: Don’t sleep on the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl with Arizona State and West Virginia. Of the Mountaineers’ five losses this season, four came in four straight weeks of facing ranked opponents: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU. That’s the Big 12’s equivalent of Murderers’ Row. Neither of these teams was elite in its conference. But they were good enough to hang around in some tough ballgames. And both will probably come out feisty after blowing double-digit halftime leads in their season finales.

The Public Perception Bowl: Clay Helton wanted the gig at USC. He got it. But whatever momentum there was from that hire already has been stunted by a blowout loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, followed by a gutting of the defensive coaching staff. In the Holiday Bowl, the Trojans will face Wisconsin, which has the No. 1 scoring defense in the country and whose only losses were to Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern by a combined 28 points. Plus, the loser in the Pac-12 title game is 0-4 in bowls. In this business, we call that a trend.

The Exceeded Expectations Bowl: Southern Mississippi wasn’t expected to do much this year, so reaching the Conference USA title game was significant. The Golden Eagles boast a 4,000-yard quarterback, two 1,000-yard rushers and a 1,000-yard receiver. In the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, they’ll have to do work against a Washington defense that was tops in the Pac-12 and, likewise, exceeded expectations following what many considered a massive talent drain on that side of the ball from last year’s team.