This past Saturday night, I shot a text over to my good friend Matt regarding the Pac-12's utter dominance this bowl season. He quickly agreed, Oregon was up 31-0 over TCU at the half and the worst case scenario was Arizona State losing to West Virginia leaving the Pac-12 with a 7-3 bowl record. About an hour and a half later, Matt shot me another text that read, "except Oregon is going to lose now!?". Just like that, the glistening Pac-12 bowl record became 6-4 and the "best conference in the nation" argument was silenced...for now.
The Pac-12 season wrapped up Saturday night with Arizona State's one point loss to West Virginia in the Cactus bowl. Looking back, the conference performed well outside of a silly loss by UCLA and an unbelievable comeback win by TCU against Oregon. Stanfurd decimated Iowa in the Rose Bowl and for the most part many Pac-12 opponents looked outmatched on the field. Let's look back at this years best Pac-12 bowl game, the best player performance in a Pac-12 bowl and crown the winners as well as the losers of the bowl season.
Pac-12 conference performance: 6-4
The 2015-16 Pac-12 bowl game of the year: Oregon vs TCU
From the get go, Oregon looked utterly unstoppable. Vernon Adams was tearing apart TCU's defense through the air and Royce Freeman was carrying the ducks on the ground. Barely two minutes into the second quarter, Oregon was up 28 and the defense was completely shutting down any offense from TCU. By the end of the half, the scoreboard read Oregon 31, TCU 0. All things pointed to an Oregon blowout except that Vernon Adams suffered a concussion and was unable to return to the contest.
From here, it starts to get very interesting. Jaelan Austin caught a long touchdown bringing the score to 31-10 with three minutes left in the third quarter. By the end of the third quarter, TCU had brought the score to 31-17 on a Kohlhausen run. TCU hit a field goal to bring them within eleven points of Oregon before scoring another touchdown with just under four minutes to play. In the waning minutes of regulation, TCU drove the field nearly scoring the game winning touchdown and settled for the game tying field goal as the Alamo bowl went into overtime. The Ducks and TCU each had touchdowns in their first overtime possession and answered each other's field goals in their second possession. TCU converted a touchdown in the third overtime (failing on their mandatory two point conversion) and Oregon narrowly missed a few chances to answer back. On fourth down, Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie's pass was broken up and TCU officially pulled off a 31 point comeback win.
The 2015-16 Pac-12 individual player performance of the year: Jared Goff
This one was easy, 450+ passing yards and six touchdowns in his senior sendoff was an impressive showing for the Cal junior. Many people will point to the opponent as part of the reason for such a dominant performance; regardless, Goff cemented his status as not only a Cal great, but a Pac-12 legend as well. Perhaps the biggest win for Jared was leading a Cal program from the bottom of the Pac-12 his freshman year to an eight win season with a bowl victory in his finale. Jared will be continuing his legacy in the NFL from here on out and his highlights from this game will be played frequently during the 2016 NFL draft.
The 2015-16 Pac-12 bowl game winners and losers:
Cal: Why not Cal? The Bears had their first eight win season in over five years and will graduate a few NFL caliber players. Sonny Dykes returns with the program in solid condition, although he will have a few big questions regarding how to replace superstar Jared Goff. Cal recruiting has a lot of positive momentum behind it and is close to securing a top 25 class. The program is trending up which is really the only way you ever want to trend.
Stanfurd: This pains me as much as anyone, but does any program look better than Stanfurd going into 2016? They destroyed Iowa in the Rose Bowl and Christian McCaffery had another unbelievable game. The Cardinal don't need much to put together a strong offense going into next season so long as their next quarterback can get the ball in the hands of McCaffery. David Shaw has drawn the eyes of NFL teams, but seems incredibly content in Palo Alto. Look for the men in white and red to contend for the Pac-12 championship again next year and the national title.
Arizona: Hat tip to Arizona for playing New Mexico well in what was essentially a home game for the Lobos. Rich Rodriguez was mentioned in several coaching vacancies during the break before the bowl games yet the Wildcats still were able to come away with a win. Many other coaches in that situation might have folded and moved on to next season, however Rodriguez had his guys ready to win a lower tier bowl game.
Pac-12 conference: This would have been a much bigger discussion topic had Oregon held on and Arizona State come away with a victory, but overall the conference played well. They beat the teams they were supposed to and Stanford made a statement against a team that nearly won the Big Ten. While 7-3 or 8-2 would have been a much louder statement, the conference stood out again and is making a name for itself as the toughest conference in college football.
The College Football Playoff: Where do we even begin with the college football playoff. Many of the bowl games this year were complete blowouts and the semi-final games were not very close. Furthermore, the New Year's eve television slot makes it incredibly hard to watch those games in full. The four team playoff is not a longterm solution and the conference commissioners should take note. It is abundantly clear there were great teams that should have been in the playoff and it's time to expand to eight teams. Start the quarterfinals the week before Christmas, play the semi-final on New Year's day and keep the championship where it is. Ohio State and Stanford deserved to be in a playoff game this postseason.
Jim Mora: What an awful loss for UCLA in the Foster Farms bowl. Mike Riley came back to the Pac-12 and embarrassed Jim Mora's UCLA team. Never mind that Nebraska was 5-7 this year, but the sheer talent on the UCLA roster deserved better. Mora's program has been in the news for the wrong reasons this year with off-field issues and his own lofty expectations have yet to be met. There is a lot of unrest in Westwood and it will be interesting to see how things play out next year. One thing is for sure, they have a stud quarterback and loads of talent.
Oregon: This is not anything new, but Oregon is a bottom tier football team without Vernon Adams at the helm. They couldn't slow down TCU's backup quarterback and looked completely lost on offense. The drop-off between starter and backup is always significant, but the inability to get anything moving was shocking. I imagine the Oregon staff will work diligently this off-season to add some depth at the quarterback position.