Despite a 67-22 record in picking Pacific-12 Conference football games this season, we still are not confident in picking bowl games. It’s become even more dicey, due to players sitting to prepare for the NFL Draft. It was always hit-or-miss, depending on a team’s motivation for playing an extra game over the holidays.
Remember 2004? We do. It’s always our perfect example of how hard it is to predict bowl games. The California Golden Bears were ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll, but due to a bit of Bowl Championship Series buggery, they got relegated—literally—to a meaningless matchup in the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, instead of the Rose Bowl berth they were expecting.
Cal, with senior Aaron Rodgers at QB, mailed in their bowl game emotionally, losing to a vastly inferior Red Raiders team—led by current Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach, no less—by double digits. No motive, no effort: That’s the way it goes with teenage boys, after all. Most teams could care less about the rigged College Football Playoff, anyway.
Toss in the NFL Draft element now, and picking these games is next to impossible. We do our best below, always, for the Conference of (real NCAA) Champions. Enjoy.
Las Vegas Bowl—Arizona State vs. No. 19 Fresno State (December 15): Well, Herm Edwards got the Sun Devils to a bowl game, finishing with the same 7-5 regular-season mark his predecessor did. Why did ASU fire Todd Graham again? We can all but guarantee this will be the highpoint of Edwards’ Sun Devils resume. Truth be told, this is a stinker of a bowl invite for a Pac-12 team, and the Bulldogs are a very good team. Fresno State, the Mountain West champion, still has a lot to play for, including a 12-win season—which would be a school record. The Bulldogs are led by Jeff Tedford, by the way, the coach of that 2004 Cal Bears team. Fresno State 31, Arizona State 21.
Cheez-It Bowl—California vs. TCU (December 26): This game will be about defense, but the Golden Bears are better this year on defense. There will be little offense in this game, so expect a low-scoring game. This is what everyone will predict, anyway. Motivation might be on the Horned Frogs’ side since they are 6-6 … and no team wants to go to a bowl game, lose, and finish under .500 on the season. Cal probably lost a lot of wind after losing the Big Game (again), and just getting to a bowl game was a nice accomplishment for the Golden Bears after missing out the last two years. TCU finished No. 9 in the country last year, and it expected better things from 2018. This is the Horned Frogs’ last chance to make an impression. TCU 17, California 13.
Alamo Bowl—No. 12 Washington State vs. No. 25 Iowa State (December 28): Let’s be clear. This game is an insult to the Cougars, but it’s also a chance for WSU to set a school record with an 11th win. That means a lot to Leach, in terms of motivating his players to forget the corrupt CFP snub. Meanwhile, this is the second mid-tier bowl game in a row for the Cyclones, who won the Liberty Bowl last year after missing the postseason the four seasons prior. We say WSU has more desire to win here, to move into the Top 10 with a win and give beloved quarterback Gardner Minshew II a nice send off after the fantastic season he had (up until the Apple Cup, of course). Washington State 38, Iowa State 31.
Sun Bowl—Stanford vs. Pittsburgh (December 31): This is a marquee bowl for two teams that were not that impressive in 2018. Go figure. We have to assume Cardinal running back Bryce Love is not going to jeopardize his NFL Draft status here after an injury-filled season. He can let his 2017 campaign do all the talking. Stanford was a slightly above-average team without him this year, so his status is key here. As for the Panthers, they somehow won the ACC Coastal Division with only two conference losses, but Pitt lost to Clemson by 32 points in the conference title game. The Panthers have to be mentally done for the season. Stanford 31, Pittsburgh 14.
Redbox Bowl—Oregon vs. Michigan State (December 31): The Ducks and the Spartans are somewhat evenly rated on paper, but MSU has to travel a lot farther for this game. Their fans may not make the trip, in truth, while the venue will be swarming with Oregon fans. The Spartans have the No. 1-ranked run defense in the country, so the Ducks will have to throw to win this one. MSU also has been leveled by injuries this year, so it won’t be playing anywhere near full strength. Oregon 27, Michigan State 17.
Holiday Bowl—No. 20 Utah vs. Northwestern (December 31): This is the consolation prize for those schools that just missed out on the Rose Bowl. It should be a good game, too. The Utes are the better team, and their fans will travel well for this game. We don’t think we can say the same about the Wildcats. Utah 28, Northwestern 14.
Rose Bowl—No. 9 Washington vs. No. 5 Ohio State (January 1): If the Buckeyes had been picked for the CFP, we would have gone with the Huskies here, easily, over the Michigan Wolverines. Alas, this may be the best matchup of any bowl this season, period. Ohio State should be touchdown favorites, with Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins at QB, and the fact that it is the finale for Buckeyes Head Coach Urban Meyer … well, Ohio State has a lot more motivation than Washington. We think just winning the Pac-12 and getting to the Rose Bowl was the big thing for the Huskies in a down year like this for them. Ohio State 41, Washington 24.
We will have a season wrap-up post after the New Year, and then our joint Pac-12 basketball/baseball coverage will begin for 2019. Get ready!
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