Bowl season won't be pleasant for Pac-12

What should be a springboard to a great 2012 instead sets up to have Pac-12 digging out of a hole.

SAN DIEGO – These are strange days for the Pac-12.

Its football brand is ascending, collecting two BCS bids for the second consecutive season, putting plenty of players on All-America teams and in the mix for national awards.

Even the ne'er do wells are feeling good, with Washington State and Arizona landing excellent new coaches and UCLA's iffy hire of Jim Mora bolstered by the makings of a top-notch staff to assist with his transition to the college game.

Then there's the inexplicable hire of Todd Graham by Arizona State.

And the horrendous state of Pac-12 basketball.

Fortunately, there are a handful of bowl games to distract West Coast denizens from those respective debacles, for a little while longer anyway.

This should be a time for the Pac-12 to assert itself with a preview of coming attractions, showing the rest of the nation it will be right there alongside the SEC as college football's top conference in 2012.

Its two standard-bearer programs in Oregon and USC will be legitimate BCS title contenders next season.

Both should start in the top six or seven, USC likely the preseason No. 1 if quarterback Matt Barkley joins safety T.J. McDonald by returning for his season season.

Stanford will obviously take a step back with the loss of signal-caller Andrew Luck, but should remain in the upper tier thanks to the stellar recruiting of former coach Jim Harbaugh and his successor David Shaw.

Washington should be ready to rejoin the national stage with an offense ready for prime time. Washington State and Arizona will also feature offensive wizardry, Utah and Oregon State hoping this year's growing pains will equal bigger and better things in the year to come.

Sheer talent should get UCLA and ASU back to respectability soon.

Commissioner Larry Scott should be imagining TV ratings that are off the charts, millions of dollars generated as cable companies bow to feature the push for the championship.

Instead, he should be worried about a bowl schedule that sets up for total disaster.

The conference is favored in only one game, the venerable Rose Bowl pitting league champion Oregon against Big Ten winner Wisconsin. Arizona State is a prohibitive underdog against Boise State. Everything else is a toss-up, at best.

If everything goes as expected, the Pac-12 limps out of bowl season at a horrendous 1-6. That's not good.

There isn't a guaranteed win on the docket. Say Wisconsin dominates time of possession and wears down an Oregon defense that was shredded by USC, while the Ducks offense struggles to establish its rhythm. Say Oklahoma State humiliates a Stanford defense that has vowed to play Cowboys wide receiver Justin Blackmon "straight up," while Luck succumbs to an opportunistic group of ball-hawks like he did against Oregon. Baylor can abuse poor Nick Holt's defense, Texas can live up to its recruiting rankings, Georgia Tech can play like it did upsetting Clemson and Illinois can actually show up.

The optimist sees three, maybe four wins at most.

Blame circumstances, with USC held out of a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions. Lane Kiffin's late striking team would have been the oddsmakers' choice against either Wisconsin or Baylor.

The Pac-12 is also facing three top 10 teams – Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Boise State. Baylor is 15th in the AP poll with the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III.

The SEC only faces one bowl opponent ranked in the top 15, not counting that farce of a rematch in the BCS championship game.

Whatever the reason, this is setting up to be one unpleasant slog for the Pac-12.

Is it too early to start saying "wait ‘til next year" yet?

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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