The conference received a lot of positive publicity last year for "winning" bowl season with a 5-0 record, the implication being that the Pac-10 performed the best in late December and into early January, and thus proved itself one of the nation's best conferences. However, while the Pac-10 certainly performed well, it also benefitted greatly from easy matchups: 2008-09 BYU, down-and-out Miami, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Penn State is a schedule most top BCS conference teams would do no worse than 4-1 against, and with pre-collapse USC matched against Penn State, the Pac-10 unsurprisingly swept the slate.
This year, based upon Sagarin ratings and Feldman's predictions, we'd project the following lines for the league's bowl games:
Oregon -4 vs. Ohio State
USC -6 vs. Oklahoma State*
Cal -6 vs. Missouri
Stanford -7 vs. Boston College*
Oregon State -3 vs. BYU
Arizona -2 vs. Utah
One reason the Pac-10's favored in all its matchups is that bowls will always gravitate to warm-weather climes, and Pac-10 schools are going to be closer to those locales and more used to the weather than Boston College, Missouri or Ohio State. (Here, we gave USC and Stanford a three-point home-field advantage in their lines, hence the asterisks.) Another reason for all the minuses is that the league is genuinely better than the teams its playing – controlling for schedule strength, USC, Cal and Stanford have had far better seasons than Oklahoma State, Missouri and Boston College – and so the Pac-10 will have favorable matchups simply because it's a deeper conference, which is what bowl records purport to measure in the first place.
However, in our opinion, the most significant reason the Pac-10 will likely have such a strong bowl record is that its bowl tie-ins stink. There are no shortage of complaints from Stanford fans directed toward the Pac-10 Commish's office, and this one should be high on the list: the Pac-10 is shown absolutely no respect with its bowl placements. A third-place team in any other league would enjoy a better post-season reward than the Sun Bowl. (The Sun Bowl took the Big Ten's fifth-place team as recently as last year, for example.)
The downside to such weak tie-ins is obvious: instead of a Cotton Bowl trip, as a No. 3 team in the SEC or Big 12 might earn, enjoy the view from El Paso. The upside, however, is that it it's precisely because of this weak record that the Pac-10 gets to run it up every bowl season. Don't believe me? Using Sagarin lines and keeping the same projected Pac-10 pecking order, here's what the schedule would look like if we gave the Pac-10 the SEC's projected bowl slots.
Oregon +3 vs. Texas (National Championship)
USC +5 vs. Cincinnati (Sugar Bowl)
Cal +1 vs. Iowa (Capital One)
Stanford -2 vs. Nebraska (Cotton). ("We are not Nebraska" vs. "We are Nebraska." Ted Leland's head would implode.)
Oregon State -13 vs. Northwestern (Outback)
Arizona +6 vs. Virginia Tech (Chick-Fil-A)
UCLA pk. vs. Florida State (Music City)
The lines would project a 2-5 finish here, as UCLA is a very slight underdog, versus 6-0 given the actual Pac-10 tie-ins.
Give Stanford and USC the three points they got for home-field edge and that 2-5 mark wouldn't change. Get rid of Oregon in the national title game and slide everyone else down a slot and the Pac-10 does better at a projected 5-2 (UCLA would now get Houston in the Liberty Bowl, everyone else just slides down a slot), but that's still not 6-0.
Bottom line: These current bowl tie-ins help the Pac-10 run up its record, but reflect a lack of national respect and rob fans of some really good matchups. Cincinnati, Iowa, Nebraska and Virginia Tech: I'd watch those teams any day over Oklahoma State, Missouri, Boston College and BYU, and twice on college football Saturdays. Plus, seeing as the SEC is going to Pasadena for the national title game anyways, I'd rather go to Atlanta, Nashville, Dallas and New Orleans than San Diego twice, 20 exits up 101 to San Francisco and, oh yeah, did I mention El Paso?
Pittsburgh +1 at West Virginia (Friday)
Pittsburgh does have three wins by a touchdown or less and has yet to play Cincinnati, but they're still alive in the Big East chase while West Virginia isn't. Not that rankings mean much, but Pittsburgh's No. 9 and WVU's unranked, yet Pitt's the underdog in the Backyard Brawl? Versus common opponents, WVU lost 30-19 at South Florida, and beat Connecticut 28-24, Syracuse 34-13 and Louisville 17-9. Pittsburgh won all those games, most of them easily, 41-14, 24-21, 37-10 and 35-10 respectively. Edge to Pittsburgh, and given that these teams are Big East squads who therefore play no one, that's all we can go by. Road team.
After a 5-0 start, Auburn has lost four of its last five, not counting Furman, while as you know well, Alabama has won ten of its last ten, not counting Chatanooga. Further, Auburn lost to Kentucky at home, while Alabama has actually played better in its limited road action, beating SEC foes by 18, 19 and 28, and Virginia Tech by 10 in Atlanta. (Plus, the ugly Tennessee and LSU escapes were at home.) I know Alabama kicks more than its fair share of field goals, but I don't see Auburn cracking 12 on this Alabama defense, and I think Alabama can get to 22 – even if it takes one touchdown and five field goals to do it. Road team.
Florida State +24.5 at Florida
This isn't the Florida of 2008, which won every regular-season game by at least 20 points. Give every opponent 24.5, and 2009 Florida would be 0 for its last six (not counting Florida International), and just 1-7 in SEC play. Maybe Urban Meyer tries to help Tim Tebow score aplenty to bolster the QB's Heisman hopes, but FSU has scored 29, 41, 24, 45, 30 and 49 in its last six games, and has won four of its last five. Florida could need 50 to cover that spread, and I don't think they get there. Road team.
Texas -21 at Texas A&M
Cincinnati -20 vs. Illinois
Wake Forest -4 at Duke
South Carolina +3 vs. Clemson
New Mexico +44.5 at TCU
Ole Miss -7.5 vs. Mississippi State
Georgia Tech -7 vs. UGA
Washington State +25.5 at Washington
Last week: Zhihao went 2-1, winning with Arizona and Cal, losing with Michigan State. Daniel went 1-2 in Big Games, with Ohio State winning by 11, not 11.5, and Stanford messing up more than just this column. He went 5-4 in Cherry Picking, with Kansas blowing a 28-point cover in the fourth quarter and Miami beating Duke by 18, not 19. (Admittedly, LSU covering +4 vs. Ole Miss is incredibly lucky, because we think that's the only thing LSU did right the whole game.)
Season: Daniel's 16-16-1 in Big Games (0-1 in the Big Game) and 45-43-1 overall. He's been reduced to a coin flip of a season after a really hot start. Zhihao's 17-10. We'll post his picks on the BootBoardPlus on Friday.
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