Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
Let's start with a quick and dirty piece of context: The Pac-12's postseason performance has been downright miserable in recent years.
In fact, the conference hasn't won a bowl game since the final season of the 2010s.
That's right, the Pac-12's last postseason victory was Jan. 1, 2020, when Oregon beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl behind quarterback Justin Herbert — weeks before the first reported case of COVID on the West Coast.
That was 1,078 days ago.
The conference was 0-2 in bowls following the shortened 2020 season and 0-5 last year.
Only one of the seven teams in action this postseason, Washington, was victorious in its most recent bowl appearance. The Huskies beat Boise State at the end of the 2019 season in coach Chris Petersen's final game.
The other six eligible teams all lost their last appearance on the postseason stage:
UCLA: lost Cactus Bowl to Kansas State (2017)
USC: lost Holiday Bowl to Iowa (2019)
Oregon State: lost LA Bowl to Utah State (2021)
Washington State: lost Sun Bowl to Central Michigan (2021)
Oregon: lost Alamo Bowl to Oklahoma (2021)
Utah: lost Rose Bowl to Ohio State (2021)
If motivation, not talent, is the key determinant of bowl success, the Pac-12 should have a heck of a postseason.
There's no way the zero-for-the-2020s streak can continue, right? … Right?
To the picks …
Five-star special: 8-5
Spreads taken from BetMGM
Game total in parentheses
All times Pacific
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon State vs. Florida
Kickoff: Dec. 17 (11:30 a.m. on ESPN)
Line: Oregon State -10.5 (total: 52.5)
Comment: An enormous spread given the disparity in brand value of the participants, but Florida has been slammed by bowl opt-outs and general attrition — so hard, in fact, that the Gators will start their third-string quarterback, Jack Miller, who has thrown a whopping 14 career passes. We expect the Beavers to stick with the plan that powered their nine-win season and lean into their ground game. (The Gators are No. 96 nationally against the run.) OSU flopped in the LA Bowl last year and will avenge that performance with a victory. But that's a few too many points.
LA Bowl: Washington State vs Fresno State
Kickoff: Dec. 17 (12:30 p.m. on ABC)
Line: WSU +3 (total: 53.5)
Comment: Another instance of players being eager to extinguish the lingering stench from last year's bowl showing (not to mention the Apple Cup). But in this case, the opponent will be highly motivated, as well. The Bulldogs are one of the hottest teams in the country with eight consecutive victories and a quarterback, Jake Haener, who delights in carving up Pac-12 defenses. Also, the Cougars have lost both coordinators: Eric Morris (offense) is the new North Texas head coach, while Brian Ward (defense) accepted the same position at Arizona State. That's a tough spot for WSU.
Pick: Fresno State
Holiday Bowl: Oregon vs. North Carolina
Kickoff: Dec. 28 (5 p.m. on Fox)
Line: Oregon -14 (total: 70.5)
Comment: The Ducks will be without star cornerback Christian Gonzalez (opt-out), but their most important player, quarterback Bo Nix, has committed to participating in the bowl game. (So has UNC quarterback Drake Maye.) Oregon averaged 40 points per game during the regular season, and the Tar Heels were not far behind (35 ppg), so the Over stands as a tasty option. How much urgency will the Ducks bring to San Diego after their late-season collapses against rivals Washington and Oregon State? Not nearly enough to cover a two-touchdown spread.
Pick: North Carolina
Alamo Bowl: Washington vs. Texas
Kickoff: Dec. 29 (6 p.m. on ESPN)
Line: Washington +5 (total: 68.5)
Comment: UW's date with its former head coach makes for a notable subplot, but the Steve Sarkisian factor has no bearing on the game — he left Seattle when most of the current Huskies were in middle school. The more relevant issues here are UW's stretch-run momentum (last loss: Oct. 8 at ASU) and a report that Texas' star tailback, Bijan Robinson, is opting out of the game. The Longhorns walloped Pac-12 opponents in the Alamo Bowl in both 2019 and 2020 (Utah and Colorado). We don't see a three-peat. Don't take the points. Gobble them.
Sun Bowl: UCLA vs. Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Dec. 30 (11 a.m. on CBS)
Line: UCLA -6.5 (total: 57.5)
Comment: Whether it's rooted in the location of the game (El Paso), the opponent (yawn) or UCLA's hard landing (losses to Arizona and USC), we don't sense much public enthusiasm for this matchup. The Bruins should be excited, however: They haven't participated in a bowl game in five years after canceling their appearance in the Holiday last season because of COVID. The Panthers (8-4) were an above-average team in a mediocre Power Five league, making this a prime chance for the Pac-12 to flex its reputed muscle.
Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Tulane
Kickoff: Jan. 2 (10 a.m. on ESPN)
Line: USC -1.5 (total: 61.5)
Comment: Why is the spread only 1.5 points? Perhaps because matchups against Group of Five opponents are always treacherous for Power Five teams, especially in the New Year's Six bowls. The Trojans were on track for the playoff until their blowout loss in the Pac-12 championship game. So a letdown is entirely possible. But there is an uplifting element, as well, given the state of the program a year ago. We suspect USC simply has too many playmakers for the Green Wave to contain, starting with quarterback Caleb Williams.
Rose Bowl: Utah vs. Penn State
Kickoff: Jan. 2 (2 p.m. on ESPN)
Line: Utah -2.5 (total: 52)
Comment: The Utes are back in the Granddaddy, but under very different circumstances. An underdog last year against Ohio State, they are narrow favorites this time and encountering an opt-out problem of their own: Star cornerback Clark Phillips III announced this week that he would skip the game to concentrate on the NFL Draft. That could be an issue against a veteran quarterback, Sean Clifford, and an opponent that's 10-0 against teams not in the playoff. (The Nittany Lions' only losses are to Michigan and Ohio State.) Let's hope the teams recreate their Pasadena thrill rides: Penn State's last appearance was the epic 52-49 loss to USC, while Utah's was the pulsating 48-45 loss to Ohio State.
Straight-up winners: Oregon State, Fresno State, Oregon, Washington, Pittsburgh, USC and Utah
Five-star special: Washington. The first game of Michael Penix's 2023 Heisman Trophy campaign — and Washington's table-setter for a run at the College Football Playoff — is a memorable one. Close early; not close late.