The 7-5 Washington Huskies will play 12-1 Boise State, coach-in-exit Chris Petersen’s former team, in the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 21, and the 6-6 Washington State Cougars will play 10-2 Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix Dec. 27.
A post-season Mountain West (Conference) Fest sure to thrill several people.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 Conference, in accord with recent tradition, will be nowhere when it comes to deciding college football’s national champion.
The meaningless-game destinations for UW and WSU were announced Sunday. The meaningful fate of the Pac-12 was determined Friday night, when Utah, then 11-1 and the only conference team with a shot to represent at the College Football Playoff, belly-flopped gruesomely in the title game in front of a national audience against 10-2 Oregon.
As for the Huskies, Vegas is a popular destination, and the date is so early that Christmas won’t be interrupted. As for the match-up . . .
The annual randomness of the college bowl circus had slotted the Vegas show for the Pac-12 No. 6 team against MWC No. 1. That just happened to be the teams for which Petersen was head coach — eight years at Boise, six at Washington — for what will turn out to be his final curtain call (4;30 p.m., ABC).
As a guy who enjoys media attention he same way he enjoys burlap underwear, the “Petersen Bowl” figures is last match-up he wanted in his denouement. Although it probably adds another layer of justification for why a guy who just can’t roll with the hype has tapped out of the industry.
“Personally speaking, there’s a lot of other teams I’d rather be playing at this time,” he said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. “But it is what it is. Sometimes that’s the way these things work out.”
The gaudy record of 19th-ranked Boise State includes two common opponents with Washington. The Broncos’ only defeat was 28-25 to BYU, which Washington throttled 45-19 on Sept. 21, and both beat Hawaii by more than 20 points.
So the Huskies are favored by 3.5 points. But they won’t be fielding a complete team.
To no one’s surprise, junior TE Hunter Bryant, the Huskies’ leading receiver, declared for the draft last week and will skip the bowl game, as will LT Trey Adams, according to Petersen. But he said junior QB Jacob Eason, the one-year less-than-wonder, will play.
Because letter of intent day for the next class of recruits is Dec. 19, Huskies coach-in-waiting Jimmy Lake will seek to keep his staff intact to prevent the cattle from running off after the surprising coaching change.
On the national level, the four CFP teams selected Sunday for the semifinals were such clear choices that no real controversy was possible, a major feat for college football.
Three were 12-0, and the fourth, Oklahoma, was easily the best single-loss team.
No. 1 Louisiana State draws No. 4 Oklahoma at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, and No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 3 Clemson at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ. Both games are Dec. 28. The winners play for the national championship Jan. 13 at the New Orleans Superdome.
Absent from the disputations is the Pac-12. Again.
The Ducks’ 37-15 rout at half-filled Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara flipped a bit the conference narrative of competitive balance, which has been the excuse for non-participation in four of the past five CFP tourneys.
The Ducks, six-point underdogs, looked Friday every bit a worthy entry into the tourney after its comprehensive beat-down of the Utes, who lost the title game for a second year in a row (Washington, 10-3, 2018).
But the sixth-ranked Ducks’ 31-28 upset loss Nov. 23 to 7-5 Arizona State blighted their record sufficiently so that access was denied. They’ll be in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1 against Big 10 runner-up Wisconsin, but it’s merely a lovely consolation prize. (Complete bowl game list with dates and times here.)
After the game, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal made a vain plea for the Ducks’ title-chance credibility.
“I think there has to be a lot of weight placed on winning your conference,” he said. “You can go through your conference and win your conference, especially one where you play nine conference games, like we do.
“That has to, and needs to, carry a lot of weight going forward because, look, these guys will tell you, they want to play the best teams in the country all the time. There’s no way that we’re going to go away from that mentality to try to schedule down to appease whatever.”
Nice try, Mario. But with four spots available for the dance and five power conferences, someone has to sit. Sometimes two.
All the Pac-12 teams this season besides Oregon and Utah had at least four wins, and none more than eight. The rallying cry of, “None of Our Teams Suck!” will please Commissioner Larry Scott and the school presidents, but does nothing to impress the cold-hearted selection committee, which now has a Utah crap-out on the books to remind it next year when evaluating the strength of a Pac-12 contender.
The only choice is to, as Cristobal said, schedule down, meaning a non-conference slate of cupcakes instead of including a premier team such as Auburn, which beat the Ducks 27-21 in the opener Aug. 31. But a diet of all cupcakes is a lousy meal for season-ticket buyers, most of whom crave a game against a powerhouse in order to tolerate contests against Wassamatta U and the like.
So again, college football is at cross-purposes with itself. Perennial contenders must choose to disappoint fans with puny opponents in favor of pursuing a bid for the CFP that is annually a long shot for all but a few powerhouses. In the Pac-12, the only conference to play nine conference games instead of eight, it becomes harder.
Before the game, Scott talked as if he expected Utah would enhance the Pac-12’s national cred.
“We’re coming off two years where we did not make the playoff,” he said. “It absolutely helped shape a perception that the conference was down. I think we’ve all seen this is a year where the conference has been stronger top to bottom, including elite teams in the hunt for the playoff at the very end of the season.
It would be an important step to get back in the playoff and hopefully win the national championship.”
Important step forgone. At least we’ll always have the Cheez-It Bowl.