If you’re a Cal fan (and since you’re reading a Cal sports blog, my guess is you are), this football season has turned pretty sucky in a hurry. However, if you’re a fan of Pac-10 football in general (the left coast is the best coast!), this has turned into a pretty darn entertaining run for the Rose Bowl (and perhaps something more).
In seasons past, the Pac-10 race has been little more than a two month coronation of USC. They would chew through the league en route to a January date with a BCS game, kicking to the curb all would-be challengers for the crown. Every year would be ‘oh, maybe this is the year Cal finally breaks through’, or perhaps ‘can Oregon finally take USC down?’ USC would then rise to the challenge, and the national media would elicit a collective yawn towards West Coast football.
Not anymore, however. This weekend’s showdown in Eugene may well determine the Pac-10 champion, and USC’s not even playing; that honor goes to surprisingly unbeaten Arizona State. Three teams (ASU, Oregon and UCLA) still control their own destiny in the conference race, and two more (USC and Oregon State) still have a realistic shot at winning it if they can get some help. The conference hasn’t been this wide open since 2000, when Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State tied atop the conference. It’s a battle-royale slugfest, the kind usually only staged by the SEC, and it’s parity at its best; instead of the kind of mediocrity that allowed 7-4 Pittsburgh to make the BCS out of an awful Big East several years ago, we’re witnessing lots of really good teams beat each other up. Whoever wins this conference will have earned it.
I, for one, think I’ll enjoy the heck out of this conference race. Given that Cal is pretty much out of it, my rooting interest has shifted to Oregon, partly because it makes our win look better, and partly because I have a hard time rooting for any team that has red as one of their colors. Whoever wins, however, the league sure is making Les Miles’ thoughtless comments look more foolish by the week. I’m looking forward to the Pac-10 continuing to play up to these standards every year.
And where does Cal fit into this picture? Well, mathematically, they’re not eliminated from the conference race yet. Just yesterday, I worked up a scenario in which Cal goes to the Rose Bowl. I won’t bore you with all the details (it involves something like 14 games going the way we need them), but the result would be Cal running the table, Oregon beating Arizona State this weekend, Oregon and ASU both taking a couple more losses, and Cal, Oregon, USC, and ASU all finishing in a 4-way tie for 1st at 6-3, from which Cal would emerge victorious due to tie-breakers. It also involves Arizona pretty much running the table. It’s a preposterously improbable scenario, but if you’re looking for some sliver of hope to grab a hold of, well, there you go.
However, the rest of the bowl possibilities are wide open, and yes, that includes everyone’s favorite consolation prize, the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Here’s the Pac-10’s bowl partnerships for this year:
1st : Rose (Pasadena, CA)
2nd : Holiday (San Diego, CA)
3rd : Sun (El Paso, TX)
4th : Emerald (San Francisco, CA)
5th : Las Vegas (Las Vegas, NV)
6th : Armed Forces (Ft. Worth, TX)
At this point, my best guess would be Cal winds up in the Sun Bowl, but the Emerald also seems like a likely possibility. While taking BART to the Bowl game certainly wouldn’t feel very special (neither would playing in a converted baseball stadium), if we’re going to have a disappointing bowl destination, at least I won’t have to spend a lot of money to get there.
You’ll also notice that the Pac-10 is not affiliated with the Hawai’i Bowl this year, so in that respect at least, this season won’t be a repeat of the ‘96 season, in which Steve Mariucci led the bears to a fast 5-0 start before collapsing down the stretch and losing to Navy in the Aloha Bowl to finish 6-6. Instead, we get the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. Blech. I can’t think of a more depressing way to spend New Year’s Eve. If the Bears somehow ended up there, I don’t think I’d go if you paid me.