Bowled Over

I had to suppress a smirk.

I’m sure I had seen it before, but the full name of the Cactus Bowl didn’t hit me until I started looking at previews for the matchup between Arizona State and West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl.

There it was: “Motel 6 Cactus Bowl”.

Motel 6?

As in Tom Bodett reminding us, in corny commercial after corny commercial: “We’ll leave the light on for you”?

As is the hotel chain ranked nationally in quality somewhere just about “Rusty’s Motor Inn”?

I had to suppress the smirk, though, because the grim reality is … I would have killed for the chance for the Buffs to be there.

That’s how far the Colorado football program has fallen. The Buffs are a decade-and-a-half removed from playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game; two decades removed from winning won.

Now, mired in a ten-season string of losing seasons, with no promise of that streak ending, we are relegated to hoping – praying – for a bowl bid.

Motel 6 Bowl? I’m there.

Gilden Bowl? Sign me up.

Hyundai Bowl? Can’t wait.

Royal Purple Bowl? Mark it on my calendar.

And those are just some of the bowls (Cactus, New Mexico, Sun and Las Vegas Bowls, respectively) which have ties to the Pac-12. If necessary, I’d be happy to travel to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl if the Buffs were invited.

As it is, the Pac-12 bowl season ended this weekend, with Oregon blowing a 31-0 lead in falling to TCU in the Alamo Bowl, and Arizona State inexplicably failing to go for a two-point conversion after taking a 41-36 lead with five minutes to play, ultimately falling, 43-42, to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl.

After opening the bowl season with a 5-0 record, the Pac-12 conference stumbled down the stretch, finishing 6-4 overall in bowl games, with only Stanford’s domination of Iowa in the Rose Bowl preserving a measure of respect for the conference in the last week of games.

With every Pac-12 team now having put away their helmets for the 2015 season, we can take a look back at how the conference has fared over the past month.


Stanford … The 5th-ranked Cardinal will finish the season as the nation’s No. 3 team after destroying No. 6 Iowa, 45-16, in the Rose Bowl. With No. 1 Clemson taking out No. 4 Oklahoma, 37-17, and No. 2 Alabama embarrassing No. 3 Michigan State, 38-0, Stanford’s place at No. 3 in the final polls is all but assured.

Not bad for a team which received exactly one vote from the Pac-12 media in the preseason poll as to which team would win the Pac-12 in 2015 (for the record, USC received 21 votes; Oregon 17; Arizona State 3; and UCLA 2).

Stanford finished the 2015 season with an 12-2 record, and will open the 2016 with the preseason Heisman trophy favorite, Chrisitam McCaffrey, returning (Side note … California quarterback Jared Goff has announced he will forego his senior year and head off to the NFL, something which McCaffrey will likely do after next season. Which will mean that Utah will get to avoid Goff in what would be his senior season in 2016, and McCaffrey in what would be his senior season in 2017. Meanwhile, CU will have faced both stars twice).

Utah … The only other ten-win team from the Pac-12 conference in 2015, the 10-3 Utes over-achieved this fall (in the preseason Pac-12 media poll mentioned above, Utah was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South). Four months ago, it was rumored that Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utah administration were at odds, and it was just a matter of time before Whittingham would bolt or be fired.

Instead, Utah went 6-3 in Pac-12 play, its first winning record as a member of the conference, and had the pleasure of playing – and defeating – arch-rival BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes turned a 35-0 first quarter lead into a 35-28 nail-biter, but still came away with the win. The Utes, if they can again figure out how to answer their seemingly endless quarterback question, will be receiving significantly more respect in next fall’s Pac-12 preseason poll.

Washington schools … Both Washington and Washington State had good seasons, and positive bowl results. In his fourth year in Pullman, Washington State head coach Mike Leach was on the hot seat to open the season, with the seat nearing the boiling point after a season-opening home loss to Portland State. Instead of folding, the Cougars turned things around, finishing 9-4 after a 20-14 win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. The first-nine win season for Washington State since 2008, and first bowl win since 2003, earned Mike Leach not only Pac-12 co-coach of the year honors (with Stanford’s David Shaw), but also a contract extension through the 2020 season.

Washington, meanwhile, solidified its case as an up-and-coming team with a 44-31 win over Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The win allowed the Huskies to finish the 2015 season with a 7-6 record, and hopes of brighter days ahead.


Oregon …  There may come a day, in the not too distant future, when we look back at Oregon’s collapse in the Alamo Bowl as a turning point in the program. The Ducks built a 31-0 lead over TCU before falling, 47-41, in triple overtime. True enough, Oregon lost star quarterback Vernon Adams late in the second quarter, but the Horned Frogs played the entire game without their starting quarterback (suspended) and two of its best receivers (one suspended; one injured).

Also true … failing to win ten games for the first time in eight years (9-4) hardly brings about the need for sympathy for Nike University, but the Ducks will likely recede to the 20-25 range in the final polls, far removed from No. 3 Stanford. Looking ahead to 2016, it will be hard to see pollsters placing Oregon above Stanford (Montana State transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop is no Vernon Adams), with both Washington and Washington State likely being seen as contenders in the Pac-12 North as well.

Arizona State … As noted above, Arizona State received three times as many votes to finish as the Pac-12 champions as did eventual champion Stanford, but the Sun Devils finished the 2015 season with a losing record. Arizona State finished with a 6-7 record after falling, 43-42, to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl.

What will make matters worse for the Sun Devils as they head into the off-season is the sobering thought that it was a coaching gaff which allowed the Mountaineers to escape with a victory. With 4:52 to play, the Sun Devils scored to make it 41-36. A two-point conversion was the obvious call, but ASU head coach Todd Graham opted for a kick and a 42-36 lead, a lead which ultimately turned into a 43-42 loss.

“We were supposed to go for two and we didn’t,” Todd Graham said. “Mismanagement there and that is my responsibility.” Now, the Sun Devils must live with that decision … and the reality of a seven-loss season, as many losses as the previous two years combined.

Los Angeles schools … The Pac-12 was rolling along with a 5-0 record in bowl games before UCLA came along and started the ball spinning in the opposite direction. The 8-4 Bruins were matched against the 5-7 Nebraska Cornhuskers, in a bowl game played in the Bruins’ home state (in San Francisco). Instead of rolling the Cornhuskers, the Bruins lost, 37-29, to finish 8-5.

USC looked to break the string of losses by Pac-12 title game losers (0-4) with a date with Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl. Instead of finishing on a high note and a likely national ranking (the Trojans were 27th in the final regular season poll, dropping out of the poll after losing to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship), the Trojans lost to the Badgers, 23-21. Instead of heading into the 2016 season with optimism about newly elevated head coach Clay Helton, USC begins the 2015-16 off-season with question marks … and an 0-2 record with Helton as the official head coach.

And … Oregon State and Colorado … The only two schools which did not participate in the parade of bowls from the Pac-12 were Oregon State and Colorado. In addition to missing out on the swag the players receive (up to $550 per player from the bowls, similar benefits from the schools themselves. For a complete list of what each bowl gave out this bowl season, you can find it here), and the boost to recruiting, the Buffs and Beavers did not receive the all-important 15 extra practices allotted each bowl team.

There is some discussion nationally as to allowing all of the teams to continue practicing during the bowl season, whether they are participating or not. This would help to level the playing field somewhat, what with the teams which need the extra practices the most – like Colorado and Oregon State – getting extra time in to try and improve.

That’s a nice thought … but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

The reality for teams like Colorado is that, in order to get those extra practices, and actually improve, they will have to first earn their way into a minor bowl.

Even the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.

Tell you what … if the Buffs make the Cactus Bowl next year, I’ll stay at a Motel 6 in Phoenix.

Fair enough?




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *