Column: Pac-12 football’s performance in the bowl spotlight was, well, spotty

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey outruns the Iowa defense on the first play from scrimmage for a 75-yard touchdown on a pass play during the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey outruns the Iowa defense on the first play from scrimmage for a 75-yard touchdown on a pass play during the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The College Football Playoff championship will be decided in Pac-12 Conference country.

Monday night’s matchup between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., a long way from the teams’ Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference home bases.

And it will be played in prime time on the East Coast, when the whole country will be awake to see it.


Similar attention to broadcast detail by the Pac-12 might have enabled Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey to win the Heisman Trophy. Instead, many fans and perhaps some Heisman voters had to wait until McCaffrey’s record-setting Rose Bowl performance against Iowa to understand what all the fuss was about.

Heisman winner Derrick Henry won’t make an announcement about whether he will straight-arm his way to the NFL until after he plays for Alabama in the title game.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Heisman finalist, will return next season and try to lead the Tigers to a second consecutive championship-game appearance. McCaffrey also will be back to make another run-catch-kick return at the Heisman.

But will Stanford or any other Pac-12 team contend for the national title?

The Cardinal dominated in the Rose Bowl, but the conference’s bowl performance overall was spotty at best.

After a fast start, Pac-12 teams finished 6-4 in bowl games, with conference heavyweights Oregon, USC and UCLA all losing.

Among the highlights:

•Arizona essentially played a road game in the New Mexico Bowl and won.

•Utah roared to a big lead over Brigham Young and held on to win the so-called Holy War in Sin City (Las Vegas).

• Despite a snowstorm at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Washington State’s Luke Falk passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cougars beat Miami for their first bowl victory since 2003.

• Freshman Myles Gaskin rushed for four touchdowns in Washington’s Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over Southern Mississippi.

Jared Goff went out on a high note, passing for six touchdowns in California’s Armed Forces Bowl victory against Air Force.

• McCaffrey scored on the first play against Iowa on his way to 368 all-purpose yards in quarterback Kevin Hogan’s final game for the Cardinal.

The lowlights:

• UCLA took a 14-point first-half lead against Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl before losing to a Cornhuskers team that finished 6-7.

Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen played impressively at times during an 8-5 season that ended with a bowl game in Northern California. That called to mind the 2009 season, when freshman quarterback Matt Barkley led USC to a 9-4 season that ended with a bowl game appearance in Northern California before coach Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL.

UCLA Coach Jim Mora has been mentioned as candidate for several NFL jobs.

• USC Coach Clay Helton fired four coaches before the Trojans’ uninspiring Holiday Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

USC came from behind to take the lead in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on and finished 8-6.

Helton is 0-2 as the Trojans’ permanent coach, but judgment should be reserved until he has his staff in place. Then Judgment Day comes fast: The Trojans, with a new quarterback, open against Alabama next season.

• Oregon built a 31-0 lead over Texas Christian in the Alamo Bowl before Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. left the game because of an injury.

Bram Kolhausen, Texas Christian’s backup quarterback playing in place of suspended star Trevone Boykin, led the Horned Frogs to a 47-41 triple-overtime victory.

Two days later, Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich demoted the team’s defensive coordinator. Could former Oregon player Justin Wilcox, fired as USC defensive coordinator, be headed to his alma mater?

• Arizona State, among the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 title, finished a 6-7 season by losing to West Virginia.

Now quarterbacks Hogan, Goff, Adams, USC’s Cody Kessler, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Utah’s Travis Wilson are off to take their shot in the NFL.

Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will compete to replace Hogan. Max Browne and Sam Darnold will compete to replace Kessler.

Rosen, Falk and Washington’s Jake Browning are among the Pac-12’s returning quarterbacks.

Oregon has welcomed yet another graduate transfer quarterback, Dakota Prukop from Montana State.

The Ducks played for the national championship game in Arizona in 2011, losing to Cam Newton and Auburn. Last year in Texas, they lost to Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game.

After Monday’s final, the championship game will not return to the West until the 2018 season, when it will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Pac-12 can only hope its presence extends beyond the location of the game.


Television ratings for the College Football Playoff semifinals played on New Year’s Eve were down. The Orange Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma earned a 9.7 overnight rating, the Cotton Bowl between Alabama and Michigan State a 9.9. The previous season’s semifinals, played Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, drew 15.5 and 15.3, respectively.


Clemson began classes this week; Alabama will not begin until Jan. 13. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday his team was not at a preparation disadvantage against the Crimson Tide. “Maybe they can have an extra meeting, something like that,” he said. “Maybe they can do a walk-through in the morning and maybe a little extra film session. But I think at this point to be honest with you, more isn’t better. I kind of believe in the less is more.”

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @LATimesKlein