Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Pac-10 goes 2-2 in its four -- yes, just four -- bowl games. Wrapping up:
1. Oregon still has to prove it can outfox teams outside the conference. For all of Chip Kelly's undeniable brilliance at the Oregon helm, the last three times the Ducks have stepped out of conference to face quality defensive opposition -- and frankly, we're being generous by even including Auburn in that discussion -- they've scored 8, 17, and 19 points (against Boise State, Ohio State, and the Tigers, respectively). Those totals are a far, far cry from the Ginsu job the Ducks have performed on the Pac-10 the past two seasons, and they beg the question: what kind of kryptonite do defensive coordinators outside the league have that those inside it don't?
To be fair, it may be a simple matter of preparation; all three of the above teams had far longer than the typical work week to watch film and prep for the Duck tempo. And the torrent of TV-dictated stoppages in bowl games didn't do anything to help Oregon's attempts to wear down the Buckeyes or Tigers from a stamina standpoint. But the root of Oregon's problems in these games doesn't have anything to do with either of those issues; it's that they've simply been destroyed at the line of scrimmage. Whether it's Boise's Ryan Winterswyk, OSU's Cameron Heyward, or now Nick Fairley, the Ducks have had no answer for the elite linemen on the other side of the ball.
No one will argue that the Duck offensive linemen aren't well-coached, athletic, quality players. They've been good enough to win two Pac-10 titles and 22 games in two years. But to take the next step and win Oregon's first national title, Kelly may have to find a way to upgrade his offensive front all the same.
2. If they can keep the staff intact, Stanford's not going anywhere. Or at least, not far. No one will argue that Jim Harbaugh wasn't the driving force behind the Cardinal's unfathomable rise to 12-1 and beyond-impressive 40-12 demolition of Virginia Tech (remember that despite their short-week loss to James Madison, the Hokies had ripped through an improved ACC without even being seriously challenged), but that doesn't mean he was the only force. Andrew Luck will return in 2011 as the hands-down, no-debate best quarterback in the nation. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has already drawn head coaching interest and has learned directly under Harbaugh the past three seasons. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio just finished overseeing the biggest single-season defensive improvement in the conference, if not the countr. And Harbaugh's recruiting prowess means the cupboard should remain well-stocked for the next few years.
2010 may be the high-water mark for the program all the same. But if both Roman and Fangio are retained -- and it seems likely they will be, if one or the other is named head coach -- don't expect much of a drop-off in the near future, even with Harbaugh in San Francisco. The team on display at the Orange Bowl was clearly constructed well enough to withstand the loss of a single pillar, even if it happened to be the biggest one.
3. Arizona doesn't really "do" that whole bowl game scene, man. The Wildcats' appeared to have taken an important step forward during the 2009 regular season, coming within one overtime loss against the Ducks of a Rose Bowl berth. But then they took a big one back with a 33-0 shellacking at the hands of Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. This year, Mike Stoops needed a solid performance in the Alamo Bowl to wash out the taste of the 'Cats' season-ending four-game losing streak, and instead his team laid another colossal egg, meekly succumbing to Oklahoma State 36-10.
With victories or even respectable performances in those two bowls, Stoops would still have his team firmly established as one of the "up-and-comers" in the Pac-10. As is, 2011 isn't a make-or-break year for Stoops just yet ... but another iffy regular season followed by a third bowl faceplent would mean 2012 certainly would be.
4. Washington had a winning season. OK, that's not really something we "learned" as much as something that simply happened, but it's as close as we'll get since we're not sure there really was anything to learn from the Huskies' 19-7 win over Nebraska in this year's edition of the Holiday Bowl. Certainly it was a thrill for Jake Locker and the other Husky seniors to go out with a win, and after a disappointing year for coordinator Nick Holt's defense, holding the Huskers to a measly 7 points -- after giving up 56 to them in Seattle during the regular season -- will provide some optimism for next year. But with the Huskers visibly unfocused and unmotivated for a bowl game they'd played the year before against a team they'd already flattened during the regular season (and Taylor Martinez still not 100 percent), it's questionable how much an accomplishment the win really is. And with the face-of-the-program Locker departed, it's equally questionable how similar next year's Huskies will look to this year's.
So: it's a nice story for Washington. But it doesn't tells us much, if anything, about the Huskies going forward.