Posted on December 29, 2022
The football season in the Pac-12 is nearing its end with three bowl games left over the next few days.
The Sun Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Rose Bowl each provide opportunities for the league to boost its reputation. The three bowls are some of the oldest in College Football and a win would cap strong seasons for the teams involved.
I preview the games here and the picks of our senior writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.
Pittsburgh v. No. 18 UCLA
Friday, December 30
11:00 am PT, CBS
Strong defenses aren’t high on the list of what comes to mind when discussing ACC football, yet Pittsburgh fields the No. 8 rushing defense in the nation.
The Panthers allow just 95.5 yards rushing per game and are the strongest run defense UCLA has faced since South Alabama in Week Three.
The Bruins rushed for a season-low 144 yards in that game with zero touchdowns on the ground, potentially indicating the struggles Chip Kelly’s offense will face in El Paso.
But Pitt’s passing defense is No. 67 in the FBS and several key starters have opted out of the Sun Bowl. The Panthers will be without their starting linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, and safety.
And that’s just on defense.
On offense, Pittsburgh’s starting running back, starting offensive tackle, and starting quarterback have either opted out or transferred.
That leaves the ACC team a shell of itself and UCLA should take full advantage.
The Bruins may still focus on moving the ball through the air, though, to soften up the run defense. The underlying scheme and principles of Pitt’s stout run “D” remain, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson is more than capable of getting it done with his arm.
But the UCLA rushing attack will eventually need to get going and its effectiveness could rest on DTR’s runs. If the Senior is effectively moving the ball with his legs, the entirety of Kelly’s offense will open up.
At the end of the day, if Pitt can’t stop DTR on the ground the Bruins should have a field day.
No. 16 Tulane v. No. 10 USC
Monday, January 2
10:00 am PT, ESPN
Two of the top offenses in College Football face off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Tulane fields the No. 21 scoring offense and has scored 45 points or more in four games this season. The champions of the American Conference, the Green Wave have victories over a ranked Cincinnati team and a ranked UCF program to finish the year.
But the New Orleans-based group has yet to face an offense the caliber of USC.
The Trojans own the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense and average 41.1 points per game.
The status of Caleb Williams’ injury remains a concern, though. It will have been more than a month since the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the mobility issues the Heisman winner dealt with severely limited his effectiveness.
The Trojans will be without two starting offensive linemen and leading receiver Jordan Addison, too.
The combination of factors raises red flags for the matchup. Tulane has a scoring defense that is statistically equivocal to Utah’s and its pass defense would rank No. 1 in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game.
Some of the statistical prowess can be attributed to playing in the American, but the Green Wave are 11-2 for a reason.
Williams and Lincoln Riley’s offense have superior athletes that should put up points, yet it’s Alex Grinch’s defense that could determine the game.
If USC forces multiple turnovers and turns those opportunities into touchdowns, the Trojans should get the win. But if SC loses or draws the turnover battle, Tulane’s offense has the firepower to shock the Trojans.
No. 11 Penn State v. No. 8 Utah
Monday, January 2
2:00 pm PT, ESPN
Penn State enters the Rose Bowl without a single win over a ranked team.
The Nittany Lions only played two Top 25 teams all year and lost both by a combined score of 85 to 48. Their offense has been impressive against the perpetually overrated middle of the Big 10, but its defense hemorrhaged points against the only two quality offenses it faced all year.
The Utes are the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense and didn’t get to the Rose Bowl because of their overhyped conference.
Kyle Whittingham’s group is statically on par with Michigan’s offense, which dropped 41 on Penn State in mid-October, and will be the third-toughest “O” the Nittany Lions have faced all year.
With over a month to heal his nagging knee issue, Cam Rising’s mobility should be much improved. The Utah offense is substantially more effective when he is able to extend plays and pick up yards on the ground.
If Rising is gashing the Penn State defense for runs, the space will open up on the field for UU’s traditional ground game and receivers.
Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson will need to have strong days on the ground, but Utah shouldn’t have much trouble scoring points.
The game figures to come down, then, to the play of Morgan Scalley’s defense. His group was embarrassed in the Rose Bowl last year and figure to come out with something to prove.
Clark Phillips III has opted out, but the Utes have plenty of talent ready to step up. Penn State utilizes an effective dual-back system, sharing the ball equally between Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton.
Containing the Nittany Lion ground game to make them one-dimensional could be the path to victory. Penn State ran for just 222 combined yards rushing in their losses to Michigan and Ohio State, potentially signaling the blueprint to bottling up their potent offense.
But if the Big 10 team has an effective day on the ground, its offense could roll from the opening series.