Take 2: Must-win bowl game

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
3:00
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For obvious reasons, the more bowl games a conference can win, the better it is for the league’s national reputation. But is there one game that is more important? Your Pac-12 reporters debate.

Ted Miller: While you could make a strong case that Oregon State needs to win it's bowl game in order to take some heat off of Mike Riley, just down the road at Oregon there's already significant pressure on Mark Helfrich to guide the Ducks into the offseason on an up note.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWould a loss to a struggling Texas team signal trouble in Eugene for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich?
If Oregon beats Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, which it is favored to do by two touchdowns, you could spin Helfrich's first season after replacing the much-ballyhooed Chip Kelly as a moderate success. Sure, the Ducks didn't get picked for a fifth consecutive BCS bowl game, but it did finish with 11 wins and a top-10 ranking, neither of which Kelly achieved in his first season. Keep in mind that Kelly did inherit a very good team, one that went 10-3 and finished ranked 10th in 2008, Mike Bellotti's last season.

If Oregon beats Texas, it can trace its late-season swoon to QB Marcus Mariota's sprained knee. An excuse? Absolutely. But a legitimate one when assessing what went wrong during the season. The Ducks can look at 2013 and say, "Hey, we lost to a very good Stanford team on the road with our QB hurt, and we had one weekend at Arizona when we didn't show up. Could be worse. Stanford lost two games, too, by the way."

If Oregon beats Texas, it sets Mariota up as the leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate and it likely ensures a preseason ranking near the top 5 or at the very least the top 10. That means it starts 2014 squarely in position to play its way into the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

If Oregon beats Texas, it will still seem all Win the Day-y.

But what if Oregon doesn't beat Texas?

If the Ducks go down, some of the more demanding Ducks fans will see Helfrich's seat as warming in only Year 2. If the Ducks go down, there will be quite a few smirks in the Pac-12 and across the nation. Folks in SEC country will talk about a "gimmick team" whose run is over. Washington fans will look at their coach -- Chris Petersen -- and then Helfrich and start to make plans for a breakthrough after 10 years of woe. Oregon State fans will start to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

If the Ducks go down, that might give more than a few recruits pause. They might wonder if signing with Oregon means signing with a program that has plateaued and might be headed in the wrong direction. A disappointing recruiting class would give frustrated Ducks fans more to fret about during the long offseason.

If the Ducks go down, it will seem like a lost season.

Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive year, and Washington just got a Big Fish coach. UCLA and Arizona State are rising in the South, and USC will emerge from scholarship reductions a year from now. The Ducks position in the North Division and the Pac-12 as a whole is being challenged.

Beating a middling Texas team that still has a marquee name will answer that challenge and slow the offseason handwringing to a manageable level.

Losing to a middling Texas team will put the program on red alert.

Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 is at a critical juncture, and nationally speaking, it can ill afford to drop its BCS game. That’s why the Pac-12’s must-win game has to be Stanford vs. Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

Right now the rest of the country is looking at the Pac-12, top to bottom, and thinking, "Gosh, that is a tough league. Hard to believe they only have one BCS game." Which is exactly why Stanford has to win. Because if they don't, the "overrated" chants will rain down heavy and hard for the next nine months.

The Pac-12 is better off when Oregon is ranked in the top five and going to BCS bowl games every year. And the Pac-12 needs the Ducks -- or UCLA -- or ASU -- or USC -- or Washington -- or Arizona -- or someone else to pick up the slack next year as we head into the playoff era. Easier said than done, of course, given the way the league’s nine-game conference schedule plays out.

[+] EnlargeStanford Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsStanford will be playing for the Pac-12's reputation in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State.
National perception is forged on how you do against teams from other conferences. In that regard, the Pac-12 had a stellar year in terms of regular season nonconference play. The league went 31-6 against out-of-conference competition with seven of the 12 teams posting a perfect record and 11 of 12 teams posting a winning record.

That’s all well and good for the end of September. But no one cares about that if you don’t do well in the bowl season.

If the Pac-12 goes 8-1 in the bowl season, but loses its BCS game, the league takes a massive PR hit; because, let’s be honest, outside of Pullman Wash., or Fort Collins, Colo., there won't be a ton of buzz if Washington State beats up on Colorado State -- which it should. Opinions won’t be swayed too much if UCLA beats Virginia Tech or Arizona beats Boston College. And even if Oregon wins, it won’t make a huge dent.

Right now, Stanford carries the flag for the rest of the conference. The Pac-12 needs all of the national credibility it can get its hands on because the last Top 25 poll is usually a starting point for the first poll of the 2014 season. Oregon getting inside the top 10 is important. UCLA and ASU getting in the top 15 is important. USC getting into the top 20 is important. But Stanford getting in the top two or three is more important right now. And from a league perspective, beating a Big Ten team in the 100th Rose Bowl Game is the most important.

Ted Miller | email

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