Bowl season is over for the Pac-12 with the Oregon Ducks claiming the Rose Bowl and forging an identity for a resurgent program, which will prove difficult for the Cal Bears and Stanford Cardinal to match the level of intensity.
The Pac-12 finished the bowl season with at 4-4 with the Cal Bears helping out in winning the Red Box Bowl at Levi’s Stadium. Unfortunately, the Stanford Cardinal did not qualify after in David Shaw’s first season with a losing record. Injuries, especially at quarterback, hurt the Cardinal throughout the campaign.
For Cal and Stanford, both teams put up fair fights against Oregon, with opportunities to come away with victories. To their dismay, the Ducks did not stop and found ways to come out on top. As a result, Oregon claimed the Pac-12 North Division and took the conference in the championship game against Utah.
A picture-perfect day surrounded the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as Oregon faced Wisconsin in a rematch of the 2012 Rose Bowl. In a high-scoring affair, the Ducks scored the most points at the end, defeating the Badgers.
Stanford Cardinal Football
With the Badgers a slight favorite, the team looked to end the campaign on a high note after losing to Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game and a chance at the College Football Playoff.
Instead, a defensive showdown ensued as both sides did not want to budge and to hope to force turnovers. At first, Oregon appeared to be in control after an impressive opening drive, keeping Wisconsin off-balanced as Justin Herbert capped the possession with a rushing touchdown.
In an instant, all momentum went to the Badgers as the kickoff got taken right back down the field to level the score. As both teams struggled to gain a stronghold of the game, Wisconsin took the advantage at halftime.
Turnovers ultimately became the difference in the 106th edition of the Rose Bowl, a statistic favoring the Ducks. The first mistake came with Wisconsin’s punter dropping the football, and Brady Breeze scooped up the loose ball to give Oregon back the lead in the third quarter, 21-17.
Wisconsin did not let the misfortune affect their goal, responding with a touchdown and would add a field goal to extend the lead to 27-21 in the fourth quarter. The Badgers made second-half adjustments with jet sweeps to keep the Ducks’ defense off-balanced in efforts to extend possessions.
As the sunset in Pasadena, reflecting off the winged-chrome helmets of Oregon, the Ducks did not want a beautiful setting to end a fantastic season. No matter the time left, Oregon never felt out of the game and just needed one more break to go in their direction.
Breeze came in the clutch, forcing the football out of a Wisconsin receiver with Oregon recovering. Like in 2012, the same fate occurred with a Badger receiver making a play but only to have a defender on the Ducks force a fumble and recover. The recoveries happened in almost the same yard line.
On the next play, Herbert delivered the game-winner, a 30-yard scramble to the endzone to put the Ducks back on top. Oregon benefitted on an offensive pass-interference penalty against Wisconsin to aid the defense in forcing a stop. A critical third-down completion with under two minutes to play sealed the Ducks’ victory as the Badgers were out of timeouts.
For Oregon, a 28-27 Rose Bowl triumph solidified the program as a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Coach Mario Cristobal did an incredible job, keeping his team focused and building an identity of playing tough, physical football, and never giving up.
Credit goes to the entire defense of the Ducks. In every matchup, Oregon’s defense remained defiant, digging in deep in hopes of getting stops to give the offense opportunities to score points. A severe loss late in the season to Arizona State knocked Oregon out of playoff contention but did not let the disappointment damper an already impressive year.
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Utah got chosen to win the conference in the media polls before the season and boasted a stout defense. The Utes came into the conference championship with one loss and had aspirations of making the playoff.
But Oregon came out with swagger, throttling Utah to claim the Pac-12 and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.
After LSU dismantled Oklahoma, perhaps Oregon would have suffered the same fate. Oregon did play a great game against Auburn in the opener but could not finish in the end. The experience and growth throughout Oregon’s season became pivotal in the final moments against Wisconsin.
Herbert ends his career at Oregon as a winner and could likely be a top-10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He will come under heavy scrutiny as his playmaking and ability to read defenses did not appear to be sharp against the Badgers. The four-year starter for the Ducks can play but should go to a team with an already established quarterback to develop.
With Oregon back on top and show zero signs of relinquishing the Pac-12, Stanford and Cal are going to have tall tasks in outdueling Oregon.
Between the two Bay Area teams, Cal is trending upward after reclaiming the Axe from Stanford. The Bears’ defense continues to improve under Justin Wilcox. Give Cal a capable quarterback and a few offensive weapons; the Bears can become a dark horse in the conference.
Coach Shaw did a lackluster job in the game against Cal. His inability for the defense to stop Chase Garbers handed the Axe right to the Bears. Stanford made an average quarterback look unstoppable and become a hero for Cal.
Yes, the Cardinal never was the same after the home opener against Northwestern after a cheap shot to K.J. Costello’s head knocked him out of the game. Stanford used three quarterbacks during the year with the two behind Costello not looking ready to be starters.
An interesting offseason looms for the Cardinal as Costello is leaving the program to transfer to another school. He is a graduate transfer and is eligible immediately to play. Multiple transfers are leaving Stanford, which will impact the depth chart. The Cardinal tend to have small recruiting classes amongst the conference due to the academic standards set for admissions into the university.
Mighty Oregon is back on top and looks to dominate the Pac-12 after starting 2020 with a program defining victory. But as seen in recent years with the conference, teams tend to beat each other up. Stanford and Cal both may play a possible role but must solve their problems before thinking ahead.