2021 Pac 12 Bowls Preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As we did in 2019 and 2020, let’s take a look at all 42 bowl games, plus the CFP National Championship Game. 18 matchups feature a first-ever meeting of programs.  

With how insane the coaching carousel has been, plus the full utilization of the Transfer Portal, we will try to keep up with all of the moving parts and put footnotes for notable players leaving. So, without further ado, time for the 2021 Pac 12 bowls preview! 

2021 Pac 12 Bowls Preview 

Los Angeles Bowl (December 18, 7:30 p.m., ABC)
Oregon State vs Utah State 

Head-to-head: Oregon State 3-0 Utah State
Oregon State bowl record: 9-6 

The first game of the 2021 Pac 12 Bowls is a good ten days before the next and it features the 7-5 Oregon State Beavers. 2021 wasn’t too harsh to Oregon State and they finished with the program’s most wins since they went 7-6 in 2013. They started off the year 4-1 with big wins over Hawai’i, USC, and Washington. That win over USC was just the 12th in history in 79 tries. 

This Beavers offense is nearly a perfect “Urban Meyer-NFL” balanced. Instead of 250-250, the Beavers’ passing-to-rushing ratio is 213-219. With 1,259 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, B.J. Baylor dominated all year and earned first-team All-Pac 12. During the middle of the season in a four-game stretch, Baylor averaged 141.5 yards.  

Quarterbacking the squad is Middle Tennessee State transfer, Chance Nolan. Overall, he was solid, yet uninspiring all year. He got the job done, there’s no denying that. His favorite target was sixth-year senior Trevon Bradford 

Defensively, Oregon State is about as average as can get. In scoring defense, the 25.9 points per game they allow is 60th in the nation. Avery Roberts, a Nebraska transfer, is the leader of this unit. He leads the team in tackles (123) and tackles for loss (9.5). In addition, he tallied an interception and forced fumble to go with 2.5 sacks. 

Oregon State seems to making strides to getting better and out of the basement of the Pac 12. Unfortunately, they are running into one of the best Group of 5 teams this year in Utah State. The Aggies will be able to cruise to victory and start the 2021 Pac 12 bowls record with a loss. 

Holiday Bowl (December 28, 8:00 p.m., FOX)
UCLA vs North Carolina State 

Head-to-head: UCLA 2-0 NC State
UCLA bowl record: 16-19-1 

At 8-4, there has been plenty for the UCLA faithful to be proud of. Sure, they didn’t play for the Pac 12 Championship, but they beat LSU in an exciting non-conference game and they destroyed their arch-rival, USC. The Holiday Bowl pits the Bruins against the Wolfpack of NC State for the first of the 2021 Pac 12 bowls post-Christmas. 

This season, the UCLA offense has been remarkably balanced and that is thanks to quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Through the air, DTR accounted for 2,409 yards and six touchdowns, but he’s dangerous running the ball. In addition to second-team All-Pac 12 running back Zach Charbonnet’s 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns, Thompson-Robinson tallied 611 yards and nine touchdowns. The Michigan transfer, Charbonnet has flourished in Chip Kelly’s offense. His strength, balance, vision, and ability to pass block are going to get him paid at the next level. 

Defensively, the Bruins started off rough. Where they struggled in one area, they were strong in another. Over the final four games? They held opponents under 180 years through the air three times. They also allowed nearly 184 yards per game on the ground in that same stretch. Quentin Lake and Qwuantrezz Knight, second-team All-Pac 12 selections, led the team in interceptions and tackles, respectively. 

2021 is going to be the end of DTR’s career with UCLA and likely Charbonnet’s as well. They’ll play well enough for UCLA to believe they have a shot, but NC State should secure the victory. Despite coming from a weaker ACC, NC State looks to be a solid offense and UCLA has not shown it can stop them. The 2021 Pac-12 bowls slate moves on the next day, looking to improve on an 0-2 start. 

Alamo Bowl (December 29, 9:15 p.m., ESPN)
Oregon vs Oklahoma 

Head-to-head: Oregon 1-6 Oklahoma
Oregon bowl record: 15-19 

The Alamo Bowl. Also going to be knowns as the “two programs in flux bowl” as Oregon without coach Mario Cristobal takes on Oklahoma without coach Lincoln Riley. The biggest game of the year was in Columbus and the Ducks were able to upset Ohio State for the first time in the series history. After dropping a surprising game to Stanford, it looked like Oregon was about to burst through and make the CFP. But then Utah happened. Twice. 

Redshirt senior Boston College transfer Anthony Brown is the leader of this offense. 2021 was kind of Brown as he set a new career mark in yardage both in the air (2,693) and the ground (637). After losing CJ Verdell early in the year, Travis Dye took over as the full-time running back and made the most of it. In his four years, Dye had rushed over 100 times in three years (would’ve in 2020 if not for COVID). Each of these players earned honorable mention for All-Pac 12. 

This defense is led by a couple of studs who will get to hear their names called early in the NFL Draft: Noah Sewell and Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux has elected to sit this one out and prepare to be a top-two pick in the 2022 draft. Thankfully for Oregon and those who love to watch great linebacker play, Sewell is still a (COVID) redshirt freshman. On the back end, tied for the lead in the nation with five interceptions is Verone McKinley III. This defense forces nearly two turnovers per game, so Oklahoma will have to work to protect the ball. 

If these two teams were at full strength, it would really be a solid matchup. But Oklahoma is reeling with Riley jumping ship, recruits de-committing, and players transferring or sitting out. No Duck Hunt here, Oregon manages to take care of business for the first win of the 2021 Pac 12 bowls. 

Las Vegas Bowl (December 30, 10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Arizona State vs Wisconsin 

Head-to-head: Arizona State 3-1 Wisconsin
Arizona State bowl record: 15-16-1 

The first of two Pac 12 vs Big 10 matchups pits a pair of underwhelming teams who had lofty expectations coming into the season. At 8-4, Arizona State weighed options regarding whether or not they would move on from head coach Herm Edwards but re-affirmed that he is the man moving forward. 

Jayden Daniels, the junior quarterback who many tabbed as a dark horse Heisman candidate, took a step back in 2021. Compared to his breakout freshman campaign, Daniels both accounted for fewer yards and touchdowns through the air. He did, however, tally his career-best in rushing yards to compliment stud senior running back Rachaad White. After three years of N’Keal Harry, Brandon Aiyuk, and Frank Darby, the Sun Devils couldn’t really get anything going. 

One thing ASU’s defense does well is force interceptions. Three separate defensive players recorded three interceptions themselves. Jack Jones added three forced fumbles to go with his trio of interceptions.  

Each of these teams went into the season with aspirations of winning AT LEAST their division and both faltered. Wisconsin’s rush defense is elite, but they haven’t exactly faced a duo of Daniels and White. Arizona State gets the win here to move the 2021 Pac 12 bowls record even. It’s not going to be a pretty one, but strep in nonetheless. 

Sun Bowl (December 31, 12:30 p.m., CBS)
Washington State vs Miami (FL) 

Head-to-head: Washington State 1-0 Miami (FL)
Washington State bowl record: 7-8 

Editor’s note: Miami (FL) has experienced an uptick of COVID-19 cases, so they withdrew from the Sun Bowl. Washington State will now play Central Michigan.

The penultimate matchup of the 2021 Pac 12 bowls pits Wazzu against “The U”. This season has been…interesting to say the least. The first seven games were coached by Nick Rolovich. But after deciding to not take the steps to mitigate a global pandemic as required by the university, the program moved on. Jake Dickert was elevated to head coach and it was announced that he will retain his position. This team was all over the place…but they won their rivalry game! 

Gone are the days of Mike Leach’s pass-happy, high-flying offense. Wazzu’s offense struggled this year. Led by Jayden De Laura, the Cougars offense averaged a meager 28.4 points per game. His 2,757 yards and 23 touchdowns went mainly to his trio of receivers, Travell Harris, Calvin Jackson, Jr., and De’Zhaun Stribling. 

This defense bends, breaks, and is overall frustrating to watch. However, they force turnovers. As a unit, they’ve forced 21 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The leader of the defense is Jahad Woods, a fifth-year senior. In all five years, he’s been a productive member of this defense and while his 100 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss are impressive, they’re not career-bests. An interesting thing about him is he’s recorded one interception in each year and has forced a total of nine forced fumbles. 

Neither of these teams is anything special. This game isn’t located anywhere close to either program, so no home-field advantage that some teams run into. This seems like a toss-up, so we will ride with the Hurricanes here.  

Even with the switch to facing Central Michigan, Wazzu still gets the win.

NY6 Rose Bowl (January 1, 5:00 p.m., ESPN)
Utah vs Ohio State 

Head-to-head: Utah 0-1 Ohio State
Utah bowl record: 17-6 

A real tale of two seasons. Utah started off shaky, but once Charlie Brewer decided to back out of the program and enter the Portal, they took off. The Utes are 10-3 and rode a six-game win streak to win the Pac 12. Two of those were absolute beat-downs of Oregon where they outscored the ducked 76-17. This is their first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl and they certainly picked a good time for it. 

The strength of this Utes offense is thanks, in part, to Cincinnati transfer Tavion Thomas. In his first season, Thomas blew up for 1,041 yards and a Pac 12-leading 20 touchdowns. The vast majority of those numbers were only in nine games and he nearly single-handedly saw to it that they beat Oregon. In those two games, he was responsible for five touchdowns. 

The switch to Cameron Rising was a catalyst for success. Rising rose to the occasion, passing for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns. Defenses had to respect his running ability as well, considering he went off for 407 yards and five touchdowns. This offense is tough. It smacks you in the mouth, helps you back up, and smacks you again. Ohio State is going to have its hands full. Especially if they play soft as they did against Michigan. 

One of the best linebackers in the nation calls Utah home. Devin Lloyd, winner of the Pac 12 defender of the year, is a monster. He leads the team in tackles with 107, leads the conference in tackles for loss with 22, and added 7.0 sacks. He has the ability to take over games. As innovative and explosive an offense that Ohio State has, they will have to account for where number zero is at all times. 

Utah is a tough team. They are hot and seemingly unstoppable. It’s looking like both teams are going to be mostly at full strength for this one as Ohio State doesn’t want to leave with a bad taste in its mouth. The Utes will put up a fight, but Ohio State just might be a tad too talented on offense for Utah to keep up.  

PAC-12 or WACK-12? 

Of the five major conferences, the 2021 Pac 12 bowls slate features the fewest games. It’s often considered the weakest of the five conferences, but there are plenty of chances for this narrative to change. Considering five of the six matchups are P5 vs P5, the Pac 12 can make a statement moving into 2022. Could USC make an appearance on next year’s edition of the bowl previews with that splash hire? 

Seven down, four to go! Up next, the mighty SEC! Two CFP games, two wins? 

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