There were too many similarities in their defeats to be ignored.
The Pac-10 had a wretched bowl season. Not even the performance by USC against Iowa in the Orange Bowl was able to ease the sting of humbling losses by Washington State, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State.
It wasn’t so much that they lost, but who they lost to and by how much.
Although Arizona State gets credit for battling Kansas State. But the four Northwest schools were simply overmatched. Oklahoma beating WSU is one thing, but the Huskies, Ducks and Beavers getting thumped by Purdue, Wake Forest and Pitt is another.
There was a stretch in the ’80s and early ’90s when the Pac-10 had too much speed for the Big Ten in their Rose Bowl match-ups.
That advantage seems gone now, and while the Pac-10 cleared its backfield and tried to throw the ball on almost every down, the rest of the country got stronger and found new ways to run the ball.
Pitt was far more physical than Oregon State. Purdue limited Washington to 44 yards rushing. The Cougars got only 4 yards on the ground against Oklahoma, and Oregon gave up 497 total yards to Wake Forest.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” said Washington coach Rick Neuheisel after the Huskies lost to Purdue.
Sure, there were extenuating circumstances. Oregon running back Onterrio Smith wasn’t healthy. Neither was WSU quarterback Jason Gesser. And Washington QB Cody Pickett had a bad day.
But the statistics didn’t lie: Purdue came into its game with Washington averaging more than 200 yards rushing. The Huskies were under 100 for the first time in their history.
Oklahoma rushed for 146 yards in the Rose Bowl, 142 more than the Cougars. Wake Forest rushed for 256 yards against the Ducks, and Purdue gained 117 yards rushing against the Huskies.
Pac-10 teams looked soft in 2002. They are OK against themselves and when they get great quarterbacking. But, as was the case with Washington, when the quarterback has a bad day there is nothing to fall back upon.
Oregon and OSU had problems at quarterback; USC and California didn’t. In fact, Cal was a Pac-10 team that might have won a bowl had it been eligible because, like USC, it had decent balance.
No Pac-10 team averaged 200 yards rushing this season.
Other than USC’s win against Colorado, the Pac-10 really didn’t have any good non-conference victories despite a good non-conference record.
The Pac-10 has won only two Rose Bowl Games since Washington’s run ended in 1992, the Huskies winning again in 2001 and USC in 1996.
Neuheisel is surpassed in Pac-10 tenure now by only Mike Bellotti at Oregon. In the past five years, every Pac-10 school except Oregon has either fired or lost its head coach.
At schools other than Oregon and WSU, there has been a lack of a consistent philosophy in recruiting and coaching.
Moreover, the Pac-10 schools haven’t recruited enough players outside of quarterbacks who could play for anyone in the country. How many of them were there this year – Terrell Suggs, Reggie Williams, Mike Williams, Troy Polamalu, Rien Long, Onterrio Smith?
Oklahoma was decidedly faster and stronger than WSU, even though the Cougars have corralled a good group of athletes.
It is hard to know how much of the Pac-10 problem is related to outdated strategy, but it appears the league is failing to find ways to run the ball against modern defenses.
Even though conventional wisdom says a team that operates out of the shotgun can’t run, both Oklahoma and Purdue did.
It is a different type of running. The offensive line kind of holds its ground as the quarterback takes the snap and looks like he might pass, freezing the linebackers.
Then the ball is handed off to a smaller, shiftier-type running back, Quentin Griffin for Oklahoma and Joey Harris for Purdue, who finds his way for significant yardage.
Running the ball lowers the risk of turnovers. It eats up time. It slows down the rush. And creates a better opportunity to score near the goal line.
Another thing missing for Pac-10 schools is the passion shown for the game in other parts of the country. Oklahoma’s fans outnumbered Washington State’s at the Rose Bowl. Purdue outnumbered Washington at the Sun Bowl.
There were about 50,000 Iowa fans at the Orange Bowl and maybe 10,000 from USC. Pac-10 schools won’t get better bowl games until they commit to bringing more fans.
Pac-10 teams may be depending too much on their quarterbacks and not enough on their running backs. In the long run, it has caught up with them.