It's been late in coming, but we thought we'd rank the best West Coast teams this year, based largely on the way they punctuated this season with remarkable bowl games.
1. Boise State-Fiesta Bowl. (Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42) Yes, even though the century is only on its eighth year, the Fiesta Bowl will forever remain the Game of the Century. We'll even say that the 2007 Fiesta bowl was possibly the best game ever played at the college level. The David-Goliath element cannot be emphasized enough, and the so-called "trick plays" (shouldn't every play involve some level of 'trickery'?) were amazing in their acrobatic precision, but at its core this was a battle of two great teams. Evident in the final rankings, the AP writers and Mark Mays of the football punditry class have found ways to dismiss Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win--apparently their bold predictions of an Oklahoma blowout can now safely be flushed down the memory hole. Boise State was certainly one of the best teams in the country, if not THE best, and who can argue that Boise State would have fared worse than Ohio State in the title game? We think Boise State proved that they deserved a title shot. Can a Bronco get a playoff?
2. USC-Rose Bowl. (USC 32, Michigan 18) The lone caveat to the Trojans' slaughter of the overrated Michigan Wolverines is that Michigan was, well, overrated. And with Ohio State's pathetic showing in the title game it's fair to say that the Big Ten wasn't exactly an elite conference this year. That said, USC played a hell of a game. The biggest notable improvement was the Trojan's offensive line which completely buckled in their previous trip to the Rose Bowl. John David Booty turned in a good game, but it helps to be throwing to Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. National title metrics aside, a USC-Florida Rose Bowl would have been a better game than what the two Big Ten losers provided.
3. BYU-Las Vegas Bowl. (BYU 38, Oregon 8) Beating up on Oregon was not a rare experience this year. Cal did it, USC did it--hell, even Arizona did it. Of course, BYU's margin of victory bested any of Oregon's Pac-10 rivals, and it could have been a lot uglier: young coach Bronco Mendenhall is loathe to kick a guy when he's down--especially when that guy set you up for your head coaching job. Jeff Beck and Johnny Harline finish up their college careers like the offensive gods they've been all year, but the real heroes were on defense which held Oregon to a single (accidental) touchdown late in the game. Bronco swapped his innovative but largely ineffective 3-3-5 defenses for a 3-4 defense this year and suddenly they have a great team. It's really a shame that BYU didn't get a more high profile bowl game with a more worthy opponent in a year when they could have beat anyone in the country.
4. Cal-Holiday Bowl. (California 45, Texas A&M 10) Cal capped a seemingly wishy-washy season with a win so big we're starting to think that this may have been the best Cal football team in 50 years, even if the play-calling didn't always match the talent. The 2004 team went 10-1 throughout the regular season, with their only loss a close one to the eventual National Champion. However, they crapped out an embarassing loss to the 4th best team in the Big XII that year. This year Cal shared in the Pac-10 title and blistered the 3rd best Big XII team in the widest margin of victory in any bowl game played this season. Credit that last touchdown to 3rd string QB Steve Levy whose decision to go for a touchdown instead of taking a knee in the closing seconds of the game angered Coach Tedford. We love Tedford and all that he has done for Cal, but what does it say about a coach who is more concerned about the feelings of a competing coach than the brief moments of glory for kids who have sat on the bench for four years? If you were a hot high school recruit, would you want to play for a coach like that? It ain't sportsmanship to cuss out your players for having the audacity to want to play.
5. Hawaii-Aloha Bowl. (Hawaii 41, Arizona State 24) With both Troy Smith and Brady Quinn ending their college careers with embarassing performances in their most important games, how mad should Colt Brennan be that he lost out on all the major quarterback awards to these two washouts? Brennan threw for five touchdowns against a pathetic Arizona State team that would have had an epic season if, say, they played in the Big Ten. Brennan is more than just a system quarterback, but his receiving corps is probably the most talented bunch this side of USC. This team should be knocking on the BCS door come next season.
6. TCU-Poinsettia Bowl. (Texas Christian 37, Northern Illinois 7) TCU had a great season with only two losses, even if both of them were lopsided and embarrassing. But a year with 11 wins and yet another Big XII notch in your bedpost is still pretty great. The Horned Frogs tagged their Northern Illinois opponents in a beating bigger and uglier than what Ohio State managed to do to the Huskies at the start of the season. That dominant TCU defense will mostly remain intact for next season, so expect some sparks at the top of the Mountain West.
7. Oregon State-Sun Bowl. (Oregon State 39, Missouri 38) Credit Missouri for such a close game, but this should have been an easy win for the only other team to beat USC this year. In the preseason publications Oregon State was picked by nearly everyone to finish dead last in the Pac-10 this year, and after two humiliating losses to Boise State and Cal these Beavers seemed hell-bent on proving everyone right. Luckily, they pulled their season around in an astounding way. This was never a great team, but they seemed to always do just enough to win.
8. Nevada-MPC Computer Bowl. (Miami 21, Nevada 20) Nevada is the only West Coast team in our listings here that lost their bowl game. However, even the final one point margin of victory doesn't come close to showing how hard the Wolfpack fought against once-mighty Miami. Obviously Miami is not anywhere close to what they were even a year ago, but the Hurricanes are still a team of the most highly recruited athletes in the country. Needless to say, Nevada is not. With quarterback Jeff Rowe playing below his potential (for his true potential check out what he did in the East-West Shrine game), Nevada still came within a missed two-point conversion of winning a game in which they were clearly the better team. This game, played on the beloved smurf-turf, was an eery foreshadowing of the Fiesta Bowl, albeit without the good guys winning.
9. San Jose State-New Mexico Bowl. (San Jose State 20, New Mexico 12) The victory dances were premature, and that onside kick call in the closing seconds was a little too reminiscent of the Oregon/Oklahoma officiating disaster, but Dick Tomey's ragtag team pulled together a dominant victory over a less than impressive New Mexico team. Let's be honest, New Mexico had done nothing this season to warrant post-season play, and their last minute (literally) touchdown, their first of the game, didn't redeem that painful fact. Dick Tomey's miracle turnaround in San Jose would have garnered him more Coach of the Year attention if not for Boise State's Chris Peterson running off a 13-0 record his first year.
10. Utah-Armed Forces Bowl. (Utah 25, Tulsa 13) Utah's slow and painful victory over a mediocre Tulsa team was symbolic of their entire 8-5 season: yeah, hooray, you won--couldn't you have done better? I mean really.... Eric Weddle's a great player, but was he really doing things that couldn't be done by your starting backfield? Utah's a team full of talent, especially on both sides of the frontline, so forgive us for thinking that Weddle's versatility was always too cute by half. Let's hope Coach Kyle Whillingham can figure out a game plan that maximizes all the muscle on his roster. When that happens, the Utes are back in the BCS fight for real. Otherwise Whillingham's just another Gary Crowton disaster waiting to happen.