An email conversation with Avinash about a themed post on PAC 12 teams as cars resulted in the following. He came up with the characteristics, and I came up with the cars.
USC 2012--Incumbent, the favorite, the car that everyone envies.
Ferrari 458. Oh sure, some people will say they'd rather have a McLaren or an Aston Martin, but when it comes to good old fashioned "look at me" exuberance and performance, nothing quite says it like a Ferrari. Of course, with ceramic brakes, you have to watch out before it's properly warmed up because it can't quite stop anything far less itself, and there is that minor issue of catching fire under extreme heat. And while it's a little unfair, there are some people who, even though they like the high tech engine and transmission, still kind of miss the old days when you changed the gears yourself - it had one way of running, but what the hell, it was exciting and had some character.
Oregon 2012--Fast, flashy, exciting, colorful, shiny, blurry
Nissan GT-R. Although there were hints in the early 90s about what Nissan could do with the GT-R, no one was really ready for the performance explosion of the current generation of GT-R. Ugly as all get out, it goes like a bat out of hell and humbles competitors of more storied provenance. Still, you can't help but wonder about the long term viability of the car - it's not at all suited to long drives, it requires very specialized care to keep the awesome going, and the upkeep on $3000 silver paint can become a challenge. In the meantime, get the hell out of the way, because they're coming through faster than you could have anticipated.
Arizona State 2012--Versatile, well-distributed, balanced, explosive
Subaru WRX STi hatchback. The stereotype is that granola eaters and old people buy Subarus. If you put an old person in charge of a Subaru WRX STi hatchback, it's going to look aggressive and make a lot of noise, but you're going to think they've wasted their money on something that's all hat and no cattle. Put a younger more aggressive person behind the wheel though, and you'll find that while you can put a month's worth of groceries or the results of an IKEA run in the back, putting your foot down means that the noise is joined by a startling burst of speed... and you can just power around the corners while leaving more conventional cars in the dust. Or rain. Or snow. It's just a question of knowing when to punch it.
Arizona 2012--Something that moves around a lot, basic, functional, productive
Honda Civic Si. A Honda Civic Si that hasn't received the too fast, too furious treatment doesn't seem like that big a deal until you get the engine going at 8000 rpm, then all of a sudden you're looking at something that has a wild side completely at odds with the modest appearance. The idea of something that gets the day to day driving done while still having a wild side seems great, it's working like a charm when you get the drop on people at the traffic light... Until you miss a shift, or get caught in the wrong gear, and watch the other guy streak off into the distance.
Stanford 2012--Ploddy, big, methodical while not being fast
Ford F250 King Ranch with the Power Stroke (heh) diesel. Some people think that a top end car has to be fast and luxurious, but there's all sorts of subcultures in which something else matters. If you want to combine a luxury interior with a brutal exterior you need the Ford F250 King Ranch with a 6.7 liter diesel engine. Sure it's not elegant on the outside, and it's not the fastest off the line, and the engine seems comically oversized, but the torque will have this behemoth moving faster than you think while carrying a load of linemen in the back. You could be driving your Ferrari and try and outrun the F250, but if there's not enough room to run, you'd better swerve fast, because otherwise you are literally getting trucked. Plus between the margin for Ford and the deductions taken on it as a working vehicle, it's the smart bet for people who want others to underwrite their top 10% lifestyle while playing at being blue collar.
Cal 2012--Messy, sputtering, confusing, new
Finding a car that represents Cal is a bit of a conundrum: you need a car that has some history, perhaps a counter-culture association, with an identity that is supposedly predicated on modern quarterback speed but actually relies in traditional virtues like sound defense and a strong running game. This is why it's a very specific car: a refurbished 1985 Vanagon with a modern 1.9 liter diesel engine that's been converted to run on cooking oil. You may not get anywhere fast, but you'll get there nonetheless, with a consistent push no matter how steep the hill, showing definite character, and you won't have harshed on someone's mellow along the way. You may also find yourself wondering why the current generation haven't been able to come up with something that equals or betters the strengths of the previous generations, but in a modern context.
Oregon State 2012--Solid, sturdy, underdog, feisty
Suzuki Kizashi. What, you've never heard of it? Much to Suzuki's dismay, you're like most car buyers. The Kizashi has good space, good traction, decent performance, but that lack of top-end market appeal means that new and second hand sales are an uphill battle, even when it's just smoked something more mainstream like a Honda Civic, or taken advantage of the balanced handling against a nominally more sporting vehicle like a Hyundai Genesis. And you never can tell when something completely bizarre will fall apart under normal conditions... Like a stone chip in the windshield becoming a two foot long crack after 2 days of Louisiana summer sun, to pick an example wholly at random.
UCLA 2012--Hopeful, intriguing, enticing
Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Hyundai hasn't been around for as long as UCLA football but let's face it, the "sleeping giant" might as well have started fresh at the end of the Toledo era... Or the Dorrell era... or the Neuheisel era... but starting from a low point doesn't mean you can't get good fast. Just look at Hyundai. In car terms, they've not been around all that long, and they made truly crap cars, but all of a sudden they're ready to take the lunch from other manufacturers. Specific to this case, the Genesis coupe has two good engine choices, rear wheel drive, interesting styling, decent handling, and is ignored at their peril by people who think they've got more pedigree. But pedigree doesn't count for much when you're actually on the road and you have to acknowledge the numbers. Still, the Genesis Coupe has its issues: the gearing might not quite cut it, the engines aren't quite manic or quite brawny enough. You're not going to be sorry you bought one, but you can definitely get better performance somewhere else.
Washington State 2012--A car that a very interesting human being would drive.
Mike Leach's Texas Tech was a 1973 Citroen SM - an improbable marriage of hugely complex suspension from Citroen, and an engine from Maserati, a combination from when the former owned the latter, a match that could never last. The SM fell apart in Lubbock from a storage issue in the summer heat, but now Leach is working his magic making WSU into a Morgan three wheeler. Pullman just isn't the place for something so difficult and left field as the SM, so Leach is taking the idea of Air Raid back to its roots in open cockpit thunder. Traction and grip are kind of limited but it's fun to go vroom... Even if it will be a bad match to the late season chill. It's got character and you might not want one for yourself, but you're glad that someone is driving it.
Washington 2012--A good car for regular conditions, but a car that falls apart in tougher conditions.
Late model BMW 335 with summer tires on huge rims. Top Gear may claim that Audis are now the cars driven by complete cocks, but old habits die hard when it comes to people buying BMWs. They like the performance, but they can't quite justify the cost of getting something new... so they get a second hand 3 series and drop the savings on some serious rims with performance tires. That seems great when you get started in the late summer and early fall, but as the season progresses you discover that 3 series has no grip in the rain, and then when the snow arrives, you spend your time spinning and then get stopped dead in weather that more modest cars just sail through. As it is for the 3 series, so it is for Washington and their coaches nabbed from the rest of the conference.
Utah 2012--Rugged and durable, but a bit slow and not exactly comfortable
Jeep Cherokee. Jeep introduced the Cherokee in 1984 and sold them through 2001. The Cherokee pretty much set the standard for the first "civilized" SUV, but that was nearly 30 years ago. They are tough, they last for a long time, they aren't too big, but you can get a lot in them. In their original context, they make a lot of sense - there's a reason that you still see so many of them on the road. Hell, my father had one for five years, but he ditched it because the cost of keeping a car that was already old technology was mounting, and that was in 1995. Jeep hasn't come up with a formula yet that replicates the strengths or successes of the old car for a market that's changed... not yet. But they're showing that they've got some tricks left in them still on other cars, and there's no reason to think that they won't be methodically plodding forever.
Colorado 2012--Think of an utter disaster of a car.
Pontiac Aztek. On paper, the Aztek seemed to make sense: a crossover that had SUV space but got decent mileage, a car that could appeal to younger buyers, an example of rapid prototyping that could GM ahead of the competition, and rejuvenate Pontiac sales. In practice it was an absolute disaster: slow, ugly, too expensive for the intended buyers, and repellent to anyone outside the team who hadn't signed off on the design. GM couldn't sell enough to break even far less make money, and most of them were driven by people who had no choice - car rental customers and GM management. It doesn't mean that some design goals weren't met: it was practical, so sometimes it could do jobs that more exotic or impractical machines couldn't. But still, there's a reason that Pontiacs are only available as used cars now, and the Aztek is a large part of it: the sort of car that makes you question the judgement of the people who thought it would expand the market.