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The good, the bad and the unknown 2016-17 Pac-12 bowl season

USC saved the conference with an epic Rose Bowl win

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

Washington’s defense - The Huskies may have lost by 17 to Alabama, but it had almost nothing to do with their defense, which put in a game I will describe as bad ass. They dominated Alabama’s talented offensive front, were seemingly close to picking off Jalen Hurts just about every time he tried to pass. They gave up just 17 while being on the field almost the entire game with bad field position. They put Washington in position to pull off a miracle, but their offense just couldn’t make it happen against a historically amazing Alabama defense.

Sam Darnold and USC’s offense - Darnold showed why he is a huge Heisman candidate next year and could easily be the first player taken in the 2018 draft. He bombed on the Nittany Lions through the air and controlled the game with his legs as the Trojan offense rolled all day despite their defense’s struggles.

Darnold put together one of the best Rose Bowl performances I can ever remember and looks like the rare college quarterback who can win a game all on his own. He is set up for a major Heisman run in 2017 and looks to be exactly what could turn around the near decade of mediocrity and underachievement which has plagued USC.

The Rose Bowl - That was one for the ages. A high-scoring game that wasn’t too sloppy which flipped the script at least a few times with the Pac-12 team winning on a long, last-second field goal. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Solomon Thomas - The Stanford defender turned in an epic performance in El Paso. The rest of the Pac-12 has to hope he doesn’t come back next year.

Joe Williams and the Utah offensive line - Williams turned in a hell of a curtain call and the guys up front for him were impressive again as they helped the Utes save a little Pac-12 face in the early bowl games.

The Bad

Pac-12 performances overall - It was an average at best bowl season for the Pac-12. Washington put up just seven points in the Playoff, Stanford and Utah barely squeaked out wins and Colorado and Washington State looked like they didn’t belong in their bowl games. USC got a huge win in the Rose Bowl, but gave up 49 points in the process.

Washington’s offense against Alabama - I added “against Alabama” here because I don’t think there is a single offense in the country who could have done much against Alabama in Atlanta. There is no other way to describe Washington’s performance other than “bad” though as they failed to keep a game close their defense gave them a shot at winning.

Washington’s turnovers - The Huskies could have kept things close even with how little their offense produced in points and yardage if they didn’t turn the ball over and could have really made things interesting.

On the other side, their defenses’ only true failure was not finishing turnover opportunities they created - Budda Baker dropping an (albeit not easy) interception on Alabama’s first offensive play and failing to recover an Alabama fumble in Crimson Tide territory.

Jake Browning against good defenses - Alabama was by far the best defense Browning faced this year so you can’t really blame his for his lackluster performance, but it officially capped a season where he was lights out against every bad or average defense he faced and really struggled against the good ones.

Whether or not Browning takes the next step in the next two seasons and finds a way to keep his level of play up against the big boys of college football may determine whether his Huskies remain a team that can win the Pac-12, but not a national championship, or if they can reach the ultimate pinnacle in college football. Nice problem to have, but still a problem.

USC’s defense - The Trojan defense went off the rails against Penn State and looked a lot more like the unit we saw early in the season than the one we saw late in the season. The Trojans are going to have to go back to how they looked a few weeks on defense if they hope to win a national championship in 2017.

Colorado - The Buffs seemed to be a wagon with rickety wheels when they rolled into San Antonio and were taken apart by Oklahoma State. It still doesn’t tarnish an awesome season by Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs, but they certainly didn’t seem ready for the big stage quite yet in their final two games of the season.

Washington State’s offense - The Cougars were almost held without a touchdown against a defense which was missing a lot of key players in their secondary. I think we were all shocked with how poor the Cougars looked on offense in the Holiday Bowl.

The Unknown

USC & Washington heading into 2017 - The Pac-12 is going to have two strong Playoff contenders heading into 2017 and I am very excited to see where the Huskies and Trojans are ranked in the preseason. I could see both in the Top 5 and at worst both in the Top 10. Where will both teams be ranked? How big will the hype be and how much will both teams live up to it?

Can Stanford keep it going without McCaffrey? The Cardinal won the Sun Bowl without McCaffrey, but the program looks lot like Oregon did last year where they won a good amount of games, but it felt they were right on the edge of slipping back down. Can the Cardinal progress in the offseason and stay at the top of the Pac-12 and national relevancy?

Colorado & Washington State - The Pac-12’s feel good stories of the year did not feel good in their bowl games. Were their bowl outcomes signs of teams that put together nice years, but who are at risk of falling back down the conference, or were they just bad performances?