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Pac-12 looking back & looking ahead 2019-20 bowl season: Oregon delivers on promise

Breaking down the 2019-20 Pac-12 bowl season.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oregon vs Wisconsin Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Oregon fulfills the dream - It’s rare that a story unfolds pretty much the way it was expected in sports, but Oregon pulled it off. Justin Herbert came back, their defense and offensive line improved, they won the Pac-12 and they won the Rose Bowl. Were there some unexpected events along the way and was not making the CFP at least a slight disappointment given how things unfolded for a while? Sure, but the Ducks still basically executed from September to January 1st and fulfilled their potential and expectations.

The weird career of Justin Herbert closes, perfectly kind of - Herbert’s had one of the stranger careers I can ever remember for a high-profile Pac-12 player. He started as a true freshman and only Oregon and Pac-12 fans really saw his potential much as they struggled and he was injured for much of 2017. Then in the off-season going into 2018, he was declared to be a first round pick and so ensued a massive parade of hype followed by an underwhelming 2018 season. Then he comes back for an unexpected senior season and wins the Rose Bowl by running three TDs and throwing a pick with no passing TDs. Now he’ll probably be a first round pick despite never being first or even second team All-Pac-12.

Utah underwhelms down the stretch, again - It’s been two-straight years of Pac-12 Championship Game and then bowl game struggles for the Utes. They’ve proven they can win the South when USC is down, but they’re going to have to start showing up in big games against big time opponents to take the next step forward.

USC hits rock bottom? The Trojans got a game down the 405 from their campus against a solid, but not remarkable, Big 10, and they got embarrassed. The decision to keep Clay Helton only continues to look more and more confusing after getting bashed by the Hawkeyes in San Diego.

Chris Petersen’s happy sendoff - Chris Petersen was very vocal about not being pleased that he had to play his former team in his final game. Well, maybe he funelled that anger into figuring out how to destroy his former team in Las Vegas as the Huskies took a tiny bit of sting off of their disappointing season by blowing out a ranked Boise State team.

Bitter Cheez-Its - The Cougars couldn’t find a way to halt Air Force’s deadly rushing attack and the Falcons ended up going 2-0 against the Pac-12 this year by beating Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl. Defensive struggles were expected for the Cougars, it was more concerning to see their offense fail to outscore a Mountain West team.

What if Chase Garbers? Cal showed they are a different team with their starting quarterback at the helm, finishing off a solid 2019 with a bowl win in the Bay Area, there best in more than 10 years. It’s a real possibility the Bears may have been able to win the Pac-12 had Garbers stayed healthy.

ASU toughs it out - The Sun Bowl seems to an ugly game where whoever hates being there the least wins a weird game. It was ASU’s turn this year against a struggling Florida State team as their defense pulled out a win for them in El Paso.

Looking Ahead

Oregon’s potential - Oregon’s 2019 success came on the backs of a lot of seniors who had stuck with the program, growing up from their 4-8 start as freshman sprinkled with some ultra talented underclassmen. Now that those seniors are gone it seems almost impossible for Oregon not to experience some growing pains the way a team like Washington did in 2019 and despite the narrative that Oregon is bringing in talent like they never have before, they’ve really been recruiting at a level consistent with what they’ve done the past 15 years. Is this truly just the start of what Oregon can do under Mario Cristobal and the start of a dynasty or will 2020 be a challenge for them?

USC? The Trojan program is floating in space, almost worse than being downtrodden, they’re more directionless and lost. Continuing that trend, the Trojans have the best combination of talent and experience returning in 2020 and with Oregon and Utah having to likely rebuild at least a little bit, are Clay Helton and the Trojans the early favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2020? Then what happens?

Jimmy Lake - Handing the reigns over from a legendary coach to a coordinator in waiting has mixed results throughout college football history. Sometimes it’s a step back from which a program never recovers and sometimes it’s a step forward, breathing new energy into a program and keeping it on top when the old coach was starting to run out of gas. It will take a year or two to see which one is the case in Seattle though most signs seem to point in the right direction for Washington and Lake right now.