"Who wants it more?" is a cliche-turned-ATQ meme that, I believe, sprung from THIS POST Jared wrote back in 2010. The point of that original post has merit; essentially, when two teams are evenly matched, it's the intangibles that will be the deciding factor. And in that game (Oregon/Stanford), that's exactly what happened: Stanford played their kind of game early and jumped out to an early lead, Darron Thomas' moxie and Chip Kelly's balls led a comeback, and timely turnovers and LaMichael James secured the win for Oregon. Perhaps it wasn't wanting it more that got Oregon the victory, but the personalities of that particular team may have provided the needed separation between two equally talented foes.
In the regular season, every team has the same motivation: try to win every game you can, get better every week, and put yourself in position to go the best bowl game possible, and preseason expectations play a role in that. "The best bowl game possible" meant something different to Oregon this season than it did to Washington State. If you put the Ducks in the New Mexico Bowl and the Cougs in the Alamo Bowl, there would be two fanbases freaking out for opposite reasons. We know that motivation can have a big effect on a team's success, just look at the outcome of Oregon-Arizona for an example of that. And there is no place where motivation, or lack thereof, can rear up and change the game like bowl season. In addition to the culmination of what may be a remarkable or a disappointing season, there may be coaching staffs in flux, and players mulling over decisions to leave school for the NFL. So today, we're taking a look at the Pac-12's bowl matchups, the current motivation for the competitors, and whether or not this can affect the outcome.
New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 21 - Washington State vs. New Mexico
Washington State: First bowl game since 2003, first bowl game under Mike Leach, 3-9 in 2012
Colorado State: First bowl game since 2008, first bowl game under Jim McElwain, 4-8 in 2012
Neither team had lofty aspirations coming into 2013, and making any bowl game at all is a very good year for both squads. Both teams will be looking to finish an already-successful season with a victory; I'd give a slight edge in motivation to Washington State based on a more active fanbase and a longer time since a bowl appearance, but it isn't significant enough to have any sway over the game's outcome
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21 - USC vs. Fresno State
USC: Preseason dark-horse Pac-12 South pick, coaching turmoil, anything less than BCS is a disappointment for the Trojans
Fresno State: Had BCS aspirations before losing to San Jose State
The USC head coaching gig has been a mess this season. It began with Lane Kiffin, continued with Ed Orgeron, and is now in the hands of Clay Helton for one game before Steve Sarkisian takes over. That's four head coaches in less than a year. Yikes. Now, a coaching change can be a positive one from time to time, as it was transitioning from Kiffin to Orgeron. But Orgeron was well-liked by the USC players, and it might be tough to focus this team, especially after 2012's performance in the Sun Bowl. Fresno State could potentially be facing a letdown after losing their BCS dreams in November, but rebounded well to win the Mountain West, and the prospect of beating USC in a bowl game should be as much motivation as is needed. Moderate to strong motivation edge to Fresno State in this one, though that could change if Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter, one of the hot coaching names out right now, finds himself another job this week.
Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24th - Oregon State vs. Boise State
Oregon State: Ugly finish to the season after a 6-1 start, bit of a letdown after the Alamo Bowl in 2012
Boise State: Head coach turmoil, worst regular season record since 2001
Both teams head into Hawaii disappointed, as both Oregon State and Boise State had aspirations of title contention, only to falter. With Chris Petersen not on the sideline for the first time since 2005, the Broncos have more uncertainty lumped in with their underachievement. I'll give a moderate motivation edge to Oregon State.
Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 27th - Washington vs. BYU
Washington: Disappointing season after Pac-12 title aspirations, major coaching change
BYU's been locked into this game since seemingly August. Their season went about as well as most of us thought it was going to go. It's a genuinely nice football team with a stable coach. Washington's up-and-down season, in which they won exactly zero conference games against a top-tier team, culminated in Steve Sarkisian's departure for USC, and Chris Petersen's signing. Marques Tuiasosospo will coach the team in the bowl game, but for a team who was supposedly right there with Oregon and Stanford at the start of the season, this game is a letdown and a half. Strong motivation edge to BYU here, so big that I'd be surprised to see Washington win this game.
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30th - Oregon vs. Texas
Oregon: Letdown season after being in the national title discussion, first non-BCS bowl since 2008
Texas: Mack Brown's last game, lost the Fiesta Bowl on the last day of the season
The big factor here is that Mack Brown will coach the team in his last game as head coach. He's a Lone Star institution, and there will be a ton of emotions surrounding his farewell game. Texas also hit bottom this season pretty early, rebounding from losing two of their first three (and needing a referee blunder to beat Iowa State) to beat Oklahoma in the Red River Shooutout and put themselves in contention for the Big XII title. Oregon limped to the finish after beating Stanford, getting spanked by Arizona and nearly losing the Civil War at home. Mark Helfrich better find a way to get his team hungry, because Texas has a strong motivation edge in this one.
Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30th - Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Arizona State: Lost the Pac-12 title game, Todd Graham is a wild card
Texas Tech: Lost their last five games by an average of 20+ points, QB Baker Mayfield transferring.
Right now the moderate motivation edge goes to Arizona State. Texas Tech is in a tailspin, and Mayfield's transfer due to a "miscommunication" with the coaching staff can't be a good thing for locker room morale. That being said, I have a "Wow, Todd Graham is the new __________ head coach. Didn't see that coming." Tweet saved in my drafts for a reason. He's gonna be in the conversation for the Texas job, who would like to announce a hire sooner than later. If he skips town on the Sun Devils the way he did on Pitt, this could drastically shift.
Independence Bowl, Dec. 31st - Arizona vs. Boston College
The only real motivation I see in this one is the motivation for Ka'Deem Carey to try and prove that he's a better running back than Andre Williams, and vice versa. Boston College hasn't been to a bowl game since 2010; maybe that means something? No motivation edge for either team in this one. Should be one of the better bowl games this year, though.
Sun Bowl, Dec. 31st - UCLA vs. Virginia Tech
UCLA: Had preseason Pac-12 South championship hopes, swirling Jim Mora coaching rumors
Virginia Tech: Lost three of their last five games
Provided Jim Mora remains at UCLA, I think there is no clear motivation edge here. Both teams had conference title aspirations that were not met, and both programs are in a stable place. UCLA is entering the game as the better team, but a Mora-to-Texas announcement could change everything.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1 - Stanford vs. Michigan State
Stanford: Whispers of David Shaw to Texas or the NFL rumors
Michigan State: First Rose Bowl since 1987, Mark Dantonio to Texas rumors
I'll give a slight edge to the Spartans, simply because Stanford won last year's Rose Bowl and Michigan State hasn't been there since I was swimming around in my mom's uterus. However, this could work against Michigan State in a "just happy to be here" situation, like we may have seen in 2010 with Oregon. Ultimately, it's the Rose Bowl, and who doesn't get excited about the Rose Bowl?
Other potential motivation upsets:
Clemson over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, and Oklahoma over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl: it's tough to get back up after losing a shot at the title in your last game.
Duke over Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke can validate their rise to relevance with a major bowl win, and Johnny Manziel's mind might already be on the NFL.
Utah State over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl: It's a long fall from the Fiesta Bowl in January to the Poinsettia Bowl in December.