July 20, 2024
There has been a change at the top of the Hotline's projections as Oregon replaces UW as the frontrunner for a playoff berth.

A few helpful reminders on the postseason selection process before we plunge into the latest Pac-12 bowl forecast:

— The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will host the College Football Playoff semifinals, leaving the Pac-12 champion to participate in the Fiesta, Peach or Cotton bowls unless it qualifies for the CFP.

— The Pac-12 is contractually tied to seven games: the New Year’s Six, Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun, LA and Independence bowls.

— The Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls can jump one team in favor of another as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record. The second-tier bowls (Sun, LA and Independence) must select teams in order of conference record.

The bowl projections will be published in this space each Tuesday.

College Football Playoff/Sugar Bowl

Team: Oregon (5-0)
Home games remaining (four): WSU, Cal, USC, OSU
Road games remaining (three): Washington, Utah, ASU
Comment: The Ducks will face six ranked opponents in the second half — five on the schedule, plus the opponent in the conference championship — and cannot lose more than once. So if it comes to fruition, Oregon’s first playoff berth in nine years will have been exceedingly well earned. Could the conference send a second team to the CFP? Doubtful, but we’ll address that topic if circumstances dictate.

New Year’s Six/Fiesta Bowl

Team: Washington (5-0)
Home games (four): Oregon, ASU, Utah, WSU
Road games (three): Stanford, USC, OSU
Comment: UW’s schedule is comparable to Oregon’s gauntlet with the in-state rivalry game at home and the presence of both USC and Utah. (If the Ducks survive in Seattle on Oct. 14, the balance tilts heavily in their favor.) A key for both: Utah’s status. If quarterback Cam Rising returns, the degree of difficulty increases substantially — especially for Oregon, since the Ducks visit Salt Lake City. But no team has a tougher November than the Huskies, who face USC, Utah, OSU and WSU in succession.

Alamo Bowl

Team: USC (5-0)
Home games (four): Arizona, Utah, Washington, UCLA
Road games (three): Notre Dame, Cal, Oregon
Comment: Arizona’s visit this week marks the last time USC can win with less than its best effort. (Trust us: The final scheduled trip to Berkeley will be challenging.) The conference office purposely gave the Trojans a home game before they head to South Bend and extended them the same comfort level following the trip. USC couldn’t have asked for more given the wrench the Notre Dame series tosses into the master schedule.

Las Vegas Bowl

Team: Washington State (4-0)
Home games (three): Arizona, Stanford, Colorado
Road games (five): UCLA, Oregon, ASU, Cal, Washington
Comment: The road-heavy nature of the remaining schedule (in particular, the trips to both Seattle and Eugene) is the primary issue for a team that has played as well as anyone in the conference and owns two victories over ranked opponents (Wisconsin and Oregon State). If we assume a sweep of the home games — the Colorado affair is on a Friday, a huge advantage for the Cougars — then WSU should win at least eight for the first time since 2018.

Holiday Bowl

Team: Oregon State (4-1)
Home games (three): UCLA, Stanford, Washington
Road games (four): Cal, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon
Comment: All options remain viable for the Beavers, but with one loss on the ledger, they have slightly less margin for error than the teams listed above. That said, they have played Utah and WSU and don’t face USC, so their stretch-run schedule is the most manageable of the contenders. Unless the Las Vegas Bowl has no choice, it will likely pass on OSU to avoid a back-to-back participant.

Sun Bowl

Team: Utah (4-1)
Home games (four): Cal, Oregon, ASU, Colorado
Road games (three): USC, Washington, Arizona
Comment: The Utes haven’t shown enough offense to be considered a candidate for the CFP or New Year’s Six. That could change if Cam Rising returns with little to zero rust. But the schedule features three trap games: Cal prior to USC; Arizona State between Oregon and Washington; and Arizona between Washington and Colorado. Bowl officials could worry that Utah fans will view anything below the New Year’s Six as a letdown after back-to-back Rose Bowls.

LA Bowl

Team: Colorado (3-2)
Home games (three): Stanford, OSU, Arizona
Road games (four): ASU, UCLA, WSU, Utah
Comment: Two things, equally true: Any bowl that can get the Buffaloes (based on the selection process) will grab them without hesitation; CU will take every opponent’s best shot but doesn’t have the roster, especially on the lines of scrimmage, to properly deal with being a weekly target. Combine those factors and we foresee a team with at least five conference losses, putting CU out of range for the top-shelf bowls.

At-large bowl

Team: UCLA (3-1)
Home games (four): WSU, Colorado, ASU, Cal
Road games (four): OSU, Stanford, Arizona, USC
Comment: With three cupcake opponents and a bye thus far, the Bruins have provided little evidence from which to project a likely postseason trajectory. (On more than one occasion, we have forgotten they exist.) However, they will benefit from a schedule based on the old division format, which offers dates with both Arizona schools but allows UCLA to miss Oregon and Washington.

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Non-qualifier

Team: Arizona (3-2)
Home games (three): OSU, UCLA, Utah
Road games (four): USC, WSU, Colorado, ASU
Comment: Arizona’s path is slightly more difficult than it appears because of the rivalry game component. With most teams, we project a victory over ASU. But that’s not the case with the Wildcats because of the anything-goes nature of the Territorial Cup. As a result, their path narrows and options dwindle. Bottom line: They probably need to win two of the three home games and could be underdogs in each.

Non-qualifier

Team: Cal (3-2)
Home games (three): OSU, USC, WSU
Road games (four): Utah, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA
Comment: Even if the Bears had beaten Auburn, their path would be treacherous. As it stands, the Berkeley bowl math looks more like trigonometry than long division. Cal is a 9.5-point underdog this week against the Beavers and will face comparable, if not steeper odds in every game except the Stanford affair. In other words, the Bears must fashion at least two major upsets — and do it without a capable quarterback.

Non-qualifier

Team: Stanford (1-4)
Home games (four): UCLA, Washington, Cal, Notre Dame
Road games (three): Colorado, WSU, OSU
Comment: To the extent that it was ever really open, the Cardinal’s postseason path closed with the Week 3 loss to Sacramento State. (At this point, only the spoiler role is available.) As we noted earlier in the week, Stanford does not play Arizona State, leaving open the possibility — however remote it might be — that two teams finish winless in league play for the first time in the modern era.

Ineligible

Team: Arizona State (1-4)
Home games (four): Colorado, WSU, Oregon, Arizona
Road games (three): Washington, Utah, UCLA
Comment: Does anyone watch the weekly effort put forth by the Sun Devil players and coaches despite the bowl ban, contrast it with the years of administrative mismanagement, and quickly conclude that ASU executives aren’t worthy of the team? Because we sure do.

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