It didn't take very long for UW fans to begin asking each other where we thought we'd go "Bowling". In fact, once Sidney Jones sealed the fate of the Cougars with his 3rd quarter pick six, it was one of the first questions to show up on my Twitter time line.
Oh, yeah, that was a good play.
Our attention turns now to possible bowl destinations. While there is still much to work out with the conference championship games to be held later this week, we have some data points that we can chew on collectively. But before we jump into a discussion on the bowl possibilities, it might help to paint a picture of the landscape.
The Huskies finish tied for seventh in the PAC 12 "pecking order" with two other teams. There are 10 bowl eligible teams in the PAC and seven tie-ins to contracted bowls: Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Foster Farms, Las Vegas, and Cactus. The Rose Bowl must take the winner of the conference if that winner is NOT going to the playoffs. The next three have to pick in the order of finish but are allowed to invite a team with one fewer conference win than the next team up if they like. The last three MUST pick from the remaining teams in order of finish. If there happens to be a tie in conference record, then those bowls can choose among them. Tie-breakers DO NOT apply in this excercise.
Based on that, there is a possibility but a low likelihood that UW might get an invite to the Cactus Bowl. For that to happen, Stanford would have to make it to the playoffs - and that is a possibility that, remarkably, still exists - while the Cactus Bowl would have to elect to choose UW from a pool that would include Cal and ASU. UW lost to both of those teams in the regular season.
The good news for UW fans is that there appear to be a number of at-large opportunities. At-large bids become possible when contracted bowls don't have eligible teams to choose among from their respective conference. This year, both the SEC and Conference USA are creating at-large opportunities as they will not have enough eligible teams to fill their contracts. The SEC and Big 12 will each leave one spot unfilled while C-USA has only five eligible teams to spread among their eight contracts. Note that the C-USA is a "secondary" contractor to the SEC in the Independence Bowl.
Thus, the field of possible at-large opportunities probably will come from the lower tier bowls tied to either the SEC or C-USA (there are other possibilities, but this is the best place to start to look).
So, what are those opportunities?
1. The Independence Bowl, Shreveport, LA (12/26)
This one is a real possibility because neither the SEC or C-USA will have a team to send to it. The Huskies are sure to be one of the more attractive "at large" teams given the name brand recognition of Chris Petersen and the fact that UW earned some notoriety a year ago with all of the defensive players they put into the NFL draft. That created some buzz. Plus, the opportunity to bring in a program with some history to a bowl they'd never otherwise get a chance to go to would hold some attractiveness to bowl organizers both for the prestige of the bowl and the chance to draw in viewers on TV who wouldn't normally take in their game. If the Huskies are available, I would expect the Independence Bowl to issue an invite.
2. The Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas, TX (12/26)
The Heart of Dallas Bowl will likely be looking for two at-large bids as neither the Big 12 or the C-USA will have enough teams to fulfill their contract. This is a huge factor that increases the odds of an invite for UW. While the Heart of Dallas might be moved by the Chris Petersen angle, this bowl does not have a history of hosting a game where at least one team wasn't connected geographically to the state of Texas. One would have to figure that ASU would be a better pick for them if available.
3. The St Petersburg Bowl, St Petersburg, FL (12/26)
Another victim of the of C-USA situation, the St Pete bowl matches up the C-USA #6 with the American #7. I don't see this as a very likely scenario for UW simply because of the distance factor. The Bowl wouldn't likely invite and UW wouldn't likely choose it first if it had options. Still, it could create a Huskies vs Huskies match up as I expect UCONN to represent the American Athletic here.
4. The Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, TX (12/29)
If I had to put money down, I'd guess that Arizona State would be the at-large team to go here in place of the Big Ten (who will open this spot thanks to a playoff berth for whomever wins the conference). This is a natural fit for ASU given the location and the tie-in to the legacy of Pat Tillman. While this is technically a possibility for UW, I would guess it is not very realistic.
5. The Cure Bowl, Orlando, FL (12/19)
2015 will be the inaugural year of the AutoNation Cure Bowl - a bowl game being organized to help raise awareness of initiatives focused on finding a cure for breast cancer. It will be the third bowl game of the season played in the Citrus Bowl. It is intended to match the Sun Belt with the American Conference. It will have an open spot this year, though I do not believe that UW is a realistic invite for this bowl given the location and its economics.
6. The Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, HI (12/24)
The Hawaii Bowl remains a remote possibility for the Huskies by virtue of the fact that an American Athletic team could become the Group of Five representative in a New Year's Six Bowl and some other teams might shift around a bit. However, by my math, the American still only has six bowl contracts and eight eligible teams. Therefore, I think they will be able to fulfill their contract to play BYU in this bowl - most likely with Tulsa assuming that one of Navy, Houston or Memphis is invited to play on New Year's Day.
There are a couple of other remotely possible scenarios that could play out, but I can't profess to have a full understanding of them this early on a Sunday morning. Therefore, I'm going to stop here and say that it would appear our best bets are either the Independence Bowl or the Heart of Dallas Bowl both of which are played the day after Christmas.
Happy Holidays, Dawgs.