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Projecting PAC 12 Bowl Games

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After elimination from the PAC 12 Championship race, where will UW go bowling?

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington
UW kicker Tristan Vizcaino kept UW’s hopes for a New Year’s six game alive with his game-winner against Utah.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Just one week ago, many UW fans were of the mindset that the Huskies were destined to a mid-tier PAC 12 bowl game. Washington’s big win over Utah on Saturday night coupled with another crazy week in college football have fans wondering if a New Year’s Six game is still a possibility.

It wouldn’t be unheard of. The Huskies could still end up coming out of the PAC as the highest ranked team in the CFP rankings even if they don’t play in the PAC 12 championship. That would involve three things: UW winning the Apple Cup with authority, Stanford getting whipped by Notre Dame, and then USC falling to Stanford in the PAC 12 championship.

That scenario - which is both fun and plausible - would leave UW in a similar position to Ohio State a year ago where most pundits evaluated the “best team” in the conference to be someone other than the champs. Stanford would be a 4-loss PAC 12 champ, USC would be a 3-loss runner-up, and UW would have finished the season with their most impressive win of the season.

The problem here is that it is the PAC 12 champ, not its “best team,” that will play in the New Year’s Six in the case that said champ does not qualify for the playoffs. Therefore, there are only two ways for UW to get to a New Year’s bowl: either two PAC 12 teams go (not likely) or USC somehow makes a surge into the playoffs as a 2-loss conference champ (very not likely).

In other words ...

It is fun to think about all of the permutations of outcomes that could result in UW’s season ending on an upswing. But the fact that the Rose Bowl is in the playoff this year and that the PAC 12 champ is guaranteed a NY6 game makes this season unlike the one that USC enjoyed when they closed strong a year ago. UW is destined to end up in one of the upper-tier PAC 12 contracted bowls.

As a reminder, here are the bowl tie-ins as they exist today:

PAC 12 Bowl Tie-ins

Bowl Opponent Date TV
Bowl Opponent Date TV
Rose Bowl Big Ten #1 Jan 1 ESPN
Alamo Bowl Big 12 #2 Dec 28 ESPN
Holiday Bowl Big Ten #4 Dec 28 FS1
Foster Farms Bowl Big Ten Dec 27 FOX
Sun Bowl ACC Dec 29 CBS
Las Vegas Bowl MWC #1 Dec 16 ABC
Cactus Bowl Big 12 Dec 26 ESPN

I’m projecting UW winning the Apple Cup and USC winning the PAC 12. In that scenario, USC will claim the auto-bid for the PAC. I now think that this will mean a trip to the Fiesta Bowl against a Wisconsin team who will have fallen to Ohio State in the B1G championship (this leaves tOSU as either a 2-loss playoff team or, more likely, an Orange Bowl team).

Here is how it plays out:

PAC 12 Bowl Projections (after week 12)

Bowl Team Opponent
Bowl Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl USC Wisconsin
Alamo Bowl Washington TCU
Holiday Bowl Washington State Michigan State
Foster Farms Bowl Stanford Michigan
Sun Bowl Arizona Louisville
Las Vegas Bowl Arizona State Boise State
Cactus Bowl Oregon Iowa State
at-large Utah tbd
at-large UCLA tbd

The Huskies ought to be well-positioned for an Alamo Bowl bid should Stanford take its fourth or fifth loss in the PAC 12 championship (remember, they still have to play Notre Dame this week). I’m projecting that Washington will make that trip to San Antonio and take on Big 12 runner-up TCU.

The Horned Frogs have locked up a spot in the Big 12 championship game and could still get into a NY6 game. But QB Kenny Hill is banged up and his availability going forward is uncertain. If he can’t go, TCU goes from a 50% chance to something much less against the Sooners.

The Cougs will be the next hottest property for the PAC. I see them going back to the Holiday Bowl and taking on Michigan State.

Stanford falls to the Foster Farms Bowl (I’m projecting them at 8-5) where a sweet matchup between David Shaw and Captain Khaki-pants and his Michigan Wolverines awaits.

Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon take up the three remaining slots in the contracted bowls: Sun Bowl (Khalil Tate versus Lamar Jackson in that one), Las Vegas Bowl, and the Cactus Bowl.

Two more teams are guaranteed to reach bowl eligibility and will definitely find homes as at-large teams. I’m projecting that Utah will beat Colorado and that UCLA will beat Cal to close out the season. It could really be any two of those four. In any case, I don’t see any of these teams popping ahead of a seven-win Oregon team to take the Cactus Bowl bid. It is really hard to project which bowls will have openings, but my best guesses right now are the Heart of Dallas and the Independence Bowls.