The home stretch is upon us and everybody seems interested in projecting bowl landing spots. Allow me to lend my voice to this chorus with my own projections.
As a reminder, the PAC 12 has agreements in place with the following bowls:
- Rose Bowl
- Alamo Bowl
- Holiday Bowl
- Redbox Bowl (formerly Foster Farms Bowl)
- Sun Bowl
- Las Vegas Bowl
- Cheez-It Bowl (formerly the Cactus Bowl)
The PAC 12 champion, if not a playoff team, goes to the Rose Bowl. Other NY6 bowls are possible destinations for highly ranked but not selected teams. The rest of the bowls have the opportunity to choose from the remaining pool of teams in the order noted above. They must select in order of overall PAC 12 record, but have the ability to choose between tied teams or to pick a team with one fewer win if they prefer. Generally speaking, bowls prioritize providing the most compelling televised matchup with significant consideration of how well the respective fanbases travel.
With that said, let’s jump into the forecast.
Rose Bowl: Washington vs Ohio State
I’m sure Coug fans will point out an obvious bias in this selection. They may be right. But there are several factors that point to a UW victory in the Apple Cup. The first is that UW is getting a late season bye, which gives them the opportunity to heal up many of the nicks and bruises that have affected the lineup. Second is that UW is a bit more battle-tested, having already put their players through “big stakes” kinds of games this season. WSU has had one of the easier schedules in the nation and is in a very cozy situation knowing that they could lose each of their next two and still have a shot at the North championship in the Apple Cup. Third is the fundamental advantage that UW’s defense brings to the table against WSU’s offense. That advantage has played out over each of the last four matchups and could be relevant again if Cal’s performance against the Cougs is any indication.
Add it all up and you have a UW team that will be a road favorite going into Pullman, assuming no shenanigans happen when OSU visits next week. Indeed, ESPN’s FPI has given UW a 57% chance to win the game—a pretty significant forecast given how much better WSU’s record is and the fact that the game is in Pullman.
Ohio State looks like the most obvious B1G opponent. This assumes that Michigan’s vaunted pass defense (holding opponents to 122 yds/game) can shut down tOSU’s pass-heavy offense when they play in a few weeks. The game is at Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t lost to Michigan since their trip to Ann Arbor in 2011. Nevertheless, things seem to swinging in Jim Harbaugh’s favor.
Alamo Bowl: Washington State vs Texas
It feels to me like the two best Big 12 teams are going to end up in the playoff/NY6. Thus Texas would seem to be the team that would fall to the Alamo from the Big 12.
I have WSU here as the #2 team from the PAC. I’m assuming WSU actually loses twice more in this model, which could open the door for the PAC 12 South champ (modeling Utah right now) to take this spot. That said, WSU is clearly a more attractive invite for the Alamo given how well the motivation of their fanbase (the buzz from the Gameday still lingers) and how attractive the Mike Leach / Gardner Minshew combo looks right now to a national audience.
Holiday Bowl: Utah vs Northwestern
With Michigan being modeled as reaching the Playoff, the Holiday Bowl will take the fifth “best” team in the B1G. A quick scan of the B1G remaining schedule leads me to believe that this will be one of Iowa, Penn State, or Northwestern. It’s kind of a guess as to which one would end up getting picked, but the Wildcats jump out to me as the safest pick (the next being Iowa).
I’m banking on backup Jason Shelley being an adequate enough fill-in for the injured Tyler Huntley to enable Utah to win the South. Just getting to the PAC 12 championship should be enough to make them the PAC 12 selection for the Holiday Bowl.
Redbox Bowl: Stanford vs Purdue
The Redbox Bowl will effectively get the eighth pick among Big Ten teams based on how I’m modeling things. In fact, they may well get the last bowl-eligible B1G team. It is hard for me to see either Illinois or Maryland getting that sixth win given their remaining schedules. It looks like the proverbial “last team in” will be Purdue, a team that seems to have two layups ahead with Minnesota and Indiana still on the schedule.
I suspect that Stanford is done losing this season. I think the chance to get a local team, one that has some star power with Bryce Love and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, would be a no-brainer for the organizers of the Redbox Bowl.
Sun Bowl: Oregon vs Miami
The ACC has some weird bowl alignment quirks that make projecting their bowl assignments challenging. However, we can estimate that either the seventh or eighth team from that conference will get in (assuming that Clemson goes to the Playoff). There are many scenarios involving a handful of teams, but most of them seem to point to either Duke or Miami. So I’ll put the Canes here.
Even with a tough trip to Salt Lake this weekend, I think the Ducks have the clearest line of sight to this bowl. The committee will get to pick from a few teams, but Oregon boasts a potential #1 NFL draft pick and has national appeal. A matchup against Miami could turn out to be the most interesting game the Sun Bowl may ever have hosted.
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs Fresno State
It is hard to overstate the good work that Jeff Tedford has done with Frenso State. He’s made Marcus McMaryion, formerly a fourth-string OSU QB, into an efficiency machine who has taken the Bulldogs even higher in the rankings than UW. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of love for the MWC teams in the bowl process. The Vegas Bowl is as good as it often gets for the Mountain West.
ASU has a great chance at getting to a more prestigious bowl and theoretically could still end up in the PAC 12 championship. They are, in fact, the only team in the South that still controls its own destiny. I’m not exactly betting against N’Keal Harry and Eno Benjamin, but the line is thin for them. They have three tough games to go. If they lose just once, the pieces fall into place for other PAC teams to jump them in the bowl selection process. Unfortunately, I see that happening.
Cheez-It Bowl: Colorado vs Oklahoma State
I vacillated between Oklahoma State and Baylor here, as it is almost certain that one of those two will fall down to the Cheez-It. In the end, I guess it will be the Cowpokes based only on their more difficult remaining schedule.
Colorado I predict will be part of a rash of 6-win PAC teams. In all, I have ten teams eligible in my model. I think Colorado is the most attractive of the remaining teams because a) USC will look like a hot mess after getting wrecked by Notre Dame and b) they have Laviska Shenault (let the 2019 Heisman campaign begin).
Others going to bowls: USC, Cal, and Arizona
The remaining schedules for the current five-win teams involve several matchups against one another. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to put together a scenario where every one of them gets that sixth win. There are several, in fact. I expect that will happen and leave the PAC with ten eligible teams.
I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing.
The good news is that there appear to be enough bowl spots for those teams to find landing spots. Keep an eye on the First Responder Bowl (formerly Heart of Dallas), the Pinstripe Bowl, and the Independence Bowl.