The first and simplest step in making bowl projections is to look up the conference’s bowl affiliations. While the Pac-12 has a relatively fixed set of affiliations for this year, there is no rank order beyond the Grandaddy of ‘Em All. Therefore, this bowl projection piece is more like throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. With that type of precision in play, let’s lean in heavily into fun storylines.
Rose Bowl – Utah vs. Michigan
On the Big 10 side, I don’t see Michigan overtaking Ohio State for a second year in a row without the dynamic edge rushers that made life hell for every opposing offense. That means I’m putting the Buckeyes in the CFP as the representative from the Big 10 and Michigan will go to the Rose Bowl as the second best team in the conference.
On the Pacific side, the Utes look like the clear favorites in the Pac-12. Oregon, Washington, and USC are the bluest bloods in the conference (at least as far as this millennium is concerned) and all three are in a state of transitioning to new eras. Utah has continuity in all the right places. Kyle Whittingham has a strong argument to be the best coach in the conference. Cam Rising proved last year that he has the dual-threat ability and moxie to activate the often-staid Utah offense. Tavion Thomas and Brant Kuithe are certified studs at the skill positions and the O-Line returns a majority of its starters from an outstanding lineup. If there is a spot of concern, it is how to replace all-everything linebacker Devin Lloyd- he touched just about everything on the defensive side of the ball, so it’s going to have to be a team effort to replicate his production. Nonetheless, this is a talented, experienced, well-coached team with a good shot to qualify for and win a New Year’s Day bowl.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl – Washington vs. Fresno State
Let’s start with a fun one. If the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl weren’t already such a silly name, we could go for something like Deboer Debowl. In reality, this matchup is quite plausible. Washington’s schedule breaks down in a way that 7-8 wins look attainable, even after last season’s catastrophe. There might be an upside for more if Deboer does more than just bringing the roster back up to its median level of ability. Of course, Deboer got the bigger job and bigger salary because he led Fresno to a Mountain West title last year. With minor slippage, they could drop behind a strong Boise State squad. Last year’s second-place MWC team, Utah State, was the conference’s representative in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl. It would be an odd bit of symmetry for Deboer to play his first bowl game against his previous school after Chris Petersen played his last one against his previous school.
Valero Alamo Bowl – USC vs. Oklahoma
I’m not going to go back to the “coach vs. former team” well on every match-up, but this one is too godo to resist. By my estimation, the Trojans are not yet ready for prime time. They have skill position stars galore, but their hideous offensive line from last season needs more time and new bodies to fix. Still, Lincoln Riley’s leadership should get them near the top of the Pac-12, just behind Utah and possibly Oregon. Another Alamo bowl would likely be disappointing for OU, but a new coach and a downgrade from Caleb Williams to Dillon Gabriel at QB would make holding steady a fair outcome. Last year’s Alamo Bowl was an entertaining shoot-out between OU and Oregon. This one could have even more fireworks, especially on the sidelines and media scrums.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl – Oregon vs. North Carolina St.
I have Oregon finishing second in the conference behind Utah, just as they did last year. Without the fixed bowl qualification ladder, they’ll head to San Diego instead of San Antonio to shake things up a bit. Instead of lining up Bo Nix with his former team at Auburn, I have them matching up with a dark horse team that will be extremely fun to watch this fall. Dave Doeren has quietly built a very good program in Raleigh and Devin Leary could lead them to new heights. If Clemson experiences another wobble, they could be in the mix to win the ACC. Instead, I have both teams ranked in the 10-20 range to create a very juicy Holiday Bowl matchup.
SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl – Oregon State vs. Missouri
How did a city as glitzy as Las Vegas end up with a sponsor as uninspiring and anonymous as SRS Distribution? I could look up what SRS Distribution does, but I don’t even care enough about them to do that. Many college football fans probably feel similarly about the Beavers and yet another team of Tigers from the south. Jonathan Smith and Eli Drinkwitz very solid coaches in circumstances that will make it hard to attain high-end success. Oregon State has a massive resource disadvantage and Missouri is an also-ran of the SEC. To outsiders, they might look anonymous yet effective, just like SRS Distribution. Maybe.
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl – UCLA vs. Wake Forest
On offense, these two teams could live up to the sponsor’s motto (“they’re grrrrrreat!”). Defensively? Not so much. Chip Kelly designs dangerous offenses in his sleep and Dorian Thompson-Robinson has more tenure than a lot of the UCLA faculty. Their counterparts in Winston-Salem will rely heavily on star QB Sam Hartman, assuming he fully recovers from the mysterious health issue that has held him out of practices so far. If both teams come into this matchup healthy, it could be one of those 58-53 shoot-outs.
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl - Washington State vs. Mississippi State
Sure, let’s do the Mike Leach thing. If the Gasparilla Bowl had to lose Bad Boy Mowers as a sponsor, it’s a shame they couldn’t work out a deal with Sioux City Sasparilla. I have the Cougs sneaking in as the last Pac-12 bowl eligible team, just ahead of Stanford and an ascending Arizona.