The Pac-10's Rose Bowl race, so utterly complicated a couple weeks ago, and with four legitimate contenders still alive going into Saturday, is now dead simple:
Oregon State @ Oregon. The 113th Civil War. Thursday, December 3rd, 6PM. Winner goes to the Rose Bowl. Loser gets, well, it's hard to say what the loser will get. It won't be Roses, however, and that's all that matters.
The rest of the Pac-10? Well, it's a big mess. We could be looking at a four-way tie for second place in the conference, throwing bowl placements entirely at the whims of the various bowl committees. Stanford is finished with its conference schedule at 6-3. If Oregon State loses the Civil War, they'll also finish at 6-3. Cal, USC and Arizona all also have three conferences losses. Cal needs a win at Washington to get to 6-3. USC and Arizona are both sitting at 4-3, and first need a win in their respective rivalry games this weekend before they face off on December 5th. Finally, UCLA, at 6-5 but just 3-5 in the conference, is well behind everyone else and still faces long odds to actually garner a bowl bid of any kind.
Let's run some scenarios, shall we?
OK, but what if Oregon wins the Civil War? Now the Ducks are in the Rose, and I'm not sure any other Pac-10 team will even be able to get into the BCS Top 14 to be eligible for at-large selection. Oregon State is the closest in the current BCS standings at 16, but they'll be knocked down by losing at Oregon. USC at 20 and Cal at 22 are next in the Pac-10, and that's a lot of ground to make up, especially for Cal with only one game left, and against a losing team, no less.
...and once again, USC and Cal win out...
Now the Holiday Bowl gets its pick in a four-way tie between Cal, Stanford, USC and Oregon State. To me, this is a no-brainer. With most of their fans already in Southern California and a potent TV audience for any potential matchup, I can't see the Holiday doing anything besides taking USC. The Sun picks next, and I'm pretty sure they shun Oregon State, who went last year, probably in favor of Cal, the only Pac-10 team never to appear in the Sun Bowl during it's nearly 75-year history. This leaves Stanford in the Emerald, Oregon State in the Vegas, and Arizona down in the Poinsettia.
But what if Arizona wins out instead of USC?
Now the Holiday's choice is less straightforward. What criteria do you use to select between a 9-3 Cal, 8-4 Arizona, 8-4 Oregon State, and 8-4 (at best) Stanford? Cal will have more wins and a better BCS ranking that any of these teams in such a scenario, wins over two of the other teams they're tied with, and lots of local fans willing to make the trek. Working against them would be the Arizona's strong finish (a season-ending win at USC would get them plenty of national praise), and the fact that while Cal has been to San Diego twice in the past six seasons, Arizona hasn't been since 1998, and Oregon State and Stanford have never been. Still, I think Cal would have a strong case to take another holiday in sunny San Diego.
Where does that leave everyone else? I'm pretty sure the Sun Bowl won't take Oregon State two years in a row; they have a clause in their contract specifically allowing them to select a team one game below in the standings to avoid taking a team two years in a row, and I'd have to think they'd be similarly adverse to choosing OSU again amongst tied teams. Arizona would seem to be the logical pick, especially given El Paso's close proximity to Tucson. That kicks Stanford down to the Emerald, who's just fine with that, and Oregon State all the way down to the Las Vegas Bowl. USC, left alone at 6th place in the conference, also enjoys a trip to sunny San Diego, albeit a week early for the Poinsettia Bowl.
...and if Cal loses at Washington?
A Cal loss leaves them most likely tied with the Arizona @ USC loser. I don't think the Vegas would take Arizona two years in a row, but I'm almost positive they'd jump all over USC if the Trojans fell that far. My gut feeling is that their order of preference would be USC > Cal > Arizona, with the leftover team heading to the Poinsettia. Of course, if the Arizona @ USC loser also loses their rivalry game next weekend, Cal will finish ahead of them regardless and the Las Vegas Bowl will have no choice but to take the Bears.
If Arizona and USC both lose at least once more, the Holiday gets to choose between Cal, Stanford and Oregon State. If the choice is Cal, the Sun probably takes Stanford to the Emerald Bowl's chagrin, leaving the Beavers in San Francisco, and the Vegas Bowl takes USC over Arizona if those two are tied. If the Holiday selects Oregon State, it's Cal to the Sun and Stanford in the Emerald. If the Holiday selects Stanford, it's Cal to the Sun and Oregon State down in San Francisco.
Of course, Cal could still lose to UW, so if Cal, UA and USC all lose once more, it could be OSU in the Holiday, Stanford in the Sun, Cal (over USC!) in the Emerald, USC in Vegas, and Arizona in the Poinsettia. Yes, I think the Emerald would take Cal over USC. BUT, what if the Holiday selects Stanford after a stirring victory over Notre Dame? Now, the Sun Bowl can exercise their repeat-team-refusal clause and skip Oregon State, instead grabbing USC. The Emerald has no such clause, and so must take Oregon State. Cal falls to the Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona to the Poinsettia.
OK, now let's assume that Oregon State wins the Civil War...
If Oregon State wins the Civil War, they'll go to the Rose Bowl. What happens to Oregon? Well, I think they'd still be eligible for a BCS berth (the Fiesta Bowl?), but given the other teams available, the odds seem stacked against them. However, in such a case, Oregon would still finish with a share of the Pac-10 title, and, as such, would fall no further than the Holiday Bowl.
...and USC and Cal win out.
If USC can win out, I think the Sun Bowl still takes them; they're still a national ratings draw, much like Notre Dame. If Cal beats Washington, the Emerald Bowl gets the can't-lose choice between Cal and Stanford; given Cal's much-larger fanbase, I think the Emerald still takes Cal, even thought the Bears went last year. That sends the Cardinal to Las Vegas and Arizona, finishing in 6th place after losing to USC, to the Poinsettia Bowl.
If, in this scenario, the Emerald instead chooses Stanford, the Bears would fall to the Vegas. Even if Cal loses at Washington to finish in a tie for 5th place, since Arizona went to Vegas last year, I'd think that Cal falls no further than Las Vegas.
But what if Arizona wins out instead?
But what if Arizona beats USC in the season finale? Now the Sun Bowl gets the choice of Arizona, Cal and Stanford, and given such a stirring victory over USC plus Tucson's proximity to El Paso, I'd guess the Sun takes Arizona. Cal to the Emerald, Stanford to Vegas (or vice versa), and USC falls all the way to the Poinsettia Bowl -- quite a find for the five-year-old bowl, maybe even better than their Utah-TCU matchup from last year (at least from a ratings standpoint).
Loses by both USC and UA have pretty much the same effect as they would should Oregon win the Civil War. Same if combined with a Cal loss. Losses by all three ticket Stanford for El Paso, pushing the losers further down the chain. The Emerald might take Cal over USC, but no one else will, and Arizona is probably ticketed for the Poinsettia if they can't win out, even with loses by other teams.
For those of you who've read this far, a summary, with my best guesses in bold:
Oregon - Beat OSU and they're in the Rose Bowl. Lose, and they fall no further than the Holiday Bowl, with an outside shot at a consolation BCS bid.
Oregon State - Beat Oregon and they're in the Rose Bowl. Lose, and they could fall all the way to the Las Vegas Bowl. The Emerald and even the Holiday Bowls are possibilities, though they're more remote, and I think they rather require an upset or two to become realistic. I think the Sun pretty much has to be out for the Beavers.
Stanford - The Cardinal, in the conference clubhouse at 6-3, can fall no further than the Vegas Bowl, and most of the scenarios I've come up with actually place them in the Emerald Bowl. The Sun and even the Holiday are still in play, however, though I don't know how attractive Stanford is to bowls, given their small fanbase.
California - If the Bears can beat Washington, the Holiday Bowl is still in play. I think the most likely destination is the Sun Bowl, though the Emerald would love to host the Bears again. A loss to Washington seems to ticket them for Las Vegas in most scenarios, while I think it would take a special set of circumstances to kick the Bears all the way down to the Poinsettia Bowl.
USC - Win out, and they're probably in the Holiday or Sun Bowls, depending on the outcome of the Civil War. Lose, especially to Arizona, and they could fall to the Poinsettia. What a fall that would be!
Arizona - It's hard to see the Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl, but it's still possible. If they win out they'd be an attractive team for the Sun Bowl; lose at USC, and they almost certainly are headed to the Poinsettia Bowl. And if they lose out, there's a remote possibility that they could miss bowl season entirely (see below)!
But what about UCLA?
The Bruins are kinda screwed here. Now, I don't really blame the Pac-10 for only having six bowl tie-ins; when they've had seven, they've never filled them, and I can't recall the last time seven Pac-10 teams got to six wins. Still, none of this will bring comfort to Bruins fans should UCLA be forced to stay home for the holidays.
The easiest way for the Bruins to make the postseason is for the Pac-10 to get a second team in the BCS. At this point, however, that seems like a longshot. The SEC is basically assured of getting two teams in the BCS, and TCU should also receive an automatic bid. That leaves two open spots, and I think Boise State, Iowa, and the Big East runner-up all seem more likely to get a BCS bid that the Pac-10 runner-up, to say nothing of Oklahoma State (if they can beat Oklahoma this weekend).
Right now, UCLA sits in 7th place in the conference at 3-5, and everyone in front of them has at least 4 wins already. The best the Bruins can hope for is to beat USC, and then hope either USC or Arizona loses out to finish in a tie for 6th place. Actually, should UCLA beat USC and Arizona lose out, a 7-5 Bruins team would have to be selected in front of a 6-6 Wildcats team, thus sending the Bruins to the Poinsettia Bowl and leaving Arizona searching for an elusive at-large bid. A tie at 4-5 with USC would be more problematic. The Poinsettia may be interested in the Bruins for ending the season on a high note and in a head-to-head win vs. USC, but then again, USC would probably still bring a higher television audience, as disappointed as they might be to play a bowl game before Christmas.
Failing that, what chance do the Bruins have of receiving an at-large bowl bid from some other desperate minor bowl? Well, it depends on both how they finish out, and how teams around the country do as well. There are 34 bowl games this year, meaning that there are 68 potential bowl bids to be handed out -- more than half of Division I-A!. According to NCAA rules, all eligible teams with winning records must be given at-large bids before a 6-6 team can be given at at-large bid.
With two weeks left to play, 52 teams already winning records locked up. 17 more have gotten to six wins (actually 18, but 6-6 Kansas State got two of their wins over I-AA teams, so they don't get to go to a bowl game), meaning there will be, at a minimum, 69 bowl-eligible teams, so there should be no shortage this year. 8 more teams sit at 5-6, and 1 (UConn) is still at 5-5. Even if all 13 6-5 teams win their remaining game, only 65 teams will get to winning records in the regular season, meaning at least a few 6-6 teams will get to play during bowl season.
The upshot is that, should UCLA beat USC, they should almost certainly get an at-large bid somewhere (though that still might depend on how the last couple weeks play out). At 6-6, the odds are longer, though if there are extra at-large bids for 6-6 teams, I would have to think that UCLA would be a prime candidate, behind only a 6-6 Notre Dame and maybe a 6-6 Florida State.
If UCLA doesn’t beat USC (and USC doesn’t somehow sneak into a BCS spot), UCLA needs to have four of these things happen to make a bowl game:
1. Bowling Green lose to Toledo (unlikely)
2. Wyoming lose to Colorado State (unlikely)
3. LA-Monroe lose to Middle Tennessee State (likely)
4. LA-Lafayette lose to Troy (likely)
5. UConn lose to both Syracuse and South Florida (unlikely)
6. Kansas lose to Missouri (likely)
7. Marshall lose to UTEP AND SMU lose to Tulane (unlikely)
TCU makes a BCS game (very, very likely)
Then the Humanitarian Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, or Armed Forces Bowl will need another team. If Wyoming doesn’t win it’s last game, two of those games will need teams. It’s highly unlikely that one of those games would pass up a UCLA team that’s playing good football.
Also, the EagleBank Bowl and GMAC bowl are tied in with the ACC, who won’t have enough teams. So they can pick whoever they want as well (although, the GMAC generally will pick a MAC team, since they have more teams than slots as well).
So basically, it’s a total crapshoot depending on who the bowls pick, and I have to guess that UCLA is a pretty attractive at large selection for any bowl.