Pac-12 Bowl Predictions and Potential Matchups

Who would have thought four weeks ago that we would see Cal competing for an Alamo Bowl while ASU falls to a Vegas bowl?  The Bears were 4-4 and coming off a disastrous loss to UCLA.  Teams like UW and ASU were flying high with 6-2 records while Utah was 4-4 and still uncertain whether they were bowl-bound.  You have to love college football (that is, when it is not Cal collapsing down the stretch).

After a wild November, the non-BCS bowls have plenty of options.  Cal, UW, ASU, and Utah could appear in any one of the conference's four bowl games and play anyone from Oklahoma to Georgia Tech to TCU.  Because Pac-12 bowls no longer have to choose based on overall records, conference standings, or head-to-head matchups, predicting who will go to which bowl has become significantly more difficult this year.

But fear not, Cal fans!  We will take a look at what the conference's bowl partners are looking for when sending their invitations and we will attempt to paint a clearer picture of the the Pac-12 bowl landscape.  In any case, the Pac-12 should have an exciting (and especially challenging) bowl slate this year.  Join us after the jump as we break down the bowl games and determine which non-conference foes the Pac-12 bowl representatives will draw.

The Pac-12 has six bowl-eligible teams thanks to USC's sanctions and UCLA's ineptitude.  If bowls chose as they used to, based on overall records, conference standings, and head-to-head matchups, this would be a fairly easy set of predictions.  But Larry Scott likes to keep things exciting, so we cannot be certain of any of the non-BCS bowls.

 

TEAM CONF OVERALL
1. Oregon 8-1 11-2
2. Stanford 8-1 11-1
3. Washington 5-4 7-5
4. California 4-5 7-5
4. Utah 4-5 7-5
4. Arizona State 4-5 6-6



 

We'll start with the Grandaddy of all bowl games, the Rose Bowl.

Rose Bowl: Pac-12 #1 vs. Big Tweleven #1

Pac-12 options: Oregon (100%), UCLA (lol)

Big Ten options: Wisconsin (80%), Michigan State (20%)

Unless the unthinkable happens and 33-point underdog UCLA manages to stumble into a victory, Oregon will represent the Pac-12 in another Rose Bowl.  Stranger things have happened: see UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship game.

The Ducks' opponent will be the winner of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game.  The Badgers are favored by 10, but they lost to Michigan State earlier in the season on an unbelievable hail mary with four seconds to go.  While that was a road game for the Badgers, this one will be played at a neutral site.  Fresh off a 45-point effort against a stout Penn State defense, Wisconsin should be able to outscore Michigan State if this becomes a shootout.

Prediction: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

 

Stanford's Mystery BCS Bowl

This one will be interesting.  The Cardinal will end up in either the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl or the Allstate Sugar Bowl.   If they end up in the Fiesta Bowl, they will most likely end up playing Oklahoma State.  If they end up in the Sugar Bowl, they could play Michigan, Houston, or Boise State.  Right now there are too many variables to make any sort of reliable prediction.

 

Now we get into the interesting part, deciding how the Pac-12 bowl bids will be allocated.  Since the bids are not necessarily handed out in order of finish, bowls have more freedom to choose who would be their ideal candidate.  To make things even more interesting, different bowls have different preferences for what they think makes an ideal candidate.

 

Alamo Bowl: Pac-12 #2 choice vs. Big 12 #3 choice

Pac-12 possibilities: UW (75%), Cal (15%), Utah (9%), ASU (1%)

Big-12 possibilities: Baylor (40%), Oklahoma (35%), Oklahoma State (10%), Texas (10%), Kansas State (5%)

Alamo Bowl VP of marketing and communications Rick Hill has not ruled out any of the Pac-12 teams and is committed to setting up a matchup with some intrigue.

Hill said another factor is "we don't know who the Big 12 opponent at this point is going to be, and that's important too if there is some sort of story line there."

What sort of matchup would make for an interesting storyline is the big question here.  It's not immediately obvious that one of these matchups is more interesting than any other.  

With a better conference record and a win in head-to-head against Cal and Utah, UW should be the favorite (even if head-to-head and record don't necessarily matter anymore).  Another benefit for UW is that the Huskies have had more coverage in the San Antonio area over the past season.

Rick Hill, the Alamo Bowl’s director of marketing and communications, also noted that the Bears have been on ESPN the past two weeks against Stanford and Arizona State, so the San Antonio market (where the Alamo Bowl is played) has been exposed to Cal and the team has put up strong showings. But Hill also added that Washington has been televised in San Antonio even more this season.

Now to the Big 12 side of things...Assuming Oklahoma State takes care of Oklahoma and Kansas State beats Iowa State, we'll have a clear #1 and #2 from the Big-12.  The third pick would be between Oklahoma and Baylor (with a win over Texas), both of whom finish 6-3.  Baylor beat Oklahoma head-to-head and offers one of the most exciting QBs in all of college football in Robert Griffin.  It would be tough to pass up the explosive Baylor offense over the languishing Oklahoma offense.  And the Griffin-Price duel could fit the bill of interesting storyline featuring exciting, dual-threat QBs.

Prediction: UW vs. Baylor

 

Holiday Bowl: Pac-12 #3 choice vs Big 12 #5 choice

Pac-12 options: UW (20%), Cal (75%), Utah (4%), ASU (1%)

Big 12 options: Texas (40%), Baylor (30%), Missouri (30%)

It's not hard to envision a scenario where the Holiday Bowl makes a deal with the Alamo Bowl to avoid a repeat appearance from UW.  This would almost guarantee a Holiday Bowl appearance for the Bears.  Instead of being interested in a major storyline, Holiday Bowl officials are more traditional in their approach.  They prefer to focus on win-loss records and head-to-head matchups.

Mark Neville, the Holiday Bowl’s director of communications, said his bowl places heavy emphasis on the "football" aspects for choosing a team – win/loss record and head-to-head matchups, as opposed to how many fans will travel, the potential for TV ratings, etc. Besides, Neville said Pac-12 (or Pac-10) schools traditionally travel well to the Holiday Bowl no matter who is chosen.

Holding head-to-head wins over Utah and ASU, Cal would be a favorable choice for the Holiday Bowl.  Neville also notes great experiences with hosting Cal fans in 2004 and 2006.

"We've had great experiences with the Cal football team, and their athletic department and fans have been absolutely fantastic," Neville said. "The BCS has to shake out, and the Alamo Bowl picks ahead of us. Obviously, Cal is in the discussion and played their way into it, which is terrific."

The Holiday Bowl will choose fifth from the Big 12 teams. If Texas beats Baylor, both will finish with 5-4 conference records and be available as the fourth and fifth choices.  If Baylor wins, Texas will tie with Missouri and both will be available as the fifth and sixth choices.  While Missouri owns the head-to-head victory over Texas, bowl officials would be hard-pressed to turn down the Texas brand name in favor of Missouri.  Still, the Holiday Bowl does take head-to-head into account, so Missouri could be picked over the Longhorns.  

If Texas wins, there is a good chance that they would be chosen over Baylor to play in the Insight Bowl.  Although Baylor has Griffin, Texas has history and fans who travel well.  With Texas as road underdogs, however, a Longhorn loss is more likely than not.  Will Cal fans finally get the chance to exact some revenge on Mack Brown (at the Holiday Bowl, ironically enough)?

Prediction: Cal vs. Texas

 

Sun Bowl: Pac-12 #4 choice vs ACC #3 choice (not including BCS pick)

Pac-12 options: Utah (74%), ASU (17%), Cal (5%), UW (4%)

ACC Options: Georgia Tech (34%), Florida State (34%), Virginia (32%)

Despite having a partnership with the Pac-12 for decades, the Sun Bowl has never hosted Cal.  Unless something truly bizarre happens, they won't get that chance this year.  With UW and Cal likely to have been picked already, the Sun Bowl will choose between ASU and Utah.  With Utah's 4-1 record over the last five games and ASU's faceplant and lame-duck status for Erickson, the Utes are clearly the better choice here.

It's tough to predict who will represent the ACC in this game.  Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Virginia all finished with 5-3 conference records.  Although Virginia beat Florida State and Georgia Tech head-to-head (GT and FSU did not play each other), the Cavaliers do not have the triple option excitement of the Yellow Jackets or the storied history of the Seminoles.  Heather Dinich, ESPN's ACC expert, predicts Georgia Tech.  She probably knows something we do not.

Prediction: Utah vs Georgia Tech

 

Las Vegas Bowl: Pac-12 #5 choice vs Mountain West #1 choice (not including potential BCS pick)

Pac-12 options: ASU (81%),  Utah (13%), Cal (5%), UW (1%)

Mountain West option: TCU (100%)

This one's easy enough.  Vegas gets the Pac-12 scraps and gets its undisputed top choice from the MWC with TCU (assuming Boise State goes to another BCS game).

Prediction: ASU vs. TCU

 

Final thoughts: 

Cal and Utah's strong finishes could mix things up when it comes to invitations.  Both finished the year going 4-1 in their final five games while UW and ASU fared miserably in November (1-3 and 0-4, respectively).  If Cal leapfrogs UW, this would be the most likely explanation.  With identical conference records, Utah is much more likely than Arizona State to receive the first bid after UW and Cal accept theirs.

Finally, this is a tough slate of bowl games. I would not be surprised if the Pac-12 team is the underdog in each one of these games.  The only games where the Pac-12 would not be the clear underdog are Stanford's BCS game (depends on the opponent they draw) and the Holiday Bowl (if Texas is invited).  Let's hope it's not another offseason where we hear about how terrible the Pac-12 is because we lost most of our bowl games...

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