Pac-12 bowl projections: Six teams alive for New Year’s Six berths as playoff rankings loom

UW is on track for the CFP; Oregon the frontrunner for the Fiesta Bowl

Before we get into the latest Pac-12 bowl forecast, here are some helpful reminders about the postseason selection process:

— The College Football Playoff semifinals will be held in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, leaving the Pac-12 champion to compete in the Fiesta, Peach, or Cotton bowls unless it qualifies for the CFP.

This season, the Pac-12 is contractually bound to seven games: the New Year’s Six, Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun, LA, and Independence bowls. If there are more qualified teams than available spots, the conference will try to secure invitations to other bowl games that have openings.

The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released in one week. The selection committee will reveal its top-25 on ESPN beginning on Halloween and continuing for the next four Tuesdays.

The final — and only — rankings will be released on December 3.

The rankings are crucial for determining not only the CFP semifinalists, but also the participants in the other four New Year’s Six games.

The Pac-12 has a slew of candidates for the latter for the first time in years.

As things currently stand:

— Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, and Utah are the only teams with fewer than two losses and are still in the playoff hunt.

— USC and UCLA are two more teams with fewer than three losses and are in the running for New Year’s Six bids.

The situation will change in at least one way this week: the loser of Oregon-Utah will have two losses and will be unofficially eliminated from the playoff hunt. (In the CFP’s nine-year history, no team has qualified with two defeats.)

But, barring any surprises on Saturday, half of the conference will be in contention for New Year’s Six berths when the selection committee’s first rankings are released next week.

In terms of projections…

Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff

Team: Washington (7-0)

Home games remaining (two): Utah, WSU

Road games remaining (three): Stanford, USC, Oregon State

Comment: According to our current projections, the Huskies will be seeded third, behind Georgia and the Big Ten champion. Because the top-seeded Bulldogs are likely to play in the Sugar Bowl (due to their proximity to campus), Washington would face either Ohio State or Michigan in Pasadena.

Fiesta Bowl/New Year’s Six

Team: Oregon (6-1)

Three home games: California, USC, and Oregon State

Two road games: Utah and Arizona State

Comment: It’s worth noting that the Peach, Cotton, and Fiesta Bowls have six at-large spots available in the New Year’s Six. However, one is set aside for the top-ranked Group of Five team (Air Force). So the Ducks could end up in Dallas or Atlanta, but Phoenix appears to be the most likely destination.

The Alamo Bowl

Team: Oregon State (6-1)

Home games (two): Stanford, Washington

Road games (three): Arizona, Colorado, Oregon

Comment: OSU did not face a Power Five opponent in non-conference play, which has the potential to be a big deal. If the Beavers are in contention for a spot in the New Year’s Six pool, that would be a topic for discussion with the selection committee.

Las Vegas Bowl

Team: Utah (6-1)

Home games (three): Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado

Road games (two): Washington, Arizona

Comment: Although it isn’t reflected here, our bowl outlook for Utah has been raised… up to and including the College Football Playoff. With safety Sione Vaki emerging as an offensive playmaker, bet against Kyle Whittingham and company at your peril.

Holiday Bowl

Team: USC (6-2)

Home games (two): Washington, UCLA

Road games (two): Cal, Oregon

Comment: The Holiday Bowl’s presumed dislike for UCLA — the Bruins backed out of the 2021 game, resulting in a lawsuit — could end up being USC’s salvation if the Trojans fall into the middle.

Sun Bowl

Team: Arizona (4-3)

Three home games: Oregon State, UCLA, and Utah

Two road games: Colorado, Arizona State

Comment: The Wildcats, like many other teams that outperform expectations and end postseason droughts, would be a sought-after participant, at least in second-tier games. Participants with larger brands and larger media markets are preferred in high-end bowls that lean on TV ratings.

Los Angeles Bowl

Team: UCLA (5-2)

Home games (three): Colorado, Arizona State, Cal

Road games (two): Arizona, USC

Comment: If the Bruins are unable to gain admission to the Alamo or Las Vegas Bowls, they may be denied due to the Holiday’s presumed aversion and the Sun’s reluctance to invite a repeat participant. Last year, UCLA was defeated by Pittsburgh in El Paso.)

At-large bowl

Team: Washington State (4-3)

Home games (two): Stanford, Colorado

Road games (three): Arizona State, Cal, Washington

Comment: With each passing week, the Cougars’ bowl math becomes exponentially more difficult. If they lose at Arizona State on Saturday, it will be game over.


Team: Colorado (4-3)

Home games (two): Oregon State, Arizona

Road games (three): UCLA, WSU, Utah

Comment: In three consecutive seasons (2017-19), the Buffaloes fell one game short of a bowl berth. Despite Deion Sanders’ obvious progress, we believe that frustrating history will repeat itself this fall. All five remaining games will be difficult, and CU needs two victories.


Team: Cal (3-4)

Home games (two): USC, WSU

Road games (three): Oregon, Stanford, UCLA

Comment: For the first time in weeks, we considered adding the Bears to the list of teams eligible. Why? Because their chances of beating USC have improved immeasurably.


Team: Stanford (2-5)

Home games (three): Washington, Cal, Notre Dame

Road games (two): WSU, Oregon State

Comment: Forget about this and next year. Coach Troy Taylor should be given a lifetime contract if he can get the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2025.


Team: Arizona State (1-6)

Home games (three): WSU, Oregon, Arizona

Road games (two): Utah, UCLA

Comment: If bowl bids were based on effort rather than results, the Sun Devils would have already secured a spot.

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