Pac-12 bowl projections: UW to the playoff as trajectories change for Arizona, Colorado

The Wildcats’ path to the postseason got wider with the win at WSU

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.

— The Pac-12 is contractually bound to seven bowl games: the Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun, LA, and Independence bowls.

Every Tuesday, the bowl projections will be published in this space.

One 24-hour stretch altered the postseason outlook for two teams for the remainder of the season.

With an impressive upset, Arizona’s bowl math became immeasurably easier down the stretch.

With a momentous collapse, Colorado’s math grew exponentially more difficult.

Let’s start with the Wildcats, who dominated Washington State last weekend (as 8.5-point underdogs) and are 4-3 overall. They must win two of their final five games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2017.

Three of their remaining games are at home — but against ranked opponents: Oregon State, UCLA and Utah.

Meanwhile, the two road opponents are struggling: Colorado, which has dropped three of its past four, and Arizona State, which has one victory.

Given Arizona’s performance of late, with freshman quarterback Noah Fifita playing like a veteran and the defense rising to the occasion each week — and considering the state of the opposition — the Wildcats don’t have any games that could be viewed as losses before they even take the field.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to think they could win four of the five if everything breaks right.

A reasonable assessment based on current affairs pegs Arizona for three more wins: Arizona State and two of the other four (with Oregon State as the most challenging).

At minimum, the Wildcats should win two of five. If they don’t get to 6-6, something has gone very wrong.

For Colorado, everything must break right.

The Buffaloes were on course for a bowl berth late last week, with four victories and a 29-0 halftime lead over Stanford.

But the second-half implosion and 46-43 overtime loss to Stanford added a layer of complication to their bowl math.

Like Arizona, the Buffaloes are 4-3. Unlike Arizona, their schedule isn’t populated with winnable games.

CU has three difficult road assignments (UCLA, Washington State and Utah) and two challenging home games (Arizona and Oregon State).

Put another way: The Buffs need two more wins but have already played Stanford and ASU and don’t face Cal. They will be underdogs in four, and possibly all five of their remaining games.

At least one upset is required for a team that struggled to beat winless (in league play) ASU and couldn’t hold a huge lead over previously winless Stanford.

Arizona and Colorado have the same record and need the same number of wins down the stretch. But nothing else about their situations is comparable.

To the bowl projections …

College Football Playoff/Rose Bowl

Team: Washington (6-0)

Home games (three): Arizona State, Utah, WSU

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

Comment: The epic victory over Oregon was merely the first in a barrage of massive games for the Huskies as they pursue the Pac-12’s first playoff berth since UW made the cut in 2016.

New Year’s Six/Fiesta Bowl

Team: Oregon (5-1)

Home games remaining (four): WSU, Cal, USC, Oregon State

Road games remaining (two): Utah, Arizona State

Comment: We expect the Ducks and Huskies to meet again in Las Vegas in the last game of the final Pac-12 season. And as long as neither takes a third loss, both should receive New Year’s Six invitations.

Alamo Bowl

Team: Oregon State (6-1)

Home games (two): Stanford, Washington

Road games (three): Arizona, Colorado, Oregon

Comment: Everything hinges on getting through the next three unscathed so the final fortnight (Washington and Oregon) becomes make-or-break for a spot in the conference championship and, perhaps, the New Year’s Six.

Las Vegas Bowl

Team: USC (6-1)

Home games (three): Utah, Washington, UCLA

Road games (two): Cal, Oregon

Comment: If you suspect the Trojans could lose three or four more games, join the crowd. Our skepticism is based not only in the flameout at Notre Dame but also in the subpar showings against Colorado and Arizona.

Holiday Bowl

Team: Utah (5-1)

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

Road games (three): USC, Washington, Arizona

Comment: We have considered the possibility of the Utes reaching, then winning the conference championship game without Cam Rising. But even for a program as solidly built as Utah, that seems like a bridge too treacherous to cross.

Sun Bowl

Team: Arizona (4-3)

Home games (three): Oregon State, UCLA, Utah

Road games (two): Colorado, Arizona State

Comment: Important procedural note: The Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls can select one team over another as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record. But starting with the Sun, bowl officials must invite teams in order of conference record.

LA Bowl

Team: UCLA (4-2)

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

Road games (three): Stanford, Arizona, USC

Comment: The Bruins should win all three at home and at least one of the road games, which gets them to 5-4 in league play. But even if they are in line for the Sun, bowl executives could push for an alternate team since UCLA was in El Paso last year and repeat participants are frowned upon.

At-large bowl

Team: Washington State (4-2)

Home games (two): Stanford, Colorado

Road games (four): Oregon, Arizona State, Cal, Washington

Comment: As bad as WSU has looked recently, the schedule sets up for at least two wins and as many as four. We’ll set the Holiday Bowl as the Cougars’ postseason ceiling. The floor? Their couch.


Team: Colorado (4-3)

Home games (two): Oregon State, Arizona

Road games (three): UCLA, WSU, Utah

Comment: Could one bad half at home against a second-rate team end up costing CU a bowl berth? Absolutely.


Team: Cal (3-4)

Home games (two): USC, WSU

Road games (three): Oregon, Stanford, UCLA

Comment: The key to everything is the USC game, which suddenly looks winnable. (Of note: The Bears lost by six last year in the Coliseum.) Topple the Trojans, and the bowl math turns workable.


Team: Stanford (2-4)

Home games (four): UCLA, Washington, Cal, Notre Dame

Road games (two): WSU, Oregon State

Comment: As we noted early in the season, success at the top of the Pac-12 depends on failure at the bottom. If Stanford plays well down the stretch, someone’s postseason path will get more complicated.


Team: Arizona State (1-5)

Home games (three): WSU, Oregon, Arizona

Road games (three): Washington, Utah, UCLA

Comment: Nothing can offset the bowl ban, but blocking Arizona’s postseason path would help diminish the pain and frustration.

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