Pac-12 preview: Breaking the playoff drought and other bold bowl predictions

Will the conference return to the College Football Playoff before it (the Pac-12) dissolves?

In recent years, the Pac-12 has struggled in the postseason.

The conference hasn’t sent a team to the College Football Playoff since the 2016 season (Washington), hasn’t won a New Year’s Six game since the 2019 season (Oregon), and frequently struggles to fill its bid allotment.

Will the Pac-12’s final season produce enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the seven available slots? Will there be two teams competing in the New Year’s Six games? Will the playoff drought finally come to an end?

Here are our daring bowl projections.

(Jan. 1) Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff Washington (against a semifinalist) Comment: No two-loss team has ever been invited to the College Football Playoff, and the Huskies will not be the first. However, no Pac-12 team has gone undefeated in the regular season during the playoff era, and the Huskies will not be the first to do so. So navigating a difficult schedule with only one stumble is most likely the path to glory. We anticipate that a win at Michigan State will propel Michael Penix and company into playoff contention. Finish 12-1 in this conference and you’ll be a No. 2 or 3 seed.

(Jan. 1) Fiesta Bowl/New Year’s Six USC (vs. at-large) team Remember when Washington made the playoffs in 2016? That year, USC was high enough in the CFP rankings to be invited to the New Year’s Six (and played an epic Rose Bowl against Penn State). Our prediction is that the two-loss Trojans will fill an at-large spot in the Fiesta.

Alamo Bowl (December 28) Utah (against the Big 12) Comment: Utah’s difficult non-conference schedule will result in an extra loss and a lower position in the CFP rankings than USC, knocking the Utes out of the New Year’s Six and into the Alamo. We won’t speculate on the opponent, but we’re crossing our fingers that the Holy War is temporarily relocated to San Antonio.

The Las Vegas Bowl (December 23) Oregon (against the Big Ten) Comment: The Pac-12 is scheduled to face SEC teams in even years and Big Ten teams in odd years in the Las Vegas Bowl, so the Ducks would face a future conference opponent if they land in Sin City. Their most recent appearance was a 10-point loss to Boise State in 2017 under then-interim coach Mario Cristobal.

The Holiday Bowl (December 27) Oregon State (vs. the ACC) Comment: Given the bowl’s lawsuit against the Pac-12 over UCLA’s last-minute cancellation of the 2021 game, the Holiday Bowl cannot be excited about inviting any Pac-12 teams. The Beavers, on the other hand, could be an exception. They have never competed and would bring legions of Corvallis fans.

Sun Bowl (December 29) Washington State (vs. the ACC) Comment: At this point in the schedule, bowls have no choice but to select teams based on conference record. To avoid repeat participants, exceptions can be made. WSU is a better option than UCLA, which played in El Paso at the end of the 2021 season.

The Los Angeles Bowl (December 16) UCLA (against Mountain West) Comment: The Bruins have a wide range of landing spots; we simply don’t have a good sense of their season’s trajectory. However, the Holiday Bowl (2021 disaster) and Sun Bowl (2022 appearance) are likely to avoid them at all costs. On the bright side, students who want to attend the LA Bowl can take an Uber to SoFi Stadium.

The Independence Bowl (December 16) Arizona (against the Big 12) Comment: Any postseason berth would be a huge accomplishment for third-year coach Jedd Fisch and the program, which hasn’t bowled since 2017. A trip to Shreveport would provide valuable recruiting exposure in a talent-rich region while also putting the Wildcats up against a future conference opponent.

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