The week before the Apple Cup, Jon Wilner still sees no reason to believe UW won't beat WSU and get a bid to the Granddaddy of Them All in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
In June, you might recall, the Pac-12 became the only Power Five conference to prohibit 5-7 teams from participating in bowl games.
Everywhere else, the decision to bowl or not-to-bowl at 5-7 is left to the schools, when the opportunity presents.
The Pac-12 made it policy.
Regardless of merit — and there were reasons to justify the decision, as we outlined at the time — the policy created the potential for blowback if a five-win team wanted the extra competition and practices but was denied.
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Mike Leach quipped that it was a “solution in search of a problem,” adding: “Why should we limit opportunities when other conferences aren’t?”
As Year One of the policy comes to a close, the Pac-12 is positioned to dodge an awkward situation.
1. Although it’s too soon to be certain, there’s a good chance all the bowl spots — all 80 of ’em — will be filled by teams with at least six wins.
2. Only three Pac-12 teams are capable of finishing 5-7, and two could very well have other priorities.
USC, Colorado and Arizona are sitting on five wins with two games remaining. If the Trojans or Buffaloes fail to collect win No. 6, we could see a coaching change. (We could see one regardless, but that’s another topic.)
The available slots for 5-7 teams would be early in the bowl schedule, and preparation would conflict with the December signing period. For a program under new leadership, the benefits to participating might not offset the drawbacks.
Arizona is a different case: The Wildcats have a first-year coach, Kevin Sumlin, who might prefer the practices and experience provided by a bowl game.
If the Wildcats lose their last two … and if there’s a spot for a five-win team … and if they’re in position to accept but cannot … then the conference might have a bit of a problem.
But we’re a good distance from that confluence of events.
Rose Bowl: Washington (7-3/5-2)
Remaining games: vs. Oregon State, at Washington State
Hypothetically, Huskies: Let’s say the options are a lopsided loss to Alabama in the semifinals or down-to-the-wire with Ohio State in the Rose. Seems like Granddaddy would be more rewarding.
Alamo Bowl: Washington State (9-1/6-1)
Remaining games: vs. Arizona, vs. Washington
As noted last week: Can’t pick the Cougars to win the Apple Cup until I see them win the Apple Cup, not after 162-44 the past four years.
(PS: The Hotline’s board of governors is considering a proposal to use the snapshot of mustachioed Mike Leach as the photo to accompany every Hotline article, forever, regardless of sport.)
Holiday Bowl: Utah (7-3/5-3)
Remaining games: at Colorado, vs. BYU
Projecting the Utes to win the South but lose to Washington in the title game. At 9-4, they wouldn’t be as attractive to the Alamo as 10-2 WSU.
Redbox Bowl: Oregon (6-4/3-4)
Remaining games: vs. Arizona State, at Oregon State
With so many teams likely to be bunched at 5-4/4-5, the Ducks could land in any of four Pac-12 bowls … or become an at-large. The guess here is they win twice, but we wouldn’t be stunned if they lost twice, either.
Sun Bowl: Arizona (5-5/4-3)
Remaining games: at Washington State, vs. Arizona State
This scenario would be a big win for the bowl — Tucson is four hours away, and Arizona hasn’t participated since 1992 — although the Wildcats are undoubtedly aiming higher.
Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford (6-4/4-3)
Remaining games: at Cal, at UCLA
We’re projecting at least one more loss and could easily envision two. At 5-4, the Cardinal’s slide would be limited. At 4-5? Hello, Shreveport … or something like that.
Cheez-It Bowl: USC (5-5/4-4)
Remaining games: at UCLA, vs. Notre Dame
For the proud Trojans, playing in the Cheez-It Bowl might be worse than staying home.
At-large: Arizona State (6-4/4-3)
Remaining games: at Oregon, at Arizona
Win one of the next two, and the Sun Devils would likely climb into a conference-affiliated bowl. We’re skeptical, however: ASU’s only road victory thus far was by three points over a third-string quarterback.
At-large: Cal (6-4/3-4)
Remaining games: vs. Stanford, vs. Colorado
Just as with the Apple Cup outcome, my gut favors the hot home team but head says I need to see the Bears win Big Game before I pick them to win Big Game. They haven’t done it since 2009, after all.
Not eligible: Colorado (5-5/2-5)
Remaining games: vs. Utah, at Cal
Will Mike MacIntyre, hired one year after Jim Mora and Todd Graham, meet the same fate one year later? Clarity could come as early as Saturday afternoon.
Not eligible: Oregon State (2-8/1-6)
Remaining games: at Washington, vs. Oregon
I wouldn’t have typed this a few weeks ago, but it’s no longer a stretch to envision the Beavers winning the Civil War, which say something about the state of both teams.
Not eligible: UCLA (2-8/2-5)
Remaining games: vs. USC, vs. Stanford
Alas, the Rose Bowl dream died on two fronts: Even if the Bruins had won in Tempe, Utah’s victory blocked the road to what would have been an epic division title.