The Cougars and Stanford are the two teams atop the Holiday Bowl's list. Though, a lot could happen between now and Sunday, when bowl selections are announced.
At this point, Washington State probably has a 50-50 chance of ending up in the National Funding Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif. on Dec. 27.
The Cougars (8-4) fell out of the latest College Football Playoff rankings that were announced Tuesday afternoon, but UW moved up to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, which indicates that barring something crazy happening on championship weekend, the Huskies have a clear route to the national semifinal if they beat No. 8 Colorado in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
But regardless of what happens in the championship game, the Holiday Bowl has emerged as the best-case scenario for the Cougars, with the Foster Farms Bowl also being a possibility.
Holiday Bowl Executive Director Mark Neville said Tuesday afternoon that WSU and Stanford are the two most attractive Pac-12 candidates for his bowl game at the moment.
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That assessment, of course, is contingent on the Pac-12 getting at least one, and possibly more, teams into the College Football Playoff’s New Year’s Six bowl games.
In theory, if UW beats Colorado on Friday, the Huskies would likely end up in a national semifinal, which would probably send Colorado, the Pac-12 south champion, or No. 11 USC to the Rose Bowl. In that scenario, the Alamo Bowl, which has first pick of Pac-12 teams after the Rose Bowl, would take whichever team — either Colorado or USC — that did not get the Rose Bowl bid.
That would leave the Holiday Bowl, which picks second after the Alamo Bowl, to select from No. 18 Stanford (9-3) or WSU.
“I could put together an argument for both teams,” Neville said. “Stanford is on a five-game win streak, it’s a top-20 team, and they have one of the most exciting players in the country (RB Christian McCaffrey) and has a better overall record.
“But Washington State beat Stanford head-to-head, has a better overall conference record, and their quarterback Luke Falk isn’t anything to overlook, they have a great offense and they’re a great bowl team.”
One of the bigger knocks on WSU is that it goes into the postseason on a two-game losing streak after dropping its final two games against Colorado and UW. Stanford, conversely, is on a five-game win streak and is ranked in the latest CFB playoff rankings.
If the Holiday Bowl opts for Stanford over WSU, or if the winner of the Pac-12 Championship game gets left out of the national semifinal, triggering a domino effect, the Cougars could end up in the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif. on Dec. 28.
There’s an outside chance that they could fall as far as a the Sun Bowl in the event that the league champ is left out of the national semifinal, but that’s considered extremely unlikely, especially because WSU went to the Sun Bowl in 2015, and bowls generally try to avoid inviting the same team two years in a row.
Even though WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos said on his radio show Monday that the Alamo Bowl is still a possibility for WSU, that option appears to be a long shot at this point.
“I think the most likely teams in our mix from the Pac-12 are the loser of the championship game or USC,” Alamo Bowl Executive Director Derrick Fox said Tuesday.
According to Fox, the only scenario under which WSU might get into the Alamo Bowl at this point is if three Pac-12 teams end up in the New Year’s Six Bowl games.
“If all (three) teams are in the College Football Playoff, then WSU and Stanford come into consideration based on conference standing, et cetera,” Fox said.
WSU finished the regular season as one of six Pac-12 teams with eight or more wins, but it owns a better conference record (7-2) than Utah (8-4, 5-4) and Stanford (9-3, 6-3).
Neville said the Holiday Bowl has less control over which Big Ten team it will get because even though it’s considered one of the Big Ten’s top tier bowl games along with the Outback and Citrus Bowls, it doesn’t have a defined selection order in its agreement with that conference, but at this point, Iowa (8-4) and Minnesota (8-4) are probably the most likely candidates.
WSU’s last Holiday Bowl appearance came in 2003, when the 15th-ranked Cougars beat No. 5 Texas 28-20 in front of 61,102.