The Cougars will likely end up in the Foster Farms Bowl. But there's still a tiny chance they could earn a repeat trip to San Diego

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On the eve of the Pac-12 championship game that Washington State so badly wanted to play in, the most likely bowl for WSU will also be played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, where USC and Stanford will duel for the league title Friday night.

With a 9-3 overall record, a 6-3 Pac-12 finish and a No. 18 College Football Playoff ranking, WSU’s likely destination this bowl season is the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara on Dec. 27.

After the College Football Playoff field is announced this Sunday, the Foster Farms Bowl has the third pick of all Pac-12 teams behind the Alamo Bowl and the Holiday Bowl.

Unless total chaos reigns this weekend as conference championship games play out, the Pac-12 is almost guaranteed to miss out on a College Football Playoff berth. USC, at No. 10, is the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team. Even if the Trojans beat Stanford, they’re unlikely to vault into the top four, which means they will probably be the Pac-12’s lone representative in a New Year’s Six Bowl, with the Fiesta Bowl being USC’s likely destination.

If so, the Alamo Bowl would probably take Stanford, the Pac-12 runner-up, and the Holiday Bowl would be excited to select the 13th-ranked Huskies (10-2), who haven’t played in that bowl since 2010.

If things play out that way, the No. 18 Cougars would be a virtual lock for the Foster Farms Bowl.

“From a team standpoint, we’re looking very seriously and closely at Washington State,” Foster Farms Bowl Executive Director Ryan Oppelt said. “We haven’t had them in our game. They have Luke Falk, one of the premier quarterbacks in the country, and the program, the success they have, the brand of football they play, would resonate well. And they travel really well and are a ranked team. They’re a team of high interest for us.”

The Foster Farms Bowl would pit WSU against a Big Ten team, but the bowl has the sixth pick of all Big Ten bowl-eligible teams, though Oppelt said, “there’s more collaboration around bowls and teams” in that conference.

“We’re looking at having one of the final slots,” Oppelt said. “It could be a team like Purdue, which has won the last two games of the year and hasn’t been in a bowl game in five years, with a new coach and a lot of excitement in the program right now.

“Or, a team like Iowa, with a great national brand, and they haven’t been to California since the Rose Bowl (in 2016).”

In Jeff Brohm’s first year as head coach, the Boilermakers are 6-6, and his staff includes former WSU inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard. Meanwhile, Iowa is 7-5 in Kirk Ferentz’s 19th season.

With only eight bowl eligible Big Ten teams, there’s also a chance the conference might not have enough teams to fulfill all its bowl obligations.

In that scenario, the Foster Farms Bowl would grant an at-large bid to a replacement team and Oppelt said he already has a backup plan in place.

“We are talking to some folks about filling that. I think we’ll have a good team to replace the Big Ten,” Oppelt said. “You look for a team finishing hot, that’s on the rise. Geography plays into it, relationships are key. And this year there will be a handful of teams vying for open spots.”

The Cougs’ bowl picture gets murkier if, by a near miracle, two Pac-12 teams make it into New Year’s Six Bowls. In this scenario, presumably, USC annihilates Stanford in the title game, but there’s enough chaos within the other four Power Five conferences that the Trojans are selected for a semi-final berth, and the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team, UW, is selected for a second New Year’s Six berth in, say, the Fiesta Bowl.

“If UW does go up, I’m not sure if (WSU) will be there for us to look at,” Oppelt said. “In that case, we’d look at an Arizona team whose quarterback (Khalil Tate) is one of the most exciting players in the country. They’re 7-5 overall and we haven’t had Arizona in our game either.”

In that — albeit unlikely – scenario, the Cougars might return to the Holiday Bowl for the second-consecutive year if the Alamo Bowl presumably selects Pac-12 North champ Stanford, leaving the Holiday Bowl to pick from a ranked WSU team, a 7-5 Arizona team that finished with three losses in its final four games, and a 7-5 Arizona State team that just lost its head coach.

Under those circumstances, Holiday Bowl Executive Director Mark Neville said in a text message to The Seattle Times that there’s “a possibility” the Cougars would be considered for a return trip to San Diego.

Even though WSU lost to Minnesota in the 2016 Holiday Bowl, the Cougars are known among bowl circles for traveling well. Last year, WSU sold out its initial 7,000-ticket allotment for the Holiday Bowl within 48 hours of the bowl announcement.