Pac-12 bowl projections: Change at the top with Utah on track for Pasadena

Ute Aaron Lowe is honored in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Utah won 35-21.

Ute Aaron Lowe is honored in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Utah won 35-21. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

Halfway through the season, the Pac-12 has three teams on the brink of securing bowl bids and three more within manageable reach.

But that's it. For everyone else, the climb into the postseason is either steep or Himalayan.

Based on the current records and upcoming schedules, it's entirely possible that only half the conference will qualify.

For context on the calculus, the Hotline examined every year dating back to Pac-12 expansion in 2011, with the exception of the COVID-disrupted 2020 season.

We found a distinct downward trend in recent seasons compared to the first half of the 12-team era.

Pac-12 bowl teams per year:

2011: 7
2012: 8
2013: 9
2014: 8
2015: 10
2016: 5
2017: 9
2018: 7
2019: 7
2020: N/A

This season is unlikely to mirror the decade-low of five bids in 2016, the year Washington made the College Football Playoff — it would require collapses in Pullman or Corvallis, or both, and no offsetting upticks elsewhere.

But with only six teams in solid shape in late October, the conference is more likely to land on the lower end of the range.

To the latest projections …

Rose Bowl (vs. Big Ten)

Team: Utah (4-2/3-0)

Home games (three): UCLA, Oregon, Colorado

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

Comment: The Utes won't run the table — they aren't that good — but they should win enough games against the right combination of teams (division opponents) to secure the South. On the first Friday of December, the trophy will come. On the first day of January: heaven on earth.

Alamo Bowl (vs. Big 12)

Team: Oregon (5-1/2-1)

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

Road games (three): UCLA, Washington, Utah

Comment: The Ducks remain the North frontrunner and have six weeks to fix their shortcomings. But we've seen so little from them in recent weeks, and so much from Utah, that a change in projections was necessary.

Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Big Ten)

Team: Arizona State (5-2/3-1)

Home games (three): Washington State, USC, Arizona

Road games (two): Washington, Oregon State

Comment: The path to the division isn't blocked, yet. But one more loss, to anyone anywhere, and the Devils are probably doomed. In that situation, Utah would need to lose three times.

Holiday Bowl (vs. ACC)

Team: UCLA (5-2/3-1)

Home games (three): Oregon, Colorado, Cal

Road games (two): Utah, USC

Comment: Oregon's arrival this weekend brings loads of hype (and ESPN's GameDay broadcast from Westwood). But the trip to Salt Lake City next week carries far greater implications for the division.

Sun Bowl (vs. ACC)

Team: Oregon State (4-2/2-1)

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

Road games (three): Cal, Colorado, Oregon

Comment: Would be OSU's first trip to the Sun Bowl since the 2008 epic in which they defeated Pittsburgh 3-0. (Yes, 3-0.) And speaking of: What are the Rodgers brothers up to these days?

LA Bowl

Team: Washington State (4-3/3-2)

Home games (two): Brigham Young, Arizona

Road games (three): ASU, Oregon, Washington

Comment: A team that appears to thrive on chaos just got a plate-full shoved down its throat. We have no doubt the Cougars will respond emotionally. But they need position coaches, too, or hadn't you heard?

ESPN Bowl (Gasparilla, Armed Forces or First Responders)

Team: USC (3-3/2-3)

Home games (three): Arizona, UCLA, Brigham Young

Road games (three): Notre Dame, Arizona State, Cal

Comment: Nothing has changed from last week, except Arizona State appears more beatable; UCLA, a little less so.


Team: Arizona (0-6/0-3)

Home games (three): Washington, Cal, Utah

Road games (three): USC, Washington State, ASU

Comment: Can't believe it's even a consideration but NAU might not be the Wildcats' worst loss of the season. Getting blown off the field by a team without an FBS win might be comparable to losing a close game to a decent FCS team.


Team: Cal (1-5/0-3)

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

Road games (three): Arizona, Stanford, UCLA

Comment: We haven't ruled out the possibility of the Bears winning four of their last six. We have ruled out the possibility of them winning five of their last six.


Team: Colorado (2-4/1-2)

Home games (two): Oregon State, Washington

Road games (four): Cal, Oregon, UCLA, Utah

Comment: Barring a dramatic upturn, the Buffaloes will miss the postseason for the ninth time in their 11 seasons in the conference. We certainly didn't expect that level of woe, despite the state of the program at the time.


Team: Stanford (3-4/2-3)

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

Road games (one): Oregon State

Comment: The bowl math got substantially more difficult with the loss at WSU and the upswing by Utah. We see two wins for the Cardinal (Washington and Cal) but not a third.


Team: Washington (2-4/1-2)

Home games (three): Oregon, ASU, Washington State

Road games (three): Arizona, Stanford, Colorado

Comment: The Huskies are headed for a season-ending gut punch in which they finish one win short of a bowl berth — either because of the loss to Montana or because of a loss to Washington State.

Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.

Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner


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