Pac-12 bowl projections: Oregon's fate is everyone's fate

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal coaches against Stanford during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal coaches against Stanford during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

We're one week past the midway point of the 2021 season, and the Pac-12, having stumbled against non-conference competition and currently eating its own in league play, has one team in playoff contention.

If Oregon wins out, a College Football Playoff berth should follow. The Ducks would be a one-loss Power Five champion with a victory at Ohio State — by historical standards, that's a worthy resume.

Sure, there's a lengthy list of Pac-12 teams hoping to beat the Ducks to the podium in Las Vegas, including their rival up the road. But it's a complicated dynamic, because the entire conference would benefit immensely from Oregon earning a playoff berth:

— It would help restore the Pac-12's competitive reputation after four consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance.

— It would generate an additional $6 million in revenue for the conference, split equally among the members.

— And it would change the 2021 bowl calculation for every eligible team.

Think of the Pac-12's postseason lineup as a ladder, with the Rose Bowl as the top rung. If the Ducks jump into the playoff, an opening forms on the top rung that must be filled by the team on the second rung. When that team moves up, the third rung becomes vacant and must be filled.

If Oregon goes to the playoff, everyone goes to a better bowl: San Antonio becomes Pasadena; El Paso becomes San Diego. The collective benefits.

To our latest projections …

Rose Bowl

Team: Oregon (6-1/3-1)

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

Road games (two): Washington, Utah

Comment: The Ducks are plenty talented enough to win out but, until proven otherwise, they lack the consistency of effort necessary. They can lose once and still win the North, then do what they do and play well on the big stage of the Pac-12 championship game to secure another Rose Bowl trip.

Alamo Bowl

Team: Utah (4-3/3-1)

Home games (three): UCLA, Oregon, Colorado

Road games (two): Stanford, Arizona

Comment: We didn't expect the Utes to get overrun in Corvallis, but they remain our pick for the South because of the tiebreaker edge on Arizona State. At this point, a rematch of the 2019 conference championship seems likely, and so does a repeat of the result.

Las Vegas Bowl

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

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

Road games (two): Washington, Oregon State

Comment: No team has a wider range of potential outcomes: Easy to envision ASU winning the South and engaging Oregon in a down-to-the-wire duel for the conference title; also easy to envision two or three more losses if the lack of discipline continues.

Holiday Bowl

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

Home games (two): Stanford, Arizona State

Road games (three): Cal, Colorado, Oregon

Comment: How greedy will the Beavers get once they secure their first bowl berth in eight years? Clearly, they have designs on the division, but keep in mind: OSU has lost 11 in a row to Stanford, was run off the field by ASU last season and plays the Ducks in Eugene. The Holiday Bowl — and its hotel and restaurant partners — would love to have their fans.

Sun Bowl

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

Home games (two): Colorado, Cal

Road games (two): Utah, USC

Comment: Massive game this weekend in Salt Lake City. Win, and the Bruins would emerge as the South frontrunner given all the remaining schedules: They would be favored to win out; Utah plays Oregon; and ASU makes back-to-back trips to Seattle and Corvallis. That said, a loss at Utah would doom the Bruins, knocking them three games back (including the tiebreaker).

LA Bowl

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

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

Road games (two): Stanford, Colorado

Comment: Our Apple Cup calculus has changed with the gut punch to Washington State's coaching staff (courtesy of Washington State's coaching staff). With that victory added to their total, the Huskies would need two more. Let's count Colorado as one and figure they find a way — somehow, somewhere — to collect the second. And if they can't beat Colorado, well, they don't deserve to go bowling.

ESPN Bowl (Gasparilla, First Responders, Armed Forces)

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

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

Road games (two): Arizona State, Cal

Comment: This is a one-man team (Drake London) until or unless the Trojans hand the offense to freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart. His potential to ignite a late-season surge is the only reason we believe six wins are possible. Well, that and the presence of three opponents the Trojans, for all their shortcomings, should beat (Arizona, Cal and BYU).

Non-qualifier

Team: Arizona (0-7/0-4)

Home games (two): Cal, Utah

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

Comment: The Wildcats were so close to their first victory but remain so far from being competitive on a weekly basis. Their one semi-realistic chance to break the losing streak (18 games and counting) is Nov. 6, when Cal rolls into town.

Non-qualifier

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

Home games (two): Oregon State, USC

Road games (three): Arizona, Stanford, UCLA

Comment: Although we haven't completely dismissed the possibility of the Bears winning four more, the odds are stacked against that scenario. Too many things need to go right over too many weeks for a team that hasn't played a complete game against quality competition.

Non-qualifier

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

Home games (two): Oregon State, Washington

Road games (three): Oregon, UCLA, Utah

Comment: Better chance of the Buffaloes losing all five than winning one (much less winning two or three). The performance in Berkeley was an abomination, even for a team — for an offense — that has repeatedly left us flabbergasted by its ineptitude.

Non-qualifier

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

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

Road games (one): Oregon State

Comment: Our outlook turned negative for the Cardinal even though it was idle in Week Eight. Combine Cal showing life with Oregon State blitzing Utah, and it's increasingly difficult to identify a path into the postseason. Top end for Stanford would be 7-5; low end would be 4-8; and we're thinking 5-7.

Non-qualifier

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

Home games (one): Arizona

Road games (three): ASU, Oregon, Washington

Comment: Unless the Cougars conjure a major upset in Tempe or Eugene, they will have five wins entering the Apple Cup. Washington could very well be in the same position. And that, folks, would be a ton of fun.


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com 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 jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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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