Pac-12 bowl projections: Utah on track for the Rose Bowl, Oregon for the Alamo

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

A Pac-12 football season stacked with unexpected developments might have a few more in store, including this:

Washington State vs. Penn State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

That's right. The team that lost its opener to Utah State, got blown out at home by USC and fired its head coach and four assistants in October — that team has a path to the second biggest stage in the Pac-12's postseason lineup.

The Cougars are one of several teams in contention to become the conference's first participant in the reinvigorated Las Vegas Bowl, which has moved to Allegiant Stadium and features an opponent from the Big Ten.

Penn State might be that opponent.

Or maybe Wisconsin.

Stranger things have happened. For instance: Firing your head coach in the middle of the season for refusing to get vaccinated during a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

How might the Cougars find their way to Sin City?

— First, we should acknowledge that the Alamo Bowl is officially the No. 2 game in the Pac-12's postseason lineup.

In reality, facing the Big Ten in Las Vegas trumps playing a Big 12 team in San Antonio unless that team is Oklahoma (which it won't be).

— Second, WSU's path is precarious.

The Cougars must beat Arizona and Washington to finish with a 7-5 overall record and 6-3 mark in the Pac-12.

That would make an appearance possible, based on the selection procedure.

For the Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls, the assignments don't track exactly with conference record. Any of those bowls has the right to pass on Team X in favor of Team Y as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record.

If the Cougars win out and finish 6-3, they would be no worse than one game back of Arizona State, which could top out at 7-2.

— That said, WSU clearly would benefit from a loss by ASU, producing a 8-4 overall mark and 6-3 league record for the Sun Devils.

With a mere one-game difference in overall record, identical conference records and WSU's head-to-head victory, the Cougars would have a case.

Bowls typically avoid teams without permanent head coaches, but WSU's story is different, and compelling.

Plus, there's no guarantee Herm Edwards will be coaching ASU come kickoff (because of the NCAA investigation).

So, yes, WSU. We're saying there's a chance.

Rose Bowl

Team: Utah (7-3/6-1)

Home games (two): Oregon, Colorado

Road games (none): N/A

Comment: It's a two-game season, but neither of those games necessarily includes Saturday's showdown. Beat Colorado next week and Oregon in the conference championship, and Granddaddy awaits with open arms and a (possible) retirement chair for Kyle Whittingham.

Alamo Bowl

Team: Oregon (9-1/6-1)

Home games (one): Oregon State

Road games (one): Utah

Comment: If the Ducks finish 11-2, with a loss to Utah in Las Vegas, they might sneak into the Fiesta based on their final ranking. But the results of games in other leagues will play a vital role in the process.

Las Vegas Bowl

Team: Arizona State (7-3/5-2)

Home games (one): Arizona

Road games (one): Oregon State

Comment: We think the Sun Devils win out, finish 9-3 and more than meet the Las Vegas Bowl's standard as a compelling opponent for Penn State, Wisconsin or another Big Ten representative.

Holiday Bowl

Team: Washington State (5-5/4-3)

Home games (one): Arizona

Road games (one): Washington

Comment: The Cougars couldn't have asked for a better situation to clinch their postseason berth, what with a last-place, warm-weather opponent making a long trip on a short week to play in in the cold, hard rain of the Palouse. If they blow this, the pressure will be intense in the Apple Cup.

Sun Bowl

Team: UCLA (6-4/4-3)

Home games (one): Cal

Road games (one): USC

Comment: If the Bruins win both, then the Las Vegas and Holiday bowls become much more likely. Lose both, and they might be playing a few miles down the road.

LA Bowl

Team: Oregon State (6-4/4-3)

Home games (one): Arizona State

Road games (one): Oregon

Comment: Two losses are more likely than two wins. In fact, two losses might be more likely than one win. We're not convinced the defense will hold against all the playmakers lined up over the final fortnight.

ESPN Bowl (Gasparilla, First Responders, Armed Forces)

Team: USC (4-5/3-4)

Home games (two): UCLA, Brigham Young

Road games (one): Cal

Comment: Our outlook for USC brightened a tad because of the rescheduled Cal game. The Trojans now have two weeks to prepare and get healthy for their rival.


Team: Arizona (1-9/1-6)

Home games (none): N/A

Road games (two): Washington State, ASU

Comment: Our advice: Put Will Plummer in a titanium suit in a locked closet in an underground bunker in the Rincon Mountains for 10 days so he's healthy for the Territorial Cup. That game means far more to the program than the trip to Pullman.


Team: Cal (3-6/2-4)

Home games (one): USC

Road games (two): Stanford, UCLA

Comment: The Bears are on track to play this week, until or unless somebody sneezes.


Team: Colorado (3-7/2-5)

Home games (one): Washington

Road games (one): Utah

Comment: There's something to be said for the impact November success can have on offseason momentum. CU has two quality chances to gain steam for the winter and spring … Okay, maybe just one.


Team: Stanford (3-7/2-6)

Home games (two): Cal, Notre Dame

Road games (none): N/A

Comment: With each loss, the upset of Oregon becomes more confounding. Also, its impact on Oregon's resume becomes increasingly problematic.


Team: Washington (4-6/3-4)

Home games (one): Washington State

Road games (one): Colorado

Comment: Better chance the Huskies lose both than win both, unless they change quarterbacks. Dylan Morris isn't tall enough to be a high-end pocket passer, he's not mobile, and he's not accurate. So why not give the kid a try?

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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