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Utah thumps USC in Pac-12 championship: What it means for the conference's bowl bids

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The Pac-12 waited six years to place a team in the College Football Playoff — and it will have to wait at least one more.

Utah's dominating 47-24 victory over USC in the Pac-12 championship knocked the fourth-ranked Trojans out of contention for a coveted berth in the semifinals, at least unofficially.

The CFP pairings will be announced Sunday morning, followed by the remainder of the New Year's Six matchups and all the other bowl games.

USC (11-2) would have been a lock for the playoff had it handled Utah on Friday night in Las Vegas.

But with their second loss of the season — to an opponent that itself has three losses — the Trojans are expected to tumble out of the top four and be replaced by Ohio State.

How far will they fall?

An at-large berth in the Cotton Bowl is a distinct possibility but depends on USC's position in the selection committee's final rankings.

In the past, the committee has refrained from punishing the losers of conference championships to such a degree that their bowl status is materially impacted.

Meanwhile, Utah's destination is assured after its second consecutive conference championship.

The Utes are returning to the Rose Bowl in what could be the last traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup in the game's storied history. (The Rose is a semifinal host next season and then will take on a new role in the expanded playoff, which starts in 2024.)

The rest of the Pac-12's postseason lineup depends on USC. If the Trojans make the Cotton Bowl, then everyone else will move up one position.

Here's how we see it:

Rose Bowl: Utah. The Utes lost to the Buckeyes in a 48-45 epic last year but are expected to face Penn State, which has just two losses (to Ohio State and Michigan).

Cotton Bowl: USC. A berth in the Cotton would bring $4 million into the Pac-12's coffers, split evenly among the schools. Tulane, the top-ranked team from the Group of Five, is USC's likely opponent.

Alamo Bowl: Washington. The Alamo would love to match the 10-win Huskies against Texas (and their former coach, Steve Sarkisian).

Holiday Bowl: Oregon State. The Beavers are an attractive team following their nine-win season and head-to-head victory over Oregon. But don't ignore the possibility of the Ducks landing here.

Las Vegas Bowl: UCLA. Another possible destination for Oregon State. But would the Las Vegas Bowl pass on the chance to match the Bruins against a big brand from the SEC?

Sun Bowl: Oregon. If the ceiling for the Ducks is the Holiday, the floor is the Sun. We wouldn't be surprised by any outcome.

LA Bowl: Washington State. This slot is locked in. The Cougars cannot move any higher in the pecking order because of the policy governing selections.

What if USC tumbles out of the New Year's Six?

In that situation, teams below the Trojans would be knocked down a rung — and the Pac-12 would be quite unhappy with the selection committee.

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Jon Wilner
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.


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