Update: Alabama is in over Ohio State for the fourth semifinal slot. This slightly affects projections in the following ways:
- Ohio State vs. USC in the Fiesta Bowl.
- Wisconsin vs. Miami in the Orange Bowl. This also creates a ripple effect:
- Because the Big Ten is now in the Orange Bowl, the SEC (and not the Big Ten) gets the Citrus Bowl. This puts one of the Michigan teams (likely Michigan State) in the Holiday Bowl instead of the Citrus Bowl.
- Again, since the Big Ten now loses the Citrus Bowl, it will now have one of its lesser teams available for the Foster Farms Bowl: I’m going with 6-6 Purdue.
All other projections remain as listed below.
We’re a mere eight hours away from the CFP’s final rankings and selections, but while we’re waiting, why not have a little bit of fun trying to project how everything plays out? Last year, I somehow managed to predict 100% of the Pac-12’s bowl destinations, and even correctly predicted all but two opponents. (Don’t ask me how I pulled that one off because—honestly—I still don’t know. Nonetheless, here I am again to push my luck, this time in one of the least predictable bowl seasons in recent memory!)
Before I hop into the Pac-12 projections, let me give two of my BIG assumptions on the front-end. If either of my big assumptions proves wrong, it will quickly unravel all of the below projections:
- Ohio State (not Alabama) will be in the semifinals. Three of the four semifinal slots are very straight-forward: ACC Champion Clemson, Big 12 Champion Oklahoma, and SEC Champion Georgia. The fourth slot, however, is clear as mud. Does it go to two-loss Big Ten Champion, Ohio State, or a one-loss Alabama team that couldn’t even win its division (let alone its conference)? My instinct is to lean toward Ohio State, but there’s no clear answer, and if Ohio State fails to make the semifinals, it will completely alter the opponent projections below.
- Washington will crack the top 11 and earn a New Year’s Six Bowl. Coming into this week, Washington was ranked #13 and on the outside looking in for a New Year’s Six Bowl; however, both TCU and Stanford lost their conference championships. My assumption is that Washington will leapfrog both of these teams, and earn a second New Year’s Six Bowl for the Pac-12. If this assumption proves wrong, all of my Pac-12 predictions below will quickly unravel.
Long story short: there’s more uncertainty for the Pac-12 in bowl projections this year than in recent years. But those are my assumptions, and here is what those assumptions yielded:
New Year’s Six Bowls
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs.
Wisconsin Ohio State (see update above)
This one is pretty straight-forward. With the Rose Bowl serving as semifinals this year, the otherwise Rose Bowl match-up will just be moved to the geographically-closest Fiesta Bowl. Since my assumption is that Ohio State is off to the semifinals, that leaves the door open for one-loss Wisconsin to seize the Fiesta Bowl.
Cotton Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State
Another Pac-12 vs. Big Ten match-up! It’s like two Rose Bowls for the price of one! As to why I see these two teams in the Cotton Bowl, admittedly, it was more process of elimination than anything else. The Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to take an ACC team (Miami) and the best available SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame team (
Alabama Wisconsin). That leaves only the Peach and Cotton Bowls for Washington/Penn State/Auburn/UCF. The Peach Bowl makes good geographic sense for Auburn/UCF, so that leaves Washington/Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.
Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU
Alamo will get the “what might have been?” bowl, hosting both of the runner-ups to the Pac-12 and Big 12 Championships. With Oklahoma in the semifinals, TCU is both the team with the best remaining record, and is also in the same state as the Alamo Bowl. On the Pac-12 side, Stanford is the best remaining record once USC and Washington are in the New Year’s Six. If Stanford is selected, it will be Stanford’s first appearance in the Alamo Bowl.
Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs.
Northwestern Michigan State (see update above)
The Holiday Bowl will have a selection of Washington State or either Arizona school. Washington State seems the most attractive. As for the opponent, this is the third bowl in line for a Big Ten team, and my hunch is that the two Michigan schools will go to the more prestigious bowls (Citrus and Outback). With the two Michigan schools gone, 9-3 Northwestern has the best record of any remaining Big Ten school (next is 7-5 Iowa).
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State vs.
San Diego State Purdue (see update above)
Foster Farms will be faced with a decision between the two Arizona schools. My hunch is that they select an Arizona State team that defeated Arizona during the regular season. The opponent is trickier. Foster Farms is usually another Pac-12 vs. Big Ten match-up, but the Big Ten won’t have enough bowl eligible teams to fill Foster Farms this year. Foster Farms will likely select a school within California but outside of the Pac-12; since San Jose State isn’t bowl eligible, that leaves only San Diego State and Fresno State. I’m taking San Diego State and its better record, even though Fresno State beat them earlier this season. (By the way, the Big Ten’s lack of available teams will come into play in a later bowl projection as well...)
Sun Bowl: Arizona vs. Louisville
The Pac-12 team here is easy: whichever Arizona team isn’t selected by Foster Farms is Sun Bowl-bound. The opponent, however, is trickier because, rather than the bowls picking one by one, the ACC assigns four different bowls (including Sun) with equal status. The Sun Bowl located in Texas, however, is the farthest west of the four equal ACC bowls, and Louisville is also the westernmost ACC team available. It makes sense to me that Louisville will end up here.
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. Boise State
Unlike the last couple of bowls, the Las Vegas Bowl is very straight forward. Boise State is in by virtue of winning the Mountain West Championship. On the Pac-12 side, Las Vegas will only have a choice of Oregon or UCLA. Oregon seems the more lucrative program.
Cactus Bowl: UCLA vs. Kansas State
Whichever Pac-12 team the Las Vegas Bowl passes on (Oregon or UCLA) will be in the Cactus Bowl. Once again, though, the opponent is a bit trickier, and it really could be any of the 7-5 Big 12 teams (Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia). I’m going with Kansas State, though, because I think that Iowa State will be taken in the bowl before this one (Liberty Bowl), and that Kansas State is more alluring than West Virginia.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia
This is the trickiest projection of all of them because the Cactus Bowl (above) was the last bowl that’s contracted with the Pac-12. Because there are no more bowls contracted with the Pac-12, that means that bowl-eligible Utah can end up anywhere (or, possibly, nowhere). That said, remember earlier when we discussed the lack of bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten? The Heart of Dallas Bowl is one of the other Big Ten contracted bowls, so it will be looking for a replacement pick, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl even used the Pac-12 for a replacement pick just two years ago (Washington). If the Heart of Dallas Bowl takes Utah, then the Big 12 opponent is whichever the Liberty and Cactus Bowls left behind; I’m going with West Virginia.