Story by Jon Wilner
The return of the Redbox Bowl remains uncertain, with no definitive word on its status for 2021 and beyond. As a result, the Pac-12 is locked into six games through direct affiliation and a seventh game through ESPN.
There might even be an eighth slot available, also courtesy of ESPN, if an eligible team needs a game.
The bowl projections will be a weekly fixture on the Hotline, allowing us to place current performance in context with postseason eligibility.
Keep in mind that teams must finish with a .500-or-better record to qualify for a bowl berth. Every non-conference win provides additional cushion for league play.
Non-conference record/minimum conference record required:
Here we go …
Rose Bowl (vs. Big Ten)
Team: UCLA (2-0)
Comment: Nobody has looked better than UCLA through [checks calendar] two whole weeks! Whether that holds through the division race and conference championship remains to be seen, but there’s no shortage of experience on the roster to navigate any rough patches.
Alamo Bowl (vs. Big 12)
Team: USC (1-0)
Comment: Dream scenario for the Alamo, which has never hosted the Pac-12’s most successful program. Not a dream scenario for USC, however: It would mean the Trojans didn’t win the conference. Good gracious, the South race is going to be loads of fun.
Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Big Ten)
Team: Arizona State (1-0)
Comment: The Sun Devils were in Las Vegas in 2018, but that feels like a decade ago. Back then, they played in Sam Boyd Stadium, not Allegiant Stadium, and they faced Fresno State, not a Big Ten opponent. Any return engagement would therefore have a fresh feel.
Holiday Bowl (vs. ACC)
Comment: For the moment, we like the Ducks to win the North but lose in the championship, which could be a problem for all involved. Here’s why: The loser of the title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 3 could be wary of returning to Sin City for a bowl game three and a half weeks later; it might not sit well with fans, either; and event organizers would undoubtedly prefer a different team. The Holiday Bowl provides an escape hatch. Technically, the bowls share the No. 3 pick to allow for exactly that kind of flexibility. Hence our current slotting of the Ducks in San Diego.
Sun Bowl (vs. ACC)
Comment: The Utes haven’t been to El Paso in a decade, so bowl officials would undoubtedly be thrilled. We’re not so sure about Utah being thrilled, however: An invitation to the Sun would only follow a middle-of-the-division finish. That said, if the Pac-12 sends a second team to the New Year’s Six (for instance: the Fiesta Bowl), everyone would move up a rung.
LA Bowl (vs. Mountain West)
Comment: We have been somewhat skeptical of CU’s postseason prospects — the schedule is very difficult — and weren’t overly impressed by the opener. But it’s a zero-sum game, and the North looks awful. Which means there are victories available for the South. The Buffs only need five more.
Comment: We haven’t lost complete faith in Cal’s prospects for bowl eligibility, not in a soft division with a crossover schedule that includes Arizona and Colorado. The bowls that should be available in ESPN’s pool are the First Responders, Armed Forces and perhaps Gasparilla.
Team: Oregon State
Comment: If the Redbox doesn’t awaken from its coma, the Pac-12 could salvage an eighth invitation through ESPN. The more relevant question is whether it needs eight slots. At this point, we see OSU as a better bet for six wins than either of the Washington schools.
Non-qualifiers: Stanford, Washington, Washington State and Arizona.