Wilner Hotline: Bowl Predictions After One Month

Arizona Sports News online

By Jon Wilner 

With the first month of the 2021 season complete, several Pac-12 teams face daunting climbs to the six-win mark needed for bowl eligibility.

Arizona looks utterly and completely doomed, and Colorado isn’t far behind. The Buffaloes are dead last in the country in scoring against FBS opponents (6.7 points per game).

A few others have shown enough life at various points to make mini-winning streaks possible. It doesn’t take much for the bowl math to improve, but with each passing week, margin for error slips away.

We envision at least one team falling a single victory short of the postseason requirement and looking back on a bungled September opportunity against a Group of Five or FCS opponent as the fateful result.

The top contenders for that unfortunate end-game are Washington (the loss to Montana), Washington State (to Utah State), Cal (to Nevada) and Utah (to San Diego State).

For the first time, the Hotline’s bowl projections include the remaining schedule for each team in order to provide context on the road ahead.

College Football Playoff
Team: Oregon (4-0/1-0)
Home games (four): Cal, Colorado, Washington State, Oregon State
Road games (four): Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Utah
Comment: In the event they finish as a one-loss Pac-12 champion and need a boost to their CFP candidacy, the Ducks would want to face the highest-ranked team possible from the South in Las Vegas. Only ASU and UCLA currently have one loss. Oregon needs the winner of this weekend’s showdown in the Rose Bowl to keep rolling.

Rose Bowl (vs. Big Ten)
Team: UCLA (3-1/1-0)
Home games (four): ASU, Oregon, Colorado, Cal
Road games (four): Arizona, Washington, Utah, USC
Comment: If Oregon jumps into the CFP, everyone else would move up one rung, with the Rose Bowl taking the highest-ranked team available. The UCLA-ASU winner on Saturday night will have a significant advantage considering the selection committee’s emphasis on head-to-head results.

Alamo Bowl (vs. Big 12)
Team: Arizona State (3-1/ 1-0)
Home games (four): Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona
Road games (four): UCLA, Utah, Washington, Oregon State
Comment: The Sun Devils were hardly impressive in their only road game thus far (at BYU), and all four remaining trips are difficult. (The visits to Seattle and Corvallis are back-to-back in November.) But the home schedule creates multiple pathways to the six-win mark.

Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Big Ten)
Team: Oregon State (3-1/ 1-0)
Home games (four): Washington, Utah, Stanford, ASU
Road games (four): Washington State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Comment: The victory at USC tilted the bowl math in OSU’s favor, effectively offsetting its loss at Purdue. The Beavers need three more wins for their first postseason berth since 2013 and, at this point, should be favored in at least six games. They couldn’t have asked for better positioning at the start of October.

Holiday Bowl (vs. ACC)
Team: Utah (2-2/1-0)
Home games (four): ASU, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado
Road games (four): USC, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona
Comment: Of note in the Pac-12 bowl selection process: The Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls are not required to invite teams based on order-of-finish; they can skip one for another so long as there isn’t more than a one-game difference in conference record. But starting with the Sun Bowl, teams are slotted based strictly on conference record.

Sun Bowl (vs. ACC)
Team: Washington (2-2/1-0)
Home games (four): UCLA, Oregon, ASU, Washington State
Road games (four): Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford, Colorado
Comment: The bowl math hasn’t turned indisputably positive just yet for the Huskies, especially given recent history: They have lost six in a row at Stanford and four of their last six at Arizona and were awful in Boulder in 2019. It’s not difficult to sketch a scenario in which UW has five wins entering the Apple Cup.

LA Bowl (vs. Mountain West)
Team: Stanford (2-2/1-1)
Home games (five): Oregon, Washington, Utah, Cal, Notre Dame
Road games (three): ASU, Washington State, Oregon State
Comment: The rugged September schedule provides a back-end bonus with just three remaining road games. A victory over Oregon this weekend would reconfigure the math while a loss would likely turn Washington, Utah and Cal into must-win games. And all three are quite winnable.

ESPN bowl (Gasparilla, Armed Forces or First Responders)
Team: USC (2-2/1-2)
Home games (four): Utah, Arizona, UCLA, Brigham Young
Road games (four): Colorado, Notre Dame, ASU, Cal
Comment: For all their deficiencies, the Trojans have a reasonable path into the postseason due to a manageable upcoming schedule: It pays to play in the same division as Colorado and Arizona. Win those, and they should cobble together the fifth and sixth victories somewhere, somehow.

Non-qualifier
Team: Arizona (0-4/0-1)
Home games (four): UCLA, Washington, Cal, Utah
Road games (four): Colorado, USC, Washington State, ASU
Comment: Spoiler alert: The Wildcats have taken on the role of spoiler. Even if Jordan McCloud provides a significant lift, they won’t win more than three games. More likely, the Wildcats finish 2-10 or 1-11.

Non-qualifier
Team: Cal (1-3/0-1)
Home games (four): Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State, USC
Road games (four): Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
Comment: Combine the five-point home loss to Nevada with the two-point road loss to TCU and the overtime loss at Washington, and the Bears have missed more opportunities than any team in the conference. That triple-whammy of wasted chances couldn’t possibly come back to haunt them, could it?

Non-qualifier
Team: Colorado (1-3/0-1)
Home games (four): USC, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington
Road games (four): Cal, Oregon, UCLA, Utah
Comment: If the offense simply made incremental improvement, CU’s prospects for victory would increase exponentially. But the schedule is a huge problem: The Buffs need to win five out of eight and play UCLA and Oregon on the road. They need a Flatirons miracle.

Non-qualifier
Team: Washington State (1-3/0-2)
Home games (four): Oregon State, Stanford, Brigham Young, Arizona
Road games (four): Cal, ASU, Oregon, Washington
Comment: At this point, the best-case scenario for WSU is an Apple Cup victory that eliminates the Huskies from the bowl race. Because we can’t find five wins for the Cougars within that lineup of eight, not given the way BYU’s playing.


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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.