Wilner Hotline – Pac-12 bowl projections: Oregon to the Rose Bowl as Arizona and Cal face crucial Week Seven matchups

Arizona Sports News online

We have reached the point in the season between early and late, when the bowl math begins to take shape.

For two teams, Cal and Arizona, this stands as a week that will frame the stretch run.

Win, and the math remains manageable.

Lose, and it starts to look like advanced calculus.

Let’s dive in …

The Bears are 3-2, halfway to postseason qualification with a trip to Colorado this week. They are favored by two touchdowns over what has been the worst team in the Power Five.

A victory would create margin for error down the stretch:

Cal would need two victories from a group of five games against Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Oregon State, USC and Stanford.

Two of five? That’s an entirely reasonable outcome.

But if they lose in Boulder, the path narrows. They would need to sweep the three manageable matchups (Stanford, OSU and Washington) or enter must-win mode against one of the conference’s heavyweights.

For a team that plays solid defense but struggles to score, especially on the road, the task of toppling any of three ranked opponents averaging more than 40 points per game appears daunting.

Handle the Buffaloes, and Cal keeps the math simple.

Arizona’s situation is somewhat more dire, its immediate task more daunting.

The Wildcats are two-touchdown underdogs in Seattle this week, but we believe their prospects for victory are more favorable than the point spread suggests.

Quarterback Jayden de Laura won in Husky Stadium last season (with Washington State) and should feel confident. The Wildcats have a wobbly defense, but so, too, does Washington.

Yes, it’s a challenge. But place Arizona’s bowl math side-by-side with the upcoming schedule, and it quickly becomes apparent that this stands as a crucial game.

Win in Seattle, and the Wildcats would qualify for a bowl berth by beating Washington State and Arizona State at home.

Lose in Seattle, and they would need to handle the Cougars and Sun Devils and beat either USC, UCLA or Utah — three matchups in which they are likely to be massive underdogs.

Put another way: We believe the Wildcats have a better chance of toppling Washington than they do upsetting the Trojans (home), Bruins (road) or Utes (road).

Accomplish the former, and they could avoid the latter.

Either way, the path is treacherous.

To the Hotline’s latest bowl projections …

Rose Bowl
Team: Oregon (5-1/3-0)
Home games remaining (three): UCLA, Washington, Utah
Road games remaining (three): Cal, Colorado, Oregon State
Comment: The Ducks have neither the best offense nor the best defense in the conference, but they are close to the top on both sides of the ball and the best all-around team, at least for the moment.

Cotton Bowl
Team: USC (6-0/4-0)
Home (three): Cal, Colorado, Notre Dame
Road (three): Utah, Arizona, UCLA
Comment: The only at-large berths to the New Year’s Six are in the Cotton Bowl, so the path is narrow. In this scenario, USC would lose in the conference championship but still finish in the top eight or 10 of the playoff rankings.

Alamo Bowl
Team: UCLA (6-0/3-0)
Home (three): Stanford, Arizona, USC
Road (three): Oregon, Arizona State, Cal
Comment: The Bruins have played one road game thus far — one! — and it was a cupcake assignment (Colorado). But credit them for taking maximum advantage of a schedule made for success.

Holiday Bowl
Team: Utah (4-2/2-1)
Home (three): USC, Arizona, Stanford
Road (three): WSU, Oregon, Colorado
Comment: Better to be elite on one side of the ball than solid on both. And for the moment, the Utes are the latter.

Sun Bowl
Team: Washington (4-2/1-2)
Home (three): Arizona, Oregon State, Colorado
Road (three): Cal, Oregon, WSU
Comment: The Sun and LA bowls must make their selections based on order-of-finish. We don’t see the Huskies finishing in the top four, not with that defense.

LA Bowl
Team: Washington State (4-2/1-2)
Home (three): Utah, ASU, Washington
Road (three): Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona
Comment: From what we’ve seen of the Cougars and the upcoming opponents, they are a lock for the postseason. But if they can avoid a second consecutive trip to El Paso, both the school and the bowl would benefit.

ESPN bowl
Team: Oregon State (4-2/1-2)
Home (four): WSU, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Road (two): Washington, ASU
Comment: This bowl would be either the First Responders, Armed Forces or Gasparilla, against an opponent drawn from a pool of teams.

At-large bowl
Team: Cal (3-2/1-1)
Home (four): Washington, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA
Road (three): Colorado, USC, Oregon State
Comment: We could reframe the analysis of Cal’s situation above by stating the obvious: If you can’t beat Colorado, do you deserve to go bowling?

Team: Arizona (3-3/1-2)
Home (three): USC, Washington State, ASU
Road (three): Washington, Utah, UCLA
Comment: The Wildcats clearly drew the short straw with the cross-division schedule. Missing Stanford stripped them of a great chance for an additional win.

Team: Arizona State (2-4/1-2)
Home (two): UCLA, Oregon State
Road (four): Stanford, Colorado, WSU, Arizona
Comment: The postseason path is far wider than it was prior to the upset of Washington — to the point that we considered slotting ASU into an at-large bowl. But the Sun Devils must win at least twice on the road.

Team: Colorado (0-5/0-2)
Home (four): Cal, ASU, Oregon, Utah
Road (three): Oregon State, USC, Washington
Comment: In order for the Pac-12 to send eight or nine teams to the postseason, two or three must absorb a huge number of losses — after all, it’s a zero-sum game. The Buffaloes are doing their part.

Team: Stanford (1-4/0-4)
Home (three): ASU, WSU, Brigham Young
Road (four): Notre Dame, UCLA, Utah, Cal
Comment: Envisioning Stanford getting into a bowl game is more difficult than getting into Stanford.

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