Pac-12 bowl projections: Major changes at the top as Oregon becomes our pick for the CFP

Another Saturday has come and gone without a shakeup in the Pac-12 race, but this Tuesday brings a major change in the Hotline’s bowl outlook for the conference.

We are projecting Oregon to reach the College Football Playoff and UCLA to fill the vacancy in the Rose Bowl.

Allow us to explain in five easy steps.

Step one: The road ahead.

— Notre Dame’s victory over Clemson means the ACC won’t produce an undefeated champion.

— Alabama’s loss to LSU means the Crimson Tide will carry two defeats — likely a playoff death knell — into the final weekend.

— Tennessee’s loss to Georgia means the Volunteers will finish as a one-loss team without a division title.

In other words, three significant obstacles have been cleared from the path of a one-loss Pac-12 champion.

We identified Oregon as the best team in the Pac-12 a month ago, and nothing has forced a reassessment.

If anything, the Ducks have solidified their status as the clear frontrunner.

They are as good offensively, and far better defensively, than both USC and UCLA.

Meanwhile, Utah simply isn’t healthy enough to play at the level required to beat the Ducks, either on Nov. 19 in Eugene or Dec. 2 in Las Vegas.

Step three: One night in Vegas

After watching the Bruins and Trojans week after week, the Hotline has concluded UCLA is the better team and should win the crosstown showdown on Nov. 19. (But it’s close, because both are seriously flawed on defense.)

As a result, we expect the following records at the top of the conference:

Oregon: 9-0
UCLA: 8-1
Utah: 7-2
USC: 7-2

That sets the Ducks and Bruins up for a date in Allegiant Stadium, and there’s no reason to believe the outcome will be any different than what we witnessed in Eugene a few weeks ago.

It might be more competitive than a 15-point margin, but the Ducks will win.

Step four: The CFP shuffle

At that point, Oregon is a 12-1 conference champion and a serious contender for the CFP.

Two spots are locked up: Georgia, as the undefeated SEC winner; and the Ohio State-Michigan winner as the undefeated Big Ten champ.

That leaves two berths for a combination of Oregon, the ACC champ, the Big 12 champ, an SEC non-division winner (Tennessee) and a Big Ten non-division winner (the OSU-Michigan loser).

We like Oregon’s chances in that scenario.

The 49-3 loss to Georgia cannot be unseen, but every other contender for those two CFP slots will have a flawed resume, as well.

(Tennessee’s decisive loss to Georgia was gargantuan for the Ducks in the event of a resume showdown with the Vols.)

And with a series of stretch-run victories over ranked opponents, Oregon will look the part come selection weekend.

Step five: The replacement team

If the Ducks jump into the playoff, the Rose Bowl would replace them with the next-highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 (per the selection committee’s rankings).

That assuredly would be UCLA.

Why? Because the committee rarely punishes championship game losers, so the Bruins would not drop below USC or Utah (teams they beat head-to-head) assuming they are reasonably competitive in Las Vegas.

With the Ducks in the playoff, the Pac-12’s remaining bowl-eligible teams would move up one rung in the pecking order, as reflected in the projections below.

College Football Playoff
Team: Oregon (8-1/6-0)
Home games remaining (two): Washington, Utah
Road games remaining (one): Oregon State
Comment: One point we didn’t mention: Oregon needs Brigham Young (5-5) to pick up the pace and finish with a winning record. The more victories over teams on the high side of .500, the better the resume looks.

Rose Bowl
Team: UCLA (8-1/5-1)
Home (two): Arizona, USC
Road (one): Cal
Comment: Sights you never thought you’d see: UCLA playing the Rose Bowl with every seat filled.

Alamo Bowl
Team: USC (8-1/6-1)
Home (two): Colorado, Notre Dame
Road (one): UCLA
Comment: If the Trojans win the crosstown showdown on Nov. 19, the script flips. Win in Las Vegas, and they would have a great shot at the playoff. Lose, and they would either fill the vacancy in the Rose or become a New Year’s Six at-large entry in the Cotton Bowl.

Holiday Bowl
Team: Utah (7-2/5-1)
Home (one): Stanford
Road (two): Oregon, Colorado
Comment: The Holiday Bowl as a disappointment: My, how the expectations have evolved.

Las Vegas Bowl
Team: Washington (7-2/4-2)
Home (one): Colorado
Road (two): Oregon, WSU
Comment: Why not include UW in any of the aforementioned scenarios? Simple. We think the Huskies will get hammered in Eugene. If they win, we’ll reassess.

Sun Bowl
Team: Oregon State (6-3/3-3)
Home (two): Cal, Oregon
Road (one): ASU
Comment: Each week, a trip to El Paso becomes more likely for the Beavers. What could change that trajectory? Winning out, or the Pac-12 getting shut out of both the CFP and the Cotton Bowl.

LA Bowl
Team: Washington State (5-4/2-4)
Home (two): ASU, Washington
Road (one): Arizona
Comment: The Sun and LA bowls are supposed to select teams based on order-of-finish but could agree to swap participants to ensure WSU and OSU aren’t repeat visitors to their respective sites.

Team: Arizona (3-6/1-4)
Home (two): Washington State, ASU
Road (one): UCLA
Comment: Absent an upset of UCLA to keep the postseason in view, the finishing stretch is all about beating ASU.

Team: Arizona State (3-6/2-4)
Home (one): Oregon State
Road (two): WSU, Arizona
Comment: Once the likelihood of bowl eligibility dips below five percent, we move teams into the pool of non-qualifiers.

Team: Cal (3-6/1-5)
Home (two): Stanford, UCLA
Road (one): Oregon State
Comment: If the options are 5-7 or 4-8, the Bears might be better off with the latter. That way, they don’t spend the offseason stewing over the Colorado loss.

Team: Colorado (1-8/1-5)
Home (one): Utah
Road (two): USC, Washington
Comment: Tad Boyle appears to have another solid team.

Team: Stanford (3-6/1-6)
Home (one): Brigham Young
Road (two): Utah, Cal
Comment: When there’s an extreme number of injuries each year and no reversion to the mean, it’s more than bad luck.

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