Pac-12 preview: Breaking the playoff drought and other bold bowl predictions

Pac-12 preview: Breaking the playoff drought and other bold bowl predictions

The postseason has not been a happy place for the Pac-12 in recent years.

The conference hasn’t reached the College Football Playoff since the 2016 season (Washington), hasn’t won a New Year’s Six game since the 2019 season (Oregon) and frequently struggles to fill its allotment of bids.

Will the final year of Pac-12 football as we know it produce enough bowl-eligible teams to match the seven available slots? Will two teams participate in the New Year’s Six games? Will the playoff drought finally end?

Presenting our fearless bowl projections.

Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff (Jan. 1)
Team: Washington (vs. semifinalist)
Comment: No two-loss team has been invited to the CFP, and the Huskies won’t be the first. That said, no Pac-12 team has gone undefeated in the regular season during the playoff era; the Huskies won’t be the first to do that, either. So the path to glory likely means navigating a difficult schedule with only one stumble. We expect a victory at Michigan State to propel Michael Penix and Co. into playoff contention. Finish 12-1 in this conference, and a No. 2 or 3 seed awaits.

Fiesta Bowl/New Year’s Six (Jan. 1)
Team: USC (vs. at-large)
Comment: Remember when Washington reached the playoff in 2016? USC was positioned high enough in the CFP rankings that year to earn an invitation to the New Year’s Six (and played an epic Rose Bowl against Penn State). Our guess: History repeats, with the two-loss Trojans filling an at-large spot in the Fiesta.

Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28)
Team: Utah (vs. Big 12)
Comment: Utah’s rugged non-conference schedule will produce an extra loss and lower position in the CFP rankings than USC, thereby knocking the Utes out of New Year’s Six contention and into the Alamo. We won’t guess the identity of the opponent but have our fingers crossed that the Holy War gets temporarily relocated to San Antonio.

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 23)
Team: Oregon (vs. Big Ten)
Comment: The Las Vegas Bowl’s matchup rotation calls for the Pac-12 to face SEC teams in even years and Big Ten teams in odd years, so the Ducks would meet a future conference opponent if they land in Sin City. Their last appearance, in 2017, featured a 10-point loss to Boise State under then-interim coach Mario Cristobal.

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27)
Team: Oregon State (vs. ACC)
Comment: The Holiday Bowl cannot be thrilled about inviting any Pac-12 teams given the bowl’s lawsuit against the conference over UCLA’s last-minute cancellation of the 2021 game. But the Beavers might be the exception. They have never participated and would bring legions of fans from Corvallis.

Sun Bowl (Dec. 29)
Team: Washington State (vs. ACC)
Comment: At this point in the lineup, the bowls have no choice: They are obligated to select teams based on conference record. Exceptions can be arranged to avoid repeat participants. WSU, which played in El Paso at the end of the 2021 season, makes for a better option than UCLA, which was there eight months ago.

LA Bowl (Dec. 16)
Team: UCLA (vs. Mountain West)
Comment: The range of landing spots for the Bruins is wide; we simply don’t have a great feel for the trajectory of their season. But the Holiday Bowl (2021 calamity) and Sun Bowl (2022 appearance) likely want to avoid them at any cost. On the bright side, students interested in attending the LA Bowl could Uber over to SoFi Stadium.

Independence Bowl (Dec. 16)
Team: Arizona (vs. Big 12)
Comment: Any postseason landing spot would be a massive victory for third-year coach Jedd Fisch and the program, which hasn’t been bowling since 2017. A trip to Shreveport would carry important recruiting exposure in a talent-rich region and match the Wildcats against a future conference opponent.

*** Previous installments in our season preview series:

My AP preseason top-25 ballot
The best game of every week
Projections for the conference race

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