Strikes and spares? Pac-12 bowl projections ahead of championship weekend

Sunny Shen/Staff

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All week long, dialogue around the Pac-12 is solely focused on one team: Utah.

With a win over No. 13 Oregon this Friday, No. 5 Utah would be in prime position to leapfrog into the top four teams in the nation and clinch a College Football Playoff berth, a jump that would ultimately affect bowl positioning up and down the conference.

When it’s all said and done, here’s how things could shake out when matchups are revealed Sunday.


College Football Playoff — Peach Bowl: Utah vs. Ohio State

It seems out of place to deem a CFP contest a “David vs. Goliath” situation, but if there ever was a case, look no further.

While the Utes are a force to be reckoned with in their own right, the Buckeyes might be the most complete team in the nation. Quarterback Justin Fields, tailback J.K. Dobbins and edge rusher Chase Young could all make a case for the Heisman Trophy at this point.

Assuming Utah handles Oregon and the Buckeyes dismantle a program they defeated 38-7 earlier this year (Wisconsin), this has the makings of a genuinely competitive contest.


Rose Bowl game: Oregon vs. Penn State

The consolation prize in the Pac-12 may not be so bad this year. With or without a win in the conference title game, Oregon is in prime position to make the trip to Southern California come New Year’s Day

If the Ducks lose to the Utes after such a promising season, they will hope that Utah sneaks into the CFP, allowing Oregon to play in “The Granddaddy of Them All.” If the Ducks win, well, they’re a near-lock to play in Pasadena as the conference champions.


Alamo Bowl: USC vs. Baylor

Word on the street is that Clay Helton has retained his job, at least for another season. Filling in for the injured JT Daniels, quarterback Kedon Slovis looks like a premier starter at the Division I level, leading USC to a 7-2 conference record while leading an offense with a lion’s share of injuries.

Pending a monster performance from its defense, Baylor is projected to finish as the runner-ups in the Big 12, with Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma claiming both the top spot in the conference and a New Year’s Six bowl bid.


Holiday Bowl: Washington vs. Michigan

If the Holiday Bowl committee wants Chris Petersen to have his last rendezvous as head coach of Washington in San Diego, this matchup could be a dandy. A Washington-Michigan showdown would feature two of the biggest universities in the United States, whose football programs fell well short of their biggest goals heading into 2019.

With Jim Harbaugh’s future at Michigan also in doubt, who knows if this is the last time we’ll see both head coaches in this exciting matchup.


Redbox Bowl: California vs. Indiana

When it comes to sports, the phrase “there’s no place like home” rings true. Expected to play virtually in its own backyard, a Redbox Bowl appearance for Cal football would pit the Bears against a mid-tier Big Ten team, likely in the form of Indiana, Illinois or Michigan State.

While Washington and Arizona State share an identical record with Cal, the Redbox committee likely won’t swing and miss on the Bears staying home.


Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Wake Forest

“Sun” Devils in the “Sun” Bowl? Like the Redbox Bowl, this one just makes too much sense. ASU wasn’t exactly consistent in 2019 but picked up critical wins over Michigan State, Cal and Oregon to send Herm Edwards’ program to a second straight bowl appearance.

They’ll likely draw a competitive matchup from the ACC with Wake Forest, Boston College and Pittsburgh representing potential candidates.


Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State vs. Boise State

It would be nothing short of poetic for Chris Petersen to end his UW coaching career against Boise State, which he put on the map a decade ago. But it’s the Huskies’ rival, Washington State, that will most likely draw the winner of the Hawaii-Boise State Mountain West title game in Sin City. Anthony Gordon did what quarterbacks in Mike Leach’s system do — explode for eye-opening numbers — and has a chance to salvage a bumpy season for Wazzu with a big victory.

Last December, Fresno State and former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford got the best of Arizona State in this very bowl game, giving the Pac-12 a little extra something to play for this time around.


(Shoutout to the) Cheez-It Bowl

If Utah falls to Oregon or doesn’t make the top four, every team would fall a notch, with the Cougars winding up in the desert for the Cheez-It Bowl. Of course, this infamous bowl is still fresh in the minds of the Bears and their fans, who saw a dreadfully beautiful contest between Cal and TCU in the 2018 edition.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.