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Pac-10 may not fulfill bowl obligation

PULLMAN – In hindsight, maybe a half-dozen bowls is just too much. Or maybe it’s the nine conference games.

Either way, it looks as if the Pac-10 Conference will spend its last year as the Pac-10 Conference being unable to fulfill its bowl obligations.

The conference has tie-ins with six bowls, ranging from the traditional – the Rose Bowl – to the newbies – like the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Teams are slotted by the standings, with the champion headed to the granddaddy of them all in Pasadena.

Unless said champion heads to the BCS national championship game. That seems probable this year, as all No. 1 Oregon has to do is win its last three games for a berth in the title game.

But, unless something untoward happens, there will only be five Pac-10 teams with the requisite six wins – seven for Arizona State as two of their victories came over FCS schools and only one counts – to be considered for a bowl.

They are Oregon, Stanford, Arizona (all with at least seven wins) and probably Oregon State (four wins this week) and California (five). USC has six wins already but is ineligible. WSU was eliminated from the bowl picture two weeks ago.

The Beavers host WSU this week then play USC at home, travel to No. 7 Stanford before finishing at home vs. the top-ranked Ducks, so two wins aren’t a given. Cal, which is unbeaten in Berkeley, finishes with Oregon, Stanford and Washington, all at home.

The UW game will probably decide its fate.

ASU needs to win out against Stanford, UCLA (at home) and Arizona (in Tucson) to have a shot. The Bruins would have to win two consecutive road games (at Washington and ASU) or win one and defeat USC at home to gain eligibility. And UW? The Huskies need to win out, defeating UCLA at home and Cal and WSU on the road.

“The postseason is an important carrot if you will,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said on Tuesday, the lone Pac-10 coach that acknowledged Tuesday how important a bowl berth is. “The opportunity to continue your season, to earn that kind of privilege is important. There are a number of teams in our conference right now who are having that conversation.”

“It’s a dog-eat-dog conference and it’s important to play your best right now.”

There are so many teams needing two or more wins and not all the scenarios can play out, meaning some will come up short. And then the finger can be pointed directly at the conference’s desire to have a round-robin schedule.

“We assure ourselves of five extra losses as a conference,” Neuheisel said, “It certainly is a great formula for finding out who the champion is, because there is nobody missing anybody … but you don’t get to schedule wins like everybody else.”

Neuheisel is not alone in his feelings about the nine-game schedule, which will continue when the conference expands next year.

“If you looked at it, the reason we’re not filling all those bowl spots, we’re the only conference that plays nine conference games,” said Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh. “That’s less wins for the conference, that’s going to equate to less teams in bowls, but that’s the way we do it.”

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl be darned.

Around the conference

Arizona State has lost three games by three or fewer points this season and it’s starting to wear on coach Dennis Erickson. The Sun Devils’ latest defeat was in Los Angeles to USC, in which a point-after kick was returned for two Trojans points, the margin in a 34-33 defeat. “It tells you, you can compete on any given day,” Erickson said. “There is some encouragement in that we are playing pretty well, we’re getting better, but you’ve got to win. Let’s face it. This close stuff doesn’t make any difference.” … Stanford junior wide receiver Chris Owusu had nine catches for 165 yards against Arizona, both career highs. Now Harbaugh wants to keep him healthy and on the field. “I’ve talked with Chris a little bit about playing more like a receiver and not as much like a tight end,” Harbaugh said. “He’s taken a lot of hits this year. He’s got to learn to get down a little bit, more like a quarterback does.” … Oregon made it official Tuesday. Senior backup quarterback Nate Costa, who has suffered through knee injury after knee injury, will not be back after suffering another one against UW. Costa, who played well in a relief role in Pullman, is more than a backup, according to coach Chip Kelly. “He’s just such a great kid … means everything to this team, one of the leaders of this team, one of the captains of this team,” Kelly said. Costa said when he talked with Kelly, it got a little emotional. “There’s not much he can say,” Costa said. “He just gave me one of those looks that say a thousand words all in one.”

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