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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After Apple Cup loss, Cougars await bowl destination

Washington State coach Mike Leach watches the action unfold from the sidelines during the first half of the 2016 Apple Cup on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – You know what the worst thing about Apple Cup losses is? They linger.

They stick around for fans who have to hear about them for 364 days until next opportunity to reclaim bragging rights. And the losses last longer for players who cannot immediately start thinking about the next opponent.

At least there is a next opponent for Washington State, which will play in its third bowl game in four years after having not played in the postseason for a decade prior to 2013.

But the Cougars (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) will have to wait a week to find out their bowl destination and opponent. Let’s help them out by taking a look at the possibilities.

No. 9 Colorado’s win over No. 22 Utah on Saturday makes the Holiday Bowl a likely destination. If No. 6 Washington beats the Buffaloes in the Pac-12 championship game, UW would probably go to the college football playoff.

Either USC or CU, whichever is ranked higher, will play in the Rose Bowl. The other team would presumably head to the Alamo Bowl.

The Holiday Bowl in such a scenario would choose between either the Cougars or Stanford. WSU is the likely choice in that scenario because of their dominant head-to-head victory over the Cardinal, and because bowl games are reluctant to take teams whose fan bases are disappointed with their seasons and Stanford was the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12.

A Holiday Bowl berth would pit the Cougars against a team from the Big Ten, perhaps Iowa or Minnesota. If the Holiday Bowl took Stanford instead, the Cougars would probably head to Santa Clara to play in the Foster Farms Bowl against a lesser Big Ten team.

Three bowls are allowed to pass on one team in favor of another, so long as the new team has only one more Pac-12 loss. Those are the Alamo, Holiday and Foster Farms bowls. The Cactus, Las Vegas and Sun Bowls must select by order of conference record, no exceptions.

There is a certain amount of chatter that Washington winning next week’s Pac-12 championship game would be a rising tide for the conference, elevating each team by one bowl position.

But it may not matter much. If Colorado wins the Pac-12 championship game, UW could still be selected as an at-large bid for a New Year’s Six bowl, in this case probably the Cotton Bowl.

Or if the No. 5 Huskies are the Pac-12 champion but still left out of the four-team playoff (which is more likely after No. 2 Ohio State’s double-overtime win over No. 3 Michigan), UW would play in the Rose Bowl and USC, presumably passing the Buffaloes in the rankings, might be the Cotton Bowl’s choice.