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Sports >  NCAA football

Pac-12 season preview: Our bowl projections assume that, um, there will be bowl games

Oregon defensive tackle Jordon Scott celebrates after their win against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.   (Associated Press)
Oregon defensive tackle Jordon Scott celebrates after their win against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.  (Associated Press)
By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Prior to the pandemic, the Pac-12 was positioned to have eight bowl partners for the 2020-21 postseason cycle.

The Redbox Bowl went on hiatus in July, partly because of COVID-19.

Then the Holiday Bowl canceled for the winter, entirely because of COVID-19.

So here we are, four days before the start of the delayed season, and the Pac-12 is down to six bowls, except …

The status of the Las Vegas Bowl is a bit uncertain.

And we’re a tad skeptical about the L.A. Bowl, which is 100 miles from the Holiday and sits in the middle of a Purple zone.

By the time the postseason arrives, the Pac-12 could have only a handful of guaranteed slots for its teams: The New Year’s Six for the conference champion, plus the Alamo, Sun and Independence bowls.

Then again, there’s no guarantee there will be any bowls, or that any teams would be willing to participate.

As uncertain as is the Pac-12’s seven-games-in-seven-weeks plan, the postseason carries far more unknowns.

We’ll step out of reality for a moment and assume everything’s fine – that the Las Vegas and L.A. bowls are played as scheduled, that the Pac-12 completes its season and that teams are ready and willing to travel.

For our division projections, which set the framework for these selections, go here.

And keep in mind that the NCAA waived the eligibility requirements for this season: a .500-or-better record is not required.

Fiesta Bowl: USC

With the Rose Bowl hosting one of the College Football Playoff semifinals, the Pac-12 champion likely will be sent to either the Fiesta or Peach bowls this season. We don’t expect the conference to produce a playoff team, and the Fiesta makes loads more sense.

Alamo Bowl: Arizona State

The Sun Devils lose out by not winning the South (in our projections) but benefit from not losing in the title game, thus becoming the highest-ranked and most attractive option.

Las Vegas Bowl: Cal

It’s Vegas, it’s an SEC opponent, and the berth follows a division title … what’s not to like for the Bears after losing the title game to USC? No, it’s not the Rose Bowl. But Cal wasn’t headed to the Rose even with a conference title.

Sun Bowl: Oregon

Yes, the Ducks would be an attractive option for Las Vegas under normal circumstances. But without fans, the calculation changes. Under our scenario, with Cal winning the North and beating Oregon head-to-head, the Ducks head to El Paso, Texas, for the first time since the 2007 season, when their fast start crumpled with Dennis Dixon’s knee injury.

L.A. Bowl: Utah

The chance to match the Utes against a former Mountain West rival is too good to resist – or at least better than all other options.

Independence Bowl: Stanford

On the bright side: It’s no El Paso again.

At-large: Washington

The Huskies have appeal with their record above .500, but the limited slots available for the Pac-12 force outside the family. And to travel a long, long way.

The remaining five teams would be eligible – everyone’s eligible, after all.

But the limited number of berths and the limited amount of interest – for health/safety and financial reasons – results in UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Colorado and Arizona staying home for the holidays.

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