With the Pac-12 title game Friday night, the conference figures to look at it this way: It would probably prefer an Oregon win over Arizona, because the Ducks are a more logical threat to win a national title. This, even though I’m of the belief that an Arizona win would get the two-loss Wildcats into the playoff over a one-loss Big Ten team; it’s illogical that the consensus second-best conference would get left out of it — especially when the candidate would have beaten Oregon twice.
But for a lot of folks, Washington included, it’s much better if a prospective Oregon win occurs in a competitive game rather than the kind of blowout to which the Ducks have become accustomed. Not only is it financially a boon for the conference if it goes that way, but it makes things much more orderly for bowl selections — and prevents anybody (Washington) from having to go outside the Pac-12 bowl affiliates to get to the post-season.
Here’s the situation: The league gets $6 million for a semifinal playoff team, and it reaps $4 million for appearance in a so-called “host” bowl — the four that are part of the playoff rotation but aren’t hosting this year (Fiesta, Cotton, Peach and Orange).
To get to one of those, it’ll take a top-12 ranking by the playoff committee. Tuesday evening marks one more release of those rankings, and Arizona figures to be at least eighth, rising from 11th last week after beating Arizona State. That assumes it jumps Michigan State (10th) and also passes UCLA and Georgia, the next two, both of which lost. Update: The Wildcats also overtook Mississippi State (now 10th) to move into seventh in the latest rankings.
So the question becomes: If Arizona loses to Oregon, does it drop from No. 8 past No. 12? Seems doubtful, but one of those 42-17 Oregon wins might do that.
Meanwhile, here’s a projection of the Pac-12 bowl lineup, and I’m basing it on Arizona staying in the top 12:
Alamo: USC. The Alamo is notoriously tight-lipped about its preferences, but it’s believed to covet somebody from LA. If it picks the Trojans, it would be going with an 8-4 team as opposed to UCLA’s 9-3, as well as minimizing the fact UCLA beat USC. But the Trojans finished with a big win over Notre Dame, UCLA stumbled against Stanford, and USC affords more of a national buzz than the Bruins.
Holiday: UCLA. It would love USC (which has never been to the Holiday), but may not be able to get the Trojans. I hear there’s more discussion of UCLA here than Arizona State or Utah. The Bruins brought a lot of fans in 2012 and ASU went to the Holiday last year. Utah will also be a consideration but doesn’t have much TV appeal.
Foster Farms: Stanford. The former Fight Hunger Bowl wants the Cardinal, and figures to get it. It’s the only bowl that Stanford fans will travel to — travel, as in, get in the car and drive 15 minutes.
Sun: Arizona State. Makes sense for proximity, and gives the Sun a 9-3 team.
Las Vegas: Utah. Ute fans haven’t been bowling since 2011, so they should be hungry to travel. And Vegas is a relatively easy hop for them.
Cactus: Washington. Good landing spot for the Huskies, who hosted ASU this year and thus didn’t make a trip to Tempe, site of this bowl. Just keep in mind, this is all predicated on the Pac-12 having two teams in the New Year’s Six bowls.