Sizing up the Pac-10 bowl picture: Cougs headed for the Sun

And now, for the interactive portion of the blog. Thanks, Swanny, for the inspiration -- ask and ye shall receive! And sorry about the size of the graphic below, those of you over 18 years old; click on it, and it will appear full size on another page. Blogger won't do it any bigger on the main page.

The assumption by most yesterday was that Oregon State's upset over USC has thrown the Pac-10 race into disarray. This is not true. Either Cal or USC still will win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl.

The only thing it really has done is all but assured that the Pac-10 -- once again -- will not be able to figure out a way to get two teams into BCS bowl games in the same year. (It's only happened one time in eight years -- 2003, when the Cougars went to the Rose Bowl and USC went to the Orange Bowl.)

While it might not seem like that big of a deal, consider this: Each team earns anywhere between $14 million and $17 million for its conference when it appears in a BCS bowl game. In the Pac-10, that money is split evenly among conference members after the individual team's costs of going to the game are subtracted.

Forget about the other benefits of getting an extra team in the BCS -- television exposure, marketing, etc. -- you think that extra million dollars or so wouldn't help every school in the conference become even more competitive?

Since we no longer have to worry about BCS scenarios, here's my look at how the Pac-10 bowl games could shake out. One thing to remember, college football fans: The bowl system is a screwy one that ain't always fair. It's marred by back-room deals and good ol' boy networks, and is driven, most of all, by the almighty dollar, which pretty much means television contracts.

Save for the Rose Bowl, just because a team finishes ahead of a team in the standings -- for example, WSU is ahead of Oregon in the standings, thanks to the Cougs' head to head victory over the Ducks -- doesn't mean it will go to the better bowl game. "Pac-10 No. 2" means that the Holiday Bowl gets the second pick of bowl eligible Pac-10 teams, the Sun Bowl the third pick, etc. Things such as ticket sales and television ratings are more important than fairness; just keep that in mind ...

January 1, 2007
Pac-10 Champion vs. Big Ten Champion (or BCS at-large)
The contenders:
Cal (7-1 overall, 5-0 Pac-10), USC (6-1, 4-1)
The darkhorses: None.
The skinny: The reason USC's loss to Oregon State means little in terms of the Pac-10 race is because both Cal and USC still control their own destiny. Cal is undefeated in the conference, and USC has just the one loss. Assuming neither is upset in the next two weeks -- obviously not a safe assumption at this point -- their matchup on Nov. 18 likely will determine the conference champ. Cal clearly has the inside track; besides having no conference losses, the Bears' remaining schedule features UCLA, Arizona and Stanford (combined record: 3-12). Should USC figure out a way to beat the hottest -- and freshest, given the bye this week -- team in the Pac-10, it's still entirely possible that USC might lose another conference game with Oregon and rival UCLA on the dockett.
The prediction: California.

December 28, 2006
Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3
The contenders:
Cal, USC
The darkhorses: Washington State (6-3, 4-2), Oregon (6-2, 3-2), Oregon State (5-3, 3-2)
The skinny: The most likely scenario here has the loser of the USC/Cal game traveling to San Diego for the Pac-10's No. 2 game. After all, Cal already has beaten both WSU and Oregon, and USC has a chance to do the same in two weeks by beating Oregon. If that happens, Oregon will be completely out of the picture, and WSU probably will be too. Oregon could find its way to the Holiday Bowl if it can beat the Trojans, get some help from Cal, and defeat suddenly resurgent Oregon State. WSU or Oregon State could get there under a scenario where it wins out, while USC beats Oregon and loses to both Cal and UCLA. Neither scenario is likely. And even if USC loses to just Cal, the Holiday Bowl poobahs will take the Trojans long before they take Oregon, WSU or Oregon State, tiebreakers be darned.
The prediction: USC.

December 29, 2006
Pac-10 No. 3 vs. Big 12 No. 4/Big East No. 4/Notre Dame
The contenders:
Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State
The darkhorses: Arizona State (5-3, 2-3), UCLA (4-4, 2-3)
The skinny: This is where it gets messy. Really, really messy. There are a litany of plausible scenarios under which either WSU, Oregon or Oregon State go to this game. It probably boils down to this: The team that wins out goes. Washington State is the most likely to do that, having only three conference games left: Arizona and Washington at home, and Arizona State on the road (combined conference record: 5-11). Given that the Cougs already have beaten Oregon at home and Oregon State and UCLA on the road, I like their chances to beat three teams in the bottom half of the conference. Oregon State has a good shot to do it too, with the biggest hurdle being Oregon at home in the Civil War. If both win out, look for the Sun Bowl to take the higher ranked team, which will be the Cougs. Oregon could win out, but it's less likely; the Ducks have to travel to both USC and OSU.
The prediction: WSU.

December 21, 2006
Pac-10 No. 4 vs. Mountain West No. 1
The contenders:
Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State
The darkhorses: Arizona State, UCLA
The skinny: Still messy. Again, there still are a lot of plausible scenarios for all three teams, but it'll probably be the team that loses only one game the rest of the way. Oregon State strikes me as a team that is rolling and still getting better; I like their chances to either win out or lose only one game. If that one game is Oregon -- and the Ducks beat USC -- OSU will be headed for the No. 5 bowl, while Oregon ends up in the Sun Bowl and WSU probably ends up here. ASU or UCLA could squeeze their way in here, by winning out, but it's tough to imagine either team doing that.
The prediction: OSU.

December 27, 2006
Pac-10 No. 5 vs. ACC No. 5 or 6
The contenders:
Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA
The darkhorses: None.
The skinny: Still messy. Any one of these five teams could land here. The most likely scenario is the worst finish among WSU, Oregon and OSU, but either Arizona State or UCLA still could jump up here with a strong finish. Unlikely. Oregon losing to both USC and Oregon State is most likely to me, landing the Ducks at this San Francisco bowl. It's a far cry from the season they had envisioned when they were ranked near the top 10.
The prediction: Oregon.

December 24, 2006
Pac-10 No. 6 vs. WAC No. 3
The contenders:
Arizona State, UCLA
The darkhorses: Washington (4-5, 2-4)
The skinny: The stronger finish between ASU and UCLA likely secures this bid. Both are close to becoming bowl eligible. Arizona State clearly has the easier finish, as UCLA still must face both Cal and USC. The Huskies could find themselves here if they can figure out a way to win out, but with road games against both Oregon and WSU, that seems pretty unlikely.
The prediction: ASU.

So, there you have it. UCLA and Washington still could both find their way into a bowl at this point, but it gets tougher. With everyone in college football playing 12 games this year, there will be a lot of bowl eligible teams. The Poinsettia Bowl will take an at-large team, and any bowl that doesn't get enough bowl eligible teams from a conference -- such as the Motor City Bowl, which gets the No. 7 Big Ten team, which really becomes the eighth team because both Ohio State and Michigan will be in the BCS -- could take a Pac-10 team. But I wouldn't count on it.

I'll try to update this feature each week.

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