Pac-12 bowl projections: Washington to the playoff and USC in the New Year’s Six, leaving Oregon and Utah on the outside looking in

The start of conference play across the Pac-12 marks the debut of the Hotline’s bowl projections, with several reminders as we cast an eye to December:

— The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will host the College Football Playoff semifinals, leaving the Pac-12 champion to participate in another New Year’s Six game (likely the Fiesta or Cotton) unless it qualifies for the CFP.

— The Pac-12 is contractually tied to seven games: the New Year’s Six, Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun, LA and Independence bowls.

— The Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowl can jump one team in favor of another as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record. The Sun, LA and Independence bowls must select teams based on conference record.

— Pac-12 teams must finish with at least six wins to be bowl-eligible. The conference voted several years ago to prohibit 5-7 from participating even if there are spots available.

The bowl projections will be published in this space each Tuesday.

College Football Playoff/Sugar Bowl

Team: Washington
Comment: The Hotline picked the Huskies to win the Pac-12 title and reach the CFP before the first play of the season. Three weeks later, we feel quite comfortable with that prediction. Given the presence of Stanford and Arizona State on the schedule — but not Colorado — we feel even better.

New Year’s Six/Fiesta Bowl

Team: USC
Comment: Considering the early trajectory of the conference, it would take a stunning turn toward parity for the Pac-12 to send only one team into the New Year’s Six. We like the Trojans’ chances to qualify as an at-large team (for the second consecutive year), but they must beat Notre Dame to keep that path open.

Alamo Bowl

Team: Oregon
Comment: The playoff selection committee is typically reluctant to punish the losers of conference championship games. But the Pac-12 usually doesn’t have a bevy of teams contending for spots in the top 12. Feels like a year to disregard norms.

Las Vegas Bowl

Team: Utah
Comment: We have doubts, significant doubts, about Utah’s staying power in the conference race. But until there’s visible evidence of regression, the Utes deserve the benefit of the doubt. In Sin City, they would face a Big Ten opponent.

Holiday Bowl

Team: Oregon State
Comment: The OSU football program has participated in 11 different bowl games over the decades. Not once have the Beavers experienced the Holiday. This feels like a great match for all involved.

Sun Bowl

Team: Colorado
Comment: The Buffaloes need just three wins in nine league games to qualify for the postseason and play both Arizona State and Stanford, so we’re counting them as a lock. Whether they’re good enough to reach a top-tier bowl is another matter entirely.

LA Bowl

Team: UCLA
Comment: The absence of a challenging non-conference schedule (again) leaves the Bruins as the greatest unknown entering conference play (again). Excuse the Hotline for having less than full faith (again).

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Independence Bowl

Team: Washington State
Comment: The Pac-12 was supposed to send a team to Shreveport in the 2020 season but the pandemic had other plans. It was supposed to send a team back to the Independence next season until the collapse. So this year will be the only year. Enjoy the hospitality, Cougs.

At-large bowl

Team: Arizona
Comment: It’s early for must-win games, but the bowl math simply doesn’t work for the Wildcats (2-1) if they lose this weekend at Stanford. They will be underdogs in six of the final eight games, if not seven.


Team: Cal
Comment: With Stanford and Arizona State on the schedule, the Bears (2-1) have a chance, albeit slim, to find four more victories. The best bets, aside from the Cardinal and Sun Devils: home dates with WSU and OSU.


Team: Stanford
Comment: On the bright side, Stanford (1-2) is unlikely to finish with five wins and thus won’t be haunted by a single loss — hello, Sacramento State! — that kept it out of the postseason.


Team: Arizona State
Comment: In late August, the Sun Devils announced a self-imposed postseason ban resulting from recruiting violations committed during the tenure of former coach Herm Edwards. An epic failure of leadership, in every regard, by ASU’s administration.

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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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