A Final Look at UCLA's Bowl Picture, and Projections for the Pac-12

Where and when are these guys going to play next? - US PRESSWIRE

Taking a look at the final bowl projections before the BCS bowls announce their selections and the remaining bowl games are freed to make their own plans.

The Pac-12 Championship Game over with, and the remaining conference championships and other relevant regular season games are also behind us. That means that it is really time to obsess over bowl games, and nearly time to find out where the Bruins (and many of us) will be making travel plans to for the end of December.

Friday night's loss to Stanford guarantees that UCLA will not be playing in a BCS-affiliated bowl, and will instead be selected under the conference's normal bowl selection procedure. I wrote about that process last week, and will cover some of the important points later on in this post while also going over some of the bowl projections that have come out recently - after the last UCLA/Stanford game as well as earlier in the week.

Before going any further, I'll share some notes on the relationship between the bowl games and the conference. The Pac-12 Conference holds an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series, which goes to the winner of the conference championship game. That team goes to the Rose Bowl unless it is ranked #1 or #2 in the final BCS rankings, in which case it plays in the national championship game. The conference has agreements with six other bowl games for its teams to play in, which choose among bowl-eligible teams in a predetermined order, as follows:

  1. Rose Bowl - v. Big Ten #1
  2. Alamo Bowl - v. Big XII #3
  3. Holiday Bowl - v. Big XII #5
  4. Sun Bowl - v. ACC #4
  5. Las Vegas Bowl - v. Mountain West #1
  6. Fight Hunger Bowl - v. Navy
  7. New Mexico Bowl - v. Mountain West #4
Aside from the Rose Bowl, a BCS-affiliated bowl may choose one team from the Pac-12 as an at-large participant - ahead of any other bowl game - but is not required to do so unless 1) a Pac-12 team that did not win the conference is ranked #1 or #2 overall, in which case it advances to the national championship game; or 2) a Pac-12 team that did not win the conference is ranked #3, or #4 but ahead of all other teams under 'at-large' consideration by the BCS, in which case it is guaranteed a BCS game.

In tomorrow's final BCS ranking, Oregon should be in the top-4, but ranked behind Florida, which will take the automatic at-large BCS spot that I described in 2). Regardless, there is no reasonable doubt that Oregon will play in a BCS game, likely the Fiesta Bowl. This guarantees that this year, each bowl-eligible team in the Pac-12 will play in a bowl, and causes them to move up the bowl ladder by one spot.

When looking at that list of bowl games, and the ranking within each conference (ie. ACC #4) for each game, you need to remember that the bowls are not obligated to strictly choose the 'best available team' when picking which teams to invite from each conference. The particular rules vary a bit by conference: The Pac-12 holds its affiliated bowls to the following criteria: Each bowl must select the available team with the best conference record, OR a team with a record no more than one game worse in the Pac-12 regular season.

UCLA and Oregon State are tied for the best conference record of non-BCS teams at 6-3. There is a three-way tie behind them at 5-4 between ASU, Southern Cal and Washington. Arizona has the worst record among bowl eligible teams at 4-5. Under the bowl rules, a bowl committee could choose any or all of the ASU/USC/UW grouping before taking the Bruins or Beavers, or choose Arizona over any of that trio. Thankfully for us and for our friends in Corvallis, the projections do see those top two holding steady, but without any consensus as to which team will be picked by each of the top two bowls.

With the large number of projections out there, I'll break up the projection into two parts, starting with the projections made by conference beat-writers and bloggers.

Projector Rose Bowl Fiesta Bowl Alamo Bowl Holiday Bowl Sun Bowl Las Vegas Bowl Fight Hunger Bowl New Mexico Bowl
Kevin Gemmell - ESPN Pac-12 Blog Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Jon Wilner - SJ Mercury News Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Cliff Kirkpatrick - Corvallis Gazette-Times Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona

Two weeks ago, there was still plenty of variation between the projections, among the regional writers as well as from the national columnists and outlets. This week, not so much. Here is what the nationally-focused outlets see for the conference.

Projector Rose Bowl Fiesta Bowl Alamo Bowl Holiday Bowl Sun Bowl Las Vegas Bowl Fight Hunger Bowl New Mexico Bowl
Jason Kirk - SB Nation Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Jerry Palm - CBSSports.com Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Brad Edwards - ESPN Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal ASU Washington Arizona
Mark Schlabach - ESPN Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
National Football Post Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Stewart Mandel - SI.com Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Scout.com Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
Phil Steele Stanford Oregon Oregon State UCLA Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona
USA Today Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal ASU Washington Arizona
Dr. Saturday - Yahoo.com Stanford Oregon UCLA Oregon State Southern Cal Washington ASU Arizona

Since the last time I checked in with these guys, there have been some surprising results on the field (particularly Wazzu beating Washington in the Apple Cup) and some rethinking in terms of how the bowl selection committees will act. That loss in the Apple Cup causes Washington to fall from an expected Sun Bowl berth to a projected game in Las Vegas against Boise State. It also appears to lock Southern Cal into the Sun Bowl.

Arizona's loss to ASU meant more than handing over the Territorial Cup - it also means that the Wildcats have traded a Christmas in San Francisco for a mid-December spell in Albuquerque. ASU has a slight chance of jumping the Huskies for the Las Vegas Bowl, but are likely to take that Fight Hunger Bowl bid.

The entirety of the bowl picture for UCLA and the Pac-12 will not be known for another day or two, but some of the bowl opponents are already set: Stanford will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Oregon will play Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. The team picked by the Las Vegas Bowl will play Boise State while the Fight Hunger Bowl pits Navy against a Pac-12 foe.

The Alamo Bowl is expected to pit UCLA/Oregon State against Oklahoma State, while the Holiday Bowl sees the remainder of that duo versus either TCU, Texas Tech or West Virginia. Thanks to the postseason ineligibility of Miami and UNC, Southern Cal will play the #6 ACC team, expected to be Georgia Tech or NC State. Assuming that Arizona ends up in the New Mexico Bowl, they will play Nevada.

And by the way, can we please get some better bowl tie-ins, Larry Scott? Adding the Alamo Bowl to our mix is a good start, but when the Big Ten gets its 3rd and 4th place teams in prime New Years Day bowl games (and the 6th SEC team!), there is plenty of room to improve. Heck, the scheduling of the New Mexico Bowl along with final exams means that Arizona will not be able to take advantage of its fully allotted bowl practice time (Rich Rodriguez says What!?).

The BCS Selection Show will be airing on ESPN tonight at 5:15pm Pacific. The show is not expected to give many surprises, but it is the necessary first step allowing the lower bowls to begin making their selections. Until then - and still afterward - there is plenty to talk about in here.

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