2013 Bowl Selection Day: How Will UCLA and the Pac-12 Fare?

Stephen Dunn

Getting ready for today's college football bowl selections by taking a final look at which games UCLA and other Pac-12 teams could be chosen for.

In just a few hours, the final BCS Standings will be announced, the four traditional BCS bowl games will announce their matchups, and the expected Florida State/Auburn National Championship Game matchup will be finalized. While much of the college football world will be waiting that show (ESPN, 5pm Pacific) with anticipation, the outlook for the Pac-12 tonight isn't looking so good.

Despite being no less than the 2nd toughest conference over the course of this season, it seems that the Pac-12 will not get a second team in as an at-large participant, losing out to double representatives from two of the ACC, Big 10 and Big XII. Of course UCLA's BCS/Rose Bowl dreams died 2 weeks ago at the hands of Arizona State, who then had their New Years hopes snuffed out last night by Stanford. Oregon may hold some slim hope of a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, orpartially vindicating some Eugene tshirt vendors as Alabama's partner in the Sugar. But Michigan State's victory over Ohio State will give the Big 10 the extra at-large spot that until the last couple of days had been expected to go to Fresno State, and then Northern Illinois.

While the Bruins and Sun Devils (and so on) will not be that invested in the BCS results, there is still plenty of bowl news and rumors to keep track of throughout the day. Earlier this week, I wrote a post looking at how the Pac-12 bowls might shake out. With the conference's representative to the Rose Bowl set and the greater BCS picture nearly in focus, I'll revisit my thoughts and those of the various commentators who come up with bowl projections for outlets like SIESPNCBS and SB Nation.

Before getting started, there is one thing to clear up regarding how the bowls choose teams. While each Pac-12 bowl picks their team in a set order, that order does not require selection of the 'best team' remaining. The conference has a so-called one-loss rule.

After the Rose Bowl and/or BCS participants from the Conference have been identified, the Conference has bowl agreements with six additional bowl games which have selection preference in the following order: Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and New Mexico Bowl. In no event will a bowl select a team that has two or more conference-game losses than the team(s) highest in the Conference standings that is available to the selecting bowl game. For example, if the highest remaining team(s) in the Conference standings when the selecting bowl position comes up has a 6-3 Conference-game record, the selecting bowl, at its option, could bypass that team(s) for a team with a 5-4 conference-game record, but could not bypass it for a team with a 4-5 or worse Conference-game record. [2011-12 Pac-12 Handbook, p.138. SPR 5-1-d-(3)]

Per this section of the Pac-12 Handbook, a bowl selection committee may choose to take either 1) the team with the best conference record that has not yet been taken, or 2) another team with the same record or one more loss than the best team. The rule does not specify how losses in the Championship Game are treated, though I assume they don't count. Making that assumption, the Alamo Bowl can select either ASU (8-1), or a team with 2 losses in conference play (Oregon at 7-2), and so on down the bowl ladder.

As of Saturday night - post Pac-12 Championship - here is how the bowl situation looks, starting with the Bruins.

UCLA - Sun Bowl (v. ACC)

As I wrote on Wednesday, under the Pac-12 rules the Bruins could have ended up anywhere between the Alamo and Fight Hunger Bowls. With ASU falling out of BCS consideration the Alamo is now out. Unless the Ducks do get that unlikely BCS spot, I think we end up right in the middle of that group with the Sun. UCLA Football has been to El Paso three times before, the last time on New Years Eve 2005, when the MJD/Drew Olson/Marcedes Lewis led Bruin squad beat Northwestern 50-38 to complete our last 10-win season.

This year's team overall is significantly better than that '05 team, but due to the conference's (too) slowly improving bowl tie-ins, will likely be returning in that squad's footsteps. At least we have some intriguing possible matchups to look forward to - UCLA v. Miami being of particular interest, with Duke and Virginia Tech the other possible ACC representatives. If Oregon does receive a BCS at-large berth, the Bruins should move up one spot to a Holiday Bowl return.

Stanford - Rose Bowl (v. Michigan State)

Not much discussion needed for this one. Stanford earned their place in the 100th Rose Bowl Game by dominating Arizona State for the second time this season, and Michigan State knocked Ohio State out of a national championship shot.

Oregon - Alamo Bowl (v. Big XII)

The Alamo Bowl's selection committee has the choice of either South Division champion ASU or northern runner-up Oregon. Both teams finished the season with 10 wins overall, though the Sun Devils had the better conference record (though with a more favorable schedule). The Alamo would do well taking either team - ASU's geographical/travel advantage could come into play - though I believe the Ducks will get this call tonight. They do have the larger national profile, helping to draw broader attention - and TV viewers - to the New Years Eve game in San Antonio. So far, CBSand SB Nation believe that Texas will be their opponent.

Oregon does retain a slim hope of receiving an at-large BCS berth tonight. I don't expect it to happen, but if it does, ASU would be locked into the Alamo Bowl.

Arizona State - Holiday Bowl (v. Big XII)

With Oregon going to San Antonio, ASU can do no worse under Pac-12 rules than play in the Holiday Bowl. I would guess that Sun Devil students, fans and alumni will somehow make the best of a few days in San Diego. The Big XII will reach a bit further down the standings for their delegate to California - Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have been named as possible opponents.

If ASU is selected for the Alamo Bowl, the Holiday could choose among Oregon, UCLA and Southern Cal. I would assume the Ducks are picked based on their record, head-to-head v. UCLA and the fact that Southern Cal is currently a dumpster fire.

Southern Cal - Las Vegas Bowl (v. Fresno State)

UCLA's 35-14 thrashing of Southern Cal was not just a display of the changing college football landscape in Southern California, but also a major blow to SC's bowl prospects. Just two weeks before, their upset win over Stanford put them as the hottest team in the conference. Winning out the season would not have gotten them into the Pac-12 Championship Game, but that along with the likely strong fan travel after the past few years of mediocre bowls - or none at all - would have made them the most desirable non-BCS team in the conference and the strongest target for the Alamo Bowl. We all know what happened next...

It is safe to assume that after last year's fiasco, the trojans will not be a contender for the Sun Bowl berth that should go to the Bruins. Washington is also eligible to be picked here, but USC will use this opportunity to take another mediocre thing from the Huskies. Fresno State is the likely opponent here - though the Mountain West has been rumored to want to flip-flop the Bulldogs into the Hawaii Bowl due to the 2014 season opener between FSU and USC. Fresno is going to be significantly weaker next season - Vegas will be their best chance to land a blow on those guys, and is easy enough for their fans to travel to in large numbers. UPDATE: Fresno State has accepted the MWC's spot in Vegas.

Washington - Fight Hunger Bowl (v. BYU)

Again, there is not much analysis needed for this pick. The Huskies are a better team than those in the bottom half of the conference, but the month of November saw the top 5 teams in the Pac-12 rise above UW as well as the 7-12th place teams. They ended the regular season solidly as the #6 team in the conference, and their bowl position will reflect that. A Christmastime trip to San Francisco isn't the worst thing in the world, and BYU is a solid opponent for them to face.

Funny enough given the Northwest rivalry, Washington would be the biggest beneficiary if Oregon gets that BCS at-large spot. The teams above UW would move up one spot on the bowl ladder - except for Southern Cal rising from Las Vegas to the Sun thanks to USC's being USC during last year's game week - making the Huskies an easy pick for the Sun committee in that case.

Arizona - New Mexico Bowl (v. MWC)

Honestly, the New Mexico Bowl is not a game that people are that excited to watch or travel to. In the Wildcats, the bowl would get the geographically closest possible team in hopes of getting fans to make the trip from one state over. Arizona's late-season upset over Oregon along with the presence of one of the nation's elite players in Ka'Deem Careymakes for a more desirable national TV matchup than Oregon State or Washington State.

One complication is that Arizona played there last year - while there is not a no-repeat rule in effect, bowls try to avoid selecting the same team in back-to-back years when there is another option. For what it is worth, Jason Kirk/SB Nationthinks that Washington will fall to this spot, though I do believe that Arizona will end up with the repeat trip. If the bowl does decide against the repeat, Washington State could be the alternate choice under the logic that the decade-long Cougar bowl drought will encourage their fans to travel in strong numbers - and stay in town longer/spend more due to the greater investment of time and money in traveling from the Northwest. Whoever represents the PAc-12 will likely play either Colorado State or San Jose State.

Washington State/Oregon State - At-Large Selections

Both the Beavers and Cougars finished the regular season with identical 4-5 conference and 6-6 overall records. That makes WSU bowl eligible for the first time in a decade. While they deserve congratulations for that, it does not ensure that they or OSU will actually be playing in a bowl game later this month. The conference bowl guarantees stop with New Mexico; assuming it selects Arizona, these two teams will be left looking for a unclaimed bowl berth elsewhere in the nation - presumably with the assistance of Larry Scott and the Pac-12 leadership.

While WSU can point to their year-to-year improvement - as well as a close 31-24 season opening loss at now-#2 Auburn - as reasons to take them over the Beavers (and other free-agent teams), Oregon State falls into the momentum trap. After a season-opening loss to an FCS team, they won their next 6 games while closing in on national recognition for the team and QB Sean Mannion in particular. But despite some solid performances, OSU lost their final 5 game of the season to enter bowl season on the worst note and holding the least desirable resume of all the Pac-12's bowl eligible teams.

CBS and SB Nation think the Texas Bowl will be the landing spot for one of these teams, though the projections disagree on which of the two will make it.

While these seem the best guesses as to where each eligible team will end up, there are definitely other ways that each bowl could decide to choose their participants. The "XXX" marks in the below table show all of the possible combinations of bowl and Pac-12 team under the conference's selection rule.

team Record Alamo Bowl Holiday Bowl Sun Bowl Las Vegas Bowl Fight Hunger Bowl New Mexico Bowl At-Large Selection
Arizona State 8-1 XXX XXX
Oregon 7-2 XXX XXX XXX XXX
UCLA 6-3 XXX XXX XXX XXX
USC 6-3 XXX XXX XXX XXX
Washington 5-4 XXX XXX XXX XXX XXX
Arizona 4-5 XXX XXX XXX
Oregon State 4-5 XXX XXX XXX
Washington State 4-5 XXX XXX XXX

This is your open thread for today's college football bowl developments. We will have a dedicated post up once UCLA's bowl destination and opponent are announced. Until then,

GO BRUINS!

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