UCLA football's regular season is over, and without a Pac-12 Championship game bid to prepare for, there is little for the team or for us to do except wait to see what happens this weekend when the Pac-12 champion is decided, the playoff committee seeds the playoff and remaining major bowl games, and the remaining bowls begin making their selections.
While the loss to Stanford knocked the Bruins out of consideration for any of the major bowls, there is still the question of where the team will be traveling and who they will be playing at the end of the month. My feeling at the moment is that UCLA will end up in the Alamo Bowl, but any bowl game except the Cactus is theoretically in play. After discussing the Pac-12 bowl tie-ins, eligible teams and rules governing selections, I will go over the possible destinations for the Bruins (and the rest of the conference).
Here is the Pac-12's 2014 Bowl Game lineup (via the 2014 Pac-12 Football media guide - PDF)
- Rose Bowl (or other 'Big-6' Bowl, if Pac-12 Champion does not earn a playoff bid), Pasadena, Ca. January 1, 2015 v. Big 10 (or seeded playoff opponent).
- Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Tx. January 2, 2015 v. Big 12.
- Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Ca. December 27, 2014 v. Big 10.
- Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Ca. December 30, 2014 v. Big 10.
- Sun Bowl, El Paso, Tx. December 27, 2014 v. ACC.
- Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, Nv. December 20, 2014 v. MWC.
- Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Az. January 2, 2015 v. Big 12.
Yeah, the conference's bowl tie-ins are still lagging. At least there has been some progress since the Tom Hansen years, with only one non-power 5 conference opponent in the 2014 bowl lineup. And do keep in mind that if a team other than the Pac-12 champion finishes in the top-12 of the playoff committee's final pre-bowl game rankings, that team will be placed in one of the big-6 bowl games.
The numbered order above is the order in which the bowls will pick teams - with the Rose Bowl being one of this year's national semifinal games, read it's entry above as signifying the Pac-12's automatic big-6 bid. If a 2nd Pac-12 team finishes in the top-12, it comes off of the board between the Rose and Alamo spots, sliding all bowl games after the Rose down one place in the selection order.
And here are the final regular season standings, in the order which the bowls will choose their teams - full season records are in parentheses, but bowls do not have to factor those in while making selections. Teams who are tied below are considered equal for bowl selection purposes.
- Oregon, 8-1 (11-1)
- Arizona, 7-2 (10-2)
- tie, 6-3.
- Arizona State (9-3)
- UCLA (9-3)
- Southern Cal (8-4)
- tie, 5-4.
- Utah (8-4)
- Stanford (7-5)
- Washington, 4-5 (8-5)
Any teams selected for one of the major bowl games by way of winning the Pac-12 title or finishing in the national top-12 is removed from the above standings/ordering before the remaining bowls begin selecting. If both Arizona and Oregon are taken, the ASU/UCLA/USC trio are considered the 'best teams available'.
The traditional rule governing Pac-12 bowls is that bowl selection committees may select the team with the best available record, or may select a team with one more loss than the best available team(s) has - if the best team left has a 6-3 record, a bowl could pick that team or a team with a 5-4 record. Per a recent post by Jon Wilner, the conference has modified this rule for 2014.
... the Pac-12 has changed the selection rules as they pertain to the bottom rung of bowls: The Sun, Las Vegas and Cactus are required to select teams in order of finish, so a 5-4 team, for example, cannot be passed over in favor of a 4-5 team.
While the Sun, Las Vegas and Cactus bowls must take the best remaining team by conference record, without any contrary word from the Pac-12 I'll assume the old rule still governs the Alamo, Holiday and Foster Farms Bowls.
With the Bruins out of consideration for the Rose Bowl or other Big-6 game, I'll look at the remaining games on the Pac-12's bowl ladder, looking at how the Bruins could fit into each possible destination and guessing how the conference will shake out.
Alamo Bowl - prediction: UCLA
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I believe that San Antonio is UCLA's most likely destination. Assuming that Arizona is out of the picture, the Alamo may choose from any of the five 6-3 or 5-4 teams. While Utah fans are likely excited to travel after a couple of bowl-less seasons, I can't imagine the Alamo picking either 5-4 team, leaving UCLA/ASU/USC to chose from. While the Bruins' head-to-head wins over the other teams does not have to be considered in making the pick, Chris Foster reports that the Alamo selection committee favors the Bruins, while several of this week's projections also have the Bruins in San Antonio. UCLA's regular season trip to Jerry World likely won't work in our favor when considering fan travel back to Texas, but a unique destination in San Antonio and a strong opponent (possibly Oklahoma) will give the committee confidence in a strong enough turnout and TV viewership to make the pick.
Holiday Bowl - prediction: Southern Cal
Until reading some of the recent bowl projections over the last couple of days, I hadn't realized that Southern Cal has never played in the Holiday Bowl. Considering the long history that our conference has with that game, it seems pretty surprising. While the game does not have an official no-repeat rule, I believe the Holiday committee will not choose ASU for a 2nd straight season if they miss out on the Alamo Bowl. Utah could be taken with the rationalization that their fans will travel in large numbers for their first 'significant' bowl game as a Pac-12 member (Jon Wilner has this occurring in his bowl predictions), but I just don't see them jumping one of the Los Angeles teams, or an ASU team with the (non-binding) head to head advantage. If USC goes to the Alamo Bowl, then the Bruins will be back in San Diego.
Foster Farms Bowl - prediction: Arizona State
Here is a bowl that UCLA Football has too many negative experiences with, having lost in each of the game's previous incarnations (Silicon Valley Classic, Emerald Nut Bowl, and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl). This year, the game has bumped up its payout, moved up the bowl ladder and moved into new digs at the 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara. Here's where things get a little crazy, in that the Foster Farms committee have the option to choose 5-4 Stanford over the remaining 6-3 team(s) under the theory that the local team will sell more tickets/create better marketing synergy/some other BS. After watching UCLA's 2012 Pac-12 Championship game appearance inside a half-empty Stanford Stadium and the similarly sparse crowds toward the end of the current season, I just don't think the Cardinal fan base is strong enough to overcome the available 6-win team. If ASU is taken by the Alamo Bowl, then I expect the Bruins to end up here.
Sun Bowl - Prediction: Utah
If Arizona gets placed in a Big-6 bowl and Foster Farms selects Stanford, then the Sun Bowl would be required to take UCLA as the best remaining team. Considering the Bruins' finished last season here, I expect the Sun committee to lobby the conference to keep this scenario from occurring - if the Foster Farms Bowl is left with UCLA/Stanford/Utah as choices, I can see the Pac-12 'suggesting' that UCLA go to Santa Clara, or at least that Stanford is not taken, leaving one of the 5-4 teams for their consideration. In an unlikely but theoretically possible scenario, if Arizona falls out of the final top-12 AND Stanford does jump up to the Foster Farms Bowl, then the Sun Bowl would have to take one of ASU/UCLA - they would almost certainly take the Sun Devils over a Bruin repeat. Realistically, left with the choice of Stanford or Utah, they take the Utes due to the stronger expected traveling fanbase.
Las Vegas Bowl - Prediction: Stanford
If you take another look at the penultimate sentence from the Sun Bowl writeup, you will see a theoretical Nightmare Scenario in which Stanford jumps to the Foster Farms Bowl, and ASU goes to the Sun Bowl, leaving UCLA to fall all the way down the ladder to make another mid-December trip to Las Vegas. This does appear to be an extreme stretch, but it is possible and the worst case scenario for the Bruins - and certainly not what Brett Hundley came back to UCLA for. The far more likely scenario is that Las Vegas will be left with whichever of the Stanford/Utah duo is not taken by the Sun Bowl. Since I believe that Utah is the more likely pick for that game, the Cardinal slot in here. Quite a drop from their BCS run.
Cactus Bowl - Prediction: Washington
This is the Pac-12 bowl game that takes the least amount of guesswork to work through. If Arizona does get placed in one of the major bowls by the playoff committee, then the Cactus will be left with just Washington to select. If Arizona falls into the regular Pac-12 bowl ladder, then it must select whichever of Utah/Stanford does not get picked by the Las Vegas Bowl. The Huskies would then fall into the pool of teams looking for a lower-tier bowl game with an empty spot due to a conference not being able to fill its full allotment of eligible teams. With 8 wins and a strong national profile, I can't imagine that UW would have trouble finding a spot in that scenario.
Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game will likely give us some idea of whether the conference will get one or two teams into the major six bowl games - unless Arizona gets blown out Oakland Raiders style, I doubt they will be left out. But that will not be officially decided until the playoff committee releases its final rankings on Sunday. While UCLA could end up in nearly any of the conference's tied-in bowls, the most likely scenarios place the Bruins in the Alamo or Foster Farms Bowls, with the Alamo seemingly the top option.