With the Utah football team dropping back-to-back games against Washington and Arizona, and with Colorado having lost five in a row, and seven of its past eight, Saturday’s regular-season finale — and Pac-12 Conference denouement — has lost a bit of intrigue.
Which means that some are inevitably turning their gaze beyond the afternoon matchup with the Buffaloes at Rice-Eccles Stadium and focusing on the Utes’ bowl game to come.
Which one will it be? And who might they face?
The Pac-12 has tie-ins to seven bowls, with a possibility for others depending on availability. While a trip to the Rose Bowl is typical for the Pac-12 champion, an appearance not guaranteed this season, as the Rose Bowl will serve as one of the College Football Playoff semifinals on this occasion.
Still, the conference champion will either go to one of the CFP semifinals (the Sugar Bowl being the other one), or will get an invite to one of the other so-called New Year’s Six games (Cotton, Peach, Orange, Fiesta).
Beyond those games, the league has affiliations with (in order of selection):
• Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28, San Antonio)
• Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 23)
• Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27, San Diego)
• Sun Bowl (Dec. 29, El Paso, Texas)
• LA Bowl (Dec. 16, Inglewood, Calif.)
• Independence Bowl (Dec. 16, Shreveport, La.).
So, what’s likely for Utah, then?
Well, the CFP and other NY6 games are out, obviously. Either Washington or Oregon seems bound for the playoff, with the other (or long-shot Arizona) perhaps destined for the Fiesta Bowl. Beyond that, though …
Before the Utes were routed by Arizona this past week, many analysts had them bound for the Pac-12′s next-best bowl, the Alamo, on account of their overall season and their history of having fans travel well to postseason games.
However, with the Wildcats now looking likely to finish third in the conference (presuming Oregon beats Oregon State in their Rivalry Week matchup), they perhaps seem bound for San Antonio.
Utah, meanwhile, is roughly in a group with the likes of Oregon State, USC, and UCLA — presuming it beats Colorado, anyway, and that the Beavers don’t upset the Ducks. That makes any of Vegas, Holiday, or Sun a possibility.
And the pundits seem pretty split between two of those options.
Sports Illustrated has been tracking Pac-12 bowl projections from a dozen knowledgeable college football sources, and the latest compilation of their predictions sees seven of them anticipating a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl, while the other five have them going to the Sun Bowl.
Las Vegas Bowl projections
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura: Utah vs. Maryland
The Sporting News’ Bill Bender: Utah vs. Illinois
Action Network’s Brett McMurphy: Utah vs. Nebraska
The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel and Scott Dochterman: Utah vs. Maryland
USA Today’s Erick Smith: Utah vs. Nebraska
College Football Network’s Oliver Hodgkinson: Utah vs. Northwestern
Fox Sports’ Bryan Fischer: Utah vs. Iowa
Sun Bowl projections
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach: Utah vs. Duke
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm: Utah vs. Miami-Fla.
College Football News: Utah vs. North Carolina State
247 Sports’ Brad Crawford: Utah vs. Miami-Fla.
Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan: Utah vs. Miami-Fla.
There are other opinions, of course.
Jon Wilner, of the Mercury News and Pac-12 Hotline, sees Utah’s time in the conference concluding with some bookend symmetry, predicting a Sun Bowl berth and noting, “The Utes’ last season in the Pac-12 could conclude in the same location as its first season in the Pac-12. They beat Georgia Tech 30-27 in the Sun Bowl on the final day of 2011.”
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