After a promising 5-1 start to the regular season, Arizona State now finds itself needing a victory in one of its final two games to ensure bowl eligibility.
On Saturday, ASU takes on the No. 6 Washington Huskies in Seattle as Chris Petersen's squad looks to rebound from its first loss of the season against No. 13 USC.
At 9-1, the Huskies are still locked in to the College Football Playoff picture, but after a loss this weekend, Washington now needs to win out to put itself back in the committee's good graces.
The postseason fate of bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams rests largely on how the Huskies finish the regular season, because despite Washington's recent loss, it still possesses the conference's best shot of earning a bid to the College Football Playoff.
Should a two-loss team such as No. 22 Washington State, No. 10 Colorado or No. 12 Utah win the Pac-12 Championship, the conference may have an outside chance at landing a team other than Washington in the College Football Playoff, but it would likely take chaos around the country for one of those teams to earn strong consideration.
Whether or not a Pac-12 team secures a spot in the College Football Playoff directly impacts the rest of the conference's bowl-eligible teams, because the Rose Bowl is not a National Semifinal game this season. That means the Rose Bowl is still obligated to take a Pac-12 team if the Pac-12 Champion secures a slot in the College Football Playoff.
If a Pac-12 team does not land a College Football Playoff berth, then the winner of the Pac-12 Championship game will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
To make ASU's postseason picture appear clearer, we examine the various scenarios if ASU finishes the season either 6-6 or 5-7.
Pac-12 bowl tie-ins
1. The Pac-12 will place a team in the Rose Bowl. The Pac-12 Champion will go to the Rose Bowl if it does not earn a College Football Playoff bid
2. Alamo Bowl
3. Holiday Bowl
4. Foster Farms Bowl
5. Sun Bowl
6. Las Vegas Bowl
7. Cactus Bowl
Scenario one: ASU finishes 6-6, the Pac-12 earns a CFP bid
If the Sun Devils finish the season 6-6 and the Pac-12 Champion earns a College Football Playoff bid, it's likely that it will be the Huskies representing the conference and that ASU will have picked up its sixth victory of the regular season over Arizona.
In this scenario, the Pac-12's No. 2 finisher, which could end up being Washington State, Utah, USC or Colorado, will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. Should Colorado lose to Washington State and then beat Utah, and USC defeats UCLA, then there would be a three-way tie for the Pac-12 South title. In this situation, the tiebreaker could come down to the three Pac-12 South teams' records in common conference games, which is the fourth potential multiple-team tiebreaker. In other words, it's a very complicated scenario.
Regardless of who ends up representing the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl in this scenario, though, each Pac-12 bowl-eligible team would move up one slot because the conference would have a team in the College Football Playoff and in the Rose Bowl.
With ASU likely finishing the season as the Pac-12's seventh bowl-eligible team in this scenario, the Sun Devils would move up one slot from the Cactus Bowl to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Teams that would finish ahead of the Sun Devils include Washington, Washington State, Colorado, USC, Utah and Stanford. Teams that still have an opportunity to become bowl-eligible include Cal and UCLA, but both teams must win their final two games and neither team owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over ASU.
Scenario two: ASU finishes 6-6, the Pac-12 does not earn a CFP bid
If the Sun Devils finish the season 6-6 and the Pac-12 does not send a team to the College Football Playoff, ASU could be headed for the Cactus Bowl for the second straight season. However, there is an alternate scenario in which the Pac-12 could land two teams in New Year's Six bowls, which would then bump all Pac-12 bowl-eligible teams up one slot and place ASU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
At 6-6, ASU would rank as the Pac-12's seventh-best bowl eligible team.
With seven bowl slots allotted to the Pac-12 this season, a 6-6 ASU team in a conference whose champion will play in the Rose Bowl could head to its second straight Cactus Bowl, unless a Pac-12 team receives an at-large bid to a New Year's Six bowl, which this year would be the Cotton Bowl.
For a Pac-12 team to earn an at-large selection to the Cotton Bowl, a team that does not win the Pac-12 Championship game would have to finish as one of the highest-rated teams outside of the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings and would have to be slotted by the College Football Playoff selection committee into the Cotton Bowl.
This scenario was a distinct possibility if Washington entered the Apple Cup undefeated and lost to a Washington State team that went on to win the Pac-12 Championship game, but became less likely when Washington lost to USC.
What that means is that if ASU finishes 6-6 and the Pac-12 does not earn a College Football Playoff bid, then ASU is likely headed for the Cactus Bowl.
Scenario three: ASU finishes 5-7, APR determines bowl tiebreakers
With 41 bowls this year, the FBS needs 82 of its 128 teams to qualify for bowl eligibility, which means more than 64 percent of teams will play in the postseason.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, 60 teams have already achieved bowl eligibility and 38 other teams have either four or five wins which makes bowl eligibility a realistic possibility for those teams.
Of the 38 teams with either four or five wins, 19 of those teams have four wins while 19 of those teams have five wins. Of the 19 teams with five wins, it's likely at least half of those teams if not more will secure at least one win over the course of their final two games to meet the threshold of bowl eligibility. Of the 19 teams with four wins, let's say one-third (6) of those teams go 2-0 over their final two games to reach bowl eligibility.
For the sake of simulating how academic progress ratings might come into play, let's say 13 of the remaining five-win teams and six of the remaining four-win teams achieve bowl eligibility by reaching the six-win marker. In this case, 19 new teams would join the 60 teams that have already won at least six games, and that means 79 teams would have reached the minimum threshold for bowl eligibility.
This exact scenario played out last season, as 79 teams recorded at least six wins, but three bowls had open slots to fill because with 41 bowls, there must be 82 bowl-eligible teams to compete.
When this happens, the NCAA turns to Academic Progress Ratings (APR) to determine a tiebreaker for all of the 5-7 teams competing for a bowl berth. A program's APR is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed to indicate a student-athlete's likelihood of graduating.
A school's APR represents a four-year rolling average and is subject to fluctuation as academic performance data from the most recent year are included.
In 2016, 72 FBS programs have superior APRs to ASU, which means that if just three of those programs listed ahead of ASU finish exactly 5-7, then in the scenario of 79 bowl eligible teams we presented, the Sun Devils would miss the cut and miss out on a bowl.
As of Tuesday evening, nine of the 72 programs with superior APRs to ASU had secured exactly five wins, while 10 more teams with superior APRs to ASU had secured exactly four wins.
As a result, ASU would need a combination of either all 10 five-win teams to win one of their final two games, and at least five of the four-win teams to either lose back-to-back games (to remain at four wins) or win back-to-back games (to jump up to six wins), to even put the Sun Devils into the position where they would be the fifth highest-rated 5-7 team in terms of APR.
While this scenario, or a scenario very similar to this one, remains a possibility, it is highly unlikely that between 15 and 19 of the teams with APRs ahead of the Sun Devils who are in the five-win range don't end up at exactly 5-7. While many of those teams will ultimately finish 7-5, 6-6 or 4-8, ASU would need a near-perfect scenario to climb into a situation in which its academic progress rating of 960 becomes relevant.
Though we'll be able to provide more exact scenarios following this weekend's matchups, the path to a bowl game with a 5-7 record looks unlikely at best for ASU.
One important factor to consider in this scenario is that a 5-7 ASU team that earned a bowl bid based off of the program's APR would not automatically be slotted into a bowl game (e.g. the Cactus Bowl) with a Pac-12 tie-in. If the Pac-12 does not produce enough bowl-eligible teams in 2016, then the Cactus Bowl is free to choose from the remaining bowl-eligible teams who have not accepted a bowl bid.
What that ultimately means is that a 5-7 ASU team could receive an at-large bid to a low-tier bowl in which a conference did not have the requisite number of bowl eligible teams to fill its bowl slots, but at this point, it's still unlikely that a 5-7 ASU team is bumped into the postseason picture thanks to its APR.
Below is a list of four and five win teams with a superior or equivalent APR to ASU. The first number listed next to a program's name is the program's APR, while the second number is the total number of wins the program has to date.
North Texas: 984--4
Boston College: 981--4
Notre Dame: 975--4
Kansas State: 975--5
South Carolina: 972--5
Mississippi State: 971--4
North Carolina State: 969--5
Scenario four: ASU finishes 7-5
With two games remaining, ASU still has a chance to finish 7-5, but it would take a victory over the No. 6 Washington Huskies and the Arizona Wildcats to achieve this mark.
The bowl scenario for a 7-5 ASU team isn't all that different than it would be for a 6-6 ASU team, because only two other bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams have seven wins this season (Stanford, USC) and both are likely headed for at least eight wins.
Should Stanford beat Cal and or Rice, and USC beat UCLA and or Notre Dame, both programs would finish with at least eight victories and maintain their slots ahead of ASU in the postseason pecking order.
In this scenario, ASU would still be headed to the Cactus Bowl as the Pac-12's seventh available bowl-eligible team based on the Sun Devils' record. If a Pac-12 team earns a College Football Playoff bid, then ASU would bump up one slot to the Las Vegas Bowl.
If Stanford and or USC were to lose back-to-back games to end the season, then a scenario exists where the Las Vegas Bowl could choose among teams with an even record. However, the most likely scenario for a 7-5 ASU team is that it ends up in the Cactus Bowl.