Sorting out Cal, Pac-10 Bowl Picture

Cal has underachieved the last two seasons playing in the Armed Forces and Emerald Bowls in 2007 and 2008, respectively, after winning a share of the Pac-10 in 2006. The 2009 season was the year many expected the Bears to contend for an outright title and earn the school's first Rose Bowl berth in over 50 years. Well, the Pac-10 title is unlikely, but Cal can still play in an upper tier bowl…

Never has the BCS standings shaken out so crazy during its first three initial weeks of release. With the top three in the standings, Florida, Alabama, and Texas, likely to remain there until the final week of the season, it doesn't seem the Pac-10 will have a shot to move into the National Championship Game.

Oregon, the Pac-10's highest ranked team at No.8, is destined for the Rose Bowl if they win, at the very least, at Stanford and at Arizona, in the coming weeks. USC, despite losing by 27 at UO, remained in the top 14 of the BCS standings at No 12. As long as the Trojans win out, there will remain a very attractive at-large option for the three other BCS bowl games, especially the Fiesta Bowl.

Where does this leave the California Golden Bears?

Cal currently is bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season, a school record. But the Bears need to win at least one more game to secure a bowl spot as the Pac-10 only has six bowl tie-ins and as many as eight Pac-10 teams could become bowl eligible.

It would seem Cal's best bowl opportunity would be the Holiday Bowl if they won out with wins over Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford and Washington. The Bears could even lay claim to a piece of the Pac-10 title if the Ducks somehow lost two of its next four games. The Bears will likely not win any of the tiebreakers with losses to Oregon and USC. But could Cal backdoor its way into the BCS?

The Bears are currently ranked No 20 in the BCS standings. The best chance for Cal to reach the BCS would be for Oregon to win out and hope Texas, Iowa, and Cincinnati lose one game. And the voters and computers rank the Ducks over unbeaten non-BCS schools TCU and Boise State, who beat UO 19-8 in week one, to play the SEC champion for the national championship.

If the Ducks play in the national title game, vacating their automatic bid to the Rose Bowl in the process, it opens the door for another Pac-10 program.

The Rose Bowl would have the second at-large selection after the national championship game is set, assuming UO is ranked No. 2 in the final BCS standings behind the SEC champion. The Sugar Bowl would get the first at-large selection in that scenario likely taking the SEC Championship Game loser.

The Rose Bowl, wanting to keep tradition, would jump at the opportunity to select a qualifying Pac-10 team to face the Big 10 champion on January 1, 2010. While a 10-2 USC team will be ranked higher than a 10-2 Cal team, we cannot see any scenario where the Rose Bowl would not want to take a team, and fans, that have not been to Pasadena in over 50 years over one that has played there five out of the last six years, including four straight.

Now, if UO doesn't make it to the national championship, and Texas does, then the Fiesta Bowl would have the No. 1 or No. 2 at-large selection. With the likelihood of the Big 12 not having another team ranked in the final top 14 of the BCS standings, the Pac-10 and Big 10 qualifying teams or Notre Dame, if eligible, become attractive options. But will the Fiesta Bowl choose the Bears over USC? We don't think so.

But that is a lot of ifs.

It's not out of the question but Cal first must take care of Oregon State this week in Berkeley. The Beavers have never lost to a Jeff Tedford coached team at Strawberry Canyon.

The Bears can't afford another home loss in the next two weeks. Wins over OSU and Arizona in the subsequent week will likely put Cal in the BCS top 14, placing the Bears in qualifying position to earn an at-large BCS selection. Then they must travel to Stanford for the Big Game before a bye Thanksgiving week. They end the season at a very much-improved Washington team.

This is how we the bowls shaking out for the Pac-10 and where Cal fits into the mix.

BCS National Championship Game - Only Oregon has a shot but the Ducks need much help as stated above.

Rose Bowl - Oregon has this all but locked up if they just take care of business. Only Stanford or Arizona, since both have yet to play UO and USC, can derail the Ducks chance at an outright Pac-10 title and tiebreakers to boot. If the Ducks lose three of its next four, USC could claim the Pac-10 title and tiebreakers if it runs the table. Cal's only shot at the Rose Bowl is if UO is playing for the national title.

BCS Bowl- USC has the best shot to land one as the Trojans only need to win out and probably will do so. The Fiesta Bowl would be likely destination for another Pac-10 team if Texas were playing for the national title. Arizona would be attractive but the Wildcats would have to beat Arizona State and win three of four at Cal, vs. Oregon, and at USC to have any chance.

Oregon is another option if the Ducks finish 10-2 and Stanford or Arizona win the Pac-10 and go to Rose Bowl. However, we don't see the Fiesta Bowl taking any Pac-10 as at-large berth over USC, save Arizona, which makes a 10-2 Cal's chances remote.

Holiday Bowl - Let's assume Oregon and USC are both in BCS bowls otherwise this is USC's bowl no matter how they finish the season if they are not an at-large BCS selection. Arizona, Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State are other likely participants. But the Beavers are the only the team that would have to win out to be seriously considered. If Stanford can upset either Oregon or USC and Cal sweeps it's next two homes games, the Cal-Stanford winner will likely play here.

Sun Bowl - Arizona is the preferred choice because of proximity. Washington (3-5) comes into play if they win out. The Husky fans have not been bowling since 2002, and their faithful would travel in droves to El Paso on New Year's Eve.

Oregon State played here last year and Stanford is destined for the Emerald Bowl if not playing in a higher tier bowl. For Cal, is this better than Las Vegas? If Arizona is playing in the Holiday Bowl, we can see an 8-4 Cal team here over a repeat trip to the Emerald Bowl.

Emerald Bowl - As stated above, if Stanford wins at least six games this is their destination. If the Cardinal is unavailable, Arizona, Cal, and Washington are options. This is likely the Stanford-Cal losers bowl home.

Las Vegas Bowl - With the fifth option this year, Vegas would love to have Arizona State or Washington. Arizona played here last year. Stanford won't drop this far down the pecking order. But since UW and ASU have much work to do just to be bowl eligible, Oregon State looks destined for Vegas if they don't win out. Cal could drop here if it beats the Beavers but loses three straight to end the season.

Poinsettia Bowl - There is a possibility the Pac-10 will could have only five bowl eligible teams as only Cal, Oregon, and USC are currently bowl eligible leaving the first-year agreement with San Diego bowl game possibly without a Pac-10 participant. Even if conference has six bowl eligible teams, it is very likely two teams will play in the BCS again leaving this bowl without a Pac-10 team.

With that said, if the Pac-10 is playing in this bowl this year, the participant is expected to be no better than .500. Arizona State, UCLA, and Washington are still fighting for the bowl lives. UCLA has the best shot to win this battle since the Bruins host the Huskies and Sun Devils. Cal would have to lose out to drop this far in the bowl pecking order.

Cal Sports Digest's BCS and Pac-10 Bowl Predictions as of Nov. 3

BCS National Championship – Florida vs. Texas
Rose Bowl – Oregon vs. Iowa
Orange Bowl – Georgia Tech vs. Cincinnati
Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. Penn State
Fiesta Bowl – USC vs. TCU

Holiday Bowl – Cal vs. Oklahoma
Sun Bowl – Arizona vs. Nebraska
Emerald Bowl – Stanford vs. North Carolina
Las Vegas Bowl – Oregon State vs. BYU
Poinsettia Bowl – Utah vs. at-large (we don't see a seventh Pac-10 team becoming bowl eligible)

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