Zeroing in on Cougs and bowl games

LET'S SAY THAT all the media talking heads, pundits and internet gurus are wrong, and Washington State goes bowling this year. Where might they travel for the holidays, and what's all that offseason chatter about the Pac-12 bowl alliances changing up and switching around?

First, all the Pac-12 bowl changes that have been announced this offseason won't take place until the 2014 campaign – for 2013 everything stays the same. Here are the bowl affiliations for this season:

2013 Pac-12 bowl order
1. BCS/Rose Bowl
2. Alamo Bowl
3. Holiday Bowl
4. Sun Bowl
5. Las Vegas Bowl
6. Fight Hunger Bowl
7. New Mexico Bowl

But next year, things change. And, instead of seven, could there be eight bowls with Pac-12 tie-ins? Here's how 2014 breaks down:

Correction: For the Pac-12 champion in 2014, the Rose Bowl will serve as a semifinal game. So the Pac-12 champ would either be in the playoff or they could conceivably fall to the Alamo Bowl. The hosting will perhaps happen every three years. The Rose Bowl may not end up hosting that often, however, as the Rose Bowl committee is still determining if they want to have the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup a little more often. In years the Rose Bowl is not hosting a playoff game, the Rose Bowl will feature the No. 1 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten not in the playoff.

The Pac-12 runner up will still play in the Alamo Bowl and the opponent remains the same but with one likely twist – it'll be the Pac-12 No. 2 vs. the Big 12 No. 2. The past three bowls have seen the Big 12 No. 3 participate.

The No. 3 finisher in the Pac-12 heads to the Holiday Bowl, where they will no longer play a Big 12 opponent but instead will face off against a Big Ten team.

The No. 4 team from the Pac-12 will no longer go to the Sun Bowl in '14 but instead will head to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. And the Fight Hunger Bowl is increasing its stature. No longer will BYU, if available, be the designated opponent for the Pac-12 team but starting in 2014, the opponent will, like the Holiday Bowl, come from the Big Ten.

A few more words about the Holiday and Fight Hunger bowls – The Pac-12 will generally seed teams by record, the traditional way. But they've also left the door open to move teams around here if they determine it makes more sense to them to have a certain team in a certain bowl and/or to avoid a repeat Pac-12 participant in the same bowl.

The Big Ten will rely less on regular season records in slotting their Holiday and Fight Hunger opponents – they'll focus more on sending new teams to each game. But the Big Ten has acknowledged they consider the Holiday Bowl at a higher tier than the Fight Hunger Bowl – so it'll probably work out that the higher Big Ten finisher goes to the Holiday, but the Big Ten also reserves its right to switch things up.

The Fight Hunger Bowl will also move in 2014 from AT&T Park to the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara. Finally, yep, three of the top four bowls match the Pac-12 vs. The Big Ten. Remember that Pac-12/Big Ten alliance that fizzled? Looks like they've made a smaller postseason version of it starting in ‘14.

The No. 5 team from the Pac-12 in 2014 will now play in the Sun Bowl, (previously the No. 4 bowl) and they will still meet an ACC opponent. The ACC will feature a team that finishes third through sixth in the ACC standings. The Sun will make their selection on a rotating basis with the Belk Bowl, the Pinstripe Bowl and the Gator Bowl/Music City Bowl.

THE OTHER PAC-12 bowl affiliations that begin in 2014 will be announced by the conference during Pac-12 Media Day on July 26. But we can speculate as to what those will be…

Our guess for the No. 6 Pac-12 bowl entry is the Maaco Las Vegas bowl. The conference opponent would stay the same, the No.1 seed from the Mountain West Conference. The Las Vegas bowl was previously the No. 5 Pac-12 bowl.

Our pick for the No. 7 bowl participant is in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl held in Tempe. It would perhaps match the Pac-12 against a Big 12 team, assuming the BWWB retained that conference. The 2012 game matched the fourth selection from the Big 12 against the fourth pick from the Big Ten.

The last question: will the Pac-12 retain the New Mexico Bowl? Our guess is they won't and the New Mexico Bowl will look elsewhere.

Assuming the Pac-12 won't extend its association with the New Mexico Bowl after this season, Conference USA is being talked about as most likely to take the Pac-12's place. The 2012 New Mexico Bowl matched the Pac-12 No. 7 vs. the No. 5 MWC.

The 2014 bowl tie-ins will be a boost for the Pac-12. The competition stature has increased and the bowls, particularly the Fight Hunger, should grow in stature. The increased number of competitions against the Big Ten will help provide even more allure to the Rose Bowl in the coming years. All in all, some pretty good bowl game moves for a conference that needed them.

  • The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was formerly the Insight Bowl and before that, the Copper Bowl from 1989 until 1996. The December 31, 1992 bowl was Drew Bledsoe's final game in a Cougar uniform. WSU beat Utah 31-28 and finished No. 15 in the AP poll.

  • With respect to the Las Vegas Bowl, before you celebrate the superiority of the Pac-12 over the MWC in terms of seeding, consider that the MWC has slapped a Pac-12 team* around six of the last seven years and the last four years in a row in Vegas -- (BYU 44, OSU 20 / BSU 26; Utah 3 [*before Utah joined Pac-12] / BSU 56, ASU 24 / BSU 28, Washington 24). It may feel like it was a whole lot longer ago, but in 2006 in the Las Vegas Bowl, BYU also kicked the daylights out of Oregon, 38-8.

  • Hard to believe but the Sun Bowl, first played in 1935, is the second oldest college football bowl game in the nation behind the Rose Bowl. The Orange and Sugar bowls also began in 1935.

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