Cougs' bowl picture pulling slowly into focus

THERE LOOK TO BE SIX potential at-large bowl bids for the Cougars. There's also the possibility the Cougs end up in one of the Pac-12's seven contracted bowls. And there's the chance WSU gets shunned despite being bowl eligible. Which scenario is the most likely?

I'll take Door No. 2, Monty.

Although if CougFans had their druthers, they might choose to walk through the first door and into warm, sunny Dallas on Jan. 1.

One of the big reasons has to do with bowl practices, which every coach will tell you is critical to get the younger players more quality reps and provide a stepping stone to a better tomorrow.

It's often mentioned that bowl teams get 15 practices but that's a misnomer, bowl teams operate under the same set of circumstances as the regular season – they're allowed 20 hours per week for practices and there is no limit on the number of bowl practices. Still, the New Mexico Bowl is the first bowl played, on Dec. 21 at 11 a.m. So playing in Dallas would mean more available hours of practice time.

A couple caveats here: 1) A team can practice as long as they're under bowl consideration. WSU's coaches are on the road recruiting right now and players are getting a few well deserved days off. But has been told coaches are likely return to town in a few days so that the Cougs can get in some practices late this week. 2) WSU is better positioned than many programs for the next year because Leach devotes weekly time through Thursday Night Football for the youth to take center stage.

Still, more practice hours is just that much more of a good thing. And the Cougs would maximize their practice hours with a trip to, say, the Heart of Dallas Bowl. But the most likely bowl scenario remains the New Mexico Bowl, sources have told, in part because of Mike Leach's popularity in nearby Texas and because Cougar fans are expected to travel very well.

AND Bill Moos said on Monday morning that the only Pac-12 contracted bowl the Cougs have a realistic shot at is the New Mexico Bowl. The two Pac-12 schools WSU will compete against most for that bowl, Moos said, are Arizona and Oregon State.

Arizona is a definite candidate for Albuquerque but they also played in the bowl just last year -- and bowl organizers generally don't like to bring in the same team two years in a row, (though there are exceptions, such as if a school traveled extremely well.) Oregon State is another strong Albuquerque option. But New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda was at the Apple Cup this past Friday in Moos' suite, rather than the Civil War. (So was the Kraft Fight Hunger representative but that's no longer a realistic possibility with the Apple Cup loss.)

THE OFFICIAL BOWL announcements won't be made until Dec. 8 and it's a trickle down process from the BCS bowl to the lower-tier bowls. Some of the slots can't be filled until this weekend's games are over. Some other decisions though figure to be made this week but not announced, and the Cougs' bowl destination could well be one of them. But there are lots of machinations to come and any one or combination of them could change the bowl landscape for WSU.

Moos threw cold water on the possibility the Pac-12 could get two BCS bowl berths, which would have moved everyone up a bowl slot possibility. He and host Bud Nameck also intimated Oregon State's chances at the New Mexico Bowl might be diminished because they finished the year with five straight losses.

A number of games Friday and Saturday could affect the Cougs' and the Pac-12 bowl picture. Stanford could wind up in the Rose Bowl, or fall all the way to the Sun Bowl. But from the Cougs' perspective, figure these five schools – Stanford, ASU, Oregon, UCLA, USC – fill the combination of the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Sun and Las Vegas bowls. And Washington goes to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

So it's WSU, (or Arizona/Oregon State) in the New Mexico Bowl. What about the other at-large options that two Pac-12 schools will be involved in?

It's anyone's guess how likely any of these are for the two bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams and in some cases, it depends on who wins this weekend, but the possibilities include:

Beef 'O' Brady's (Dec. 23, St. Petersburg)
Little Caesars (Dec. 26, Detroit)
Pinstripe (Dec. 28, New York)
AdvoCare V100 (Dec. 31, Shreveport)
Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31, Memphis)
Heart of Dallas Bowl, (Jan. 1, Dallas)

The bowls contracted with the Pac-12 can pick any team within a game in the standings of the best-available team. But with the Pac-12 seemingly out of the running for two BCS bowl berths, that applies more to the top end of the bowl process than to the lower half this year.

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