Who should the Cougs be rooting for this weekend? I've looked at it every which way and I believe this would provide the most benefit to WSU's bowl outlook:
1. Colorado beating UW.
It's a gamble for Cougar fans, as the committee might toss the whole conference to the wolves but if Colorado wins, there is a very good chance USC and UW still get New Year's Six Bowl bids, and Colorado obviously would too.
2. Oklahoma beating Oklahoma State.
Some conference is going to get left out in the cold, and my take is that the Cougs need it to be the Big 12. If Oklahoma State wins, they will go to the Sugar Bowl, still leaving Oklahoma as a prime at-large candidate. If Oklahoma wins, the Big 12 is one and done.
3. Either Penn State or Wisconsin looking bad in defeat.
The winner of this game is likely going to the Rose Bowl, but the loser still getting an Orange Bowl bid would hurt the Pac-12 badly. Cougar fans want the loser of that game to be ranked behind USC.
4. Clemson beating Virginia Tech.
Clemson is already in a New Year's Six bowl win or lose, but Virginia Tech joining the mix would of course hurt the Pac-12. Florida State will get the ACC's bid to the Orange Bowl if Clemson makes the playoff, but they are also a threat to compete with USC for an open bid if Clemson falters.
It should be noted Washington State finished the 2016 regular season campaign in second place in the Pac-12 North, and t-3 overall in the Pac-12 standings with Southern Cal (7-2 Pac-12). In a nutshell, my crystal ball 3.0 has WSU as either the fourth or fifth team selected. I think it will still be a sunny bowl location, but I believe two bowl selection committees will pass over WSU because they can. I’m looking at you, Alamo and Holiday.
Let’s assume the Pac-12 gets two teams in the New Year’s Six. WSU’s competition would have the identical Pac-12 record but I just don't see the Alamo taking WSU over Colorado/USC/UW, but it could. They have the option. Meanwhile, even though WSU finished higher in the conference standings and demolished Stanford in head-to-head play, I think the Holiday is going to take Stanford regardless. Stanford is the bigger brand and Christian McCaffrey is the bigger name and the suits at ESPN see higher ratings with Stanford than Wazzu. Prove me wrong Holiday bowl committee and ESPN. I dare you.
If the Holiday passes over WSU, that would put the Cougs in the Foster Farms in Santa Clara on Dec. 28. I believe this is the most likely scenario. The Big Ten sends Foster Farms what it calls a “middle tier” team in its selection order. I see either Indiana, Northwestern or Maryland as the opponent..
The miracle scenario, where the Pac-12 secures three New Year's Bowl games, bumps WSU up certainly to the Holiday Bowl, but quite possibly the Alamo Bowl. With potential candidates including West Virginia and Oklahoma State, that committee might just decide a Mike Leach-coached team is a better candidate than Stanford, and thereby take the team with the better record and winner of the head-to-head matchup: WSU.
If WSU squeezes into to the Holiday Bowl instead, the likely opponent will be Iowa.
The nightmare scenario is where the Pac-12 receives only a Rose Bowl bid among the New Year's Day Six. And then I think WSU is in big trouble, relatively speaking. In that case, I see Selection Sunday playing out with WSU in El Paso again for the Sun Bowl.
The key for me is the New Year's Six (playoffs in Peach and Fiesta, along with Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton). WSU needs bids to come the Pac-12's way. The higher Colorado, UW and USC climb up the bowl game ladder, the more they will pull WSU up.
The route most talked about is for UW to get into the playoffs, which would allow the Rose to likely pick either USC or Colorado. But things get a lot more interesting if Colorado pulls off the upset over UW Friday night.
Again, WSU needs two Pac-12 teams to get into the New Year's Six, but getting three is at least possible. Colorado beating UW means it goes to the Rose and in turn really puts pressure on the other NYDS selection committees. UW will still be highly ranked at 11-2, and USC will still be a prime candidate. UW and USC could end up in the Cotton and Orange in this scenario. As mentioned above, I then see WSU in the Alamo or Holiday.
The problem is the Big Ten. With Penn State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, the Big Ten is advocating for both teams, along with Ohio State and Michigan to gobble up everything. It’s Barry Alvarez’ world according to Barry Alvarez, and the Big Ten is trying to position themselves to take a playoff bid, a Rose Bowl bid, and both at-large bids.
The Big Ten got greedy last year, and looked awful during bowls season. Michigan State took Stanford's playoff spot and got demolished for its trouble. Stanford in turn destroyed Iowa, whom the playoff committee argued was their next highest playoff candidate. But memories are short.