WSU bowl projections: Where do the Cougars stand?

COUGAR PRIDE - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NOTE: The Cougs have now achieved bowl eligibility, but this is from earlier in the week as we sorted through the possibilities. Read up - we'll have updated projections in the coming days.

Throughout the season, and really since the first day he was hired, Mike Leach has refused to publicly mention any long-term goals, for the season or otherwise. "Win one game a week" and "play the next play" speak to where the focus of the team lies on a daily basis. The players bought-in, focusing only on their next opponent, next snap, and it has brought them to the cusp of bowl eligibility.

We fans don't have to keep that sharp "one-game-a-week" focus, as it has no effect on anything if we let ourselves get a little excited at the bowl prospects for our team. Every season since 2006 has had at least one game that was meaningless, played with no possibility of the post-season, this year there won't be. Meaningful November Cougar Football.

Let's allow ourselves to speculate what happens if the Cougs can get just one of the next two games. A win over both Utah and UW is obviously the best case scenario, and is obviously what the players will be trying to do. If that happens, WSU will very likely be slotted in either the Fight Hunger or New Mexico bowls (with an outside shot at leap frogging someone for Las Vegas), depending on how the rest of the season shakes out in the Pac-12. Those bowls are three of the seven so-called "automatic bids" for the conference.

In conference, WSU would like to see Oregon State beat Washington then lose to Oregon; Arizona lose its remaining two games, at Oregon and home against ASU; and USC lose to both Colorado and UCLA to make selecting WSU over them for Las Vegas easier -- a one-game better record has a much greater shot at being jumped. I think WSU's chances of getting selected over USC are better than UCLA (both are slim-to-none), but you could root for UCLA to lose out instead and be faced with the same situation around the Cougs, with only a different colored LA school.

Those scenarios probably move WSU to seventh in the conference standings if they win both remaining games, behind Oregon State (tie-breaker goes to OSU) and USC, and well ahead of Arizona and UW. Jumping either of those schools is kind of a remote possibility. It's not great that the OSU game got so remarkably out of hand, but WSU can out-travel the Beavers and the records will be even. USC has a loss to WSU on their record and a nice short history of not giving a care at all about their non-BCS bowl games. If the excitement around the program dies out a little after losing to the mighty Buffaloes and rival Bruins, there might be a shot.

Winning seven games and speculating about how we could jump the Beavers and/or Trojans for a Las Vegas or Fight Hunger bid is definitely what we all want to happen, where the worst case scenario is a definite trip to Albuquerque.

But if that doesn't all happen, and the Cougs only get one win to finish 6-6, the bowl landscape isn't quite as clear anymore.

NOTE: Figuring out all these bowl scenarios is complicated as information on alternate tie-ins often is scarce. Bear with us as we work in new information as it becomes available.

The Current State

First off, it's important to remember how the at-large selection process works: Bowls don't necessarily get the team that has that ranking -- "Pac-12 No. 7" for the New Mexico Bowl doesn't mean the seventh place team goes, for example. Rather, they get the seventh selection from that conference, which may or may not be the seventh best team. Things generally follow the final conference standings, but not always.

The Pac-12 holds seven automatic bids. That means only seven teams are guaranteed a bowl invitation. Fans remember the six-win 2006 WSU team well enough. If a team makes a non-Rose BCS bowl, like the National Championship Game, everything shifts down allowing the eighth ranked team to get an automatic invite, granted they have six wins.

PAC-12 Automatic bids
Rank Bowl Location Opponent
1 Rose Pasedena, CA Big Ten #1
2 Alamo San Antonio, TX Big 12 #3
3 Holiday San Diego, CA Big 12 #5
4 Sun El Paso, TX ACC #4
5 Las Vegas Las Vegas, NV MWC #1
6 Fight Hunger San Francisco, CA BYU
7 New Mexico Albuquerque, NM MWC # 4/5

And here are the standings as of now:

Conference Rank Team Overall Conf Record Remaining schedule
1 Oregon 9-1 6-1 @ Arizona Oregon St
2 Stanford 8-2 6-2 California Notre Dame
3 Arizona St. 8-2 6-1 @ UCLA Arizona
4 UCLA 8-2 5-2 Arizona St @ USC
5 USC 8-3 5-2 @ Colorado UCLA
6 Washington 6-4 3-4 @ Oregon St Washington St
7 Oregon St. 6-4 4-3 Washington @ Oregon
8 Arizona 6-4 3-4 Oregon @ Arizona St
9 Washington St 5-5 3-4 Utah @ Washington
10 Utah 4-6 1-6 @ Washington St Colorado
11 Colorado 4-6 1-6 USC @ Utah
12 California 1-10 0-8 @ Stanford

If WSU gets to six, the conference will have *nine eligible teams with only seven automatic invitations; the bottom two teams in the standings will need to slide into an open bowl ... and there might only be room for one.

*10 bowl eligible teams if Colorado can beat USC and Utah, or if Utah beats WSU and Colorado.

Below are the conferences, their number of bowl obligations, and the number of currently bowl eligible teams. The available bowls are guesstimated by using bowl tie-ins to a conference rank that has a possibility of not being eligible. (The easiest place I've found to keep track of all the conference's bid selection order actually is on this Wikipedia page.)

Automatic bids by conference
Conference Bids # Bowl Eligible Potential bowl available
SEC 10 9 AdvoCare V100 Independence, BBVA Compass
PAC-12 7 8
Big Ten 8 7 Little Caesar's Pizza
Big12 7 6 Pinstripe
ACC 8 8
AAC 6 4 BBVA Compass, Beef 'O' Brady's
MWC 6 5 Famous Idaho Potato
C-USA 7 6 New Orleans
MAC 3 6
Sun Belt 2 4

Bowl Location Opponent How they get open
Poinsettia San Deigo, CA MWC #2 OPEN NOW: Army (3-7) cannot get eligible Alternate bid to MAC
Little Caesars Pizza ??? Detroit, MI MAC #2 Northwestern loses one (@ Mich St, Illinois) AND Indiana loses one (@tOSU, Purdue) Alternate bid to the Sun Belt
Pinstripe New York, NY AAC #3 OPEN NOW: WVU/TCU cannot get eligible
BBVA Compass Birmingham, AL SEC #9 SMU loses two (@USF, @UH, UCF) AND Rutgers loses out (@UCF, @Uconn, USF)
Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersberg, FL CUSA #4 SMU loses two (@USF, @UH, UCF)
Famous Idaho Potato Boise, ID MWC #6 Wyoming loses one (Hawaii, @UtahSt) AND SJSU loses two (Navy, FresnoSt) AND UNLV loses two (@AF, SDSU)
New Orleans New Orleans, LA Sun Belt #1 LA Tech loses one (TULSA) AND UTSA loses two (@NorthTexas, LATech) AND FAU loses one (NM St, FIU)
AdvoCare V100 Independence Shreveport, LA ACC #7 UF loses one (G. Southern, FSU) AND Tenn loses one (Vandy, @UK) AND Miss St loses one (@Ak, Ole Miss)

[Note: dates and payouts come courtesy of Phil Steele, linked below]

The Poinsettia Bowl: Dec 26th - $500,000 payout

EDIT: Scratch the following paragraph. The bowl appears to have a backup agreement with the MAC, which has plenty of eligible teams.

Starting at the top, with Army not able to get bowl eligible, the Poinsettia Bowl is already open, and a Pac-12 team will have an advantage with it being in the region. With so much about WSU sliding into one of these openings is on Athletic Director Bill Moos' ability to sell both the program and fan support to bowl committees, this spot could very well be a solid option for a 6-6 WSU. I'd trust Moos to sell anything, and have a strong faith he'd be able to out-negotiate another team for this bowl invite. We fans help out too -- our travel history speaks for itself and gives him a little ammunition.

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Dec 26th - $750,000 payout

EDIT: We're actually not positive about this bowl's availability anymore. Per this press release the bowl is committed to filling any vacancy by the Big Ten with a team from the Sun Belt, if there is one that is eligible. However, various predictions have an eligible Sun Belt team getting passed over in favor of Pitt, Notre Dame, or WSU. Not too sure what to make of that, whether there's a buyout that needs to be paid to the Sun Belt or if the Bowl is able to select out of the conference despite what's in this release, we just aren't too sure. We do know the Sun Belt will have enough eligible teams to fill this spot if the Big Ten cannot.

With a post-season ban still on Penn State, the Big Ten will likely finish with seven eligible teams and eight bowl bids. That scenario seems the most promising of all those offered. Michigan State should beat Northwestern, and The Ohio State should beat Indiana. WSU needs both of those to happen.

The Pinstripe Bowl: Dec 28th - $1,800,000 payout

The Pinstripe Bowl in New York is another possibility that would require some salesmanship on Moos' part, as he'd probably be competing against Notre Dame for this. It's open now; the Big 12 has six eligible teams and no possibility of getting a seventh. This would be a tougher sell, though -- to both fans and committee -- as cross country holiday season travel is a bit expensive, but NY as a destination is appealing and the payout is better than anything else we have pegged as a probable bowl opportunity.

This bowl might be at the head of some other falling dominoes; depending on who the committee is able to select, it might allow some other bowl, like the Independence, if Notre Dame is chosen, to have an interest in WSU. Also, Rutgers is a pretty popular pick for the AAC side. I have no idea how WSU's playing them next season would impact the decision here, if at all.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Jan 5th - $900,000 payout

This is the fifth bid for the American Athletic Conference and is far-fetched, but still possible. Rutgers and SMU must both remain ineligible. Five-win Rutgers has two very winnable games remaining, at 0-9 UConn and home against 2-7 South Florida. Might as well start rooting against Rutgers now.

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: Dec 23rd - $537,500 payout

Another real strong candidate, with the American Athletic Conference's sixth bid. Unlike the BBVA Compass bowl, WSU only needs one of those AAC teams to remain ineligible. Four-win SMU is likely to beat South Florida, but will have its hands full with (7-3) Houston and No. 18 (8-1) UCF.

Famous Idaho Potato: Dec 21st - $375,000 payout

We're all starved for a bowl and will probably pack Bronco Stadium, but I'm sure in the quiet of your mind you'd say "dang" if WSU landed the invite. Some of the probable things that need to happen: Utah State (6-4) will be a tough one for Wyoming (4-6) to avoid losing, and San Jose State (5-5) will probably fall to top-ranked Fresno State (9-0) and have a tight game with Navy (6-4). But what brings this close to improbable for WSU is it's real hard to see UNLV (5-5) dropping to Air Force (2-7). Stranger things have happened, and I'll take any excuse to root for a service academy.

New Orleans Bowl: Dec 21st - $500,000

Now this would be fun, but it'd take a little magic to get here. This is the sixth bid for Conference USA. Louisiana Tech (4-6) needs to lose to Tulsa (2-8) and beat UTSA (5-5). UTSA needs to also lose to North Texas (7-3) before losing to La Tech, and FAU (4-6) needs to lose to either New Mexico State (1-9) or FIU (1-9). We need Florida Atlantic University to absolutely nose dive if we want to have a shot at getting in here. And since this bowl is open to a range of selections in both C-USA and the Sun Belt, the odds aren't all that good they'd get someone else unless they had to.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Dec 31st - $1,150,000 payout

It's not all that difficult to imagine 4-6 Florida losing to No. 2 (and 10-0) Florida State, 4-6 Tennessee losing to 6-4 Vanderbilt, or 4-6 Mississippi State losing to No. 24 (and 7-3) Ole Miss. It is a little tough to see WSU winning this invite over other available teams that might be more regional (or Notre Dame), but it is still possible. Shreveport isn't exactly New Orleans, but it is only a five hour drive away from Bourbon Street.

Let me know in the comments if you see some other scenarios that could play out. There are a ton of moving parts and I didn't toy around too much with who might get the at-large BCS bids and the chain reaction that sets off.

If I had to guess where (6-6) WSU goes, I'd guess we book tickets to Detroit for a Pizza Bowl with MACtion, but who knows!

Here are some current bowl projections:

SI's Stewart Mandel -- WSU IN NEW MEXICO BOWL

ESPN's Ted Miller -- no WSU in automatic PAC-12 bid

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards -- No WSU

SB Nation's Jason Kirk -- no WSU

Phil Steele -- WSU IN HEART OF DALLAS BOWL

A moment to talk about this one, if I may, since it's a bit different. Here's how it might go down.

Wisconsin takes an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl, leaving eight bids and only six eligible teams in the B1G. If Stanford wouldn't have lost to USC they had a shot at the Orange Bowl, making the New Mexico bowl easier to obtain for (6-6) WSU. The Heart Of Dallas Bowl is played in the Cotton Bowl on January 1 with a $1.1 million payout. This seems like a really fun option for fans, with some recruiting functionality built in it too.

This may very well be the best bowl option. Root for No. 22 Wisconsin to beat No. 25 Minnesota and (6-4) Penn State, as they have to win out to get to 10-wins. *And Fresno State or NIU needs to qualify for a BCS game -- that is be in the Top 12, or be in the Top 16 and ranked better than any Automatically Qualifying (AQ) Conference's champion. The No. 15 Fresno State Bulldogs are doing just that thanks to No. 17 UCF in the AAC, so really ... thanks No. 20 Louisville. The Orange bowl has first crack at selecting the at-large, assuming the B1G/PAC-12 aren't in the national title game (the Rose Bowl would then choose a replacement first), Wisconsin should be pretty high up and available as the No. 3 from the B1G (second place Michigan State would go to the Capital One Bowl).

*If Florida State is not in the National Championship, if the Seminoles are in the championship I don't think it matters and Wisconsin could get the invite with or without a non-AQ BCS team. This is all basically trying to avoid Clemson being slotted above Wisconsin in the at-large pecking order, which wouldn't matter if Clemson becomes ACC No. 1 Orange Bowl tie-in by default with FSU in the championship, Wisconsin would be their opponent. Go Badgers!

CBSsports -- WSU IN LITTLE CAESAR'S PIZZA BOWL

National Football Post -- No WSU

USA Today -- No WSU

If anyone sees an alternate bowl scenario we didn't think of, or something about the ones presented that may not be right, please leave a comment! We'll update this post accordingly.

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