TEMPE, Ariz. — The Pac-12 bowl picture is a mess. As many as 10 teams could become bowl eligible and the conference’s top team, Stanford, was not among the top 10 teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday.
That could create a game of musical chairs, with 10 teams vying for the conference’s seven bowl affiliations while the other three hope for an at-large bid to avoid being left out in the cold.
Unless it wins its final four games, Arizona State (4-4) will likely be one of those teams scrambling for a bid, assuming it wins two more games to become bowl eligible, which is not a given.
The Sun Devils play at Washington State (5-3) this week, followed by home games against Washington (4-4) and Arizona (5-4), before closing the season at California (5-3). All four of those opponents are also trying become bowl eligible.
We caught up with three writers who cover the Sun Devils on a daily basis to get their thoughts on four questions. Here are the responses form the Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller, Devils Digest’s Hod Rabino and Sun Devil Source’s Chris Karpman.
How do you see these final four games playing out for ASU?
Haller: “I actually think they have three wins out there. I’m probably in the minority on that. I think they will beat Washington State just because it’s a bad matchup for Washington State. ASU has beaten them by an average of 31 points since (ASU coach Todd) Graham and (Washington State coach Mike) Leach have come into the conference. I think they’ll beat Washington at home and then the other two are a toss-up.”
Rabino: “With the inconsistency that ASU has presented all year, it’s anyone’s guess, but I think those are all winnable games. When I looked at the schedule in the preseason, I thought that if they had to make a run in November it was very feasible. I think they can win all four games but in reality you might be closer to two or three games. I would say 7-5.”
Karpman: “The most likely scenario is 2-2 and they end up 6-6 somehow. I don’t like Washington State matchup-wise for ASU, especially playing there. I’m predicting a loss this game but I do think they will beat Arizona and probably one of the other two opponents, Washington or Cal, to get to 6-6.”
What are the Sun Devils’ realistic bowl possibilities?
Haller: “The first College Football Playoff rankings did not do them any favors. Every ASU fan needs to start cheering for Stanford or Utah to get in that top four. If not it’s just too bunched up. Oregon is really the key team because what mid-level to lower-level bowl in the Pac-12 affiliations is not going to jump to take Oregon? They are never available. That messes ASU up. The one I keep looking at is the one right here: the Cactus Bowl. It’s not at Sun Devil Stadium. It’s downtown (Chase Field) so maybe that would be enticing to fans.”
Rabino: “I think the Las Vegas Bowl is the first bowl you would point to, but there’s also the Cactus Bowl, which ironically won’t be played at Sun Devil Stadium this year but is probably another realistic possibility if the Cactus Bowl officials want to generate as many ticket sales as possible.”
Karpman: “The Cactus Bowl and the (Kraft) Fight Hunger Bowl seem like the two most likely scenarios at this point unless there are seven bowl teams also eligible ahead of them in which case maybe they end up in a non-affiliated Pac-12 Bowl. I see that as an outside possibility at this point.”
Where do you think they will land?
Haller: “The Cactus Bowl. It might come down to that last game between Cal and ASU but you would think a Phoenix-area bowl game would lean toward ASU. I haven’t talked to anyone at the Cactus Bowl yet. That’s just my take.”
Rabino: “I would have to say the Cactus Bowl at 7-5. Even if ASU is 6-6, which would point more to the Vegas Bowl, I’m sure the Cactus Bowl officials are going to make a big push to land ASU to make sure they can generate more ticket revenue. Granted, that comes at the expense of hotel and car rental revenue, but I think the bottom line is you want to put people in the seats.”
Karpman: “The Cactus Bowl. I don’t think ASU is going to be that exciting to bowls. The (Kraft)Fight Hunger Bowl will probably want to go with a team that has more proximity. Unless (the Sun Devils) win three out of the last four games, I don’t think they can rise above those two bowls.”
Could ASU be left out in the cold of Pac-12 affiliated bowls, or left out of all bowls?
Haller: “I don’t think so. I think Arizona State has established itself. It’s not a brand name in college football. It’s not up with Alabama and Oklahoma and Notre Dame, but I would think they’d have more appeal than a team like Indiana. They’re pretty much a perennial preseason top-25 school. I think that would help them out within the conference. As far as Pac-12 bowls, that’s where I think the one here saves them. Again, I have not talked to the Cactus Bowl so I don’t know what they’re thinking but as far as getting a crowd — and that’s what bowl season is all about — that is ASU’s trump card. Arizona could complicate things because they would be appealing for the same reason. If Arizona is also a possibility and Arizona wins the Territorial Cup, maybe they go in that direction.”
Rabino: “It’s a possibility. I don’t think anybody could sit here and guarantee you it’s not going to happen. Obviously, the bowls are concerned with who can travel best so now the matter is if you’re looking at ASU and Washington, both at 6-6, do you think that it’s worth your while to put Washington in the Cactus Bowl when they’re not going to bring as many people but will spend more money in the state as far as hotels and rental cars and restaurants? Or do you go the safer route with Arizona State just to make sure your ticket sales are not going to suffer? It just depends on what criteria the bowl officials are looking at. But, at 6-6 with that scenario of 10 bowl eligible teams from the conference, ASU could certainly be left out completely.”
Karpman: “There are a couple independent bowls where there is a possibility or bowls that have other affiliations where they may not get enough eligible teams from their leagues. I would say it’s 50-50 that if they end up 6-6, they don’t get a Pac-12 affiliated bowl, but I would think they’ll get a bowl bid. I’m not a fan of 6-6 teams going to bowls, by the way.”