For most of the season, bowl projections aren't something to be taken too seriously. It's fun to contemplate the different scenarios, but past that, there's not really much value to them.
This week, that's different. Over the past few days, I spoke with several people intimately involved with the Pac-12 bowl selection process and developed a good understanding of the several remaining possibilities. It's important to understand these things can change quickly, but, for now, here's an educated guess on how things will play out.
Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual: Stanford
Stanford, at No. 7 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, could theoretically still make its way into the playoff, but, for now, let's go ahead and assume the Cardinal, with a win against USC, is headed to the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years. If USC wins, it will play in the game for the first time since the 2008 season. If Stanford goes to the CFP, Oregon is a strong replacement candidate for the Rose Bowl.
Valero Alamo Bowl:Oregon
Regardless of what happens in the Pac-12 championship game between Stanford and USC, Oregon is the obvious choice for the Alamo Bowl. The Ducks are the hottest team in the conference, beat Stanford and USC in the final three weeks of the season.
Possibilities: If Stanford wins, the bowl can choose from Oregon, Utah, USC and Washington State. If USC wins, the bowl can choose between Stanford and Oregon.
National University Holiday Bowl: Washington State
Here's where it starts to get interesting. The Holiday Bowl (if Stanford wins) is expected to choose either USC or Washington State. They could also pick Utah or UCLA, but neither is expected to get much consideration. USC improved its chances at being selected by the Holiday Bowl when it removed coach Clay Helton's interim tag on Monday, but the fact the Trojans were there last year is less than ideal. It's not a deal breaker -- there is not a firm rule against repeat appearances -- but bowls typically try to avoid it. Washington State's style of play is attractive to the Holiday Bowl, and the Cougars are expected to travel very well this year, having not been to a marquee bowl since the Holiday Bowl in 2003.
If USC beats Stanford, the Alamo Bowl still would probably pick Oregon and, if that's the case, the Holiday Bowl would be obligated to select Stanford.
Foster Farms Bowl: USC
The Foster Farms Bowl is in a tough spot because if USC is available, it would clearly be the most deserving choice, but because USC is about to play in the Pac-12 title game at the same venue -- Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California -- the Trojans are less appealing. I still think they're the choice (if WSU goes to the Holiday Bowl), but there's a good possibility the bowl decides otherwise. If that happens, UCLA probably would get the nod over Utah.
If USC is picked by the Holiday Bowl, Washington State and UCLA are believed to be the preferred teams.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Unlike the bowls ahead of it in the pecking order, the Sun Bowl must select based on record. If UCLA (5-4) is not selected by either the Holiday or the Foster Farms, the Sun will be obligated to select the remaining 6-3 team (Utah, USC or WSU). If UCLA lands in the Holiday or Foster Farms, the Sun will choose from the two remaining 6-3 teams, with USC the preferred option. If it came down to Utah and WSU, it's unclear which team would be preferred.
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: UCLA
Unless Stanford jumps into the playoff, the Las Vegas Bowl won't have a choice on which Pac-12 team it gets. If the Holiday and Foster Farms both pass on UCLA, the Bruins will play in Vegas. If UCLA is selected by one of those bowls (with Foster Farms a real possibility), Vegas gets the remaining 6-3 team. Because UCLA is a likely option, Vegas will have to wait before offering the other spot to either BYU or the Mountain West champion. UCLA and BYU played earlier in the season and a rematch almost assuredly will not happen.
Over the past few days, the idea of Utah playing BYU -- the Holy War in Sin City -- has also gained some steam. This wasn't the case a few days ago, according to several sources, and now BYU appears to be the heavy favorite to play in the game if UCLA is not the Pac-12 team.
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Arizona State
The Cactus Bowl will choose from Arizona State, Cal and Washington, but it's expected to come down to ASU and Cal. If Cal coach Sonny Dykes leaves before the bowl, which could very well happen, ASU is the easy choice.
Four at-large bowls I've heard discussed as possible landing spots for Pac-12 teams (and there could be more) are the Hawai'i Bowl, Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, Camping World Independence Bowl and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.