PULLMAN — The luxury of looking ahead to the next opponent is not afforded to losers of the Apple Cup, and the Washington State Cougars and their fans must stew in the indignity of their 45-10 loss to Washington for at least another week.
But the sun also rises, and unlike the losers of so many past Apple Cups there will be a new dawn this season for the Cougars. Once the conference championship games have been played and the playoff bracket determined, some bowl game or other will send the Cougars an invitation, which they will accept.
And because WSU (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) was one of the better teams in its conference this year, the Cougars will be rewarded with a moderately prestigious bowl destination, and maybe even a good one.
It is still impossible to decipher precisely where the Cougars will be sent. There are those who will try, and even ask Mike Leach if he has some insight into where his team will end up.
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“I have no earthly idea,” said Leach, succinctly. “And quite honestly, the bowl people don’t either.”
Leach is correct — there are scenarios that must unfold, such as who will win the Pac-12 championship game? Can Oregon or USC sneak into a New Year’s bowl game? Could Stanford do the same, having lost the Pac-12 championship game? Which teams will be more attractive to the various bowl selection committees?
The answers to all those questions will help determine which bowl game hosts WSU. Still, we do know a few things.
The bowls select teams in a preset order based on the Pac-12’s order of finish, but the Alamo, Foster Farms and Holiday Bowls can each drop down one spot to create favorable draws.
So if the Holiday Bowl is slotted to select a team with a 6-3 Pac-12 record, it may select a 5-4 team that has not played in San Diego recently.
While the Cougars could still be selected by the Alamo Bowl, that is unlikely to happen. The bowl directors are said to covet USC and Eric Graves, a Holiday Bowl selection committee member, indicated that his bowl would prefer not to host UCLA, having done so in 2012.
Graves also noted that Washington State’s head-to-head win over Oregon could give the Cougars an edge, although the Ducks are currently the hotter team. So, the Holiday Bowl is likely the best-case scenario for WSU.
Even Las Vegas is still a potential bowl destination for the Cougars.
That will be the case if the Holiday takes USC, the Foster Farms Bowl reaches down for UCLA and the Sun Bowl takes Utah. The upside to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl is that it does not infringe on any holidays because it is played on Dec. 19, but would also cut short WSU bowl practices.