For the fifth time in the past six seasons, the Washington Huskies left the Apple Cup game against Washington State carrying the trophy.
Now, after capping the regular-season with a 31-13 victory over the Cougars, the Huskies will wait to find out which bowl game they’ll play in.
The most likely destination seems to be the Cactus Bowl, which is played Jan. 2 in Tempe, Arizona, and has the seventh and final selection of the bowls affiliated with the Pac-12 Conference. But the Huskies need a little help from the College Football Playoff committee to make that happen.
There are eight bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams this season, so the Huskies aren’t guaranteed a spot in a bowl with a Pac-12 tie-in. Their destination will likely hinge on the result of the Pac-12 championship game between Oregon and Arizona.
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Arizona is currently ranked 11th in the College Football Playoff rankings — Oregon is ranked second — and the Wildcats are likely to rise a couple spots when the new standings are released Tuesday. If Oregon and Arizona each finish in the top 12 of those standings after playing each other Friday, they will each be guaranteed a spot in a “Big Six” bowl game — the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl serve as the CFP semifinal games for the top four teams, and the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls round out the Big Six — which would move every Pac-12 team up one spot in the bowl pecking order.
In that scenario, the Huskies would seemingly be locked into the Cactus Bowl against an opponent from the Big 12 conference. The Huskies are the only bowl-eligible Pac-12 team with a 4-5 conference record; everyone else is 5-4 or better. And according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, the Pac-12 instituted a rule this season that requires the Sun, Las Vegas and Cactus bowls to stick to the standings when making their selections — meaning the Sun Bowl, which has the fifth selection, can’t choose a 4-5 UW team ahead of Stanford or Utah, which both finished 5-4.
If the Pac-12 sends only one team to a Big Six bowl game, the Huskies will likely play in a game without an affiliation with the league. A Seattle Times report indicated that the Armed Forces Bowl, which is played Jan. 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, would be UW’s most likely destination if the Cactus Bowl doesn’t work out.
The Armed Forces Bowl has a tie-in with the American Athletic Conference and the Big 12, but the Big 12 has seven bowl spots and currently has only six bowl-eligible teams. Army is also affiliated with that bowl, but finished 4-7 and is not eligible for the postseason.
UW expects to know its bowl destination on Sunday, the day the final CFP rankings are announced.
Huskies coach Chris Petersen, understandably, doesn’t seem to care which game his team plays in. UW coaches will be on the road recruiting during the next two weeks, Petersen said, while the players will take some time off.
“I’m just glad that we get a chance to play again with these guys and give them a little time off and get a chance to get after school a little bit and finish that,” Petersen said. “Get them healed up, and get them prepared for a real good bowl team that we’ll play.”
He said after Saturday’s Apple Cup that he thought the Huskies, who raced to a 31-0 lead before pulling their starters, were as ready to play as they have been before any game this season.
UW ended the season with perhaps its three most complete performances — a 26-24 loss at Arizona that slipped away in the final minute, a 37-13 win over Oregon State, and Saturday’s dominance against the Cougars.
“I think the last few weeks, these guys have really been figuring out on how to practice, but too, how to get themselves ready for the game,” said Petersen, who won his 100th game as a head coach Saturday. “I think that may be as big as anything we’ve felt as a change from Friday to Saturday, and what the locker room should feel like and look like before we go out there. And today was as good as we’ve had it before the game started. I thought going out there, this is going to be interesting because this is one time that I really feel like these guys are truly ready to play.”