Arizona Football: Wildcats' 5 Most Likely Bowl Opponents

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Arizona Football: Wildcats' 5 Most Likely Bowl Opponents
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona's 2012 season ended with a thrilling victory in the New Mexico Bowl. The Wildcats are bowl-eligible again this season but are hoping for something better than a return to Albuquerque.

With Saturday's 33-28 win at California, the Arizona Wildcats ensured the 2013 college football season will end with the chance to play in a bowl game. The feat would mean Rich Rodriguez would become the first coach in school history to lead the Wildcats to a bowl in each of his first two seasons.

But with four games left in the regular season, exactly which bowl (and against which opponent) is on the menu for Arizona remains very unclear.

The Pac-12 Conference has affiliations with seven bowl games, including its automatic bid to the BCS. The conference champion would play in the Rose Bowl, unless that team were selected to play in the BCS championship game, which also happens to be in Pasadena, Calif.

Many projections currently have two Pac-12 squads in the BCS, with Oregon headed to the title game and Stanford (as an at-large selection) representing the league in the Rose Bowl. Under that scenario, the league would be able to send eight teams to bowl games.

Arizona is one of six bowl-eligible teams in the conference, with two others just one victory away and three more still mathematically alive. Only California (1-8) has been ruled out of the bowl scenario.

With all that in mind, here's a look at the most likely opponents (and the locales in which they'd meet) for the Wildcats, in order from worst- to best-case scenario.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

San Jose State (in the New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 21)

If Arizona were to lose three of its last four games (vs. UCLA, vs. Washington State, vs. Oregon, at Arizona State) it would finish 4-5 in the Pac-12 and likely end up returning to the site of its last-minute comeback victory over Nevada last December.

But instead of Nevada, the Wildcats would end up facing a team like San Jose State (5-3), which looks to finish 7-5 or 8-4. The game would feature the nation's leading rusher in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey against one of the more unheralded (yet very prolific) quarterbacks in Spartans senior David Fales. Fales threw for 4,193 yards in 2012 and is averaging 321.9 passing yards per game this season.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State (in the Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21)

A 4-5 mark in the Pac-12 could also send the Wildcats to Las Vegas, where it played earlier this season and beat host UNLV 58-13. Even a 5-4 mark (by, say, beating Washington State along with either UCLA or Arizona State) could also result in a trip to Sin City, depending on how the rest of the league pans out.

The likely opponent there would be Boise State, as the Broncos (6-3) are in line to play in the Mountain West title game against Fresno State. The Mountain West champ is supposed to represent the league here, but if Fresno were to get picked by the BCS the nod would likely fall to the runner-up.

The 2013 Boise team is one of the worst in recent memory but still should finish with at least eight wins, if not more.

The Wildcats played in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2008, beating BYU in its first bowl appearance in 10 years.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

BYU (in the Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 27)

Going 5-4 in league play (under the scenario proposed above) could also land Arizona in San Francisco, especially if the Fight Hunger folks feel the Wildcats—and their large California alumni base—would draw better than a school from the Pacific Northwest, like Washington or Oregon State.

Whoever goes to this game from the Pac-12 will be getting BYU (6-2) because the Cougars have already accepted a bid to play in this bowl. As an independent, BYU set out ahead of time to secure spots in different bowls each year—the Cougars played in the Poinsettia Bowl last season, beating San Diego State—rather than hope to fill an empty spot once conferences parsed out their eligible members.

Arizona has never played in any version of this bowl, which has been affiliated with the Pac-12 since 2005.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Duke (in the Sun Bowl, Dec. 31)

Getting to six wins in league play would significantly upgrade Arizona's bowl scenarios, moving it from facing mid-major foes to ones from BCS-level conferences. To do that, though, they'd have to win three of four down the stretch against a slate that includes three teams with equal or better records.

If that happens, Arizona would still likely be no better than the fourth-best team in the Pac-12, so they'd end up in El Paso for the first time since losing there to Baylor in 1992. The Wildcats are 0-2-1 in the Sun Bowl, losing to Auburn and tying Georgia.

The opponent would be from the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league from which Arizona hasn't faced an opponent since beating Georgia Tech in 1994 and 1995.

The likely foe is Duke (6-2), making this a matchup of schools much more known for their basketball prowess than gridiron glory. The Blue Devils, headed to back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history, will finish with seven or eight wins and make them the most likely ACC team to get sent West as opposed to the league's other bowls that are all much closer to the East Coast.

John Weast/Getty Images

Texas Tech (in the Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30)

A 6-3 league mark could also make the Wildcats attractive to this game in San Diego, especially if that sixth win came over Arizona State in the regular-season finale. It's only a six-hour drive from Tucson to Qualcomm Stadium, and Arizona's alumni base in southern California is very significant.

A trip to the Holiday Bowl would come against any of five possible Big 12 opponents, depending on how that top-heavy league shakes out. The fifth-best team is supposed to go here, and based on recent results that looks to be the pass-happy Red Raiders (7-2), which would make for an immensely exciting offensive game against Arizona's potent run game.

The Wildcats have played in the Holiday Bowl twice, and against the same opponent, but with vastly different results. In 1998 they beat Nebraska 23-20 to cap a 12-1 season, the best in school history. Then in 2009 the Wildcats were thumped 33-0 by the Cornhuskers, the school's worst-ever bowl result.

Other (Much Less Likely) Scenarios

The only other bowl game Arizona has a realistic shot of getting into is the Alamo Bowl, in San Antonio, against the Big 12's third-best team. For that to happen, though, the Wildcats would probably need to win all four remaining games, which means upsetting Oregon on Nov. 23 in Tucson.

While not impossible, it's also not probable considering how Oregon handled a Washington team that beat the Wildcats 31-13 in late September.

Arizona can still win the Pac-12's South Division, which would mean playing at Stanford or Oregon in the conference title game in early December. Win that game and the Wildcats would be in the BCS and play in their first-ever Rose Bowl. But let's not drink that Kool-Aid just yet.

The other scenario that's possible, but very undesirable, would be Arizona losing four straight to end the season and getting left out of the Pac-12's bowl picture due to being either the eighth- or ninth-best option (depending on whether two league teams make the BCS). In that case, the Wildcats' only hope would be a game like the Little Caesars' Pizza Bowl in Detroit or the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg would have a spot to fill because one of its partners couldn't fill the slot.

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