Most other years, Cal fans could be making travel plans to San Diego, San Antonio, Las Vegas, or even staying home for the holidays if they wished to attend a Cal bowl game. However, the Pac-12 decided to join the masses last year and established a championship game. As a result, the Golden Bears could find themselves anywhere from the Alamo Bowl, which has the first choice of Pac-12 teams after the BCS, all the way to a possible doomsday scenario of playing another game at AT&T or even the New Mexico Bowl (unlikely) along with everything else in between. . I’ll highlight the best potential scenario of playing in San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl, all the way to the possibility of a New Year’s Eve game in San Francisco. It’s pretty insane how games being played in Atlanta, Bedlam, Indy, obviously Eugene and even Charlotte could affect Cal’s bowl destination.
Alamo Bowl – If the favorites win out (LSU beats Georgia, Oregon beats UCLA, Wisconsin beats MSU, and Michigan is locked out of the top 14 of the BCS), the Alamo Bowl may opt to take Cal over Washington even though the Huskies hold the head to head tiebreaker and have the edge in conference record. Reason being UW is struggling and Cal is surging (at least on paper) and they may find the Big-12 opponent may “pair” better with Cal (Texas anyone?). They key is Oregon and Stanford need to be taken by the BCS in order for this possibility to pan out and for the Alamo Bowl to see Cal as a more attractive match-up. Therefore, a Clemson win over Virginia Tech (currently ahead of Stanford in the BCS) or an Oklahoma win over Oklahoma State would bump Stanford up to #4 and assure them of a BCS berth.
Holiday Bowl – The most likely scenario, involves the favorites winning out next week, Stanford getting picked up for the BCS, and then the Alamo selecting UW over Cal for San Antonio. For the 4th time in 8 years, Cal will be heading to a San Diego for a bowl game. We would play a “softer” Big-12 opponent, and the proximity would give Cal more of a neutral to home field to work with as opposed to playing deep in Big-12 territory. If it’s a choice between UW and Cal (Stanford doesn’t get picked up for BCS), the Holiday Bowl may not exercise their “no-repeat” and clause take UW if they wanted.
Sun Bowl – What is largely believed to be the “floor” or “stop-loss” for Cal. The Golden Bears have yet to play in the Sun Bowl (only Pac-10 team) in its 75+ year history. El Paso doesn’t seem like a “sexy” destination, but we would likely get an opponent from what’s perceived to be the weaker ACC and this would be a good chance for us to show-off our talent in Texas in a victory.
Las Vegas Bowl – I really fail to see the Bears landing here, but it is entirely possible Las Vegas would take Cal over presumably ASU, if the Pac-12 produces only 1 BCS team, and the Holiday opts for UW and then the Sun takes Utah because of proximity. Cal fans probably had a great time here in 2005 (and who couldn’t use another Vegas trip?) when we beat the storming Mormans 35-28. But the likely opponent here would be Boise State or the team who beat the Broncos, TCU. Both those teams travel well, and this would not be an ideal situation for a young Cal team to play either of those teams this season.
Kraft Fight for Hunger – Our home away from home might just house us one more time. The buses and billboards around San Francisco saying “AT&T Park, open 5 more times this year” might need to be changed to 6. If UCLA somehow upsets Oregon, the Bruins would take the auto-bid and play in the Rose Bowl. If Stanford then gets passed up for Michigan or another team in the top 14, it would mean Stanford AND Oregon would be relegated to San Antonio and San Diego and bump everyone down a slot from the Cal to Las Vegas Bowl scenario. When we beat Oregon State, we presumed this would be our bowl game. A good victory in Tempe raised our expectations, but by no means were there any guarantees. The Kraft Fight for Hunger is supposed to be tied in the Army. But since they are likely to play in the Military Bowl, it would leave an at large bid likely. The Big-10 has 10 bowl eligible teams so Kraft Fight for Hunger might look there.
New Mexico Bowl – If Oregon wins, Stanford doesn’t get a BCS at-large, and every other bowl finds one reason or another to pass up on Cal, and finally UCLA wins a petition to play in a bowl game despite a 6-7 record, Cal may fall here. The NCAA has a track history of being harsh on these petitions (remember ASU got denied last year for a 6-6 record since San Jose renegaded on them to play Alabama) so I wouldn’t expect this to possibility to play out.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to keep in mind, these bowl games are strictly exhibition games. These sites are going to do whatever possible to get eyeballs on the television and butts in the seats. The silver lining is that Cal fans can feel better about their bowl possibilities after winning in Tempe than they did last week.
In summary, if Cal wants to play in the most prestigious bowl possible. Root for LSU to win (to avoid Georgia taking an automatic BCS slot), root for Clemson to win (allow Stanford to jump Virginia Tech to get to #4 and an automatic BCS bowl birth), root for Oklahoma to beat the Pokes in Stillwater and hope for the Ducks take care of business in Eugene.