USC’s bowl game destination is hard to predict

USC’s Week 4 win over Utah could keep the Utes out of the playoff and have a domino effect on USC’s bowl game. (Jo Danielle Esteban | Daily Trojan)

College football championship weekend is just two days away. Though USC won’t be taking the field in Santa Clara this year for a chance at a Pac-12 title — CFP No. 5 Utah and No. 13 Oregon will — this weekend’s games all across the country could have plenty of implications for the Trojans’ bowl game fate. Though only two are realistic, USC still technically has three possible bowl game destinations. 

ROSE BOWL — Jan. 1, Pasadena

Let’s get this out of the way quickly because it won’t happen, but yes, USC could still theoretically wind up in Pasadena. It would take an utter thrashing of Oregon by the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game coupled with a ridiculous decision by the College Football Playoff committee to rank three-loss Oregon, who demolished four-loss USC by 32 points in Week 10, behind the Trojans. 

Should this all happen — it won’t — the Tournament of Roses could select USC to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. It won’t happen. Next. 

ALAMO BOWL — Dec. 31, San Antonio, Texas

If Utah takes down Oregon, the Utes could find themselves in the College Football Playoff. This would likely require an SEC Championship win by No. 2 LSU over No. 4 Georgia — which is possible and likely — to open up a spot for a team beyond LSU, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson. If Utah goes to the playoff, Oregon would likely play in the Rose Bowl and USC would wind up in the next-highest bowl game for the Pac-12, the Alamo Bowl. 

If Oregon defeats Utah in Santa Clara, Oregon would still have no shot at the playoff, so it would go to the Rose Bowl. Should that happen, Utah could be selected as one of the at-large teams in the Cotton Bowl — it would have a valid case as a two-loss team whose two defeats came to ranked opponents. If that happens, USC goes to the Alamo Bowl, again, the next-highest bowl game in the Pac-12 pecking order. 

An unlikely scenario: Utah takes down Oregon but misses the playoff — likely by virtue of a Georgia win over LSU, which would probably keep both SEC teams in the Top 4. If Georgia wins and neither Ohio State nor Clemson suffer massive upset losses in their respective conference championships, Utah is left out and goes to the Rose Bowl. Utah could also miss out if No. 6 Oklahoma destroys No. 7 Baylor — or even the other way around — and the Utes barely beat the Ducks.

The Ducks could, in theory, be chosen for the Cotton Bowl — though that seems improbable, given they would be a three-loss team with a bad defeat to Arizona State. But, if it does happen, USC would go to the Alamo Bowl. 

HOLIDAY BOWL — Dec. 27, San Diego

If Utah wins the Pac-12 Championship and misses the playoff, it would go to the Rose Bowl. Assuming Oregon does not become one of the at-large teams selected for the Cotton Bowl, it would go to the Alamo Bowl. USC would then drop to the next-best bowl game for the Pac-12: the Holiday Bowl. Again, this would probably require wins from Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia — the first two of which feel likely, the last one less so. 

Finally, if Oregon emerges victorious at Levi’s Stadium this weekend, it would be locked into the Rose Bowl — again, it has zero shot at the playoff, and a Pac-12 champion that misses the playoff goes to the Rose Bowl. Utah, if not selected to the Cotton Bowl, would then go to the Alamo Bowl, slotting USC into the Holiday Bowl.