The above picture is of the Fiesta Bowl trophy. I heard it cost $2.5 million. That's a lot of money to pay for something that ugly.
So, now that the Beavers are officially bowl eligible, I think we can talk about possible destinations without jinxing it. I'm going to run through each possible current OSU post-season destination, no matter how unlikely, and discuss the most likely path to getting there.
To review: the Pac-12 has seven official bowl tie-ins, meaning the top seven teams (assuming they have .500 records or better) are guaranteed bowl berths. In order, these are the Rose/BCS, Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Vegas,
Mac and Cheese Kraft Fight Hunger, and New Mexico. If the Pac-12 ends up with more eligible teams than there are bowl tie-ins, those teams will most likely end up in other bowls, as there usually are conferences that can't fill their obligations, so they'll take the available teams from a major conference.
One important thing to remember is that while the bowls usually do select teams in order of finish, only the Rose Bowl is obligated to do so. The other bowls can move down a position in the standings to select a team they are after; sometimes, they do it just because certain teams are more desirable than others for whatever reason (proximity to bowl, number of fans that travel, higher TV ratings, etc). More commonly, this is often done to avoid repeats, as fans don't necessarily like to make the same trip two years in a row, hurting attendance. I call this the Purdue Sun Bowl rule, as Purdue ended up in El Paso three years out of four in the early '00s, and that wasn't good for anyone.
So let's go through the bowls, in reverse order, and see what Oregon State's possible paths are to each possible bowl. Which, right now, is just about any of them.
No Bowl -- Wait, we're going to have 6 wins, we're guaranteed a bowl now, right? Not quite guaranteed. If OSU does not earn one of the automatic berths by finishing in the top 7 (or 8, if the Pac-12 gets two BCS teams), they have to depend on one of the other bowls to have a vacancy. And while that is very likely, all of the available 7-5 teams have to be selected for a bowl game (even if they are from the Sun Belt), prior to 6-6 teams getting selected. So there would have to be very few 6-6 teams for OSU (as a major conference school) to not be selected.
So how do we get there? Lose out, finish 6-6, and look bad doing so. Finish behind every team not named Cal and Colorado, and up to two more. The Pac-12 cannibalizes itself enough that they only get one BCS berth, meaning only seven teams are guaranteed spots, and at least seven Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible. Enough 7-5 teams from other conferences are eligible that the 6-6 teams get pushed out, or Oregon State is less desirable for the bowls with openings than the other 6-6 teams. Again, very unlikely, but not impossible.
Random Unaffliated Bowl -- in the event Oregon State finishes lower than 7th, they are likely to be invited to another bowl, particularly if they have a 7-5 record. The number of bowls that are possible is too many to discuss, although it would likely be the lower tier bowls from other conferences (you're not accidentally going to get invited to the Cotton Bowl or the Gator Bowl, for instance). Last week, the Pac-12 blog picked the Pinstripe Bowl (in Yankee Stadium, which could be fun) as a likely destination for the 8th place Pac-12 team. This option may not be mathematically possible, unless a bunch of teams finish clustered in the 5-4 and 4-5 range.
So how do we get there? Lose out, finish with a losing conference record (4-5), finishing 8th (or 9th with 2 BCS teams). Be less desirable than the teams you're tied with for whatever reason (i.e. USC has a sexy name, WSU fans would love to travel to any bowl, Sean Mannion got injured and the team now sucks, etc.) so the Pac-12 bowls pick other teams.
New Mexico Bowl (Dec 21, Albuquerque vs. Mountain West #4) -- The least of the Pac-12 bowls, this would be a very disappointing destination, given the current status of the team. The bowl took Arizona last year, so they probably don't want the Wildcats again if they can avoid it. However, the opposing team is from the Mountain West, so they might bypass the Beavers to avoid a rematch with San Diego State (or Hawaii).
So how do we get there? Finish seventh in the conference, or eighth if the team gets two BCS wins. Probably need to lose out, or a maximum of one more win. A 5-4 conference record probably puts you in the top six teams.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec 27, San Francisco vs. BYU or ACC #9) -- The sixth/seventh place team ends up in this unfortunately named bowl, normally. Arizona State went here last year, so they are unlikely to be picked, even if they are in line to be selected. This bowl likes Bay Area teams, as they can sell a lot of tickets to locals. However, that seems unlikely this year, given Stanford will likely be a much higher pick, and Cal is very unlikely to go bowling at all.
So how do we get there? 0-1 more wins would put us in the right range. If the Beavers don't win another game, this is probably the best bowl we can hope for. And in that case. it would probably only happen if the Pac-12 got two BCS teams.
Vegas Bowl (Dec 21, Las Vegas vs. Mountain West #1) -- The fifth/sixth place team finishes here. The University of Washington was in this bowl last year, so they might bypass the Huskies for another team, but I don't think Vegas has the same issues with repeat teams as other bowls do.
So how do we get there? One more win would probably make this the most likely destination, although if San Diego State won the Mountain West, they might pass us over to avoid a rematch. And, frankly, who doesn't like going to Vegas?
Sun Bowl (Dec. 31, El Paso vs. ACC #4) -- The fourth (fifth) place team would go here. USC played here last year, so they probably won't be invited back.
So how do we get there? Finish 4th/5th; one or two more wins puts us in range, it would depend a lot on the final standings of the other teams. If the Beavers win two more games to finish at 6-3 in conference, I think this would be the worst case scenario.
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, San Diego vs. Big 12 #5) -- The Holiday Bowl has made no secret that they want to invite Oregon State at some point, and this could easily be the year. The 3rd/4th place Pac-12 team ends up here, and UCLA was that team last year, so they would likely be passed over for OSU or another team. Based on current standings and preferences, I think this is possibly the most likely post-season destination for the Beavers. However, the Pac-12 blog disagrees with me, predicting the Beavs will end up in El Paso. I think that's likely the second most likely option.
So how do we get here? Finish 3rd/4th. Two more wins probably makes this the most likely bowl, as a 6-3 team isn't likely to finish lower than 4th. Three more wins probably means this is the worst bowl destination. If UCLA is right there with OSU at 6-3, they'd probably go with OSU. Three more wins doesn't rule this one out, however, as the Alamo Bowl might easily pass up OSU for another team since the Beavs went to San Antonio last year.
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, San Antonio vs. Big 12 #3) -- Yeah, this game again. The Alamo Bowl took Oregon State last year, so they'll only take them again this year if they're obviously the 3rd best team (or second, if no second BCS game).
So how do we get here? Finish 2nd/3rd, and leave no doubt we're the 2nd/3rd best team in the Pac-12. The most likely way is probably to finish 8-1 with a loss to the Ducks, and have them lose one so they don't go the BCS title game. That would leave us as fairly clearly the second best team in the conference. Finishing that well would probably also mean that Mannion-to-Cooks would likely still be lighting it up, meaning there would be at least some star power.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, Pasadena vs. Big 12 #1) -- You might have heard of this one. The conference champion goes here unless they go to the National Championship Game. There is no anti-repeat rule. One thing of note is that the Rose Bowl is under no obligation to replace one of their champions with a non-AQ team, like they were in 2011. So if a Pac-12 (or Big 10) team goes to the NCG, they will most likely select a replacement team from the same conference, if one is eligible.
So how do we get there? This is more likely than you think. In fact, I would say it's as or more likely than the Alamo Bowl, because there's two different ways to do it. If the Beavers win the Pac-12 (even if they aren't undefeated in conference, they could still win it if they win the Civil War, if other games end up right) and don't finish in the top two of the BCS, they would end up here. They could also hypothetically lose a game to Stanford/USC/ASU/UW, beat the Ducks, and win the Pac-12 title game to go to the Rose Bowl (if certain other events happen).
Most likely in my opinion, they could also finish 8-1 in conference with a loss to the undefeated and national championship game bound Ducks. In that case, the Rose Bowl will do everything it can to take a Pac-12 team to replace the Pac-12 champ. If Oregon State is 9-3 or better and in the Top 14, they will be eligible. If they are 10-2 with a loss only to the Ducks, they will probably be selected to the Rose Bowl if the Ducks go to Pasadena for the other game, as they will have defeated Stanford and be ahead of both them and UCLA in the standings.
Other BCS Game (Orange/Sugar/Fiesta) -- these are definitely less likely than the Rose, but not impossible. If the conference champ goes to the Rose Bowl instead of the NCG, that means other Pac-12 schools that finish 9-3 or better and in the Top 14 of the final BCS rankings would be available as at large selections. The SEC is virtually guaranteed to have two teams, but there are no other slam dunks this year, and there are four at large spots. If Clemson rebounds from their drubbing to FSU to win out, they'll likely be a good choice; Virginia Tech and Miami are also options for the ACC. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are currently undefeated and could play BCS buster. Notre Dame currently only has two losses, but still has a game coming up at Stanford, so a third loss seems likely. The Big 12 might produce a second team, but unless that team is Oklahoma or Texas, they aren't going to be a sexy name. A second Pac-12 team seems very likely, and a 10-2 Oregon State whose only conference loss to the Ducks would likely be the highest team ranked in the BCS from the Pac-12, making them the default choice for either the Orange or the Fiesta.
So how do we get there? Win out, except for the Ducks or Stanford, whichever of those teams wins the conference and finishes 12-1, and goes to the Rose Bowl. Beat the other of those teams and (if it's the Ducks) hope they lose one more to finish 9-3. Have Stanford beat Notre Dame, and have either the ACC or Big 12 beat each other up enough to keep extra teams out of the top 14 of the BCS. Northern Illinois and Fresno State losing would probably help as well.
National Championship Game (Jan 6th, Pasadena) -- you laugh, I know. OSU lost to an FCS team. It's impossible, right? No. It's just very, very, very unlikely. If the Beavers won out at 12-1, they'd easily be in the top handful of teams in the BCS, and the undisputed champion of a major conference (arguably the second best in the country). But the prospect of putting a team that lost to an FCS team into the title game is going to be very daunting to some, and the Beavers' current BCS positioning is bad. They can't go head-to-head against a one loss team from another major conference and expect to pass them.
So how do we get there? First, win out. On top of that, they probably need virtually every other major conference champion (except their potential opponent in the game) to have two losses: From the ACC, Florida State has to lose twice more, and Clemson and Virginia Tech probably each need to lose once more. In the Big 10, Ohio State probably needs to lose twice, and the Big 10 champ probably can't have only one loss. In the Big 12, Baylor and Texas Tech need to lose, probably twice; Oklahoma and Oklahoma State probably need to lose again, as well. SEC -- either Missouri or Alabama can win out and go to the NCG, but the other one needs to lose twice; Auburn needs to lose once more as well. AAC -- Probably not an issue, but Louisville losing again wouldn't hurt. Pac-12: if OSU wins out, every Pac-12 team will have a guaranteed minimum of 2 losses except one: Oregon. If Oregon State won the Civil War, and it came down to a 12-1 OSU vs. an 11-1 Oregon for the NCG berth, I don't know that OSU would get the nod, based on strength of loss. So we might need the Ducks to lose before the Civil War, just to be sure. Because, you know, you needed another reason to root against the Ducks.
As I said, it's very unlikely, but not impossible. A lot of the teams that need to lose play each other, so there are some guaranteed losses there. Yes, it's a pipe dream likely to end shortly, but it's still plausible.
So there you have it. Now that we have the season's first goal -- bowl eligibility -- achieved, it will be fun watching them climb the ladder of possibility.
It's a great day to be a Beaver!