Bowl scenarios for the Arizona Wildcats after their best season in nearly a decade

Nov 4, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Noah Fifita #11 makes a pass under pressure against UCLA Bruins quarterback Justyn Martin #6 during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Noah Fifita #11 makes a pass under pressure against UCLA Bruins quarterback Justyn Martin #6 during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

It's college football conference championship week with some of the best teams in the country playing for a conference title. The best of the Pac-12, SEC, ACC, and others will line up one last time before bowl season begins.

But the majority of the bowl-eligible teams this year are staying home this weekend. They're waiting to see when and where they'll play over the second half of December. No. 15 Arizona (9-3) is one of those teams. The Wildcats won out after a 3-3 start to the season, including a 42-18 win over Utah and a 59-23 blowout win against Arizona State.

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Arizona's nine wins in 2023 marks the most since 2014. Coach Jedd Fisch's squad even had a chance to make the Pac-12 title game if No. 5 Oregon lost to No. 21 Oregon State in Week 13. But the Ducks won and the Wildcats instead will wait to find out their future. Here's a look at the bowl game scenarios for Arizona this postseason.

Can Arizona make a New Year's Six bowl game?

No. It'd take a lot of help from elsewhere for the Wildcats to even be considered for a spot. Even if the Ducks lost the Pac-12 title game, No. 14 Louisville lost the ACC title game, and No. 8 Alabama lost the SEC title game, only one of those teams - Louisville - would potentially fall behind Arizona in rankings. Unfortunately for Arizona, the Cardinals are a near-lock for the Orange Bowl due to the game's ACC affiliation.

There are just a few too many teams ranked ahead of the Wildcats. It's hard to imagine Arizona getting a spot over the likes of No. 13 LSU, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 11 Ole Miss, or No. 10 Penn State, all of whom are hoping a few title games bounce in their favor and a New Year's Six bowl spot opens up.

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Which bowl games are possible for Arizona?

The Wildcats' six-year bowl game drought comes to an end this season, making them a top pick for a Pac-12-affiliated bowl game. The Pac-12 is locked in for multiple bowl games outside of the New Year's Six, including:

  • Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl (vs. a Mountain West team)

  • Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl (vs. Big 12)

  • San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (vs. ACC)

  • SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Big Ten)

  • Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (vs. ACC)

  • Valero Alamo Bowl (vs. Big 12)

Unlike most other FBS conferences, the Pac-12 does not have a set ranking for the bowl games. Instead, competition level and geography are determining factors.

The LA and Holiday Bowl games are out as they're played in Inglewood and San Diego, Calif., respectively. UCLA and USC will probably split those. The Big 12 uses a ranked order for their bowl games and the Independence Bowl is lowest on its seven affiliates, making it unlikely for one of the Pac-12's best squads. That game seems more apt for 6-6 Cal.

Like the Big 12, the Big Ten has a ranked order for bowl games. With three Big Ten teams likely to play in the College Football Playoff and New Year's Six games combined, the Las Vegas Bowl will draw the seventh-best Big Ten team. Not exactly a great matchup for the No. 15 Wildcats.

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The Sun Bowl is a possibility. It'll be played in El Paso, Texas, which is relatively close to Tucson. The ACC's glut of bowl-eligible teams - 12 in total when including Notre Dame - means there are plenty of choices. The ACC's ranked order for bowl games puts the Sun Bowl 11th. It's a likely draw for the 7-5 Miami Hurricanes who may be overmatched by Arizona.

The Alamo Bowl is also a possibility. It's in San Antonio and is the Big 12's second-ranked bowl game this season, meaning a team in the top 25 is a lock. That'd make for the most even matchup possibility in terms of team strength.

What's the most likely bowl game scenario for Arizona?

The Alamo Bowl looks the most likely of all of the Pac-12 affiliates as that game will most likely provide a ranked opponent for the third-best Pac-12 team this year.

There are two possible opponents for the Alamo Bowl: No. 12 Oklahoma or No. 19 Oklahoma State.

If No. 7 Texas wins the Big 12 title game over Oklahoma State, the Longhorns finish with a 9-1 conference record and will play in a New Year's Six game. Oklahoma will be second in the Big 12 at 7-2 and, unless a few games bounce their way, will not make a New Year's Six bowl. Oklahoma State at 7-3 will play in the Big 12's third-ranked bowl game. This hypothetical means Arizona will play Oklahoma.

If Oklahoma State wins on Saturday, things will change. Texas would still probably make a New Year's Six game with a 8-2 conference record. Oklahoma State at 8-2 in-conference as well would be ahead of Oklahoma at 7-2 but wouldn't be ranked high enough for a New Year's Six game. Instead, they'd be in San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl against Arizona.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arizona football: Bowl game scenarios abound for Wildcats