After losing to USC on Saturday, UCLA receiver Jordan Payton framed the bowl game as a chance to “put the program back in the right direction.”
As a refresher, here are the Pac-12’s bowl tie-ins, in order of selection:
1. Rose Bowl
2. Alamo Bowl
3. Holiday Bowl
4. Foster Farms Bowl
5. Sun Bowl
6. Las Vegas Bowl
7. Cactus Bowl
Since it doesn’t serve as a playoff semifinal this year, the Rose Bowl will simply take the Pac-12 champion. If that champion ends up in the playoff — only Stanford has a chance — then the bowl will take the next-highest-ranked team out of the conference. Either scenario puts UCLA in the range to go as high as the Holiday Bowl and as low as the Las Vegas Bowl.
Important note: While the top bowls in the order can take teams within one game of the best available conference record, the Sun, Las Vegas, and Cactus Bowls do not have such leeway. They only have a choice between multiple teams with the same record.
Holiday Bowl | Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego) | Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m.
UCLA likely won’t be heading to San Diego for bowl season, but the Bruins shouldn’t be counted out entirely. With the third selection out of the Pac-12, the Holiday Bowl should get their pick of the three 6-3 teams — Utah, USC and Washington State — assuming that Stanford and Oregon end up in the Rose and Alamo Bowls, respectively. UCLA is technically eligible at 5-4, but executive director Mark Neville all but ruled out the Bruins, telling the OC Register that the Holiday Bowl would be more likely to take the Trojans a second straight year.
Foster Farms Bowl | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara) | Dec. 26, 6:15 p.m.
Even with a 5-4 record, UCLA could be an intriguing option to play in Santa Clara. Foster Farms Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli said the factor that works in the Bruins’ favor is proximity: There’s a strong UCLA alumni presence in the Bay Area, and even fans in Los Angeles could easily make the drive.
“Even if they wanted to drive the morning of the game, they could leave L.A. at 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, get here with plenty of time for a 6:15 start,” Cavalli said. “If they wanted to drive up, spend Christmas night up here — there’s all kinds of advantages because they can get here in five or six hours.”
That’s not a small consideration, given that out-of-state fans may be less inclined to attend a bowl game over whatever family commitments they might have on Christmas. However, Cavalli also said that the excitement of a fanbase and the potential matchup in the game itself also weigh into the decision.
Washington State’s fans, Cavalli said, might be “a little hungrier” given that they haven’t won a bowl game since 2003. He was less certain about Utah, adding that he needed to due more research due to concerns about “disillusionment” after falling from being ranked as high as No. 3 in the country. Working against USC is the fact that the Trojans are already set to play at Levi’s Stadium this Saturday.
Sun Bowl | Sun Bowl Stadium (El Paso) | Dec. 26, 11 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. MT
UCLA can’t end up in the Sun Bowl unless Stanford makes the College Football Playoff, or if two Pac-12 teams end up in New Year’s Six games. Because there are five teams with better conference records than the Bruins, the last of the available 6-3 teams would automatically end up in El Paso.
“UCLA brings a good name, some good people, and a national audience to our football game,” said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas. “That’s who we’re looking for. We’re looking for somebody who’s established. … UCLA would be very high if they were available to us. We just don’t think we can get to them right now.”
Las Vegas Bowl | Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas) | Dec. 19, 12:30 p.m.
Like the Sun Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl doesn’t have a lot of choice when it comes to the Pac-12. If the Foster Farms Bowl passes on UCLA, the Bruins would appear bound for Sin City for the second time this season.
However, the Las Vegas Bowl is also eager not to avoid any repeats. It is in discussions with the Pac-12 about possible alternatives if Utah — which beat Colorado State in the event last year — falls into that slot again. Executive director John Saccenti also said that the bowl does not want a rematch of UCLA and BYU, since the two teams already played earlier this year.
Another consideration is that UCLA’s academic quarter system has finals scheduled on Dec. 7-11, which overlap with bowl practice time. Last year, the Bruins began practicing 13 days before the Alamo Bowl. There’s a chance that the school could push to appear in a different bowl — perhaps the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2.
Saccenti said that the academic calendar has been an issue for teams in the past, but that he has not yet discussed the issue with UCLA.
“We tend to have that situation come up a lot based on us being an early game,” he said. “What we’ve done is, we’ve always tried to work with the school to try and make the best arrangements possible, whether it be allowing them to come in the last minute before our event start, or setting up a couple of extra rooms as makeshift classrooms or study rooms.”