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Nick's Picks: Predictions for Pac-12 bowl games

Data reporter Nick Hedges predicts how the Pac-12 will fare during bowl season


ASU players take the field before the Sun Devils 49-7 blowout win over the UTSA Roadrunners at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Photo illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.   

The college football regular season is officially over, and it didn’t end well for the Pac-12. Washington’s Apple Cup win over rival Washington State sealed the conference’s elimination from the College Football Playoff. However, the league placed into some intriguing bowl matchups headlined by Washington’s Rose Bowl berth, which it clinched by winning the conference. 

Here are the predictions for each bowl game involving the Pac-12:

Las Vegas Bowl: ASU vs. No. 21 Fresno State (Dec. 15 1:30 p.m. MST)

ASU will be the first team from the Pac-12 to play in a bowl game, and it's looking like a tough matchup for the Sun Devils. The Bulldogs climbed into the committee’s rankings to end the season behind a talented defense that ranks No.16  in the nation. 

That’s a tough assignment for an ASU offense that will be without its primary offensive weapon, as junior wide receiver N’keal Harry has already declared for the NFL Draft and hired an agent, making him ineligible to play again for the Sun Devils. With Harry, the composite index gave ASU a slight edge, but without him, Fresno State is given a better chance. It should be an exciting game, but in the end ASU probably won’t score enough to pull this one out.

Fresno State: 53.24 percent chance to win

ASU: 46.76 percent chance to win

Prediction: Fresno State 27, ASU 24

Cheez-It Bowl: California vs. TCU (Dec. 26 7 p.m. MST)

Taking place at Chase Field in Phoenix, Many ASU fans hoped to see the Sun Devils slotted in this game. Instead, Cal received the Pac-12’s bid and will play a TCU team that began the season with high hopes but has since faded. The Horned Frogs lost a close game to Ohio State and can't seem to find their footing since. 

TCU’s numbers are a bit uncharacteristic for a team in the Big 12 with an offense that gains the 94th most yards in the country per game and scores fewer points than 107 other teams. On the other side, the Golden Bears boast the nation’s No. 14 total defense by yards allowed per game. The composite index gives TCU a slightly better chance to win, but Cal’s stingy defense will likely lead them to a win in Phoenix.

TCU: 52.76 percent chance to win

California: 47.24 percent chance to win

Prediction: California 24, TCU 17

Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Washington State vs. No. 24 Iowa State (Dec. 28, 7 p.m. MST)

In the span of two weeks, Washington State went from a possible playoff team to completely out of the New Year's Six bowl games. After being snubbed by the committee, the Cougars will surely be hungry to prove themselves in the Alamo Bowl. The composite index only gives them a 53 percent chance to win, but I predict a possible big win for the Cougars. 

Led by quarterback Gardner Minshew, the Cougars finished the regular season as the second best passing offense in the nation. Minshew and company shouldn’t have issues against a defense from the Big 12 where defense is often an afterthought. Iowa State has struggled against the pass all year, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just over 60 percent of the passes against them which, combined with Minshew’s proficiency under center, is a bad sign for the Cyclones. I have this one on blowout-watch.

Washington State: 52.91 percent chance to win

Iowa State: 47.09 percent chance to win

Prediction: Washington State 41, Iowa State 21

Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh (Dec. 31 12 p.m. MST)

For a while it appeared ASU might make a return trip to this game, but with the Sun Devils getting a bid from the Las Vegas Bowl, Stanford scooped up the trip to El Paso. The Cardinal beat North Carolina in this game two years ago, and this one figures to be another interesting matchup. Neither Stanford nor Pitt really excel in any particular area, and while both teams typically pride themselves on classic, ground-and-pound football, they have both taken a step back from that this year. 

Stanford has a bit more star-power, but Pitt has a bit more momentum, having just lost a hard-fought ACC Championship to Clemson. This is a difficult game to predict, but where do I go when nothing else gives? The composite index. Stanford has just under a 60 percent chance to win, and that’s pretty much the only thing separating these two teams.

Stanford: 59.46 percent chance to win

Pittsburgh: 40.54 percent chance to win

Prediction: Stanford 31, Pitt 27

Redbox Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon (Dec. 31 1 p.m. MST)

For this game, the composite index pretty much goes out the window with both teams having nearly the same chance to win. This Michigan State team will be familiar to ASU fans after The Sun Devils narrowly pulled out a win over the Spartans in Tempe earlier this year. The Spartans are a much better team now with the nation’s best rushing defense, which held ASU sophomore running back Eno Benjamin to under 30 yards rushing in early September. 

However, the Spartans aren’t as intimidating against the pass where the team ranks No. 66 in the nation. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will have a fun time throwing against that kind of pass defense in what might be his final game for the Ducks. It certainly is a matchup of clashing styles, but I expect Michigan State’s struggles against the pass to be the difference.

Oregon: 50.27 percent chance to win

Michigan State: 49.73 percent chance to win

Prediction: Oregon 30, Michigan State 27

Holiday Bowl: No. 17 Utah vs. No. 22 Northwestern (Dec. 31 5 p.m. MST)

Utah couldn’t quite clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl, but the team will be happy to settle for a trip to the conference’s number two bowl game, especially with some of the team's top offensive playmakers out. The composite index gives Utah a slight edge and I like their chances, I just don’t see how Northwestern is going to move the ball effectively against a Utah defense that ranks No. 22 in the country in total defense. 

I doubt Utah’s ability to score a ton as well, especially after the team's dismal showing against Washington in the conference championship game where the team only scored three points and allowed the Huskies’ defense to score the game’s only touchdown. However, the Utes held Washington’s experienced offense to three points all game, and I expect them to continue to impress in this bowl game.

Utah: 54.29 percent chance to win

Northwestern: 45.71 percent chance to win

Prediction: Utah 17, Northwestern 6

Rose Bowl:  No. 9 Washington vs. No. 6 Ohio State (Jan. 1, 3 p.m. MST)

Here it is: the game every school, player, coach and Pac-12 fan wants their team to be in. By winning the conference championship, Washington clinched a spot against Big-10 Champions Ohio State. The Buckeyes are surely disappointed after being left out of the playoffs by the selection committee, and with head coach Urban Meyer having already announced that he will retired after the Rose Bowl and quarterback Dwayne Haskins returning from New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, the team will have all the headlines heading into the game. 

The composite index gives the Buckeyes a 52 percent chance to win as the team pits its high-flying offense, which ranks No. 2 in the country, against Washington’s No. 10 defense. Additionally, The Huskies’ offense ranks No. 64 in the nation, but will be playing against a defense that ranks No. 63.This game is shaping up to be one of the most interesting head-to-head matchups in the entire bowl season, but who will make more big plays, Washington’s offense or Ohio State’s defense? I’ll give the edge to the Buckeyes, who will want to win and send off their coach on a good note.

Ohio State: 52.35 percent chance to win

Washington: 47.65 percent chance to win

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Washington 21

The composite index is formed by combining our own “Power Index” with other rankings and ratings. Read below to see specifics about how the composite index is formed.

The primary component of the composite index is a custom "power index" which combines various player/team unit rankings and scores to create one number that tells how good a team is overall. 

However, because the custom index does not account for in-season changes, ESPN's FPI, CPSSports's Top 129, Sagarin rankings and national composite scores are factored in as well.

After each of these scores are found for each team, the median and average of those scores for each team is calculated. The median and averages for each team are then averaged together to find the composite index score.

To predict games, the composite index scores for each team in the game are added together, adding five points for the home team. After that, the composite index score for each team is divided by that total to find win probability.

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