PHOENIX — Except for Oregon at the top and Washington State at the bottom, the Pac-10 has played out just like its coaches predicted, a win-one, lose-one trade off by teams unable distinguish themselves from one another.
But this year of parity could hurt the conference at the box office. All this beating up on each other could leave the Pac-10 with a potentially grim bowl picture.
Certainly, Oregon playing for a national championship would give the conference its chest-thumping moment. After that, though, the Pac-10 is facing a longshot to fill its six-bowl allotment and might have just four teams playing in the postseason.
And, if things play out right — or is it wrong? — the conference's second-best team, Stanford, could end up playing in the lower-tier Alamo Bowl instead of the more lucrative Rose Bowl.
"The biggest thing is that it's close," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I've felt that every game is like the Super Bowl and we've just beat each other up."
Stanford figures to lose the most from this season of counterpunching.
The seventh-ranked Cardinal (8-1, 5-1) have clearly been the second-best team in the Pac-10, arguably the best one-loss team in the country.
But because of their loss to Oregon in Eugene, the Cardinal would need Oregon to lose two of its final three games to win the Pac-10. The way the Ducks have steamrolled opponents, losing even once doesn't seem all that likely, and that would certainly knock Stanford out of the Rose Bowl.
Any other year, Stanford would be in line to replace Oregon in the Rose Bowl if the Ducks get to the national championship game.
Problem is, the Rose Bowl is obligated to take a non-automatic qualifying conference team if one makes the BCS but not the title game. That leaves the Cardinal needing No. 3 TCU or No. 4 Boise State to lose a game and miss the BCS or play in the national title game, which would require No. 2 Auburn to lose or fall back in the BCS standings and no other one-loss team moving up.
If none of these seemingly longshot scenarios play out, Stanford will find itself at the Alamo Bowl facing the Big 12's No. 3 team.
"The BCS, we can't control it," defensive back Michael Thomas said. "If we take care of our business and win the rest of our games and go 11-1, we'll end up in a better bowl. We're just doing the best we can."
So are the rest of the teams, but it may not work out for some of them.
Arizona is the only other conference team that's already bowl eligible. The No. 18 Wildcats, despite last week's lopsided loss to Stanford, are 7-2 overall and 4-2 in conference, likely headed to the Alamo Bowl if Stanford doesn't get bumped down.
Washington never quite lived up to expectations behind quarterback Jake Locker and needs to win its final three games to become bowl eligible, which may be a longshot considering the Huskies have lost three straight.
Sanctions have taken USC out of the bowl picture.
The rest of it is a little more murky.
Cal (5-4, 3-3) would seem to have the best shot at getting a postseason bid, needing to beat Oregon, Stanford or Washington to become eligible. Of course, the Bears have been on a win-big, lose-big pattern this season, so it might come down to that last game against the Huskies to get into the Holiday or Sun Bowl.
Oregon State (4-3, 3-2) could take a big step toward becoming bowl eligible this weekend by beating 1-7 Washington State. After that, it gets tougher to get the bowl-clinching sixth victory; USC, Stanford and rival Oregon close out the season.
UCLA would seem to have a more realistic shot.
The Bruins (4-5, 2-4), coming off a win over Oregon State, are also two wins shy of becoming bowl eligible, but have a less grueling closing schedule, with games against Washington, Arizona State and USC left.
"Certainly, there's a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel but we have to focus only on Washington," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.
Arizona State's bowl chances took a hit over the weekend with a wild 34-33 loss at USC.
Because two of the Sun Devils' (4-5, 2-4) wins are against FCS programs, they need to win their final three games or win two, ask the NCAA for a waiver and hope there aren't enough winning teams to fill contracted bowl slots.
With games against Stanford, UCLA and Arizona left on the schedule, it might be tough to even get the two wins.
"They understand where they're at and they understand what's left in our season," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said of his players.
So do the rest of the conference's teams, even if the outlook doesn't look so great.
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