Selection Sunday in college football bowl season is quite different than in college basketball.
For starters, nobody’s really on the bubble. Every school with the required six wins has a general idea of where they might go.
Where the 7-5 Arizona Wildcats will go bowling is still somewhat up in the air, and largely dependent on how the College Football Playoff selection committee views the Pac-12 Conference.
Arizona’s players know where they want to go: Las Vegas.
Earlier this week, more than a dozen Arizona players clamored for a spot in the Dec. 16 Las Vegas Bowl, a game that will pit a Pac-12 team against Mountain West Conference champion Boise State. Among the players campaigning for Vegas is star quarterback Khalil Tate.
“They said that the winner of the Arizona vs ASU game would have a bid to the Sun Bowl,” Tate tweeted. “ASU won the game so now they get to go to the Sun Bowl ... sounds pretty fair if you ask me.”
Of course, players from both Oregon and Arizona State have tweeted their desires to play in Las Vegas, too.
That kind of attention is “just awesome and always brings a smile to my face,” Las Vegas Bowl director John Saccenti said. “We take great pride in our bowl week events and making sure the student-athlete experience is a memorable one, plus it doesn’t hurt that we live in the world’s most exciting city.”
The Las Vegas Bowl comes early in the bowl season, and that’s part of the appeal to players. The Wildcats’ season would end earlier, allowing the traveling party to spend the holidays with family. Coaches might prefer a later game, as it would allow for more practice time.
Bowl officials are intrigued by Arizona, in part because of Tate.
“Arizona has had a good year and plays an exciting brand of football,” Saccenti said. “We know Arizona has passionate fans and typically travel well. ... Khalil Tate is certainly a factor, arguably one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Whenever Arizona is discussed with our group, Khalil Tate always comes up.”
Arizona and Boise State have history. The Broncos bested the UA in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl after the Wildcats won the Pac-12 South and fell in the conference championship game.
A year later, UA coach Rich Rodriguez hired Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to a similar role with the Wildcats. UA defensive lineman Dereck Boles started his career with the Broncos.
Right now, Las Vegas appears to be a likely destination for the Wildcats. Arizona is sixth in the conference standings with a 5-4 mark in league play, and Las Vegas is expected to pick the sixth-place team.
The Cactus Bowl, played in Phoenix on Dec. 26, takes the seventh-place team. The Cactus Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl, along with the Pac-12 and Arizona, could send the Wildcats to Phoenix, and Oregon to Vegas, but that’s unlikely.
Things will get weird if Washington joins USC in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game — a group that includes the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls.
Stanford would likely play in the Alamo Bowl. The Holiday Bowl, held in San Diego on Dec. 28, would then have its choice between Washington State, Arizona State and Arizona. Each has something working against them — the Cougars played in the game last year, ASU is in the midst of a coaching change and Arizona has the worst conference record of the three and ended its season on a two-game losing streak.
The Holiday Bowl might not be able to resist a big matchup. Arizona could conceivably play Michigan in San Diego. UA coach Rich Rodriguez coached the Wolverines for three seasons before he was fired in 2010.
“Our committee is considering Arizona, though their conference record compared with other teams under consideration puts them at a disadvantage,” Holiday Bowl executive director Mark Neville said. “That said, they are still on the table.”
The Holiday Bowl would be a career highlight for UA offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek, who grew up just north of San Diego.
“I think I went to three or four,” Alsadek said. “Being able to play on that field would be something super-special and trippy.”
If Washington makes a New Year’s Six game and the Holiday Bowl chooses a team other than Arizona, the Wildcats could play in the Dec. 27 Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California. It’s one of the few Pac-12-affiliated bowls that Arizona’s never played in.
“They have one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation in Khalil Tate, and it’s been exciting to watch him and the entire team’s resurgence this season,” Foster Farms Bowl executive director Ryan Oppelt said last week. “Given that Arizona hasn’t previously played in the Foster Farms Bowl, they certainly are a team that we’d consider bringing out to the Bay Area.”
Or the Wildcats could play in the Dec. 29 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Arizona traveled to West Texas earlier this year, where it beat UTEP 63-16. The UA has played in three Sun Bowls, the last one coming in 1992.
Sun Bowl media relations director Edward Morelos said he’s intrigued at the possibility of a matchup between Tate and Louisville star quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
“Having Khalil Tate, who has been in the Heisman talks would be great,” Morelos said. “Imagine the matchup if Arizona lined up with Khalil Tate and the Wildcats took on Louisville, who has last year’s Heisman winner. It’d make for an amazing football game.
“We just have to wait until Sunday.”