Less than a year after playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Arizona State Sun Devils are two victories away from guaranteeing themselves a spot in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
At 9-2 and 7-1 in conference play, the Sun Devils need to defeat the Arizona Wildcats in the Territorial Cup on Saturday and the Stanford Cardinal the following week in the Pac-12 Championship game to square off with the Big Ten's finest.
Where else could the Sun Devils end up in bowl season? We take a look at the possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: Beat Arizona, Beat Stanford
While it's much easier said than done, this is the easiest scenario to determine where Arizona State will be going bowling. If the Sun Devils win their final two, they lock up an automatic bid to represent the Pac-12 conference in the Rose Bowl. Even if USC beats UCLA and fans are clamoring to see the Trojans on the big stage, the Sun Devils will have still earned the Pac-12 Championship and the right to play on New Year's Day.
Scenario 2: Lose to Arizona, Beat Stanford
Hey, crazier things have happened, right? If the Sun Devils drop the Territorial Cup game, they'll have to travel North to Palo Alto to take on the Cardinal. Last time, that didn't work out too well as Arizona State dropped a 42-28 matchup that was 29-0 at halftime.
Still, if the Sun Devils conclude the regular season at 9-3 and win the Pac-12 Championship game, their destination does not change. Arizona State will find itself in Pasadena, playing for a chance to capture the second Rose Bowl victory in program history. This route is tough and unlikely, but it's still a possibility.
Scenario 3: Beat Arizona, Lose to Stanford
Here's where things begin to get tricky. If the Sun Devils finish the regular season at 10-2 and drop the conference championship game, as many as three teams could potentially be picked ahead of Arizona State for bowl slots. The Sun Devils will rely on the outcomes of other games taking place this weekend.
In this scenario, Stanford would represent the Pac-12 conference in the Rose Bowl. If Oregon beats Oregon State (We can't assume anything with the Ducks anymore), then Oregon would take the conference's second bowl bid and play in the Alamo Bowl.
The outcomes become trickier based on what transpires in Southern California this weekend. If USC beats UCLA, the Trojans and the Sun Devils would both finish with three losses and the Bruins would have four. In this case, the Holiday Bowl would have the choice of picking Arizona State or USC. The Sun Devils are the Pac-12 South champions and own a head-to-head win against USC so in theory, they should be the obvious choice. However, the Trojans have one of the best stories in the country, and a win against UCLA would further that narrative.
If UCLA defeats USC, then both the Sun Devils and the Bruins would be tied with three losses. UCLA is a glamorous program, but the Sun Devils' victory over the Bruins is fresh in the minds of bowl committees and Arizona State should earn the nod over UCLA. The Holiday Bowl pits the No. 3 Pac-12 team against the No. 5 Big 12 finisher, so Arizona State would likely be looking at a matchup with Texas Tech.
Of course, all of this gets thrown out the window if Oregon loses to Oregon State. So even with two weeks left in the season, it's still too early to predict exactly how things will shake out. In that case, the Sun Devils could be in the Alamo Bowl (Pac-12 No. 2) or find themselves as low as the Sun Bowl (Pac-12 No. 4).
Scenario 4: Lose to Arizona, Lose to Stanford
Here's every Sun Devil fan's worst nightmare, and it's a lot more likely to happen than scenario two. If the Sun Devils lose to Arizona, they'll be hard-pressed to score a victory over the Cardinal in Palo Alto. In this case, the Sun Devils would finish at 9-4 and potentially have four teams picked ahead of them.
Arizona would end its season with four losses if the Wildcats beat Arizona State, and Washington could also have an 8-4 record with a win over Washington State this weekend. In that scenario, the Pac-12 would have seven teams with at least eight wins and no more than four losses. Because the Sun Devils would have nine wins and played in the conference championship game, they would be picked over the Wildcats and Huskies.
In this scenario, the Sun Devils would likely end up in the Sun Bowl as the Pac-12's No. 4 team. Stanford, Oregon and the winner of the UCLA-USC matchup would each have a one-game advantage on Arizona State. However, even in this scenario, Arizona State could still be passed over and end up in the Las Vegas Bowl in favor of the loser of the UCLA-USC matchup. It's unlikely to happen, but still, it's a possibility.
It is important to remember that bowl committees are not required to take the team with the best record that is available to them. A 10-3 USC team could very well be picked over a 10-2 Oregon team, especially because Oregon has publicly declared its disappointment in not contending for the national championship.
Bowl committees are responsible for choosing the most desirable teams for its bowl games and at this point in the season, Arizona State still remains a very desirable choice.