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The Cats and Devils are playing for even more than usual. Photo by Wildcat Universe

The Arizona Wildcats are playing for the Territorial Cup on Friday. They’re playing for bragging rights, they’re playing for 10 wins, and they’re playing for a shot at one of the big six bowl games.

One win probably gets them there. Three more wins probably gets them the exact same bowl.

Here’s why the new playoff / bowl system is going to take some getting used to: A team’s bowl ceiling is going to change from year to year and you can get to a point where winning doesn’t help you anymore.

I still believe the winner of the Arizona / ASU game is going to the Fiesta Bowl, as long as UCLA loses in the Pac-12 Championship Game. A 10-2 team on a winning streak will be more attractive than a 10-3 team losing to a team for the second time. It doesn’t seem right to penalize the Bruins for winning the division but that’s the risk of making two of your best teams play a conference title game.

The oddity is, even if the Territorial Cup winner wins the division and wins the Pac-12 Championship Game, they’re still probably headed to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Rose Bowl is part of the playoff this year and it would be very hard for a two-loss Pac-12 team to jump past Florida State and one-loss champions from the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten to make the four-team field. So…

Territorial Cup win + lose South = Fiesta Bowl


Territorial Cup win + win South + win Pac-12 championship = Fiesta Bowl

For Friday’s winner the outcome of the UCLA / Stanford game probably has no bearing on its bowl destination after all. Playoffs!

Now, obviously, winning a Pac-12 championship is an enormous goal in and of itself. Wildcat Universe will most definitely be rooting for the Arizona / Stanford victory combo on Friday. But it is funny that, in 2014, for a two-loss team, winning the Pac-12 probably doesn’t get you a better bowl than if you finish second in your division.

Here are my short-version predictions for all of 9-2 Arizona’s new possibilities:

Lose to ASU
Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta: ASU
Alamo: UCLA
Holiday: USC
San Francisco: ARIZONA

Beat ASU, lose South
Playoff: Oregon

Beat ASU, win South, lose to Oregon
Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta: none
The Wildcats are the only 10-win Pac team after Oregon in this scenario but would the selection committee ding the UA for losing to a team it beat earlier? It would be another case of penalizing a team for winning its division but I could see it happening.

Beat ASU, win South, beat Oregon
Playoff: none
The dream here would be the committee liking the 11-2 Cats (with wins over ASU, Utah and two wins over the Ducks) enough to make the “Final Four.”

(Hold on, I’m getting lightheaded again…)

The bottom line is the Utah win was huge. There are no bad bowls or destination cities left on the menu.

And the Cats are one win away from a very happy new year.

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