Cal Football: Bowl Projections -- Santa Clara Is Bears' Most Likely Bowl Destination

The Iowa Hawkeyes could be Cal's bowl opponent, and they are nationally ranked.Photo by Jeffrey Becker - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

The experts have spoken this week, and the majority of the 11 sites we cited project that Cal (7-5) is headed to the Redbox Bowl to play a Big Ten team on Dec. 30 in Santa Clara.

(Sports Illustrated and Yahoo bowl projections added Wednesday.)

Three of those sites suggest Cal’s opponent will be Iowa, and the Hawkeyes would be quite a challenge. Iowa (9-3) is ranked 18th in this week’s AP poll and knocked off Minnesota on Nov. 16 when the Gophers were No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Furthermore, all three of the Hawkeyes’ losses were to ranked teams, and all three of those losses were close – 10-3 against Michigan on the road, 17-12 against Penn State at home and 24-22 against Wisconsin on the road.

Two sites have Cal facing Indiana in the Redbox Bowl. The Hoosiers (8-4 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) did not hav any big wins, and their best result was probably their 34-27 loss at Penn State.

Here are the experts’ projections, with further explanation provided below the list:

USA Today: Cal vs. Iowa, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Levi's Stadium), Dec. 30 

Brett McMurphy: Cal vs. Indiana, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara), Dec. 30 

247 Sports: Cal vs. Illinois, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara), Dec. 30 

College Football News: Cal vs. Iowa, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara), Dec. 30 

Yahoo: Cal vs. Indiana, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara)

ESPN (Kyle Bonagura): Cal vs. Iowa, Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara), Dec. 30 

ESPN (Mark Schlabach): Cal vs. Boise State, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21

CBS Sports: Cal vs. Boston College, Sun Bowl, Dec. 31 

Bleacher Report: Cal vs. Wake Forest, Sun Bowl, Dec. 31 

Sporting News: Cal vs. Texas, Alamo Bowl, Dec. 31 

Sports Illustrated: Cal vs. Michigan, Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27

(Projections of Sports Illustrated and Yahoo will be added later this week.)

There remains some uncertainty about Cal’s bowl destination, and nothing will be certain until the final CFP ranking are released on Sunday, Dec. 8.

Two of our expert sites project Cal to wind up in the Sun Bowl in El Paso against an Atlantic Coast Conference team. One site (Yahoo) suggests Cal will be in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan, another (Mark Schlabach) predicts Cal will play in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State, and one (The Sporting News) projects Cal to land in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio against Texas. 

It’s hard to imagine Cal landing in the Alamo Bowl, though, based on the Pac-12 bowl pecking order, which is listed below. The Alamo Bowl has the second choice of a Pac-12 team if no Pac-12 team reaches the College Football Playoff, and it has the No. 3 pick if Utah makes it to the four-team national championship tournament.

But Utah, Oregon and USC all have better records than Cal, so those three presumably would go to the top three postseason destinations (CFP, Rose Bowl, Alamo Bowl).  

By the way, if Utah beats Oregon Friday and the Utes somehow reach the College Football Playoff, the Ducks would not necessarily be the Pac-12 representative in the Rose Bowl. The highest ranked remaining Pac-12 team would go to the Rose Bowl in that case, and USC could pass Oregon in the final CFP rankings if Oregon looks meek against Utah.

The only bowl represented at Cal’s regular-season finale against UCLA was the Holiday Bowl, and Holiday Bowl selection committee chairman Cherry Park laid out a scenario that could put the Bears in the Holiday Bowl. She was there to look at Cal.

Cal’s bowl destination remains uncertain for two reasons:

1. If Utah gets into the College Football Playoff, the other Pac-12 bowl-eligible teams would move up a notch in the bowl pecking order. If the Pac-12 champ does not reach the College Football Playoff and winds up in the Rose Bowl, each conference team would go down a spot in the bowl chain.

2. Three Pac-12 teams – Cal, Washington and Arizona State – have identical records of 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the conference. That leaves it up to the bowls in that selection range to decide which teams they will invite. The Redbox Bowl presumably would want the Bears, since their fans could make the short trip to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, boosting attendance.

Here is the pecking order of the Pac-12's bowl tie-ins:

1. College Football Playoff -- Any Pac-12 team that finishes in the top four of the final College Football Playoff rankings on Dec. 8 will participate in the national-championship playoff.

1A. Rose Bowl (Pasadena) -- The Pac-12 champion or the highest ranked Pac-12 team if the conference champion is in the College Football Playoff will play in the Rose Bowl, probably against a Big Ten team.

2. Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) -- The No. 2 Pac-12 team would play the Big 12 No. 2 team.

3. Holiday Bowl (San Diego) --The No. 3 Pac-12 team would play a Big Ten team. 

4. Redbox Bowl (Levi Stadium, Santa Clara) --The No. 4 Pac-12 team would play a Big Ten team. 

5. Sun Bowl (El Paso) --The No. 5 Pac-12 team would play an ACC team.

6. Las Vegas Bowl -- The No. 6 Pac-12 team would play a Mountain West team.

7. Cheez-It Bowl (Phoenix) --The No. 7 Pac-12 team would play the Big 12 No. 6 team.

Which bowl would you like to see Cal play in?