My best guess: Bulls will face Oregon
There are a ton of scenarios that can play out this weekend to determine which Pac-10 team will face USF in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, but the most likely outcome as I see it has the Bulls playing another former No. 2 team that has fallen on even harder times, Oregon.
The games that will largely determine USF's opponent are UCLA at Southern Cal and Arizona at Arizona State, which will determine the Pac-10 champion. The variables for USF are whether the Pac-10 sends two teams to the BCS and whether the Sun Bowl wants to bring Oregon State back to El Paso for a second year in a row. The Pac-10's bowl agreements don't allow bowls to pick teams; they are handed the team that's in their slot in the standings. The lone exception is that a bowl can choose not to take a team if it had that team the previous season and take the next team in line. The scenarios:
USC and Arizona State both win: USC, currently 8th in the BCS, and ASU, currently 13th, both likely go to the BCS. Arizona State isn't a total lock, but it'd come down to the Sun Devils battling Hawaii and Virginia Tech for the last at-large if the Hokies lost the ACC title game. Presuming ASU is in, the Oregon-Oregon State winner goes to the Holiday Bowl, and the loser would fall to the Sun Bowl. If that loser is Oregon State, the Sun could pass and choose UCLA. If ASU isn't in the BCS, it gets complicated, and the Sun could have Oregon, Oregon State or UCLA.
USC loses, Arizona State wins: ASU goes to the BCS, and USC would likely still go as an at-large, but not for sure: The Big 12 No. 2 and SEC No. 2 are locks for at-larges, and if Boston College and Tennessee win close games Saturday, then Virginia Tech would likely get the third, leaving USC and Hawaii to fight for the last spot in the BCS. For giggles, we'll say USC goes to the Holiday. That leaves UCLA at 6-3 in Pac-10 play, along with the Oregon-Oregon State winner. It doesn't matter who wins at Oregon; UCLA has beaten both teams and would have to be the Sun Bowl's pick in such a scenario.
USC wins, Arizona State loses: This is the craziest: USC goes to the BCS, but what about Arizona State? They'd be on the BCS bubble and likely out, but if Hawaii lost and conference championship favorites like Virginia Tech and LSU won, the Sun Devils could somehow sneak in. More than likely, it's ASU to the Holiday, which would put the Oregon-Oregon State winner in, unless the Sun doesn't want Oregon State. Who would be next? There would be a three-way tie with 5-4 league records -- Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And because Arizona beat Oregon and UCLA, the Sun could turn to Arizona, which is loaded with USF coaching connections.
There you have it. Three basic scenarios, with a couple of variations within, but all plausible ones that could yield to Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA or Arizona. I think USC, Arizona State and Oregon State will win, which would send Oregon to El Paso. It might not shake out until Washington and Hawaii finish around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, so stay tuned. Thoughts?