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Originally published Monday, November 22, 2010 at 5:10 PM

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Huskies feel good about bowl game chances

Some might scoff at a 6-6 team being glad about getting to a bowl game, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian doesn't feel that way. The Huskies need to win their last two games to qualify.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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California and Washington will meet Saturday in Berkeley as teams with losing records, each having suffered multiple 30-point losses in Pac-10 games, each assured of finishing no better than .500 for the regular season.

But if anyone thinks there's nothing to play for, think again.

Cal and Washington also meet with a berth in a bowl game on the line — possibly even one as attractive as the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

In the new age of college football — where simply getting to 6-6 just about guarantees a bowl game — UW and Cal are right in the hunt, and unashamed of that fact.

"It would be great for a lot of reasons, let's not kid ourselves," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday, listing off that it would be a reward for long-suffering seniors, provide extra practice time for young players to develop and indicate that the program is making progress.

So while some might scoff at a 6-6 team being glad about getting to a bowl game, Sarkisian doesn't.

"I want to get there," he said. "I think that it's a real reward for your hard work and your efforts, to not only your kids and your players but everybody involved in your program. There's so much time and effort that gets put into the season, to reward them with that game, I think is pretty special. So it hasn't lost its excitement for us, that's for sure."

For Cal, the road to a bowl is a little more simple than for UW. The Bears need only beat UW in Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium to get to 6-6, which Cal says will prove as ample motivation to get past Saturday's 48-14 loss to Stanford.

After that game, Cal safety Sean Cattouse told The San Francisco Chronicle "we are going to win that game and we are going to go to a bowl game."

Washington, meanwhile, has to win at Cal and then also at Washington State in the Apple Cup on Dec. 4, a tricky task in any circumstance, but especially considering UW has won just one road game since 2007.

But if UW can get that done, the rewards will be great.

The Pac-10 has six contracted slots with bowl games. And after the results of last weekend, just six conference teams can get eligible, meaning all that get to at least 6-6 are assured a spot.

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At the moment, only three Pac-10 teams are assured of bowl games — Oregon (10-0), Stanford (10-1) and Arizona (7-3).

USC is ineligible due to NCAA sanctions while Washington State (2-9) already has too many losses. Arizona State, at 4-6, is also technically ineligible since two of its wins came against FCS teams (just one is allowed) though there has been talk of attempting to waive that rule if the Sun Devils get to 6-6 and are needed to fill a Pac-10 slot.

UW, Cal, UCLA (4-6) and Oregon State (5-5) are also still in the hunt.

But since UCLA and ASU play each other this week, as do UW and Cal, two teams will be eliminated by Saturday.

In fact, should UW beat Cal but then lose to WSU, there's a chance that the conference could have just three bowl teams. The Pac-10 has had at least five teams in bowls every year since 1996 and last had as few as three in 1988.

Because of the proliferation of bowls and the possibility that there wouldn't be enough .500 or better teams to fill all the spots, there had been conjecture that the NCAA would alter the rules to allow losing teams in, if needed.

But that doesn't appear likely to be necessary. After last weekend there were 64 teams assured of bowl eligibility with another 20 that could still get to .500 or better, including the likes of Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Houston and Tennessee.

Odds are, at least six more will get to .500 or better, allowing the bowls to fill their slots without dipping into the ranks of the losing.

The Pac-10's six bowl spots are the Rose, Alamo (in San Antonio), Holiday, Sun (in El Paso), Las Vegas, and Kraft Fight Hunger (in San Francisco).

But if Oregon plays in the national title game, that could move all of the Pac-10 teams up a spot, meaning UW could end up as high as the Holiday (even the Alamo might be theoretically possible, though that seems like a reach).

UW players, though, aren't picky.

"It's one of the big reasons I came back was the opportunity to do that, to play in a bowl game and go hang out somewhere for a week with the team and do some fun things," said quarterback Jake Locker. "And just enjoy that experience for a week. It obviously means a lot to me."

Notes

• Sarkisian said Locker made it through the UCLA game fine and he anticipates him being able to play against Cal.

• In the only new injury, starting guard Ryan Tolar is struggling with a sprained knee and is day-to-day.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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