Barring an epic collapse, the BYU Cougars know exactly where they’re headed in the bowl season.
In contrast, Utah and Utah State might not be going anywhere. Utah may not be eligible and USU may not have a spot to land.
Such a prospect for the Utes seemed inconceivable, coming into this season, considering they have made nine consecutive bowl appearances. Staying home would seem just as unlikely for USU at this point, considering the Aggies have a great opportunity to finish at least 9-3.
But ESPN.com’s weekly bowl projections have left out Utah and USU for two Mondays in a row. That reflects a lack of confidence that the Utes (2-4) will get the required six wins, or that the Aggies (5-2) will earn the Western Athletic Conference’s only guaranteed slot.
A reasonable goal for Utah would be going into the regular-season finale at Colorado with a 5-6 record and bowl eligibility at stake. That would require either sweeping its remaining home games — vs. California, Washington State and Arizona — or picking off at least one road win against Oregon State and Washington.
With one of the country’s least productive offenses and a defense that ranks ninth in the Pac-12 (as judged by conference games only), winning three of the next five games looks like a big chore for Utah.
As for the Aggies, becoming bowl-eligible is not an issue. That should happen Saturday, when they host New Mexico State. But the seven-team WAC has a tie-in with only the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, and USU would have to beat Louisiana Tech on the road to claim the title. Falling short of a WAC championship would leave USU hoping to fill an at-large vacancy that may or may not exist.
BYU (4-3) needs only two more wins to qualify for the Poinsettia Bowl, as contracted. The Cougars would meet a Mountain West team, likely Fresno State or hometown team San Diego State.