Now that the Utah Utes have dramatically improved their bowl outlook, the issue of a potential rematch with BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl is surfacing — from the BYU side, anyway.
But a postseason pairing with Utah is not going to happen.
It’s true that BYU and UCLA met twice in 2007, including the Las Vegas Bowl. That was an unusual case, however, when the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) had only six bowl-eligible teams and such a rematch was unavoidable. The irony is the ‘07 game was the most competitive Las Vegas Bowl ever involving BYU, which needed Eathyn Manumaleuna’s block of a field-goal attempt on the final play to preserve a 17-16 win over UCLA, playing for an interim coach.
Bowl organizers generally dislike rematches, and the geography of a Utah-BYU pairing makes it illogical to bring both of those teams to San Francisco. USC (4-2) is consistently projected by ESPN.com as the Cougars’ opponent.
The Pac-12 should have nine bowl-eligible teams. So even if Oregon plays in the national championship game and opens a Rose Bowl slot for UCLA or Stanford, that would leave the Fight Hunger Bowl with some alternatives. It also means that one Pac-12 qualifier likely would have to find a vacancy outside of the conference’s affiliated bowls.
The bottom line for the Utes (4-2), coming off Saturday’s 27-21 upset of then-No. 5 Stanford, is they need to finish better than 6-6 — which would mean having a 3-6 conference record — to ensure themselves of a bowl berth reasonably close to home. They also would like to rise above the level of the New Mexico Bowl, against a middle-tier team from the Mountain West.
BYU (4-2) also needs just two more wins to become bowl-eligible and, considering the depth of the Pac-12, is sure to face a quality opponent in San Francisco.
The Cougars obviously would welcome another shot at Utah, having lost four straight games to the Utes and knowing their next scheduled game in the rivalry is not until 2016. Utah wouldn’t lack motivation itself, but a rematch would not be as meaningful to the Utes after they already extended their reign in the series with a 20-13 victory in Provo last month.
I’ve always wished the Utes and Cougars could meet twice a year, as NFL divisional rivals do, but I’m not advocating a possible rematch in San Francisco. I’d rather have these teams prove themselves against other opponents to conclude the 2013 season.