Provo • The schedule-maker didn't send independence-bound BYU to Albuquerque, N.M., on its final tour of the Mountain West Conference football circuit this season, but it appears the 6-6 Cougars will head to the Land of Enchantment one last time, anyway.
There are strong indications that BYU will be invited to play in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 18 the first of 35 bowl games against a Western Athletic Conference team, most likely Fresno State or Nevada.
However, Jeff Siembieda, executive director of the ESPN-owned New Mexico Bowl, said Sunday that nothing will be certain until after the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games are announced on Dec. 5, and teams are cleared from BCS consideration.
"Honestly, I don't know," Siembieda said. "But if BYU was available, it would be very, very attractive to us."
Boise State's loss and TCU's win over the weekend, coupled with BYU's 17-16 loss to Utah, cleared the postseason picture for the Cougars considerably.
"It is another opportunity to play, so I am excited," BYU safety Andrew Rich said of the team's bowl possibilities. "We have to put this one [behind] us and try to win the bowl game. â¦ You want to end your career on the right note, so we are going to work our butts off for it."
The clues point to New Mexico for BYU.
Of the bowl-eligible MWC teams available after the BCS takes No. 3 TCU, Utah is expected to be taken by the Las Vegas Bowl. The Poinsettia Bowl will then take hometown San Diego State (8-4) with the second pick, and the Independence Bowl will take Air Force (8-4) with the third pick. The Falcons, Aztecs and Cougars tied for third with 5-3 league marks.
The Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas and the New Mexico Bowl get the fourth/fifth picks in the MWC selection process, although they work together in conjunction with ESPN to decide the particular order each year, Siembieda said.
However, the Armed Forces Bowl has given strong indications that it wants Army, an independent, to pair against one of Conference USA's six bowl-eligible teams. That would leave the New Mexico Bowl with the final bowl-eligible MWC team, BYU.
Army's executive associate athletic director Bob Beretta said as much Saturday night, telling reporters, "It looks pretty certain Army is going to the Armed Forces Bowl" after exchanging text messages with AFB executive director Brant Ringler.
Regarding a possible opponent for the Cougars in New Mexico, that likely won't be decided until the WAC's last round of games this coming weekend, but Siembieda acknowledges, "I would think right now we are in line for a WAC team."
The WAC has four bowl commitments. Hawaii has accepted a bid to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State are already bowl eligible, but if Louisiana Tech (5-6) beats Nevada on Saturday, it would be bowl eligible, too, and that could create a way for Boise State to go to a non-WAC affiliated bowl (such as the Las Vegas Bowl).
If that happens, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco would be expected to take Nevada with the "first" selection, leaving the second-picking New Mexico Bowl to take Fresno State.
Fresno State has been to the New Mexico Bowl two straight years, playing Colorado State in 2008 and Wyoming in 2009. BYU played Nevada on Sept. 25 in Provo, losing 27-13 in freshman quarterback Jake Heaps' first start.
"We have an opportunity to finish the season right, the opportunity to finish the season with a win, and we are going to practice like crazy and regroup and refocus," Heaps said.
Bowl MWC pick Date
New Mexico Bowl 4th/5th Dec. 18
Las Vegas Bowl 1st Dec. 22
Poinsettia Bowl 2nd Dec. 23
Independence Bowl 3rd Dec. 27
Armed Forces Bowl 4th/5th Dec. 30
BYU finishes regular season 6-6
Sept. 4 • BYU 23, Washington 17
Cougars shut out Pac-10's Huskies in the second half, shut down Jake Locker to get first win.
Sept. 11 • Air Force 35, BYU 14
Falcons beat Cougars for first time since 2003 by scoring 28 unanswered points
Sept. 18 • Florida State 34, BYU 10
Cougars trail just 13-10 at halftime, but couldn't get offense going in second half
Sept. 25 • Nevada 27, BYU 13
Defense holds Colin Kaepernick in check, but offense struggles in the red zone
Oct. 1 • Utah State 31, BYU 16
Cougars fall behind 31-3, can't climb out of hole as Aggies' confidence grows
Oct. 9 • BYU 24, San Diego State 21
Coach Bronco Mendenhall takes over defense, results are almost instantaneous
Oct. 16 • TCU 31, BYU 3
Cougars keep it close for 25 minutes, but give up two late first-half TDs
Oct. 23 • BYU 25, Wyoming 20
Cougars nearly blow 16-0 lead, hang on to start season's longest winning streak
Nov. 6 • BYU 55, UNLV 7
Jake Heaps has his breakout game, Cougars roll up 516 yards in easy win
Nov. 13 • BYU 49, Colorado State 10
First road win comes easier than expected as Cougars go 12-for-13 on third down
Nov. 20 • BYU 40, New Mexico 7
Cougars stay hot, use four Lobo turnovers to record third-straight blowout
Nov. 27 • Utah 17, BYU 16
Blocked field goal as time expires prevent Cougars from upsetting Utes