As of mid-September, Gary Cavalli was probably the last person anyone expected to see in Provo in late October.
Cavalli is the executive director of the Fight Hunger Bowl, which contracted BYU to play in the Dec. 27 game in San Francisco — as long as the Cougars reached the required six wins. BYU (6-2) received Cavalli’s formal invitation after last Friday’s 37-20 defeat of Boise State.
The prospect of having the bid in hand at this stage seemed very unlikely after a 20-13 loss to Utah left the Cougars with a 1-2 record. Quarterback Taysom Hill’s passing accuracy stood at 35 percent for the season.
Even with a probable win against Middle Tennessee to conclude September, the Cougars faced a challenging October schedule of trips to Utah State and Houston and home games with Georgia Tech and Boise State. Some observers wondered if they would be bowl-eligible by the end of November — much less October.
The Cougars have come a long way since that loss to Utah with five straight wins. BYU should finish no worse than 8-4, with wins over Idaho State and Nevada, and beating Wisconsin or Notre Dame is not out of the question. Regardless of which Pac-12 team faces BYU in San Francisco — various projections suggest USC, Arizona or Oregon State — the matchup will be intriguing.
The Utes (4-4) actually are where I thought they would be after they left Provo with a 3-1 record. They already had dropped their Pac-12 opener against Oregon State, and their October schedule was tough. The surprise, of course, was that Utah upset Stanford, while losing the other three games.
That sequence of beating the Cardinal and then losing to Arizona and a depleted USC team makes Utah seem worse than 4-4. Yet other than quarterback Travis Wilson’s injured hand, not much has changed.
The reality is that winning at Arizona or USC would have been an achievement. Assuming a loss at Oregon and a win over Colorado, Utah’s bowl hopes revolve around beating either Arizona State at home or Washington State on the road. That pretty much was always going to be the case, entering November.
If the Utes finish 6-6 (with a 3-6 conference record), they probably won’t land one of the league’s affiliated bowl slots. That would force them to compete for a vacancy elsewhere, but that’s an issue for another day.
Utah State (4-4) is in very good position to claim one of the Mountain West’s bowl bids, with three of its remaining four games at home. The Aggies have a chance to win out against Hawaii, UNLV (road), Colorado State and Wyoming. And judging by how well San Diego State played in an overtime loss to unbeaten Fresno State, SDSU could knock off Boise State, giving USU a division title and a berth in the Mountain West championship game.
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