If struggling BYU can manage to get bowl eligible this season, ESPN will find a bowl for the Cougars to play in.
It definitely seems strange to be putting BYU and bowl in the same sentence at this point. And not just because the Cougars are coming off losses to LSU and Utah and host No. 10 Wisconsin on Saturday.
The fact that we’re talking about a bowl for a team that’s 1-2 and averaging a measly 11 points per game shows how broken the bowl system is, with more games than there are teams that deserve to play in them. The bar is set extremely low; all you’ve got to do is win six games.
Thirteen bowl teams had 6-6 records last season. Four more were 6-7. Two 5-7 teams played in the postseason with the help of waivers.
It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Cougars can get to six wins with East Carolina, San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, UMass and Hawaii remaining on their schedule.
That will be enough, even if all the wins come against teams that aren’t exactly, shall we say, high profile. Because BYU has a deal with ESPN, and ESPN is looking out for BYU.
It’s not just that ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will air 34 of the 40 postseason FBS games, it also owns through its ESPN Events division 13 games BYU potentially could play in.
“It’s fair to say that our events division has a great relationship with BYU as well,” said Kurt Dargis, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions. “Having that relationship with our events division is, I think, going to work in everyone’s favor when it comes time to set bowl matchups — knowing how many eligible teams there are and everything else at the end of the season.”
BYU had a scheduled bowl tie-in for its previous six seasons as an independent. It is a “free agent” this season, as athletic director Tom Holmoe put it earlier this year.
“I think he was right,” Dargis said. “It kind of works to their advantage to have the flexibility that they’ll have with us to be placed in the best situation possible. Again, assuming they’re bowl-eligible.”
ESPN Events owns the Armed Forces, Birmingham, Bahamas, Boca Raton, Camellia, Famous Idaho Potato, Frisco, Gasparilla, Hawaii, Heart of Dallas, Las Vegas, New Mexico and Texas bowls.
The most likely destination for BYU at first glance might be the Frisco Bowl, which will be played Dec. 20 in the Major League Soccer stadium that is home to FC Dallas. It’s scheduled to be a matchup between an AAC team and somebody from Conference USA, the MAC or Sun Belt … but the second team is somewhat nebulous.
The Frisco Bowl is new to Texas, but it’s not altogether new. ESPN bought it from the AAC and moved if from Florida. BYU played in it in 2014 when it was the Miami Beach Bowl — and suffered the overtime loss to Memphis that turned into the Miami Beach Brawl.
But it’s also possible that a bowl-eligible BYU team could play closer to home because while all the other bowls have established conference tie-ins, there could be some shuffling.
“We’ll work with them,” Dargis said. “And our [ESPN Events division] will work with them to find the best fit geographically and competition-wise, and make sure it’s the best situation for them, the best opponent for them and the best destination available for their fans.”
If the Cougars can find an offense and find a way to win five more games, that is.
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune.