Utes can punch ticket to Rose Bowl with win in Pac-12 title game; Alamo could beckon with a loss, but it may depend on where Washington State ends up

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes offensive lineman Lo Falemaka (69) and offensive lineman Jackson Barton (70) celebrate as the Utes stop the Cougars on 4th down wth just seconds left in the game, giving Utah the victory, in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah Utes, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 24, 2018.

The Utes know they will play in the Rose Bowl if they beat Washington in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game. If they lose, they will be among the top considerations for the Alamo Bowl, with the first pick of Pac-12 teams after the New Year’s Six bowls.

One variable is whether Washington State goes to a New Year's Six game. Another is the perceived level of interest from Ute fans regarding a trip to San Antonio in late December, after many of them traveled to California for the conference title game.

The Alamo Bowl has taken the last two losers of the Pac-12 championship game (Colorado in 2016 and Stanford in ’17). Those fan bases didn’t respond especially well, said Jack Rogers, a longtime board member who attended Saturday’s game.

Corbin Kaufusi makes surprise return

Corbin Kaufusi’s college career wasn’t over after all. Kaufusi watched BYU’s 45-10 win over New Mexico State last week with a big protective boot on his foot, and coach Kalani Sitake said the senior’s college career was over.

However, after getting a few more medical opinions, and hearing from doctors that playing on the foot wouldn’t cause more damage, Kaufusi played against the Utes Saturday night. He recorded a tackle for loss in the first half.

“A great surprise for us,” Sitake said. “Corbin practiced this week, and handled the pain.”

Sitake said that the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Kaufusi will undergo surgery in the near future and won’t play in the bowl game.

The Cougars were without their top two running backs, senior Squally Canada (concussion) and freshman Lopini Katoa (knee). Sitake said Katoa sustained his injury against New Mexico State last week and might be back for the bowl game, depending on when it is.

“The later the better for him, obviously,” Sitake said.

High jumpers

Utah quarterback Jason Shelley and tight end Cole Fotheringham each hurdled a BYU defender on the same drive in the second quarter. Shelley jumped over cornerback Keenan Ellis on an 11-yard run and Fotheringham leaped over linebacker Rhett Sandlin on a 10-yard reception. The drive ended with a blocked field goal.

BYU bowl watch

Arizona’s loss to Arizona State Saturday afternoon kept the Wildcats (5-7) from getting bowl eligible and could help BYU in its quest to receive a bowl invitation.

The Cheez-It Bowl, formerly the Cactus Bowl, is played annually at Chase Field in Phoenix and could be a suitable destination for BYU because there are a lot of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Phoenix area. The bowl has a tie-in with the Pac-12, but if that conference doesn’t produce enough bowl-eligible teams, BYU could fit in nicely.

It is played on Dec. 26.

The Cougars were supposed to go to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego this year, but that bowl went out of business and BYU is truly a free-agent now, looking for a postseason landing spot.

There are 78 bowl spots and at least 80 bowl-eligible teams (six wins), according to TheAthletic.com.

Field goal defense?

BYU’s Khyiris Tonga blocked a 54-yard field goal attempt by Utah’s Matt Gay in the second quarter. It was Tonga’s first career block, but nothing new for the Cougars. Opponents were 6 of 18 on field goal attempts against the Cougars after the block, ranking BYU No. 1 in the country in that category.

Odds and ends

Major League baseball star Bryce Harper was the guest-picker on ESPN’s College GameDay show Saturday morning and picked the Utes to beat the Cougars, then repeated the “I hate BYU” statements he’s made several times in the past. Harper’s wife, the former Kayla Varner, played soccer for BYU before transferring to Ohio State…. Both teams honored Lauren McCluskey, the University of Utah track athlete who was murdered on campus, by placing winged foot decals on its helmets. … BYU players and coaches watched the movie “Creed II” Saturday night.