Provo • As if losing a 20-point lead in the heartbreaking 35-27 loss to Utah in the rivalry game late Saturday night wasn’t agonizing enough for BYU, coach Kalani Sitake’s football team faces more torment this week as it awaits a bowl invitation.
A postseason berth for the 6-6 Cougars is not quite as certain as it appeared to be two weeks ago when they demolished New Mexico State 45-10 to get bowl-eligible, because there are at least 81 teams that fit that description and only 78 available spots. Virginia Tech (5-6) can join that group Saturday with a win over Marshall.
Most media outlets that make bowl projections still have the Cougars playing in a bowl game — the First Responder Bowl on Dec. 26 is the most popular prediction — but one prominent prognosticator believes BYU will miss a bowl game for the second-straight year.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.com wrote, “Because of primary and secondary agreements with the conferences, I do not have spots to place independents Army (10-2) and BYU. … Also, Wyoming and Louisiana-Monroe do not have spots in a bowl in these projections.”
Certainly, up to four Group of Five conference teams and/or independents, such as BYU, will be left out of bowls, which happened last year to Buffalo, Western Michigan and Texas-San Antonio.
Will one of those teams be BYU? The Cougars had an agreement to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2018 before it folded in January 2017.
BYU administrators are relying on their relationship with ESPN — which owns 13 bowl games — to get them into a postseason game. They know they can’t afford to be picky.
“We are in the middle of a multiyear contract with ESPN to provide BYU with bowl games,” BYU Associate Athletic Director for Communications Duff Tittle told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday. “The agreement is that ESPN will find us a bowl. We were told this summer that we likely wouldn’t find out about the bowl destination until Selection Sunday [Dec. 2].”
So the agony continues as the Cougars wonder what might have been if they had held on to upset the Pac-12 championship game-bound Utes as 11-point underdogs.
In his postgame comments after the loss, Sitake referred to playing in a bowl game several times as if it was a done deal. Tittle isn’t quite as bullish.
“Like almost everyone else who is bowl eligible, we are waiting,” Tittle said. “We don’t have a clear idea what bowl we might be playing in, at this point. We are just glad to be bowl eligible because that was an important team goal this year. All the bowl preparation and the extra game will only help our young team in the future.”
Five of 10 outlets that make bowl projections annually show BYU playing in the First Responder Bowl in Dallas, where Utah defeated West Virginia last year in front of a sparse crowd at the Cotton Bowl Stadium when the bowl was known as the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Three of those five projections point to North Texas as the Cougars’ likely opponent, while one says Army and another says Middle Tennessee State.
At least two outlets are picking BYU to play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 27 against either Missouri or Boston College — Power Five teams that the Cougars would much rather face than a fellow independent or a Group of Five team.
Arizona’s 41-40 loss to Arizona State on Saturday meant the Pac-12 can’t fill all of its bowl tie-ins, so the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix (Chase Field) is looking to fill that spot. BYU would appear to be a desirable participant, given the large number of Cougar fans in the Valley of the Sun. Another enticing possibility for BYU might be the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., against Oregon, the projection being made by 247sports.com.
Some bowl projections for BYU
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura — vs. Middle Tennessee State in First Responder Bowl, Dallas, Dec. 26.
ESPN’s Mitch Sherman — vs. Wake Forest in Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, Fla., Dec. 20.
SB Nation (Jason Kirk) — vs. North Texas in First Responder Bowl, Dallas, Dec. 26.
Sports Illustrated (Eric Single) — vs. TCU in Cheez-It Bowl, Phoenix, Dec. 26.
247Sports.com (Brad Crawford) — vs. Oregon in Redbox Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif., Dec. 31.
NBCSports.com (Bryan Fisher) — vs. Army in First Responder Bowl, Dallas, Dec. 26.
AthlonSports.com (Steve Lassan) — vs. North Texas in First Responder Bowl, Dallas, Dec. 26.
Orlando Sentinel (Brant Parsons) — vs. North Texas in First Responder Bowl Dallas, Dec. 26.
Sporting News (Bill Bender) — vs. Missouri in Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La., Dec. 27.
College Football News — vs. Boston College in Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La., Dec. 27.