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This is kind of fun.
BYU has always known which bowl game it would go to if it became bowl-eligible since going independent in 2011 because it had agreements in place before the seasons started. Not this year, however, thanks to the Poinsettia Bowl folding in January of 2017. The Cougars were supposed to spend a week in San Diego in December of 2018, but that obviously won’t happen, unfortunately.
Let the guessing game begin. That’s where the fun comes in.
I’ve spent a lot of time the past week — since the Cougars fell 35-27 to Utah in the rivalry game to complete the regular season with a 6-6 record — trying to track down bowl directors and others to get a feel for where BYU might go bowling.
I’ve learned that very few bowl directors return phone calls and/or emails, and those that do will not talk on the record. I’ve also learned that a couple bowls being mentioned by national media outlets as possibilities for the Cougars aren’t all that interested in BYU.
The Walk-On’s Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., fall into that category.
Which bowls are most interested?
My best guess is that BYU is headed to Texas to play in one of three ESPN-owned bowls in the Metroplex:
• The Frisco Bowl on Dec. 19 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco against a Mid-American Conference (MAC) team.
• The First Responder Bowl on Dec. 26 at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas against any of about a half-dozen candidates from Conference USA or the American Athletic Conference.
• The Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 in Fort Worth at Amon G. Carter Stadium against a Big 12 team (probably the least likely of the three).
Several bowl directors said ESPN, which owns and/or operates 16 bowls, is calling all the shots, with some input from bowl directors and committees. And a lot depends on what happens in the AAC championship game Saturday between Memphis and Central Florida.
If UCF wins, it will go to a New Year’s Six bowl game and free up a minor bowl spot for someone else.
“In my mind, BYU fans should be UCF fans this weekend — because that opens up a spot, which is all-important,” said one bowl director.
Another non-Texas bowl director said BYU seems to be most interested in playing in the Frisco Bowl, if it was “given its druthers.” He also added that the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix — formerly the Cactus Bowl — recently jumped into the mix as a possibility for BYU and might make a late push depending on what happens in the Pac-12 championship game.
“Everybody in the business knows BYU sells tickets and brings eyeballs,” he said.
But the Cougars can’t afford to be picky, even with its relationship with ESPN, several directors stressed.
“They have built a great brand over the years, and they have a great partner in ESPN, which has 16 bowls out there,” said one director. “BYU utilized its leverage previously to set up some good scenarios for itself, but it can’t be choosy this time around, especially sitting on that 6-6 record.”
Stories from the past week
• At 6-6, BYU’s football team will almost certainly go to a bowl game. But there’s always a chance the Cougars could get left out, cozy relationship with ESPN or not. Trib
• A lot of returned missionaries take awhile to find their groove, but not BYU guard Connor Harding, who has made an instant impact since returning to the basketball team in late June. Trib
• BYU basketball coach Dave Rose’s team can’t shoot straight — from 3-point range or the free-throw line. Misfires cost them dearly on the road at Illinois State on Wednesday night, and the Cougars fell 92-89 in overtime. Trib
• BYU’s 35-27 loss to Utah was more agonizing than usual for Cougar fans because their team led 27-7 midway through the third quarter. Trib
• My follow from the BYU-Utah football game focused on how the Cougars lacked the depth needed to upset the Utes after several key players missed most of the second half due to injury. Trib
• Don’t say you weren’t warned. This piece outlined how shorthanded the Cougars were at running back before the rivalry game. Trib
• Deseret News columnist Dick Harmon takes a look at Washington State coach Mike Leach’s family ties to BYU and the state of Utah. Dnews
• New Utah athletic director Mark Harlan is apparently in favor of continuing the Utah-BYU football rivalry as long as possible. Why wouldn’t he? The Utes have won eight straight. Dnews
• Nice tribute to BYU defender Corbin Kaufusi in the Provo Daily Herald by Darnell Dickson. Herald
Here’s BYU football coach Kalani Sitake on how difficult it was to accept another rivalry game loss to Utah:
“It hurts and it is supposed to hurt, and that’s OK. We have another game to prepare for. We’re going to learn as much as we can from this. I think it is supposed to hurt. Luckily, we get this game early next year. We feel bad for the players and for our fans. But they have to wait less than a year to play against Utah again."
• BYU’s women’s volleyball team drew a No. 4 seed for the NCAA tournament and will begin play in the Big Dance on Friday against Stony Brook in the Smith Fieldhouse. Utah is also in BYU’s bracket, and could face the Cougars on Saturday if it beats Denver on Friday and the Cougars down Stony Brook.
• BYU’s gymnastics head coach Guard Young announced Wednesday that he has hired Leonid Matsyuk as a volunteer coach. Matsyuk was a reserve for the Ukraine Olympic Team from 1995-2000 and most recently has been a coach at USA Gymnastics World in Woods Cross. Better, he once performed for Ringling Bros. Circus.
• BYU senior offensive lineman Austin Hoyt has accepted an invitation to play in the 94th East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 19, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The 6-foot-8 Hoyt started in 30 games and played in 50 for the Cougars and is a team captain this season.