Things haven't gone perfectly for Utah's three biggest football programs in 2012. But as they did last season, BYU, Utah and Utah State could each be heading to postseason play.
The real question is where they will be playing and who their opponents will be. So here's a breakdown of where each team stands, along with a sampling of what national sources are predicting.
The Cougars' fate is already sealed; they've cemented a deal with the Poinsettia Bowl for 2012. They do need to be bowl eligible to qualify, of course, but that means they're just one win shy with three games left. Considering their opponents are Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State, it's a safe bet that the 5-4 Cougars will make it to .500.
So who will they play? That's becoming pretty clear, too. The Poinsettia Bowl gets the second choice of bowl-eligible teams from the Mountain West Conference (the Las Vegas Bowl gets first dibs and would almost certainly choose Boise State at 7-2). Since the Poinsettia takes place in San Diego, the 7-3 San Diego State Aztecs make the most sense.
The Utes' picture is much muddier. The biggest obstacle for them is that they aren't bowl eligible yet. They stand at 4-5, with games at Washington (5-4) and Colorado (1-8) and at home against Arizona (5-4) remaining. They'll need to win two of those three to get to .500 and become eligible, and after last year, even Colorado isn't a gimme.
Assuming the Utes do make it to 6-6 or better, they'd likely be pretty low on the Pac-12's list of bowl obligations. Five teams in the Pac-12 are already eligible: Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Four more still have a shot: Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Utah.
The Pac-12 has seven official bowl partners: the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Maaco, Kraft Fight Hunger and New Mexico Bowls. If more than seven Pac-12 teams end up with bowl eligibility, the Utes would likely end up as an odd team out.
But that wouldn't make a bowl berth impossible. Other conferences may not have enough eligible teams to fulfill their obligations, leaving those bowls free to select an at-large team.
Under this scenario, CBS Sports' Jerry Palm has the Utes filling an empty Big East slot in the Pinstripe Bowl, held in Yankee Stadium in New York on Dec. 29. He predicts they'd face old MWC foe TCU, now part of the Big 12.
ESPN's Mark Schlabach thinks Utah would fill in for an ineligible ACC team against Middle Tennessee (in place of Army) in the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 27.
The Aggies are the only team of the three that has already clinched bowl eligibility at 8-2. Their games remaining, at Louisiana Tech and home against Idaho, are key in the WAC championship race, but wins or losses may not change their bowl fate.
That's because the WAC only has one bowl tie this year: the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. And they're not obligated to pick the WAC champion; they just get the first pick of any bowl-eligible WAC team.
Given Utah State's proximity to Boise and the need to sell tickets, the Potato Bowl would probably take a long look at choosing the Aggies over Louisiana Tech, even if the No. 20 Bulldogs end up WAC champs. (There's also an outside chance that the Bulldogs could grab a BCS berth, but it's unlikely.)
Who would Utah State play? Bowl ties indicate it would be a team from the Mid-American Conference, where six teams are already bowl eligible. CBS predicts the 9-1 Northern Illinois Huskies would face the Aggies. So does Sports Illustrated.
But ESPN's analysts think Utah State will instead fill an at-large berth in a different bowl, similar to Utah. Mark Schlabach predicts the same matchup against Northern Illinois, but in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26. The Aggies would fill an empty Big Ten slot.
His colleague Brad Edwards says the Aggies will head to the Independence bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, to face Louisiana-Monroe, as neither the SEC nor the ACC would be able to furnish bowl-eligible teams to fill the bowl's slots.
In any case, it's a solid bet that Utah State will go bowling somewhere for the second straight year and just the eighth time in the team's history.
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