The 2013 college football season is now behind us. It was a year of ups and downs for every major team in the state. From season-ending injuries in September to coaching changes in December, the year brought drama that culminated in bowl games for BYU and Utah State.
But as it is wont to do, the conclusion of this year's football season already has us peeking forward to 2014.
With the implementation of a new postseason playoff format and a filing cabinet full of newly inked contracts between conferences and bowls, many Cougar, Ute and Aggie fans are wondering what next year’s postseason bowl options may be.
For the University of Utah, each new season comes with the possibility of an automatic bid to a major bowl. Due to new selection rules, Utah State could also find itself competing for a high-profile game slot, should it take care of its business. BYU, on the other hand, has no contractual tie-in for a major bowl and would have to have a historically great season and earn its way in at-large.
But those are the best-case — and frankly unlikely — outcomes for each team’s postseason. Beyond that there are a number of factors that will determine where BYU, Utah and USU would play their postseason bowl games should they be eligible.
The University of Utah
Utah probably needs to get into a postseason bowl in 2014 or the team may find itself looking for a new head coach. With former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen coming in to run the offense, the team will look to put together more wins than the past two seasons and secure themselves a spot above the .500 line.
So where would the bowl-bound Utes end up?
Winning the Pac-12 is a very tall task for anyone in 2014, as the league is one of the best in the nation. And it’s likely next year the winner of the Pac-12 championship gets selected by the committee into the four-team playoff bracket, though not guaranteed.
While the pinnacle of achievement for Utah would be a berth in the playoffs, I’m confident Kyle Whittingham isn’t putting that up on the bulletin board.
But let’s assume another Pac-12 team does get into the four-team playoff.
The Rose Bowl is hosting a semifinal playoff game next season — along with the Sugar Bowl — so it won’t be taking the next Pac-12 team. By process, the Orange, Chick-fil-A, Fiesta and Cotton Bowl will take turns taking conference champions and making at-large selections.
After that field is set, the other bowls begin picking teams for their games. For the Pac-12, those bowls are the Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Buffalo Wild Wings, Fight Hunger and Las Vegas bowls.
So if Utah were to have an amazing turnaround, it could end up in a major bowl we used to call “BCS games.” It would require a monumental improvement over 2013 and is unlikely, to be sure. But don’t forget, Auburn was 3-9 last season and nearly won the national title this week.
Dream turnarounds aside, should the Utes become bowl eligible, they would find themselves somewhere in Texas, California or Nevada come the 2014 holiday season.
Utah State University
For the Aggies, the upcoming season offers a level of optimism not seen in Logan since, well, 2013. But prior to that it was long ago.
With Chuckie Keeton back from knee surgery, hopes are high for USU as it capped an 8-4 regular season off with a near win against Fresno State in the MWC Championship Game and a victory over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
In 2014, its second year in the MWC, Utah State no doubt expects to be even better. So what are the Aggies’ bowl prospects?
For the first time in 2014, a team from a non-AQ conference with the highest ranking — in the human/computer compiled formula formerly called BCS rankings — will be granted an automatic bid in one of the major bowls that isn’t hosting a semifinal playoff game.
So for the 2014 season that means a Utah State team that has a tremendous run and beats out schools like Central Florida and Northern Illinois in the rankings could play in the Orange, Fiesta, Cotton or Chick-fil-A bowls.
Sure, it’s not likely, but it’s certainly possible. And it’s a worthy goal for Utah State to aspire to.
Barring that, the MWC bowl selection process allows the Las Vegas, Poinsettia, New Mexico, Hawai’i and Famous Idaho Potato to pick — in that order — teams to play in their games.
The smart money is on Utah State to be found in Vegas or San Diego again next year.
Brigham Young University
For BYU, the 2014 bowl picture is as clear as caffeine-free Diet Coke.
As of now, the Cougars have no contractual relationship with any bowl game this upcoming season. But that may soon change.
“I know for next year’s game, we’re working on something new,” athletic director Tom Holmoe said in December. “I can’t say anything about it until it gets done.”
Speculation is Holmoe is referring to landing a deal with a new bowl game. There are a couple postseason games that hope to begin in 2014, which are still without certification. One of those is the Christmas Bowl, a game its hopeful sponsors want to play in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum — though not actually on Christmas Day.
"There's no question there are more BYU fans down here than any part of the country,” Los Angeles businessman Derek Dearwater and Christmas Bowl founder said. “They do well, they cheer well — they love their team. It would be a huge success to have them align with us for one year out of the next six."
But much would still have to happen for that game to become a reality.
Aside from a new bowl, a BYU team coming off a phenomenal regular season could feasibly be selected as an at-large team for a major bowl. That’s the ideal scenario for Cougar fans, but very unlikely.
BYU could also find itself taking the spot of a conference that failed to qualify enough teams for its bowl agreements. That has happened in the past, like it did for Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl this year. But it's no guarantee.
What BYU has going for it in this odd predicament is its relationship with ESPN. The network has repeatedly restated its great business relationship with BYU and works with the school regularly for mutually beneficial causes.
ESPN happens to run eight bowl games presently, plus owns the broadcast rights to nearly all the remaining. And bowl contracts have always been somewhat fluid to allow the TV networks and bowl executives to improve matchups and fill slots — think Boise State and TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
The bottom line is if ESPN wants to get BYU on TV in a bowl game, it probably has the sway to make it happen. But it’s likewise not guaranteed.
So for now, BYU fans find their bowl prospects murky and anxiously await an announcement from Holmoe.
Ryan Teeples, twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah, is a marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. (RyanTeeples.com) and regular contributor to LoyalCougars.com.
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