Brigham Young plays San Diego State in San Diego's Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night, and unlike most every other college football team, BYU has known most of the season exactly where it's headed in the postseason.
Welcome to independence, BYU. Count it as a cost of freedom.
BYU, without a conference tie-in, has had to work its own bowl deals. So the Cougars are BCS or busted all the way down to whoever BYU can sign up with. Earlier this year, the Cougars signed a contract with the Poinsettia Bowl. Next year, BYU has a contract with the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe says he's working on an agreement for 2014.
Basically, BYU's bowl options are clear. Win all its games, it is headed for the BCS. Win anywhere from six to 11 games – 6-6, 11-1, it's all the same – and the Cougars are headed to their contracted bowl.
“I don‘t have any really ideal preferences,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told the Salt Lake City Tribune concerning future bowl contracts. “Bowls have already contacted us, saying they would have a sincere interest, because … we travel so well.
“We have kind of been reached out to, over the last couple of years, pretty heavily. It will be interesting to see … where we might end up.”
Independence has had its ups and downs for BYU. The Cougars left the Mountain West Conference primarily because it tired of being the prize television pick for a conference that garnered a lowly contract. BYU signed a contract with ESPN worth $4 million a year.
But BYU's schedule as an independent took a hard hit. While the Cougars had a decent slate of games in September and October (Washington State, Utah, Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech), the Cougars in November became Team Irrelevant. BYU played Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State.
Worse yet, Utah is taking a two-year hiatus from its series with BYU, for no good reason.
There has been talk of BYU, San Diego State and Boise State rejoining the Mountain West – the Aztecs and Broncos are headed to whatever's left of the Big East – and while that certainly would end the Cougars' sudden independence and likely cost them on TV payouts, it also would enhance BYU's post-season possibilities.
UPSET SPECIAL East Carolina over Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Lafayette has the most impressive victory and the most impressive defeat, compared to East Carolina.
The Ragin' Cajuns, who came to Stillwater in September and were blasted 65-24 after OSU quarterback Wes Lunt was injured on the game's first drive, later went to Florida and had the Gators on the ropes before a late collapse let UF survive 27-20.
Louisiana-Lafayette also won 40-24 at mid-major darling Louisiana-Monroe.
But while the Cajuns made their bowl debut a year ago in the New Orleans Bowl, East Carolina has a solid post-season resume'. The Pirates played Maryland (after the 2010 season), Arkansas (2009), Kentucky (2008), Boise State (2007) and South Florida (2006).
Louisiana-Lafayette is a 61/2-point favorite, but let's go with East Carolina in the upset.
THE LIST: Pre-Christmas bowls
1. Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs. Boise State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Take advantage of any chance to watch Boise State on a green field.
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Brigham Young vs. San Diego State, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN. Old Mountain West foes, played every season but two from 1978 through 2010. BYU leads the series 27-7-1.
3. Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State vs. SMU, 7 p.m. Monday. SMU coach June Jones' seventh Hawaii bowl; five as Hawaii's coach and two as SMU's.
4. New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN. Hey, a chance for OSU fans to check out East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who could be a candidate for Mike Gundy's staff opening.
5. Beef O'Brady's Bowl: Ball State vs. Central Florida, 6:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN. The Mid-American Conference has seven bowl teams – Ball State, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Kent State. That's the same as the Big Ten and more than the ACC.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT: Chris Petersen
On Jan. 4, 2010, Boise State beat TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. It was the Broncos' second Fiesta Bowl victory in four years – anyone remember the first? – and Boise State football was becoming a name brand.
On Labor Day eight months later, Boise State beat Virginia Tech 33-30 in a rousing game at the Redskins' stadium, and Petersen's stock could not go higher.
Since then, Boise State has suffered the fate that threatens every mid-major: slight slippage causes irrelevancy.
Boise State stumbled in November 2010, losing 34-31 at Nevada. That cost the Broncos a likely Rose Bowl bid.
In 2011, Boise State beat Georgia in Atlanta but lost 36-35 at home to TCU, costing the Broncos a Sugar Bowl bid.
And in 2012, Boise State lost 17-13 at Michigan State, then 21-19 to San Diego State. So back to the Las Vegas Bowl go the Broncos for the third straight year, against Washington.
Boise State usually takes care of business in Vegas – it beat Utah 26-3 in the 2010 bowl and Arizona State 56-24 in the 2011 bowl.
But with the Big East in total meltdown, Boise State's future with that conference is in flux, and its status as America's football darling is in jeopardy.
Petersen is a made man in Boise, as he should be, but Boise State has tasted the sweet nectar of national acclaim and would like to taste it again. Beating Washington in the Vegas Bowl is a small step back toward relevancy.