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Bowl projections: The odds Utah and/or BYU could make a New Year’s Six game

Having both the Utes and Cougars in the College Football Playoff rankings should make the next month interesting

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BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall slides down after a run as BYU and Utah play.

BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) slides down after a run as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For the first time ever, BYU and Utah appeared in a College Football Playoff ranking at the same time Tuesday night, when the Cougars were No. 14 and the Utes No. 24 in the latest rankings.

Following Week 10 of the college football season, the latest bowl projections from national experts show that both teams are at least under consideration for a New Year’s Six game in some capacity. 

The Utes are projected to make the Rose Bowl by four experts, with Michigan State the opponent in three predictions and Michigan the opponent in the other. 

The Cougars, meanwhile, show up as a Fiesta Bowl recipient playing against NC State in the latest USA Today bowl projections.

What are the odds for the two Utah teams to make a New Year’s Six game, with four more weeks of rankings before final selections come Dec. 5?

The case for the Utah Utes

The Utes’ hopes for a NY6 invite revolve around making the Rose Bowl courtesy of the Pac-12’s contracted bid to face a Big Ten opponent in “the granddaddy of them all.”

After five wins in their past six games, the Utes find themselves in control of the Pac-12 South race and closing in on a spot in the Pac-12 championship.

The obvious path for Utah to the Rose Bowl is to win the Pac-12 championship and earn the conference’s automatic bid to the famous bowl destination. 

There could be another way, though. The Utes, who have won the Pac-12 South Division twice in the past three years, are the second-highest ranked Pac-12 team, behind No. 3 Oregon.

If the Ducks stay ranked in the top four, Oregon will be headed to the College Football Playoff. That would open the door for the next-best Pac-12 team — at this point, Utah — to go to the Rose Bowl. 

At least right now, no other Pac-12 team looks poised to break the CFP rankings, outside perhaps Arizona State, and Utah holds the tiebreaker edge over the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 standings after beating them earlier this year.

The key dates to watch: The Utes and Ducks will play on Nov. 20 in Salt Lake City, and it’s expected they will rematch again in the Pac-12 championship on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas. 

The case for the BYU Cougars

Any chance BYU has of making the NY6 begins with this: the two-loss Cougars cannot lose again, and they finish the year with games at Georgia Southern (Nov. 20) and USC (Nov. 27).

Even then, it’s at least a long shot for BYU to make a New Year’s Six game, as the currently independent program — the Cougars join the Big 12 in 2023 — must do so by earning an at-large bid.

The Cougars will likely need to be ranked in the top 10 to earn an at-large bid, as there’s only been two seasons — 2017 and 2018 — where a team ranked lower than No. 10 in the final CFP rankings earned an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.

That means the currently No. 14 Cougars will need to jump at least four more spots over the next four weeks to be in serious contention for an at-large bid. 

BYU will need to look impressive in its final two games and win both, and the Cougars aren’t likely to receive as much help from a win over USC as one might expect, considering the Trojans are struggling this year.

Do this, though, and the possibility remains for BYU to jump into a NY6 at-large spot.

Where the Cougars’ real hopes lie — beyond winning their games — are for results from other matchups to go their way. BYU’s one-spot jump in the CFP rankings this week came courtesy of Auburn, previously No. 13, losing to Texas A&M. The Tigers subsequently fell to No. 17.

There will be contests each week that need to go BYU’s direction, and there are three in particular to watch this week (when the Cougars have a bye): No. 13 Baylor hosts No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 Ole Miss hosts No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 12 Wake Forest hosts No. 16 NC State.  

Over the next few weeks, if teams directly below BYU lose and fail to jump the Cougars, while teams in front of them drop contests and BYU wins, there’s still the off-chance the Cougars could climb into a NY6 spot.

Here’s a look at the latest bowl projections for Utah schools following Week 10 of the college football season:

Utah Utes
(6-3, 5-1 in Pac-12)

Last week, there was a near consensus projection that Utah would face Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, and it stays that way this week, with seven of the current 11 projections predicting that very postseason matchup for the Utes.

The Bears, coming off an upset loss to TCU, face No. 8 Oklahoma this week, and if Baylor were to lose, a team like Iowa State could step into that Alamo Bowl position.

The Cyclones play at Texas Tech this weekend. 

BYU Cougars

Undefeated UTSA remains the most popular projection for BYU’s opponent in the Independence Bowl, and this week the Roadrunners entered the CFP ranking for the first time in school history, coming in at No. 23.

After a 21-point road win at UTEP last weekend, UTSA’s path to an unbeaten regular season has only one team with a winning record left — against UAB on Nov. 20. If BYU can’t reach a New Year’s Six bowl — an admittedly slim chance at this point — a bowl game against a potentially unbeaten Roadrunners program could be a solid postseason game as well.

Utah State Aggies
(7-2, 4-1 in Mountain West)

This is the first week that Utah State is projected by multiple experts to face a Power Five opponent, albeit a different opponent in these instances.

USA Today has the Aggies taking on the Big 12’s West Virginia in the First Responder Bowl, while Sporting News has a P5 matchup that has cropped up before: USU vs. USC in the Los Angeles Bowl. The Trojans, though, still need two wins to become bowl eligible at this point.

There’s still plenty of guessing on just where Utah State will land in the postseason, with the most popular choice this week being the Arizona Bowl, though a Hawaii Bowl matchup against an American Athletic Conference opponent remains intriguing.