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The latest BYU, Utah bowl projections: What the loss to Coastal Carolina did to Cougars’ postseason hopes

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Coastal Carolina’s Shemari Jones runs out of the backfield during the first half of a college football game against BYU Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Conway, S.C. Coastal Carolina won 22-17.

Richard Shiro, Associated Press

BYU’s first loss of the season — the 22-17 loss at Coastal Carolina, a game that came together on short notice — did a real number on the Cougars’ bowl prospects this year.

Last week, four national publications had the Cougars reaching a New Year’s Six destination, the Fiesta Bowl. Now, BYU — as expected, with dropping to 9-1 on the year — is out of the NY6 conversation.

Here’s where the Cougars are projected to play, with the postseason scheduled to start in two weeks (barring any changes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic).

Bowl projections, Week 14
Projection BYU Utah
Athlon Sports Famous Idaho Potato, vs. San Jose State None
CBS Sports Montgomery, vs. Liberty None
College Football News Boca Raton, vs. UCF None
ESPN, Kyle Bonagura Famous Idaho Potato, vs. San Jose State None
ESPN, Mark Schlabach New Mexico, vs. Nevada None
Sporting News First Responder, vs. Liberty None
The Athletic Gasparilla, vs. Boston College None
247 Sports New Mexico, vs. Nevada None

A Mountain West opponent is a popular option

BYU fans may want to tune in for the Nevada-San Jose State matchup this Friday. The Cougars are projected to face the Spartans in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl by both Athlon Sports and ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura, while BYU is matched up against the Wolf Pack in the New Mexico Bowl in projections from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and 247 Sports.

The winner of Friday’s game between Nevada and San Jose State will play in next week’s Mountain West Conference championship.

The Spartans (5-0) are the lone unbeaten team left in the Mountain West, and sit just outside the top 25 in Associated Press and Coaches polls. While San Jose State had back-to-back games canceled by the pandemic — including a game at Boise State — the Spartans jumped back into play last week and beat Hawaii 35-24.

The Wolf Pack (6-1) haven’t had a game canceled this year and their lone blemish is a 24-21 loss at Hawaii two weeks ago. In recent weeks, Nevada has beaten other top MW teams San Diego State and Fresno State.

Other BYU projections

Another potential BYU bowl matchup that showed up twice in projections is a game against fellow independent Liberty, though the bowl is different in each. CBS Sports predicted the Cougars and Flames meet in the Montgomery Bowl, while it’s the First Responder Bowl in the Sporting News predictions.

Liberty is also enjoying a breakout season, having gone 9-1 in the regular season. Of course, COVID-19 issues in the Flames program led to a cancellation of their game last week against Coastal Carolina, opening the door for BYU to face the Chanticleers.

Liberty has a pair of wins over Power Five programs this year — over Syracuse and Virginia Tech — combined with a one-point loss to N.C. State, and are ranked No. 22 in the latest AP poll and No. 21 in the Coaches poll. The Flames haven’t been ranked in the first two College Football Playoff rankings.

BYU is also matched up with eastern teams in two other projections: against UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl (College Football News) and against Boston College in the Gasparilla Bowl (The Athletic), which would give the Cougars their lone Power Five game of the year — if, of course, they don’t schedule one for next week.

The Knights (6-3) sit third in the American Athletic standings this year, with an early season win over Georgia Tech and all three losses coming by eight points or less against other top AAC teams. 

The Eagles (6-5) are 5-5 in ACC play this year, and have played top ranked teams like Clemson and Notre Dame tough — four of their losses came against ranked opponents — though Boston College lost 43-32 last week to Virginia.

What about Utah?

After showing up in three national bowl projections last week, the 1-2 Utes were not predicted to make a bowl by any national publications this time around. This comes after Utah beat Oregon State 30-24 last Saturday for its first victory in a truncated season.

Likely the biggest factor in Utah not making an appearance in the bowl projections this week is that, as of now, only four Pac-12 bowl ties exist after recent bowl cancellations, including the Los Angeles Bowl on Monday and the Las Vegas Bowl last week.

With how unusual this bowl season is, though, the number of Pac-12 tie-ins could change. 

“Speaking of those 13 ESPN-owned bowls: This year more than ever, conference affiliations for those are meaningless,” wrote The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel. “… Basically, as long as each conference gets its promised number of spots among those bowls, ESPN can swap them from game to game as it sees fit.”