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Picked in the preseason to finish third in the MWC, BYU is tied for third place with SDSU at 4-2 in league. Second place, 5-1 Utah visits the Aztecs next Saturday.
Bowl destination speculation will intensify after next weekend, as BYU suddenly has a realistic shot of pipping the Utes for a spot in the... Las Vegas Bowl?
TCU is all but BCS-bowl bound, leaving the Las Vegas Bowl with the first selection from among available MWC teams. Utah appeared a good bet for that game after its loss to TCU, but after a setback at Notre Dame, the possibility of a third straight loss looms for Kyle Whittingham's club.
Were Utah to win in San Diego to improve to 9-2, even a loss to BYU could still ticket the Utes for Vegas. Conversely, a Ute loss to the Aztecs probably means the winner of the BYU-Utah game is headed to the Strip. In that scenario, BYU would finish 6-2 in league, tied for second with SDSU, and ahead of fourth-place Utah. With the Cougars and Utes separated by only a single game overall, the Las Vegas Bowl would ostensibly prefer a BYU team on a five-game win streak over a Utah team coming off four consecutive losses--even if it meant a sixth straight BYU appearance at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The assumption is the Poinsettia Bowl will invite home-town team SDSU, currently 4-2 in conference and 7-3 on the season, with home games remaining versus Utah and UNLV.
"We've looked at all the possibilities, and San Diego State is the frontrunner to make their first appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl," executive director Bruce Binkowski told the San Diego Union-Tribune this past week. Navy is already locked in as the first half of the Poinsettia Bowl matchup.
San Diego State's senior associate AD is quoted as saying the Poinsettia Bowl "is what we all hope. That's what we want. I think it's a natural fit. It's a dream match-up for the city and the bowl."
That same San Diego media report contained this nugget: "Poinsettia officials also are not likely to take a six- or seven-win BYU team over SDSU unless they desire local backlash." Not that the Union-Tribune has fostered the impression of being on a university-driven anti-BYU crusade over the last month...
Poinsettia Bowl officials have reportedly said they will not select Air Force to meet Navy in a regular season rematch.
If BYU were to beat New Mexico but lose to Utah to finish 6-6 on the season, it would come come down to the Independence Bowl to choose between the Cougars and a projected 8-4 Air Force team (both teams would be 5-3 in the MWC), with the team not chosen becoming available to the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas. Only if the Armed Forces Bowl were to pass on BYU or Air Force would the New Mexico Bowl be able to grab that team. Otherwise, the New Mexico Bowl's MWC spot would be vacated.
Equally interesting would be the choice the Independence Bowl would have if Utah were to lose out and finish 8-4, tied with Air Force overall and in the league standings.
With Barksdale Air Force base outside Shreveport and Utah on what would be a four-game losing streak and with fading fan interest, I could see the Independence Bowl taking the Cadets over the Utes.
Then, the Armed Forces Bowl would be forced to decide: does it want a slumping 8-4 Utah team, or a bowl-eligible Army team with which it has a new postseason agreement. It is the "Armed Forces" bowl, after all, so Army would be getting more than a cursory nod from the bowl officials in Texas.
In which case... the Utes could conceivably go from playing for a spot in a BCS bowl, to playing in the New Mexico Bowl. It would be a fall from grace as stunning as BYU's current resurgence.
There's a lot on the line in the next two weeks, representing another reminder of just how long and unpredictable the college football season really is.