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No. 13 BYU to report to Independence Bowl against UAB

Southern Mississippi, left, and UAB face off at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.

Southern Mississippi, left, and UAB face off at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Dominic Gwinn, Hattiesburg American via AP)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

PROVO β€” BYU wants Alabama.

Birmingham, that is.

The No. 13 Cougars accepted its contracted bid Sunday to the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl, a $1.2-million payout game in Shreveport, Louisiana and one of the oldest bowl games in college football where they will meet Alabama-Birmingham from Conference USA.

The Cougars were on track for a New Year's Six bowl game, and perhaps could have made it had Baylor not beaten Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game, among other results. Instead, they'll report to Shreveport on the second day of bowl season at 1:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 18 on ABC.

"I want to thank the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl for this invitation and opportunity to come to Shreveport to face a very good UAB team," said BYU coach Kalani Sitake in a statement from the school. "UAB is very well-coached and has had a lot of success under the leadership of Bill Clark, who is an exceptional coach. Our team is excited to have one more opportunity to take the field together and build upon what we have already accomplished together this season. We are looking forward to the matchup."

UAB is one of the best stories in college football. Just four years after cutting the program and bringing it back again, the Blazers are 8-4 with a 6-2 record in Conference USA play β€” the second-best team in the West division behind league champion UTSA.

In 2017, the Blazers were bowl-eligible in their first season back from a two-year hiatus and won the first conference title in program history in 2018, when Clark was named National Coach of the Year.

But unlike perhaps much of the offensive-powered Conference USA, UAB is led by its defense. The Blazers held opponents to 22.8 points per game and just 104.2 rushing yards per game, anchored by All-Conference USA defensive end Alex Wright. The Pro Football Focus C-USA Defensive Player of the Year totaled 42 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles on the year, when he graded out at 91.3 in the analytical firm's rating service.

On offense, the Blazers are led by running backs DeWayne McBride, who ran for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns, and junior Jermaine Brown, who added 584 yards and seven scores including a hat trick in his most recent game. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins is a 64.2% passer for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions for UAB.

"We are happy to accept the invitation from the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl and look forward to facing UAB," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a statement from the school. "It has been a phenomenal season for our program. I'm so happy for Kalani, his staff and his players and credit to them for putting together an inspiring 10-2 record in what has been the most challenging schedule in BYU Football history.

"Let's win one more and finish strong an already-incredible BYU Football season, and incredible 2021 calendar year for BYU Athletics, and continue to build upon a very bright future entering into the Big 12."

BYU (10-2) won double-digit games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2011. That includes a 6-1 mark against Power Five competition, a perfect 5-0 record against the Pac-12, and the Beehive Boot with wins over Pac-12 champion Utah and Mountain West champion Utah State.

The 11th-oldest bowl game in college football, the Independence Bowl was established in 1976 as a nod to the bicentennial celebration of the United States, and has gone on to feature six Pro Football Hall of Famers, 20 College Football Hall of Famers and 73 first-round draft picks in the NFL Draft.

It's also back on ABC for the first time since 2014, and will be played before Christmas for the first time since 1990.

BYU is in the first of a three-year contract with the Independence Bowl in 2021, 2023 and 2025, though it's unclear what the future of the current deal holds with the Cougars' impending move to the Big 12 in 2023. The bowl game is currently scheduled to host either Army or BYU against the Pac-12, American Athletic Conference or Conference USA through 2025.

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