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Enchanting matchup: BYU to play SMU in New Mexico Bowl

Southern Methodist quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) scrambles under pressure from Tulane linebacker Devean Deal (90) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Southern Methodist quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) scrambles under pressure from Tulane linebacker Devean Deal (90) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)


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PROVO — BYU's 2022 season has been hardly enchanting, but the Cougars will end it in the Land of Enchantment.

BYU has accepted an invitation to the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 17 after finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record.

It's the second appearance for the Cougars (7-5) in the bowl that traditionally pits a member of the Mountain West against a member of Conference USA. BYU will face SMU, which finished 7-5 and a 5-3 record in the American Athletic Conference. Action Network's Brett McMurphy was the first to report the news.

The New Mexico Bowl will be played for the 17th year at University Stadium (capacity: 39,224) on the campus of the University of New Mexico. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. MST on ESPN.

Kickoff and the television network could change in the coming days, though, if the NFL flexes the Las Vegas Raiders-New England Patriots game currently scheduled for Dec. 18 to an earlier window. If that happens due to logistical concerns, the New Mexico Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl will flex times, with ESPN moving the BYU-SMU kickoff to 5:30 p.m. MST on ABC.

"We appreciate this invitation from the New Mexico Bowl to come to Albuquerque and face a very good SMU team," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said in a statement from the school. "Rhett Lashlee is an excellent coach, and he has his team playing very well right now. Our team is excited for the challenge and for another chance to take the field together. We are grateful for this opportunity to have a great bowl experience for our players."

The Cougars are 3-0 all-time against the Mustangs, but haven't faced SMU since 1997. The most memorable meeting, of course, is the first, when quarterback Jim McMahon engineered was many consider to be the greatest bowl comeback in college football history for a 46-45 win over the Ponies in the 1980 Holiday Bowl to cap an 11-1 season.

The Cougars are 1-0 all-time in the New Mexico Bowl, a 52-24 win over UTEP under former coach Bronco Mendenhall in the final year as a member of the Mountain West in 2010. That game drew an announced crowd of 32,424 fans, the second-most in the bowl's history and double last year's 16,422 that watched Fresno State's 31-24 win over UTEP.

Then-freshman quarterback Jake Heaps threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns in BYU's last trip to the New Mexico Bowl, but the Cougars are more likely to start Jaren Hall this time. The redshirt junior said he was "all good" after leaving BYU's regular-season finale at Stanford with an apparent ankle injury, and has maintained that he will play in the bowl game during several interviews in the week since then.

Those Cougars were 6-6 in 2010, including a 5-3 record in Mountain West play that included losses to Air Force, then-No. 4 TCU and a one-point loss to then-No. 23 Utah before rebounding against the Miners.

"We gratefully accept the invitation to participate in the 2022 New Mexico Bowl," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. "We had a fantastic experience 12 years ago in Albuquerque and look forward to returning to the warm hospitality and incredible southwestern culture.

"With a pre-Christmas game, we anticipate Cougar Nation will have a strong showing at the game. The New Mexico Bowl also closes the independence chapter of BYU football and ushers in the era of the Big 12, and we look forward to what's ahead."

Other possibilities and projections for the Cougars included the Frisco Bowl in Texas; the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama; and the Cure Bowl in Orlando. BYU was not contracted with a specific bowl game, like it was a year ago with the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, but rather contracted to appear in one of 16 bowl games owned by ESPN Events.

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.

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