SALT LAKE CITY — With a 34-13 win Saturday night over the visiting Colorado Buffaloes, the University of Utah once again became bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season.
The question now becomes, where will Utah end up in its postseason matchup?
The Utes are one of nine bowl eligible Pac-12 teams this year, but are tied with UCLA for last place in terms of the bowl selection process for Pac-12 affiliated bowl destinations. And with only six Pac-12 affiliated bowls available this season — the Rose Bowl is tied to the College Football Playoffs — Utah will be left to fill one of the countless bowls available, leaving unpredictability in the selection process.
The College Football Playoff committee will determine the four playoff teams and the remaining teams that qualify for a New Year’s Six bowl on Sunday, Dec. 3. Sometime later that day (or possibly before), Utah will likely learn its fate. All of the major media outlet projections have the USC Trojans slated for a NY6 bowl — the Fiesta Bowl — which would give the Pac-12 an extra bowl game.
However, should the Pac-12 not get a team inside a NY6 bowl game, the projections could be significantly altered. The following are the latest projections for where Utah will play sometime in December. However, keep in mind that these are just educated guesses and could very well be wrong come bowl selection day, so take them for what they are.
Location: NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m.
This is the most popular bowl game destination for the Utes as of Sunday. Four of the major sports media outlets — Athlon Sports, CBS Sports, SBNation and SI.com — predict Utah will play in the Texas Bowl. Three of the four outlets have Utah playing Texas and CBS Sports has the Utes playing Kansas State.
Texas had an up-and-down season and finished with a 6-6 record in the Big 12. The Longhorns won only three of their last seven games despite a relatively strong passing offense. Regardless of success, the Texas name itself is worth the price of admission to any bowl game — even if the Longhorns may not be the perennial powerhouse it used to be. Utah is 0-1 all-time against Texas, losing 21-12 on Sept. 18, 1982.
Kansas State, another Big 12 opponent, would also be a fun matchup for the Utes. The Wildcats finished 7-5 on the season, winning four of their last five games, including the penultimate game of the season against then-No. 13 Oklahoma State on the road. Utah and Kansas State have never played each other.
The game would be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, where the NFL’s Houston Texans call home. The Stadium is a great venue and would be relatively close for Utah fans to travel. Should the projected opponents be the same, Utah would be deep inside Big 12 country and would be essentially playing a road game, especially against Texas.
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee
Date: Saturday, Dec. 30 at 10:30 a.m.
NBC Sports is the sole media outlet projecting the Utes to end up playing in the Liberty Bowl. The opponent? Iowa State, the Big 12 spoiler for much of the season. The Cyclones finished with a 7-5 record but beat then-No. 3 Oklahoma and then later in the season then-No. 4 TCU.
The Cyclones, however, finished the season losing three of their last four contests in a November slide. The Utes are 1-4 all-time against the Cyclones, with their only win coming on Oct. 9, 2010, when former Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn torched Iowa State on the road in a 68-27 victory. Utah’s previous four matchups, all in the 1970s, were mostly blowout losses.
The Liberty Bowl can be an ideal bowl for the sheer exposure of being on network television (ABC) and because of its deep history in college football. The bowl is the seventh oldest college bowl game, dating back to 1959.
Location: Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 11:30 a.m.
One of ESPN’s writers, David M. Hale, predicted the Utes would end up in Shreveport, Louisiana to play the ACC’s Boston College. The Eagles finished the season with a 7-5 record behind a rush-heavy offensive front. Although Boston College is a formidable opponent and worthy foe for the Utes, it’s one of the more difficult locations for Utah fans to travel to.
However, Utah has never played Boston College in school history and it would be a great opportunity to play an unfamiliar opponent from across the country.
With that being said, the Independence Bowl was the only bowl to have a representative watching in person at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday night. This bowl has a legitimate shot of being a destination for the Utes, but a representative was also at the Cal-UCLA game Saturday night as well. At least two media outlets have UCLA landing in this bowl instead of Utah.
Location: Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama
Date: Saturday, Dec. 23 at 10 a.m.
The Birmingham Bowl would be the farthest travel for Utah fans and the opponent, Houston, would be the least appealing of all the previously named bowl games. The Cougars won three of their last four games of the season, including a win over then-No. 17 USF, but they’re not the same team as in years past when they repeatedly challenged several Power 5 schools.
Utah is 0-4 all-time against the Cougars, with the latest bout dating back to Sept. 23, 1978, when Houston beat Utah 42-25 at home. Should Utah pair up with the Cougars, it’d be an opportunity to turn the tide against the Cougars and get a win in SEC country.
Leading up to their bowl eligibility, Utah was previously mentioned in several other bowls, including the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Tuesday, Dec. 26), but it seems most media outlets have identified UCLA as the favorite for this bowl. Other bowls linked to Utah in the past include the Belk Bowl (Friday, Dec. 29) and the Quick Lane Bowl (Tuesday, Dec. 26).