That's not exactly the bowl game that many BYU fans, or the athletic department's accountant, would like to see their independent football team play in the future although almost all would acknowledge that there might not be a better destination. However, it probably signifies what the school's postseasons will look like more often that not, athletic director Tom Holmoe acknowledged.
And that's OK with Mendenhall, who repeated on Wednesday his oft-stated belief that BYU will have to go undefeated or 11-1, perhaps even a couple of times in a three- or four-year stretch, to make it into a BCS game this year or the new four-team College Football Playoff that begins in 2014.
"The easy answer is yes, I am satisfied," Mendenhall said. "To me, the question is: What makes sense for BYU? Not, which is the best payout? And then the quality of opponent [is a factor], and I loved the game against San Diego State last year. Some people might have wanted more, but it is another bowl win, in a cool venue. ... And they were a pretty good team."
Mendenhall said he doesn't "see much middle ground, because most of those [more lucrative] bowls are tied up by conferences. So really, our goal is [to make a BCS or College Football Playoff game]. If not, then let's find the very best one for our fans, that makes some sense. And that's kind of what we decided."
Announcements earlier this week from the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco and the Holiday Bowl in San Diego that they will invite only Pac-12 and Big Ten teams from 2014 to 2019 further limited BYU's possibilities in California, and made Holmoe's job even more difficult. It is also why BYU would like to see a proposed bowl in Los Angeles find solid footing and take off, even if Holmoe always speaks cautiously about its prospects.
As of now, BYU doesn't have a bowl agreement for 2014. Holmoe said "we are in good discussions" with several bowls about filling their spots, but the process is complicated and difficult.
"The games I am mostly looking for are in the West region," he said. "The closer to home, the better. And then on occasion set sailing off to some games that might not be in our traditional places."
Like Mendenhall, Holmoe said a bowl's payout falls far down BYU's priorities list. Location is No. 1, followed by television exposure and then quality of opponent.
"We are a good bowl team," Holmoe said. "We are good on TV. We will travel. Conference teams can't do that. Right now, ESPN can slip us into bowl games in the next six years where they need us, and where we want to go. So we have let them know the games we want to be in, and they have let us know the games they want us to be in. And we are working through that right now."
Would BYU ever enter a season without a bowl agreement?
Holmoe said he doesn't want to have to take that gamble, preferring instead to lock the Cougars into a bowl game in each of the next six years, going along with the unofficial "six-year bowl cycle" that seems to have formed. They will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl this year, on Dec. 27, if eligible as the current bowl cycle expires.
There's also the notion, often referred to as an "escalator clause," that would allow a team such as BYU out of a lower-tiered bowl and into a more lucrative one if it reaches a certain number of wins, such as nine. Holmoe said Wednesday that BYU had one of those in the past, but wouldn't divulge which bowl.
"We are working on some of those," he said. "Some bowls won't do it, because they don't know how to get out of it. ... Now, I don't want our fans to start saying, 'Oh, he's got something in his back pocket for every bowl game.' That is not true. We are going to sign contracts with bowls, and those are the games we intend to play."
Selected college football bowl payouts
Bowl Game Location Payout Per Team
Sun Bowl El Paso, Texas $2 million
Cotton Bowl Arlington, Texas $3.65 million
Liberty Bowl Memphis, Tenn. $1.43 million
Holiday Bowl San Diego $2.07 million
Buffalo WW Bowl Tempe, Ariz. $3.35 million
Las Vegas Bowl Las Vegas $1.1 million
Kraft FH Bowl San Francisco $837,500
Armed Forces Bowl Fort Worth, Texas $600,000
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego $500,000
Note • The four BCS games and the national championship game paid between $17 million and $18 million per team last winter.