This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The season ended Saturday, and yet the free fall continues.
That's how it felt for some Utah fans Thursday, apparently disheartened by reports that No. 24 Utah has become more likely to face BYU as a repeat guest of the Las Vegas Bowl.
FOX Sports' Stewart Mandel tweeted: "Don't get your hopes up yet, State of Utah, but I'm told a Vegas Bowl Holy War is becoming realistic," followed an hour-and-a-half later by "So ... Utah fans you're saying you DON'T want to face your rival in a bowl game. I find that hard to believe."
Whether or not Mandel's followers are representative of Utah's wider fan base, Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti said Thursday a Utah return now seems "more likely than it did" earlier in the week. BYU like Utah, 9-3 has already accepted its invitation.
Here's how Utah could resume its rivalry nine months sooner than expected: The Pac-12 gets only one team into the New Year's Six bowl games (the winner of USC vs. Stanford, in the Rose Bowl). The Foster Farms Bowl selects 5-4 UCLA instead of a 6-3 Utah, Washington State or USC (believed likely by Sun Bowl officials). The Sun Bowl, which must pick in order of conference wins, then chooses whichever remains of 6-3 Washington State or USC instead of Utah.
Welcome back to fabulous Las Vegas, Utah.
No part of the above scenario is far-fetched, but it's far from certain. The three most likely ways Utah ends up elsewhere, in no particular order:
1. The Pac-12 gets two teams into the New Year's Six bowl games • This could be accomplished by Stanford beating USC and making the four-team College Football Playoff, thanks to Clemson or Alabama losses, or by Stanford losing to USC and somehow snatching an at-large bid over several one- and two-loss teams. The Sun Bowl would be obligated to select Utah as the only remaining 6-3 team, even if the Foster Farms Bowl was dead-set on 5-4 UCLA.
2. The Holiday Bowl selects Utah • One bowl executive had last heard Thursday afternoon that Utah was the Holiday Bowl's preference. Holiday officials have said they're weighing the pros/cons of Utah (a formerly No. 3 team with highly motivated fans/losers of three of six with a plodding offense), Washington State (fresh off its best season since 2003/drubbed in the finale without its concussed starting quarterback) and USC (nearby brand-name powerhouse/last year's invitee).
3. The Sun Bowl selects Utah • Played the day after Christmas in El Paso, the Sun Bowl worries less than many other bowls about how many of a team's fans will travel and more about TV ratings, with a mid-Saturday slot on CBS. USC's historical profile pairs nicely with Miami, the expected ACC opponent, and the Trojans hold a head-to-head win against the Utes as a tiebreaker. Washington State, in Mike Leach, has a onetime wildly successful Texas Tech coach who is popular among many alums in the area. Utah would hope its "U. vs. U." and "Dennis Erickson vs. his old team" storylines can compete.
That Utah might court a Sun Bowl berth will feel like a precipitous drop to anybody paying close attention.
Earlier in the week, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham told The Tribune that he expected Utah to play in the Holiday or Foster Farms bowls. A Sun Bowl official said he'd be surprised if the Utes were still available by the time the Sun chose. None of the major outlets projected Utah to Vegas.
So what changed? Maybe nothing. But some executives at other bowls did not foresee the Foster Farms' preference for UCLA. By selecting a 5-4 UCLA, the Foster Farms would give the Sun Bowl a choice it once didn't expect to have.
Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas believed Thursday that choice will be between Utah and Washington State.
And no, his bowl hasn't made it yet.
2015 Pac-12 bowl selection order
No. 1 Rose Bowl • vs. Big Ten champ, 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif., on ESPN
No. 2 Alamo Bowl • vs. Big 12 No. 2, 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 in San Antonio, on ESPN
No. 3 Holiday Bowl • vs. Big Ten, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30 in San Diego, on ESPN
No. 4 Foster Farms Bowl • vs. Big Ten, 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26 in Santa Clara, Calif., on ESPN
No. 5 Sun Bowl • vs. ACC No. 3-6, noon Saturday, Dec. 26, in El Paso, Texas, on CBS
No. 6 Las Vegas Bowl • vs. MWC No. 1 or BYU, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 in Las Vegas, on ABC
No. 7 Cactus Bowl • vs. Big 12 No. 6, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 in Phoenix, on ESPN