The football rivalry hiatus inevitably added to the disappointment of BYU fans after the Cougars lost to Utah 20-13 early in the season. One of the most comforting adages in sports is, “There’s always next year,” but this time around, Cougar fans must be prepared to wait until at least 2016 to attempt to regain bragging rights over their neighbors up north.
But there just might be good news for Cougar fans. If the cards play out right, the two teams could play each other again at the end of the season. The Cougars are a shoe-in for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which will likely pit them against the sixth place team in the Pac-12 Conference. With this in mind, it is possible for Utah to end up in the sixth place spot.
The likelihood of this rematch, however, is up for debate. Several pieces must fall into place for the Utes to finish in the right spot, especially after Utah’s recent two game losing skid.
The Universe set out to discover BYU’s likely opponent on Dec. 27, closely examining the Pac-12 Conference and predicting results through the end of the season using statistical analysis.
Currently, the Utes are sitting at 4-4, with two wins needed to become bowl eligible. Their difficult remaining schedule, however, means those two wins are no guarantee. Utah enjoys a bye week before hosting Pac-12 South contender Arizona State on Nov. 9, followed by a trip to the Northwest to play at perennial power Oregon and much improved Washington State. They finish the season by hosting lowly Colorado, perhaps their only virtually guaranteed win from now until the end of the season.
In-house statisticians at The Universe project Utah will split its remaining four contests, defeating Washington State and Colorado while dropping its contests against Arizona State and Oregon. This puts the Utes at a final record of 6-6, with a Conference record of 3-6.
How does that stack up against the rest of the Conference?
Oregon is currently undefeated and will likely finish No. 2 in the nation, thereby qualifying for the BCS National Championship Game. Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State are all either in the Top 25 or right outside. Those five teams are likely to finish one through five in the Pac-12.
On the bottom rung of the Pac-12 are Colorado and California. There’s almost no chance those two teams become bowl eligible. Just ahead of them is where Washington State is likely to fall, leaving Arizona, Washington, USC and Utah juggling the sixth through ninth spots.
Using strength of schedule, point differential and current win expectancy, The Universe projects Utah to finish 9th in the Pac-12. Washington to finish sixth in the conference, leading to a Cougar-Huskies matchup in San Francisco. This wouldn’t be the optimal matchup for fans looking to avenge the loss to Utah, but it would be an intriguing one as Washington did spend some time in the top 25 this year before suffering three straight losses to Pac-12 powers Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State.
However, if Oregon makes it to the National Championship game, the second-place Pac-12 team would play in the Rose Bowl, creating a domino effect that eventually would slot the seventh-place Pac-12 team against the Cougars in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. In that case, The Universe projects seventh-place USC to play BYU.
The Trojans have endured a tumultuous year and fired coach Lane Kiffin midseason. Still, USC boasts one of the best brand names in college football and is the holding place for several future NFL athletes. Such a matchup would give the Cougars a realistic shot at defeating USC in football for the first time in school history.