Should BYU not attach itself to a bowl game in 2017?

What are the options if BYU football does not have a bowl place secured for 2017?

Ever since BYU has been an independent they have been locked into a bowl games such as the Hawaii, Miami Beach and Las Vegas Bowls; but, what if the Cougars were to be a free agent in the bowl field. As of now, BYU does not have a tie-in for the 2017 season and maybe it is a good idea to keep options open for next year’s football team.

Wednesday night BYU takes on an 8-5 Wyoming team out of the Mountain West with a bowl payout of $612,500.

With so much shuffling in the bowl season maybe it would be a good idea for BYU to test the open market and hope that a better matchup, location and payout could be had.

Kalani Sitake was asked about not having a bowl game secured for 2017 and he sees both positives and some negatives.

“I don’t really care. That is way above me, so that is a question for Tom Holmoe,” Sitake said during media availability leading up to the bowl game. “I see the positive of knowing where we are going ahead of time and it makes a lot easier once we are bowl eligible since we know where we are going. Everyone is shooting for the top first of all, but I am not concerned where we are bowling next year.”

BYU is likely going to be attached to a bowl game next season but there could be an itch to put things on the line and try to play oneself into a better bowl game rather than be locked into one spot.

The bowl games that BYU has been a part of have not really been against big time opponents, or exciting matchups. There was the Las Vegas Bowl last season against Utah but in the six bowl games since becoming an football independent only two matchups have been against a team from a power conference. The other was the 2013 game against Washington in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl.

With BYU’s schedule in the regular season featuring plenty of power conference opponents the bowl game can sometimes feel like a downgrade.

So, why not wing it as a free agent?

This bowl season there are seven bowl games that either had to take teams from a different league or pick a team that was not bowl eligible. This is the second year that multiple teams with losing records made it to the post season and that trend likely will continue until next year.

Here are the seven bowl games and their payout that had to go to a secondary plan.

Las Vegas Bowl: Houston was the replacement team vs. San Diego State and the payout is $1,350,000

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho was the replacement team vs. Colorado State and the payout is $325,000

Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion was the replacement team vs. Eastern Michigan and the payout is $450,000

Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech was the replacement team vs. Navy and the payout is $675,000

St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State (losing record) and Miami (OH) were the replacement teams and the payout is $537,500

Cactus Bowl: Boise State was the replacement team  vs. Baylor and the payout is $3,325,000

Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii qualified with a losing record and is playing Middle Tennessee State and the payout is $650,000

Looking at these bowl games there is just two matchups vs. Power Five teams in Mississippi State, who finished 5-7, and Baylor who lost its final six games and is 6-6. Playing Mountain West champion San Diego State and a ranked Navy team would be intriguing, as would be playing a sneaky good Middle Tennessee State team that puts up a lot of points.

Also there is the downside where BYU could be left out of a bowl game. While that is very unlikely there were only two teams with a losing record that got a bowl bid in Mississippi State and Hawaii, plus the Cougars play 13 games next season and that means they need to win seven games to be bowl eligible.

Another consideration is money. The Poinsettia Bowl pays out $612,500 and there are eight bowl games that pay less than that amount, but that also means that many more pay more. The Cactus Bowl this year helped Boise State earn about five times more than going to any other league-affiliated bowl game that was not named the Las Vegas Bowl. In theory, the Cougars could earn a lot more money by going at it alone this bowl season.

Positives are playing in a better bowl game against a Power Five team like Baylor, even though the Bears have been playing bad football of late. Perhaps even more intriguing, from a BYU fans perspective, is the option of playing into a better bowl game or not knowing until the games are announced of a bowl location.

Playing into a better bowl game would be difficult as a free agent since bowl games have backups with other leagues and a bowl would likely still take its conference affiliated team even though BYU might have a better record. So, to get to a potentially better bowl game the Cougars would start at the bottom of a leagues pecking order.

For example, the Cactus and Las Vegas Bowls which needed replacements for the Pac-12 so they made a deal with Houston for the Las Vegas game but the Cactus Bowl had a backup with the Mountain West. The Cougars will not be able to take over the Pac-12 No. 4 spot which is the Sun Bowl even though they may have a better record than the team in the spot, but BYU would likely take over the lowest spot available that a league will not fill.

Trades can be made, again look at Houston in Las Vegas, but those are hard to navigate and could leave teams in the cold. While BYU is not Louisiana Tech, but what happened to the Bulldogs could be a cautionary tale. Back in 2012, Louisiana Tech had a very good year where they went 9-3 and they tried to leverage that success to a better bowl game. That backfired as they were not happy with the prospect of playing Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl, but Louisiana Tech wanted more time to look around as they felt they had better options. The end result was Louisiana Tech sitting home despite having their best team since 1997 which had a 9-2 record.

BYU as an at-large or free agent bowl team more than likely would not fall to the same fate as Louisiana Tech, but there is a risk of that happening.

Ideally, if BYU were to want to get into a better bowl game they should attempt to either secure a deal with a particular bowl game — similar to what Navy has done in the past — or be an option like Notre Dame is with the ACC as they are a partial member. The latter might be more difficult as Notre Dame has a contract in place to play five football games with the ACC and all of their other sports are in the league, and BYU does not have that luxury.

BYU should be find regardless but not being affiliated with a bowl game gives some extra spice late in the football season.

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