Last week, the Brigham Young Cougars accepted an invitation to play in the New Mexico Bowl. After a couple days waiting to learn who the opponent would be, the UTEP Miners from Conference USA accepted an invitation of their own. The game will take place December 18. It will be the first bowl game played. There are many different ways for BYU and its fans to view this bowl game. Some are positive and others are negative.
Happy to be Here
First, and foremost, BYU should be happy just to be in a bowl. Two months ago sitting at 1-4, BYU was just thinking damage control. A bowl game seemed out of the picture. The loss to Utah was tough, since it seemed like another trip to Las Vegas would have followed. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I am going to call it a positive for BYU to be playing in the New Mexico Bowl, because any bowl is better than no bowl.
First Bowl Game
This is the biggest negative about the New Mexico Bowl, especially since BYU didn't know immediately following the Utah game that this would be their destination. The NCAA allows teams 15 practices for bowl games. That equates to an extra spring practice. With the destination unknown, Bronco Mendenhall gave the team all of last week off. That leaves just two weeks to practice. Somewhere in there, BYU will lose a day for travel and getting situated. BYU will be lucky to get 10 practices in.
BYU should want every opportunity to build on the success down the home stretch. It is a great way to jump on preparations for 2011, especially since the first two opponents (Ole Miss and Texas) are not playing in bowls.
Being first does have some advantages. Just glancing at the bowl schedules on sites like ESPN, and the New Mexico Bowl comes first. That means more eyeballs are seeing that BYU is in a bowl game. One point for extra exposure. Being the first bowl game, and one played on Saturday, more "casual" viewers can be expected. Two points for increased exposure. I don't think, however, that this increased exposure (the primary reason for going independent) is enough to offset the negative of missing out on several practice sessions.
Overall, playing in the first bowl game is negative.
BYU has been playing in Las Vegas ever since the Bronco Mendenhall era began. The last time BYU played in a bowl outside the Sin City was in 2001. I like the fact that BYU is going somewhere different. My preference would have been the Independence Bowl against an ACC team (Georgia Tech landed there this year). Not only would BYU be playing a more formidable opponent, but the Independence Bowl will be played December 27, which would give BYU plenty of time to hold all the allotted practice sessions. Although playing in Vegas has represented consistently strong play by BYU, we all know that even with a win over Utah this BYU team was not the same as the last four years. Rather than try to camouflage that with another Bowl in Las Vegas, it is good that BYU is going somewhere else.
Although I really want to, I won't double penalize for not getting the full 15 practices. That makes the new destination aspect a positive. It also can symbolize the new direction of BYU football to independent status, and the new direction that this team has taken after the abysmal start.
BYU will be playing a fresh face. True, BYU has played UTEP over 30 times. The last game was way back in 1998. Ah, the good old WAC days.
More importantly, BYU will be playing a team that they can beat. UTEP is bowl eligible for the first time since 2005. The Miners don't have a very impressive resume. As I mentioned, this bowl represents a great way for BYU to get a jump on the 2011 season. For this particular team, I think it is better that BYU go into the off season with a win. Excitement needs to be high, but it needs to be bridled.
Hopefully, UTEP can give BYU enough of a game that no on the team has the mentality that "order is restored" and they don't need to give 100% every day of the off season to get better. I think UTEP is the kind of team that can do that. In 2009, UTEP was just 4-8, but they busted Houston's BCS bubble with a shocking upset. No one should be overlooking the Miners. They are not the same doormats that BYU dominated in the WAC.
The opponent is a positive.
The bowl game is a huge positive for BYU. I am excited for it. Except for the lack of practice time, it is hard to find a better scenario for BYU to finish this year.