BYU had hopes of landing an upper-tier bowl game with a resume that includes a 10-2 record and the College Football Playoff ranking — No. 13 — only a dozen teams can trump.
BYU went 5-0 against Pac-12 teams this season and also defeated Virginia of the ACC.
Yet, the Cougars aren’t even close to the New Year’s Six and landed in a bowl game that gets the team back home well before Christmas.
Being an independent brought limited options and the Cougars are putting on brave faces when they discuss the reality: a matchup with UAB on Saturday in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
But Cougars coach Kalani Sitake, who just received a contract extension through 2027, opts against joining the woe-is-us rhetoric.
“I hope you know how excited we are to perform in this bowl game next week,” Sitake told reporters. “We are focused on the game and having a wonderful time at the Independence Bowl.”
Quarterback Jaren Hall said the message has been consistent since the bowl site was announced.
“Kalani has been pumping energy into us, and the other coaches have done a great job of continually harping on the importance of this next game,” Hall told reporters. “I think as players we are taking it and running with it. I think the energy will stay the same.”
There is no such issue for UAB (8-4), which is playing in a bowl game for just the fifth time.
This is the fourth bowl appearance in coach Bill Clark’s six seasons, and BYU easily represents the toughest foe.
“BYU is a big-time, quality opponent,” Clark told reporters. “We know we’ve got our work cut out for us. We have a lot of work to do to compete with them, but we are excited. It is a great step for our program, no doubt.”
Clark took over prior to the 2014 season, and the university disbanded the program following the season. Public outrage led to a reversal, and football was reinstated for the 2017 season.
The Blazers notched their lone bowl win in 2018 when they drubbed Northern Illinois 37-13 in the Boca Raton Bowl.
This season, UAB lost two games against ranked teams, falling to then-No. 2 Georgia 56-7 in September and to then-No. 15 UTSA 34-31 in November.
Stunning the Cougars would rate as one of the top wins in program history.
UAB will be trying to slay a program that beat Pac-12 champion Utah as well as Arizona, Arizona State, USC and Washington State.
The Cougars average 33.5 points and 457.1 yards per game, with Hall and running back Tyler Allgeier leading the way. Hall has passed for 2,583 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions while Allgeier ranks eighth nationally with 1,409 rushing yards and is tied for the national lead with 20 touchdowns.
Defensively, middle linebacker Ben Benwater has a team-leading 93 tackles.
UAB also has a strong running back in DeWayne McBride, who has racked up 1,188 yards and 12 scores on the ground. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins has thrown for 2,085 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Highly regarded nose tackle Tyree Turner (3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles) fuels a run defense that ranks 11th nationally by allowing 104.2 yards per game.
UAB and BYU are meeting for the first time.
–Field Level Media