Viva Las Vegas? Why most bowl projections have Utes playing in Sin City

Exterior view of Allegiant Stadium before the Las Vegas Raiders played the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL game on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. Utah could be playing at the stadium in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Exterior view of Allegiant Stadium before the Las Vegas Raiders played the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL game on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. Utah could be playing at the stadium in the Las Vegas Bowl. | John McCoy, Associated Press

For the first time in three years, the Utah Utes won’t know their bowl game destination heading into Selection Sunday.

Utah won Pac-12 championships in back to back years, earning two trips to the Rose Bowl, but after finishing the 2023 regular season at 8-4 and 5-4 in Pac-12 play, the Utes’ bowl game destination is still up in the air. On Dec. 3, when the four teams in the College Football Playoff, the New Year’s Six bowl games and the rest of the 43 total bowl games will be announced, Utah will find out where it is going bowling.

Ahead of Selection Sunday, Oregon and Washington will square off in the Pac-12 championship game Friday with playoff implications on the line. With a win, the Huskies are in the playoff. If the Ducks win, they have a good chance to make the playoff.

Assuming the winner of Oregon and Washington will have a spot in the playoff, with the loser going to a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl game, that would mean third-place Arizona would slot into the Pac-12’s top non-New Year’s Six bowl game, the Alamo Bowl.

After the Alamo Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 23, 5:30 p.m. MST) would have the next selection.

With Oregon, Washington and Arizona likely off the table before the Las Vegas Bowl’s pick, the committee would choose between the next three teams in the standings, all of whom hold a 5-4 Pac-12 record — Oregon State, Utah and USC.

Oregon State, which beat Florida 30-3 in the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl, is likely out of consideration due to the bowl committee wanting to avoid a repeat appearance.

That would seemingly narrow down the Las Vegas Bowl’s options to Utah or USC.

Utah fans generally travel well to bowl games, and would likely have a good showing with the game just 420 miles away from Salt Lake City. In wildly different circumstances, to be sure, Utah fans flooded the Strip and packed Allegiant Stadium in 2021 and 2022 for the Pac-12 championship game. There won’t be a repeat of that fan turnout, but the Las Vegas Bowl organizers can still bank on good attendance from the Utah faithful.

On the other hand, selecting USC would provide the Las Vegas Bowl with a brand-name school. The downside is that Caleb Williams, the Trojans’ star quarterback, is not expected to play in the postseason contest. After a disappointing season that saw USC lose five of its last six games, will Trojan fans show up en masse for a bowl game?


Utah’s last appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl came in 2015, when the Utes outscored BYU 35-0 in the first quarter before hanging on for a 35-28 win. Other Las Vegas Bowl appearances include a 17-16 win over Fresno State in 1999, a 10-6 win over USC in 2001, a 26-3 loss to Boise State in 2010 and a 45-10 win over Colorado State in 2014.

The Las Vegas Bowl was previously played at Sam Boyd Stadium and usually featured a Mountain West team against a Pac-12 team, but the bowl game was reimagined beginning in 2021.

Now played at state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, the Las Vegas Bowl pits a Pac-12 team against a Big Ten team in odd-numbered years and an SEC team in even-numbered years.

With less than a week to go until Selection Sunday, most of the bowl projections point Utah to Sin City against a Big Ten team.

The Las Vegas Bowl selects fourth in the Big Ten’s non-New Year’s Six bowl order.

With Michigan likely in the College Football Playoff and 11-1 Ohio State and 10-2 Penn State probably in New Year’s Six Bowl games, the Citrus Bowl (Big Ten’s No. 1 non-NY6 bowl) will take Big Ten-runner up Iowa. Wisconsin and Northwestern, the two next-best teams according to conference record, could be picked up by the ReliaQuest Bowl and Music City Bowl. Wisconsin, having played Arizona State in the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl, is ineligible to be picked for Sin City, according to the Big Ten.

Maryland or Northwestern or Northwestern are the most likely opponents for Utah should the Utes be selected for the Las Vegas Bowl.

Utah and Maryland have never played each other in football, while Utah and Northwestern have played three times. The Wildcats outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter in the most recent matchup, a 31-20 defeat in the 2018 Holiday Bowl.

If USC is picked for the Las Vegas Bowl, the furthest Utah could realistically fall is the Sun Bowl. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego (Dec. 27, 6 p.m. MST) has the next pick, and the most likely ACC opponent is Clemson. Oregon State is the most popular pick for the Holiday Bowl, but a couple of projections have the Utes facing the Tigers at Petco Park. That would be the first meeting between the two schools.

If the Las Vegas Bowl goes with USC and Holiday Bowl picks Oregon State, the Utes would bookend their Pac-12 tenure in the Sun Bowl in El Paso (Dec. 29, 12 p.m. MST), which selects after the Holiday Bowl. There’s a wide range of ACC teams that could play in the Sun Bowl, but the first-ever meeting between Utah and Miami could be fun.

Utah is looking for its first bowl win since a 30-14 victory over West Virginia in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Here’s what bowl media outlets project the Utes to go to

ESPN: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Maryland.

247Sports: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Maryland.

Athlon Sports: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Maryland.

The Athletic: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Northwestern.

Action Network: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Northwestern.

Sporting News: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Northwestern.

Fox Sports: Holiday Bowl vs. Clemson.

College Football News: Holiday Bowl vs. Clemson.

CBS Sports: Sun Bowl vs. Miami.