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Which ESPN-owned bowl game will get BYU? Does Cougars’ QB Jaren Hall plan to play in it?

Deseret News 12/2/2022 Jay Drew
BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) warms up before taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. © Spenser Heaps, Deseret News BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) warms up before taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

It is almost like a spreadsheet is needed to keep track of all the questions surrounding the BYU football program these days as the Cougars prepare to play in their 17th bowl game in the last 18 seasons.

At the top of the questions list: Which ESPN-owned bowl BYU will play in this year, and against which team? The answer should be known no later than Sunday, perhaps after the final College Football Playoff rankings are released.

As the Deseret News noted, eight different destinations are predicted for the Cougars among the 10 national projections surveyed. So it is still a big guessing game.

“Oh yeah, I am playing, for sure. That’s the focus right now. ... Good to go, yup. Just a little precaution (for him to leave the Stanford game). Wanted to make sure we would be OK. So, we will be A-OK.” — BYU QB Jaren Hall

But we will take a stab at it anyway, see if it sticks: How about BYU vs. Air Force or San Jose State in the New Mexico Bowl?

Sources say the New Mexico Bowl is making the biggest push to get the Cougars (7-5), and pit them against a Mountain West foe because the bowl in Albuquerque has a tie-in with that conference. 

The New Mexico Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 17, with a 12:15 p.m. MST kickoff on ESPN. However, there is a chance that the NM Bowl will flex to a 5:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC if the Dec. 17 Las Vegas Bowl kickoff time has to be moved to 12:30 p.m. to accommodate a Raiders-Patriots game with an earlier kickoff time on Dec. 18.

Allegiant Stadium officials need the additional time to transition the venue from the Las Vegas Bowl to the NFL game.

Of course, another major question involving BYU is the status of quarterback Jaren Hall. After sustaining a right ankle injury in the third quarter of the Cougars’ 35-26 win over Stanford last Saturday, will Hall play in BYU’s bowl game?

Appearing on KSL Radio’s “Unrivaled” show Wednesday as part of an NIL agreement, Hall said he’s planning to play.

“Oh yeah, I am playing, for sure. That’s the focus right now,” he said at the end of the 23-minute interview. “… Good to go, yup. Just a little precaution (for him to leave the Stanford game). Wanted to make sure we would be OK. So, we will be A-OK.”

Hall threw for 93 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 69 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars’ seventh victory of 2022 as BYU improved to 9-9 against Pac-12 teams under coach Kalani Sitake. BYU is 98-56 since it went independent in 2011.

Coincidentally, BYU’s last game as a member of the Mountain West was a 52-24 win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. Quarterback Jake Heaps and safety Andrew Rich were named offensive and defensive MVPs.

Another big question: Assuming he plays in the bowl game, will it be Hall’s last game as a Cougar?

He told the “KSLSports Zone” that he hasn’t reached a decision yet, but did speak at length about the process. He also said that former BYU QB Zach Wilson’s struggles with the New York Jets the past two seasons after being taken No. 2 in the 2021 NFL draft will have “no bearing” on his decision.

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“I feel like I have been able to mature as each year has gone on, being a little bit older, serving a mission for two years, I learned a lot about myself,” he said. “… I think I have been well-prepared for taking on the life in the NFL when you are under that extreme scrutiny. That just comes with playing the game at any position, but especially quarterback. I have enough people around me who have kept me well-grounded and helped me think about those things. It is not really something I worry about.”

Hall told hosts Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry that he feels like BYU is playing its best football of the season, and has recovered nicely from that winless October when Notre Dame, Arkansas, Liberty and East Carolina got the best of the Cougars.

Hall has 3,171 passing yards and 348 rushing yards this year. Only Brandon Doman and Steve Young have had at least 3,000 passing yards and 300 rushing yards in the same season for BYU.

“There are a lot of positive things to look at,” Hall said, summing up the roller coaster season.

More BYU football happenings

• Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki announced Sunday he is stepping down as DC and away from the BYU football program, and the school made it official with a new release later that night. According to the release, “BYU will immediately search for a new defensive coordinator to lead the program’s defense. Once in place, the new defensive coordinator will work with (head coach Kalani) Sitake to determine any defensive staff needs.”

• BYU assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach Ed Lamb is being mentioned by several outlets as a possible candidate to replace UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo, who was fired after a 5-7 season in Las Vegas. 

• BYU left tackle Blake Freeland is on the 2022 Pro Football Focus All-America Third Team. He’s the third BYU offensive lineman in the past three seasons to be named an All-American, joining Clark Barrington in 2021 and Brady Christensen in 2020. Christensen was a consensus All-American.

Asked after the Stanford game if he plans on playing in the bowl game, Freeland replied: “Yeah, I am planning on finish out the season and we will see from there.” The 6-foot-8, 305-pound junior has another year of eligibility remaining, if he desires to take it.

• Hall said in his radio interview that the Cougars are taking this week “kinda like a bye week, in the sense that a lot of the young guys are practicing, the guys that haven’t played a lot.” He said guys that played against Stanford are getting “recovery time” and will start hitting it hard on Monday after the bowl date and bowl opponent is announced.

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