BYU did not reach a New Year's Six Bowl, but the Cougars still have some important goals left to play for when they face UAB in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl on Saturday.
This is the 16th bowl game for No. 13 BYU (10-2) in the last 17 seasons. With a victory, the Cougars will clinch back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time since 2006 and '07. BYU also has a shot at finishing in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1996. The Cougars have won five straight games coming into Shreveport, Louisiana. That stretch includes victories over Washington State, Virginia, and USC. Overall, BYU went 6-1 against Power 5 opponents – including a 26-17 win over Pac-12 champion Utah.
This is just the fifth bowl game for the Blazers (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) and a big opportunity to make a statement. UAB has beaten nationally-ranked opponents only three times in its history. The Blazers faced one other FBS independent team this season – falling to Liberty 36-12 in October. UAB has won 42 games since it resumed playing football in 2017, the most victories of any Conference USA team during that span.
BYU and UAB are meeting for the first time. The Cougars are 39-12-1 all-time against teams from Conference USA.
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl: No. 13 BYU (10-2) vs. UAB (8-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Independence Stadium (Shreveport, La.)
Spread: BYU -7
When BYU Has the Ball
Could this be Tyler Allgeier's final game with BYU? Allgeier is a sophomore in terms of eligibility, but this is his fourth season in the program and his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign. He is NFL draft-eligible and has boosted his draft stock considerably over the past two seasons. Allgeier is eighth in the FBS with 1,414 total rushing yards and is tied for first nationally with 20 rushing touchdowns. He has 12 100-yard games over the last two seasons – including six this year – and BYU is 11-1 when Allgeier rushes for 100 or more yards.
Jaren Hall is another dangerous playmaker who can keep the UAB defense on its heels. Hall is a mobile, elusive quarterback who is a threat to make big plays with his arm or his legs. He threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 regular-season games. Hall has four 300-yard games and has thrown for at least 200 yards seven times. He has completed 63.9 percent of his pass attempts with just five interceptions thus far.
The injury bug has bitten BYU at wide receiver and tight end. Neil Pau'u and Isaac Rex both suffered season-ending injuries in late November, and Gunner Romney has been limited by a knee strain. With that in mind, Puka Nacua will be counted on even more to make big plays. Nacua leads the Cougars with 796 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He averages 18.95 yards per catch. Keanu Hill and Samson Nacua have also come on strong late and give Hall some additional targets who can stretch the field.
BYU's offense blossomed over the final few weeks of the regular season. The Cougars had three consecutive games totaling at least 500 yards on offense in their wins over Virginia, FCS Idaho State, and Georgia Southern.
When UAB Has the Ball
Similar to BYU, UAB has a dominant runner as the cornerstone of its offense. DeWayne McBride emerged as one of the top running backs in Conference USA over the second half of the season. McBride tallied 794 rushing yards over his final six regular-season games. He totaled 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 12 games – the fifth-highest single-season total in both categories at UAB. McBride ranks fourth nationally with 6.75 yards per carry and is just the sixth player in school history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a single season.
With such a productive runner in the backfield, Dylan Hopkins doesn't need to do much for the Blazers. Still, Hopkins has shown himself to be a productive and efficient quarterback since taking over as the starter in late September. He has thrown for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns while making nine starts. Hopkins has five 200-yard games and has completed 68 percent or better of his pass attempts in each of UAB's last three games.
Hopkins' top targets who will test the Cougars are Trea Shropshire and Gerrit Prince. Shropshire averages an FBS-best 27.28 yards per catch. Prince leads all tight ends nationally with 20.5 yards per catch. Shropshire has tallied 682 receiving yards while Prince has 656 yards. The duo has combined for 14 receiving touchdowns.
UAB does a good job of limiting possessions and controlling the ball. The Blazers are 22nd nationally in time of possession, averaging 31:37 per game.
Injuries piled up for BYU as the regular season wound down and forced the Cougars to dig into the depth chart. A little time off will make a difference for BYU. UAB had the top defense in Conference USA during the regular season. But the Blazers are not prepared for the type of skilled playmakers they will have to deal with on BYU's offense. The Cougars have favorable odds for finishing with their fourth bowl victory under head coach Kalani Sitake.
Prediction: BYU 35, UAB 24
Podcast: Early Signing Day, Coaching News, QB Transfers, and Early Bowl Previews
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.