Recently the Independence Bowl announced they would select BYU and Army in alternating years if they are bowl-eligible in the 2020-2025 bowl cycle. This agreement is beneficial to both programs, but a look at their opponents in this cycle begs comparison.
Army and BYU will alternate their annual affiliation with the folks in Shreveport, but so will their prospective opponents on the other half of the draw, which makes for an even more interesting potential future.
2020, 2024: Army vs. PAC-12
2022: Army vs AAC
2021, 2025: BYU vs C-USA
2023: BYU vs PAC-12
Army gets the better end of the deal with two matchups vs the PAC-12 if they reach bowl eligibility. This is both a coveted Power Five postseason matchup and an opportunity for the Black Knights to face uncommon opponents.
Since 1980, Army has only played the PAC-12 four times; they faced Washington in 1988 and 1995, plus Stanford in 2013 and 2014 . Wins over the PAC-12 would do wonders for the Black Knights’ national appeal.
Army also gets a fair deal in the year they don’t play the PAC-12 by opposing an American team. The resurgent Western Division of the American has a number of solid teams in proximity to the Independence Bowl like SMU, Houston, and especially Tulane.
Compared to Army, BYU’s matchups in the Independence Bowl lack appeal. The Cougars get an attractive matchup in 2023 in facing the PAC-12, but matchups against Conference USA are a considerable drop from not only the PAC-12, but the American.
C-USA has lagged behind the rest of the Group of Five arms race and in terms of quality is much closer to the MAC than they are the American or even Mountain West.
On top of this, BYU is less likely to get a favorable matchup in this bowl considering many of the conference’s heavyweights are in the East. BYU fans probably did not envision playing middling C-USA West teams as the end state of Independence.
While the Independence Bowl is looking to be true to its name, BYU and Army both have found favorable tie-ins elsewhere. Aside from the ESPN bowls, which both are tied to, they have secondary agreements with Power Five bowls.
Army has a secondary agreement with the Belk Bowl and BYU has theirs with the Cheez-It Bowl. For Army, the path is more difficult, considering the high selection order of the Belk Bowl, but it exists. BYU has an easier path as the Cheez-It Bowl has had to resort to its backup tie-in twice.
These agreements are crucial for both programs because they give opportunities so much of the Group of Five desires, bowl matchups with the Power Five.
As the number of bowls between the Group of Five and Power Five decreases, BYU and Army have a chance to bolster and sustain their national brand and eliminate the distance between themselves and the rest of the Group of Five over the next few years. This could be an interesting development stemming from something so minute as bowl tie-ins.