Utah accepts invite to Las Vegas bowl

Utah is in, Notre Dame is out, and Boise State or UNR might be on the way.

The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas selected No. 21 Utah (10-2) on Wednesday as its Mountain West Conference representative. The Utes could face No. 9 Boise State (10-1) or No. 14 UNR (11-1) in the Dec. 22 game at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“I really believe we’ll have two Top 25 teams in the game,” said Tina Kunzer-Murphy, the bowl game’s executive director. “We don’t have everything finished, but obviously the speculation is it will be the University of Nevada, Reno, or Boise State, and if that plays out, it will be a great matchup against Utah.

“I think we’re going to get Boise State or Reno in our game.”

The Las Vegas game usually pairs teams from the Pac-10 and the Mountain West conferences. But the Pac-10 doesn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams this season.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco owns the top selection from the Western Athletic Conference but pays just $750,000. Las Vegas pays $1.1 million.

So the WAC has a vested interest in one of its schools playing in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, even if neither will be in the league for much longer. Boise State joins the Mountain West next year and UNR in 2012.

Because of their impending departure, the Broncos will forfeit all bowl money beyond what it takes to cover their expenses. The San Francisco game covets Boise State, but the Broncos are thought to be more interested in Las Vegas. Unless a deal is worked out, however, it appears they are headed to the Fight Hunger Bowl.

An announcement is expected Sunday.

Las Vegas knows it is at least getting the Utes, who will make their final appearance as a Mountain West team. They move next year to what will be called the Pac-12.

Utah’s last Las Vegas bowl appearance was a 10-6 victory over Southern California in 2001.

“We are proud to represent the Mountain West Conference in its top bowl game and anticipate a strong turnout by our fans,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement.

Two of Utah’s top players hail from Las Vegas: wide receiver DeVonte Christopher (Canyon Springs High) and running back Eddie Wide (Cimarron-Memorial High).

Choosing Utah indicates that Las Vegas bowl officials weren’t optimistic about landing Notre Dame, which beat the Utes 28-3 on Nov. 13 and probably wouldn’t have wanted a rematch.

“We got out of negotiations this morning,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “It was such a long shot, and so many things had to happen. It wasn’t a sure thing.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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