MWC Bowl Projections: Fresno's Long Fall

Brian Bahr

The weekend in Mountain West action will be defined mostly by Fresno State's dashed BCS dreams, but other teams came up with statement wins. With the regular season wrapped up, what do the experts see?

Week 14 in conference play did not go well for Fresno State. After falling behind Northern Illinois in the BCS standings last Sunday, the defense collapsed and visions of the Fiesta Bowl evaporated with it. San Jose State earned bowl eligibility in the process, displaying the offensive potency that had made them preseason conference darlings.

On the other hand, conference play went exceedingly well for the top teams in the Mountain division, as Utah State and Colorado State blew out inferior opponents. The Aggies earned a spot in the conference title game and the Rams completed a strong second half to their season with a seventh win.

However, these most recent developments have left the conference with a potential quandry: Seven eligible teams, six bowl obligations. Will each team go bowling or will one team get left out?

For a quick refresher, here is the list of bowls with which the Mountain West is affiliated, along with the slated opponent. The bowls have an order in which they are allowed to select teams, and the Las Vegas Bowl picks first.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - December 21

MWC #1 vs. Pac-12 #5

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - December 26

MWC #2 vs. Army (if eligible) or at-large team

Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl - December 30

MWC #3 vs. Conference USA #3 or Navy (if eligible)

Gildan New Mexico Bowl - December 21

MWC #4 vs. Pac-12 #7

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl - December 24

MWC #5 or Hawaii (if eligible) vs. Conference USA #2

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - December 21

MWC #6 vs. MAC #3

***

The first set of predictions comes courtesy of SB Nation's Jason Kirk:

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah State vs. USC

Poinsettia Bowl: Fresno State vs. Ohio

Armed Forces Bowl: Boise State vs. Navy

New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State vs. Arizona

Hawaii Bowl: San Jose State vs. North Texas

Idaho Potato Bowl: Colorado State vs. Buffalo

Kirk had been a strong proponent of Fresno's BCS chances, but he mentions in the linked article that he now expects the Aggies to win the conference title. It's hurtful, but the 'Dogs have a history with hangovers so it it definitely in the field of play. UNLV draws the short straw in this scenario, as well, despite a big win to close out the year. Would the bowls overlook the rare sight of a seven-win Rebel team? The average home attendance was only 17,000, and ticket sales will be a factor, so the appearance of tepid support may be a deciding factor.

What do ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards have to say?

Schlabach

Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC

Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State

Armed Forces Bowl: Boise State vs. Navy

New Mexico Bowl: San Jose State vs. Arizona

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Rice

Idaho Potato Bowl: Colorado State vs. Buffalo

Edwards

Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC

Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Toledo

Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Navy

New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. Arizona

Hawaii Bowl: Utah State vs. Middle Tennessee State

Idaho Potato Bowl: UNLV vs. Bowling Green

The two ESPNers have very different outlooks for Utah State. Despite the Aggies' presence in the upcoming MWC title game, Edwards has the Aztecs and Rams ahead of them in the pecking order. The two are also split on who will be left out, and with all of the experts' forecasts put together, UNLV and San Jose State backers are going to want to get vocal about why their team deserves a bowl bid.

Lastly, CBS Sports' Jerry Palm gave out his two cents:

Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC

Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Ohio

Armed Forces Bowl: Utah State vs. Navy

New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State vs. Arizona

Hawaii Bowl: Colorado State vs. Middle Tennessee State

Idaho Potato Bowl: UNLV vs. Buffalo

Palm seems to believe that the Broncos faithful will travel to support their team despite the down year, slotting them ahead of the Aggies. Fresno still wins the conference, but San Jose gets nothing out of spoiling the Bulldogs' BCS bid. That's a lose-lose if I've ever seen one.

My predictions are as follows:

Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC

Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State vs. Ohio

Armed Forces Bowl: Boise State vs. Navy

New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State vs. Oregon State

Hawaii Bowl: Colorado State vs. Rice

Idaho Potato Bowl: San Jose State vs. Buffalo

I'd like to be optimistic once more, but Fresno's loss throws a wrench into what had been my best laid plans. The Little Caesar's Bowl may be an option, since Ohio State's presence in the national title game would open a spot at the bottom of the totem pole, but a Pac-12 team would be more attractive than UNLV in a matchup with, say, Bowling Green. The Beef O'Brady Bowl may be another option if Central Florida and South Florida can keep SMU and Rutgers from becoming eligible next Saturday, but that's easier said than done.

As it is, my slate would feature some pretty interesting matchups. Round three against the Trojans would be an acceptable consolation prize for Fresno fans. Khalil Mack would be geared up to get after David Fales.  The Rams and Owls are two teams quietly having very good seasons and have earned the Christmas Eve showcase. Rocky Long's ball-control offense would be a stark contrast to Mike Riley's pass-happy attack. USU and Boise may perhaps be less thrilled with their opponents, but they're beatable foes that should provide a fine exclamation point to the year.

If you have your own thoughts on these bowl predictions or have a set of your own, make sure to leave them in the comments!

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