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Mountain West football bowl projections: Race to the top of the Mountain is on

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The weekend in Mountain West action reinforced that the Mountain division is very good. With only a Thundering Herd standing in the way of a New Year's Six berth, how do the prognosticators see the MWC stacking up?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The cream continued to rise to the top in last weekend's Mountain West games, though some teams had it easier than others.  San Diego State struggled to put away a dreadful Idaho team, while Boise State needed every break it could get to outlast upset-minded New Mexico.  Colorado State, Air Force and Utah State, on the other hand, coasted to fairly easy victories.  Things don't get easier from here, though.

Boise State owns the tiebreaker against Colorado State. Air Force owns the tiebreaker against Boise State. Utah State owns the tiebreaker against Air Force.  Colorado State owns the tiebreaker against Utah State.  The Mountain division is pretty clearly the superior product in 2014, but the snake has already eaten itself some, which puts its viability for a New Year's bowl berth in some doubt right now.  Is it really as dire as it seems?

For a quick refresher, here is the list of bowls with which the Mountain West is affiliated, along with the potential opponent.  The bowls have an order in which they are allowed to pick teams, and the Las Vegas Bowl picks first.  The Hawaii, New Mexico and New Orleans will share picks three, four and five, while the Potato Bowl picks sixth.  Also note that the conference has secondary ties with the Armed Forces Bowl and Cactus Bowl.

  1. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - December 20, 2014 - MWC #1 vs. Pac-12 #6
  2. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - December 23, 2014 - MWC #2 vs. Navy (if eliglble, or at-large)
  3. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl - December 24, 2014 - Hawaii (if eligible) or MWC #3-5 vs. C-USA #2-5
  4. Gildan New Mexico Bowl - December 20, 2014 - MWC #3-5 vs. C-USA
  5. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - December 20, 2014 - MWC #3-5 vs. Sun Belt #1
  6. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - December 20, 2014 - MWC #6 vs. MAC #2
As usual, we begin in-house with SB Nation's Jason Kirk, whose picks were released Sunday morning:

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl Boise State Arizona State
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Air Force Western Kentucky
New Mexico Bowl Utah State UTEP
Potato Bowl Nevada Toledo

It's anyone's guess as to why Kirk feels the Wolf Pack deserve to end up in Boise rather than New Orleans, but there you have it.  There's quite a shakeup from a couple weeks ago, as Boise State has taken up residence in the New Year's perch, having protected their tiebreaker against CSU from an upset bid against the Lobos.

The two games with the Pac-12 do look quite appealing, though if the Sun Devils could do what they did to Notre Dame last Saturday, you have to worry for the Broncos' defense. In addition, the Falcons squaring off against the Hilltoppers looks like a fantastic pointsplosion waiting to happen.  Overall, a fun looking slate this week.

Next up is Jerry Palm of CBS Sports:

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Boise State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl Colorado State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Nevada UAB
New Mexico Bowl Utah State UTEP
New Orleans Bowl San Diego State Arkansas State
Potato Bowl Air Force Bowling Green

Palm has been sticking to his guns for over a month now, and in this scenario it's Marshall who gets the bid for the New Year's bowl.  Two games against second-tier C-USA teams don't seem all that exciting, however, and Colorado State fans might be miffed at their bad luck in this picture.  San Diego is a nice town, though, give it a chance if things fall this way.

Next up, Brant Parsons of the Orlando Sentinel.

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Boise State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl Colorado State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Nevada Louisiana Tech
New Mexico Bowl San Diego State Middle Tennessee State
New Orleans Bowl Utah State Arkansas State
Potato Bowl Air Force Central Michigan

Oy.  Switching the Wolf Pack and the Aztecs is the only move of note, and Marshall again enjoys the Group of 5 spoils in Parsons's projection.  It's still not a terribly exciting slate, but it makes one thing clear:  The prognosticators seem to think an undefeated Thundering Herd will have a stronger case in the committee's eyes than a two-loss Boise State, assuming everything stays true to form and the Broncos win the division and the conference.

If the Broncos do stumble at some point, that will change everything.  Until that happens, the Rams faithful may want to check out the San Diego Zoo while they're in town. It's fun for the whole family!

Next, we'll take a look at what ESPN's Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach have to say:

McMurphy

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl Boise State Arizona State
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Washington
Poinsettia Bowl Utah State Navy
New Mexico Bowl San Diego State UTEP
Potato Bowl Nevada Central Michigan
Cactus Bowl Air Force California

Schlabach

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Peach Bowl Colorado State Michigan State
Las Vegas Bowl Boise State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Air Force Rice
New Mexico Bowl Utah State UTEP
Potato Bowl Nevada Western Michigan

Well!  It appears that we've found a pair of MWC believers, but they're split as to how the last few weeks of the season will play out.  In either picture, though, the conference's New Year's representative would be up against a hellacious foe, and the undercards also have some intrigue.  Would the Wolf Pack rather face the steady Chippewas or the resurgent Broncos?  Would Air Force fans choose the Bear Raid or the fiesty owls?  Either way, this would be a fun bowl season.

Moving on, we had a look at what College Sports Madness had to say about the MWC bowl picture, but they had Fresno State in their projection and lost all credibility.  Sorry about that, folks.  In their stead, however, comes Phil Steele!  The man behind the eponymous magazine hasn't made an appearance here since we covered the preseason projections, where he looked downright prescient by being the only person to include Air Force in a bowl.  How does he see the postseason shaking out now?

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Boise State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl Colorado State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Air Force Middle Tennessee State
New Mexico Bowl Utah State UTEP
New Orleans Bowl San Diego State Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Nevada Bowling Green

Five out of six is not bad at all, Mr. Steele.  What's even more remarkable is that the opponents have not changed much, either, excepting the Cardinal and the Miners.  Again, though, the Mountain West is shut out of the New Year's festivities in favor of Marshall.  Whatever good feelings some experts had about the Rams a couple weeks ago has evaporated as the window for a potential Boise slip-up closes rapidly.

Last, but not least, are my own bowl picks.  Two weeks ago, I forecast the Rams to Vegas because I still believe the Broncos will lose at some point.  In another week, I might be ready to put them ahead of the Herd for a big money bowl, but that'll have to wait.  The reshuffling beyond CSU and Boise is mostly to ensure that no one ends up where they were a year ago, rather than an indictment of any team's merits.

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl Boise State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Air Force Middle Tennessee State
New Mexico Bowl San Diego State Rice
New Orleans Bowl Utah State Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Nevada Toledo

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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