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Mountain West bowl projections: Aggies, Falcons stand in way of New Year's Day berth

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The weekend in Mountain West action saw its two best teams put together explosive performances, but it's the other guys in the Mountain division who will determine much of the bowl picture next weekend.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It's come to this.

With no disrespect to Fresno State and San Diego State, who ensured the race for the West title would go down to the wire, it's the Mountain division which has clearly been the superior product all season long.  As fate would have it, its four best teams all face off next Saturday, so we're in for quite the pair of showdowns.

We've spent so much time focused upon the merits of Colorado State and Boise State lately, however, that we've overlooked the possibility that history might very well repeat itself.  Last year, it was San Jose State that knocked Fresno State out of contention for a BCS berth.  This time around, though Air Force might have taken itself out of the division race this weekend, would it be a shock if they finished the year having beaten both the Rams and Broncos?  Could Utah State do the unthinkable and win on the blue turf?

What do the experts think of such a likelihood at this point?  And how would the losers be affected?

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 UCLA
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Washington
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Fresno State Rice
New Mexico Bowl Utah State UTEP
New Orleans Bowl Air Force Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Nevada Bowling Green

Chalk one up for the status quo, and welcome back the Bulldogs to the bowl picture!  Very little has changed in this overall projection, though I imagine Broncos fans wouldn't mind a return trip to Glendale.  Things worked out pretty well the last time they were there.

Next up is Jerry Palm of CBS Sports:

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl Boise State Arizona
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Washington
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Nevada Rice
New Mexico Bowl Utah State Louisiana Tech
Potato Bowl Air Force Bowling Green

Palm updated his Sunday projection following the news that Boise State has the inside track to the Group of Five's big money bid, but it's hard to say that it's improved the overall picture much.  I can understand the temptation to essentially give the Aztecs a home game against the Midshipmen, but the argument is obvious that both the Falcons and Aggies deserve a trip to San Diego more, to say nothing of sending the Wolf Pack to Hawaii.  Palm's scenario is like "The Road" of bowl pictures.  Moving on!

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 Air Force Louisiana Tech
New Mexico Bowl San Diego State UTEP
New Orleans Bowl Nevada Arkansas State
Potato Bowl Utah State Central Michigan

Man, Parsons and Palm don't have much imagination, do they?  This picture is the same as it was last week, which might be the first time that's ever happened.  Pick your poison, Mountain West fans, which slate would you rather have of the two?

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 UCLA
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Washington
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Fresno State Rice
New Mexico Bowl Air Force UTEP
Potato Bowl Nevada Central Michigan
Cactus Bowl Utah State Stanford

Schlabach

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl Boise State Arizona
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Washington
Poinsettia Bowl San Diego State Navy
Hawaii Bowl Utah State Louisiana Tech
New Mexico Bowl Air Force UTEP
New Orleans Bowl Fresno State Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Nevada Western Michigan

At least for now, the dye has been cast and two-loss Boise is ahead of undefeated Marshall in the one poll that counts.  McMurphy and Schlabach have painted their pictures accordingly, and the results are intriguing.  I'd give the edge to McMurphy, if only because the MWC getting three cracks at the Pac-12 is something fans of the conference would eat up.  Both also welcome Fresno State back into the picture, which still feels strange.  Going from planning for 2015 to a trip to New Orleans in roughly a month's time would surely make the Red Wave happy.

Next up, a couple of first-time entries!  Some prognosticators have shifted their own pictures in concert with the reveal of the bowl picture each Tuesday, so first up we have Fox Sports's Stewart Mandel, who released his latest this morning:

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Boise State Stanford
Poinsettia Bowl Colorado State Navy
Hawaii Bowl San Diego State UAB
New Mexico Bowl Air Force UTEP
New Orleans Bowl Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Utah State Western Michigan

Man, it's really hard to tell who's getting screwed the most in this picture.  Would Utah State fans want a second trip to the blue turf if it comes up short in a bid for the division?  Would the Aztecs get up for a game against a mediocre Blazers team? Wouldn't the Falcons deserve a better fate, too?  Chances are Boise State gets that New Year's Day bid if everything breaks in the chalk's favor, so feel free to disregard this in a few days.

Next up, Bill Bender of the Sporting News:

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 UTEP
New Orleans Bowl Fresno State Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Utah State Bowling Green
Cactus Bowl Air Force Washington

And here we have another situation in which the Aggies get hosed.  Somewhat inexplicably, Utah State is shipped off to Boise again while the Wolf Pack earn the trip to the Big Island and the Falcons get the nod to face a Pac-12 foe.  Oh, and Fresno State draws the Big Easy again.  Hmm.

Alright, let's welcome back the one and only Phil Steele, who updated his projection on Monday:

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
Cactus Bowl Fresno State Washington

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Okay, you tell me, Aggies fans. Would it be a worse fate to spend bowl season in Albuquerque or Boise after the season you've put together?  And how mad would you be if this is how the MWC bowl picture actually looked?  Let's be honest.  Real talk.  I want commentary on this.

Last, but not least, are my own bowl picks.  I'll admit that I get the advantage of reading and reacting to the poll as it's released, but I will also say this:  The Boise State team which put Wyoming in a world of hurt last Saturday is the team that I expected to see all season long.  If that team shows up again at home against the Aggies, it's going to be a long evening for Utah State, and it's going to lead to a lot of lamentation on the part of Rams faithful.  Now that I've seen for myself that the Broncos have that gear in them, it becomes difficult to pick against Boise.

It definitely doesn't mean the rest of the Mountain division deserves lousy bowl destinations, though.  I'm not that cruel.

Bowl MWC Team Opponent
Fiesta Bowl Boise State UCLA
Las Vegas Bowl Colorado State Utah
Poinsettia Bowl Utah State Navy
Hawaii Bowl San Diego State Louisiana Tech
New Mexico Bowl Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette
Potato Bowl Fresno State Bowling Green
Cactus Bowl Air Force Washington

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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