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Mountain West Bowl Projections: Early surprises for the conference

Early projections have the Mountain west sending as many as eight teams to bowl games. With a match-up against the Big 10 and a surprise team in the Fiesta Bowl this could be the Mountain West's best (projected) bowl season yet.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL Draft now over football fans are in for the longest stretch of the year. Long summer days filled with just four hour baseball games after the three month long NBA playoffs end. Thankfully ESPN's Mark Schlabach (MS) and Brett McMurphy (BM) have come out with this years first bowl projections and things are looking great for the Mountain West.

With the pending Arizona Bowl, which could start this season if approved, the Mountain West would have seven official bowl game tie-ins. Even with BYU taking the Mountain West's spot in either the Las Vegas or the Hawaii Bowl for this year the MW already has an agreement in place to face off against a Big 10 team in the Armed Forces Bowl. If you didn't follow all that hopefully a look at the projected bowl match-ups will help.

Arizona Bowl (pending NCAA approval)
M.S. Wyoming vs. Old Dominion
B.M. Air Force vs. UTEP

Wyoming or Air Force have the early projected lead to be in the inaugural Arizona Bowl. With this being seventh Mountain West bowl tie in (eighth if you count the Fiesta Bowl), it should be the goal just to fill this spot even if it is with a 6-6 Wyoming.

R+L Carriers New Orleans
M.S. Air Force vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
B.M. Southern Miss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Brett McMurphy has the Mountain West missing out on this particular bowl tie-in. This makes the most sense seeing as the closest Mountain West school to New Orleans is New Mexico (1,029 miles). If the MW fails to get seven bowl eligible teams (again eight if you count the Fiesta Bowl) this will most likely be the bowl that is missed.

Gildan New Mexico
M.S. New Mexico vs. Louisiana Tech
B.M. Wyoming vs. Louisiana Tech

New Mexico does enough to land a hometown bowl bid. The Lobos are poised to make a breakthrough this season so it comes as little surprise they have made these early projections. Wyoming would also have to find a way to win a couple more games than they did last year while playing in a very tough Mountain division if they are to become bowl eligible.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
M.S. Utah State vs. Washington
B.M. Boise State vs. Stanford

Right away a rematch of USU and Washington seems improbable. The Las Vegas Bowl committee would most likely avoid a rematch here and select a different MW or Pac-12 team. With Boise earning the Mountain West's top bowl tie-in it remains to be seen if Brett McMurphy is putting a MW team in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
M.S. San Jose State vs. Bowling Green
B.M. Fresno State vs. Central Michigan

The biggest surprise in these early projections is San Jose State getting enough wins to make a bowl, even if it is just the Potato Bowl. While it is possible SJSU makes a quick turn around off their excellent recruiting class it is far more likely that the on field results will take at least a year or two. Although Fresno State is in a bit of a rebuilding year it is very possible to see them squeeze out six wins especially while playing in the weaker West division.

S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
M.S. San Diego State vs. Ball State
B.M. San Diego State vs. North Carolina

Both ESPN analysts have San Diego State staying home with Brett McMurphy having them playing an ACC team in North Carolina. For this to actually be a possibility the MAC would have to have less than five teams be bowl eligible. While that scenario is unlikely the prospect of playing another game against a P5 team is very enticing.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
M.S. Colorado State vs. Rutgers
B.M. New Mexico vs. Maryland

Mark Schlabach is the only one of the two analysts who has Colorado State still making a bowl and a good one at that. The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is the replacement bowl for the years (2015/2019) in which BYU has an agreement with Mountain West bowls. If BYU was taken by the Hawaii bowl that would give the MW three bowls against P5 opponents and a chance to set itself apart from the rest of the G5 conferences.

VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
M.S. Boise State vs. Notre Dame
B.M. Utah State vs. Notre Dame

Boise State should be the favorite of all Mountain West teams to reach the Fiesta Bowl. Replacing a running back that was drafted into the NFL and a veteran quarterback might cause the Broncos to struggle early the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl bid is seemingly theirs to lose. To put Utah State's selection into perspective consider the following: Just seven years ago in 2008 Sports Illustrated ranked the Aggies last of all 119 FBS football programs. It has taken just seven years to revive what was a doormat of team and turn them into perennial Mountain West contenders.

Mark Schlabach has all six Mountain division teams as bowl eligible while having just San Jose and SDSU out of the west. McMurphy, on the other hand, has only Colorado State missing a bowl from the Mountain with SDSU and Fresno State coming out of the west. The season is still months away but it will be interesting to see how these projections shift and change throughout the season.