The Mountain West had a hand in kicking off bowl season on Saturday, providing a national audience with a pair of exciting games from Albuquerque and Orlando. This, in spite of some consternation that 5-7 teams, such as the San Jose State Spartans, made it to the postseason by unusual means (read: not winning enough).
And it got me to thinking: Is there any good reason why all of college football shouldn't blow it out to end a long campaign? More football is better than less football, after all, and August will seem to be ages away in the next two weeks or so. Would we kid ourselves into believing we wouldn't watch every last game, if it came to it?
With that in mind, what follows is a hypothetical slate for the four MWC teams that didn't make a bowl in the reality with which we're stuck. Hypothetical neutral sites, hypothetical sponsors and justification for why each game could be interesting in its own right. I determined opponents with Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings in a rather straight-forward fashion -- even numbers were paired with the team above them, odd numbers with the team behind them (so that 2 is paired with 1, not 3, and so on).
Best Western Participation Ribbon Bowl
WHO: Fresno State Bulldogs (3-9, 2-6 MWC) vs. SMU Mustangs (2-10, 1-7 American)
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium; Tempe, Arizona
WHY, OH WHY: For starters, Bulldogs fans might be itching for a measure of revenge after their disastrous showing in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. The Mustangs don't have anyone of Margus Hunt's caliber to haunt Alex Fifita's dreams for the next few years, and indeed their lackluster pass rush (just 16 sacks on the season) and defensive backfield (31 TD passes allowed, 125th in opponents' QB rating and 127th in opponents' yards per pass) might give whomever is under center for Fresno a reasonable chance to shine.
On the flipside, SMU's offense was relatively pedestrian within the context of the AAC, but they do have young and explosive playmakers: Wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who was named a Freshman All-American by both Campus Insiders and USA Today, and running back Xavier Jones, the conference's top freshman runner.
DESERVES ONE LAST GAME: Fresno State linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, who finished his career second in MWC history in tackles for loss.
SEAL OF APPROVAL? As a Bulldogs fan, I'm certain that I would sit down and watch any game they played, so I reached out to our other Fresno State writer, Scott Tejerian, to ensure I wasn't crazy for thinking this:
Famous Footwear For Funzies Bowl
WHO: UNLV Rebels (3-9, 2-6 MWC) vs. Ball State Cardinals (3-9, 2-6 MAC)
WHERE: Edward Jones Dome; St. Louis, MO
WHY, OH WHY: Despite faltering a bit down the stretch, Ball State played many of the powers in the MAC West pretty tough in 2015: Toledo's Philip Ely threw for just 164 yards and had two interceptions, they dropped 41 points on Northern Illinois and had Central Michigan on the ropes in the fourth quarter. If that sounds familiar, it's because UNLV surpassed the expectations of many by looking more competitive week to week than they had in 2014.
Both teams have underrated star receivers, too: UNLV's Davonte Boyd was a second-team all-conference selection (54-904-7), while Ball State's Jordan Williams (72-920-8) has been an all-MAC selection the last three years. In addition, a healthy Blake Decker at quarterback would provide an interesting contrast to BSU's Riley Neal, who received the most playing time of any freshman QB in the MAC.
DESERVES ONE LAST GAME: Safety Peni Vea, who often did yeoman's work as a three-year starter for the Rebels defense and racked up 328 tackles in his time with Las Vegas.
SEAL OF APPROVAL? I asked our Keith Scheessele, who coincidentally covers UNLV and Ball State football over at Hustle Belt, whether he'd watch this game. His response may be the most emphatic of all:
@MattK_FS YES, YES, YES— Keith Scheessele (@BSUKeith) December 20, 2015
The Good Effort Bowl, presented by Hewlett-Packard
WHO: New Mexico State Aggies (3-9, 3-5 Sun Belt) vs. Hawai'i Warriors (3-10, 0-8 MWC)
WHERE: Spartan Stadium; San Jose, CA
WHY, OH WHY: What happens when a movable object meets a resistible force? The Warriors' scoring offense and the Aggies' scoring defense both ranked dead last in their respective conference (and both in the bottom 10 nationally), so you'd think something would have to give. The big difference between the two teams is that NMSU has a startlingly potent running back in Larry Rose III, who finished 7th in the FBS with 1651 yards and average more per carry than every guy ahead of him except Dalvin Cook.
In spite of facing more rushing attempts than any team in the nation, though, the Hawai'i front seven still boasts playmakers that could make a difference. Defensive lineman Kennedy Tulimasealii led the conference and finished tied for 9th nationally in tackles for loss, while linebacker Julian Gener racked up 13 TFL despite missing two games.
DESERVES ONE LAST GAME: Offensive lineman Ben Clarke, who started 50 consecutive games as a four-year starter this year, splitting time between center and left tackle.
SEAL OF APPROVAL? The Twitter crowd of two was split on this one. I could understand both points of view:
Sonic Drive-In This Is Fine Bowl
WHO: UTSA Roadrunners (3-9, 3-5 C-USA) vs. Wyoming (2-10, 2-6 MWC)
WHERE: Skelly Field at A.H. Chapman Stadium; Tulsa, OK
WHY, OH WHY: There's an argument to be made that Texas-San Antonio was a little bit unlucky in 2015. The Roadrunners were just 1-4 in games decided by seven points or less, and they lost starting quarterback Blake Bogenschutz to a concussion in October. In spite of this, Larry Coker's crew managed to land a few players on the second-team all-Conference USA team, led by cornerback Bennet Okotcha, who tied for the conference lead with 4 interceptions.
At the very least, it would be interesting to see him tangle with Wyoming receiver Jake Maulhardt, who very quietly tied for the MWC lead with eight touchdown catches this year (as many as Thomas Sperbeck, Rashard Higgins and Hunter Sharp). It'd give conference rushing champion Brian Hill (1631 yards, 6 TDs) another chance to cap a record-setting campaign. And we all really want a chance to use those "Bohl-ing" puns, right? Am I right?
DESERVES ONE LAST GAME: Defensive lineman Eddie Yarbrough, one of the most dangerous pass rushers in program history. He finished his career with the Cowboys as the all-time leader in tackles for loss, and was a first-team all-conference selection two of the last three years.
SEAL OF APPROVAL? Jared Kalmus, who handles the UTSA beat over at Underdog Dynasty, had the most revealing perspective on this question:
Hey some folks watched Georgia State vs SJSU today. Why not? https://t.co/Bnhq7UJHeS— Jared (@JaredUTSA) December 20, 2015
Are we all crazy, or are we just crazy for as much college football as we lay our eyes upon? I put together a brief questionnaire that you're more than welcome to fill out, so let us know what you think.