Bowl season has come and gone once again. With the exception of the National Championship (but it’s two SEC teams so I may just pretend that it doesn’t exist), all the games have been played and teams are now in the dreaded off-season. The Mountain West Conference had 6 teams playing in bowl games, going 3-3 in those games. This article will offer some thoughts about what those outcomes mean going forward.
- New Mexico Bowl: Marshall 31, Colorado State 28 (L)
- Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State 38, Oregon 28 (W)
- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Wyoming 37, Central Michigan 14 (W)
- Armed Forces Bowl: Army 42, San Diego State 35 (L)
- Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State 33, Houston 27 (W)
- Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State 26, Utah State 20 (L)
If someone would’ve have said the Mountain West was going to win three and lose three, the Vegas and Hawaii Bowls would’ve seem like the safest bets for losses, with Wyoming losing in a Josh Allen-less game being the third most likely loss. All of that to say CSU, SDSU, and USU were not expected to lose and in fact it was quite surprising that they did.
Now before this goes further, there are many factors that go into winning and losing a bowl game. There are many common discussion points: players sitting out, the better team doesn’t always win and anything can happen in just one game, the better team wasn’t excited or motivated to play the game, bowl games don’t matter anyway.
While these things can arguably be true, the game is still played for a reason, the score is kept for a reason, and the results matter to some degree. The question then becomes: to what degree do the results of the the six MWC bowl games matter?
Basically, if the Mountain West bowl season was summed up in one phrase, it would be: 1 step forward and 1 to 2 steps back. The conference ended the year pretty much where it started. And that’s the problem.
The conference missed a great opportunity to make a statement in 2017 and get the rest of college football to notice them. Everyone in the country knows about Boise State already. They had the toughest matchup on paper and most weren’t expecting them to win but they rose to the challenge and dominated a PAC12 team. The Broncos have done that time and time again and they played exactly how the flagship of the conference should act.
Fresno State also had an impressive win over Houston. The Bulldogs beat a good AAC team, which is the other top Group of 5 conference and more times than not, have held an advantage over the Mountain West. Fresno State taking it to Houston in a close win allowed the MWC to gain the upper hand over the AAC for this year at least.
Throwing in Wyoming doing what they should have done by destroying Central Michigan and the three wins were a good foundation towards leaving a positive impression during bowl season. Then CSU, SDSU, and USU all took turns laying an egg.
Even if the other games were close wins, it wouldn’t have mattered. The wins were the most important thing. On paper, they were three of the four easiest games to be played. Looking at each individually, all can be explained away to varying degrees. The Rams had a poor bowl showing last season and almost pulled off the comeback. The Aztecs ran into a triple-option team and their style of play leads to an upset win or two every year, and this happened to be one of them. The Aggies (Utah State version), just weren’t a great team and should not be counted on for a win.
All of that being said, not all of them had to win. Although losing three games to what could be deemed as “lesser competition” is a tough pill to swallow. Upsets happen (see the Vegas Bowl, or SDSU’s two wins over PAC12 teams for reference), but three teams getting upset isn’t a good look for the conference. Two wins, even one win would’ve left the conference with a positive record. 5-1 or even 4-2 looks significantly better at a passing glance than 3-3. 3-3 is vanilla and doesn’t earn a deeper look. Again, that is the issue.
In the ever-changing world of college football, with the gap between the Power 5 and the Group of 5 widening by the year, any and every opportunity for Group of 5 teams to shine when they are on display matters. That isn’t to say it’s realistic to think the Mountain West will one day be on par with the PAC12 or SEC. But there does seem to be a race for which conference can be the “best of the rest” and every team in the conference needs to play a role.
Six bowl-eligible teams was a good start. Whether it’s fair or not, teams often are judged on their bowl game results, often because it’s the last impression they give viewers and it sticks in their minds for months until next season. Wyoming and SDSU are good examples of this. The Cowboys had an up and down season but ended it on the positive note with a convincing win. The Aztecs had one of the most successful seasons in the conference but stumbled before reaching the end zone and it will leave a bad taste in their mouth all off-season.
These wins and losses, fair or not, are used to measure the strength or weakness of the conference. Boise State was Boise State while Fresno State and Wyoming each made statement wins. But San Diego State has been the model of consistency for years (more consistent than Boise State actually) and needs to be counted on for bowl wins on a regular basis. If Colorado State wants to be taken seriously, it should do the same. A conference that is good for at least 4 bowl wins on a regular basis opens a few eyes. Add in a random win every now and then from the Utah States, Nevadas, or whoever else and maybe then the MWC develops a better reputation.
Why does that matter? Because when Boise State, SDSU, Fresno State or whoever wins the conference, it gives them the edge over the conference winner of the AAC. Even better, if multiple teams earn national respect, then the conference winner won’t have to be undefeated to gain the NY6 big. Imagine if it was said “____ team finished 10-2 in what was a solid Mountain West conference” as opposed to the familiar arguments of “_____ was undefeated/had two losses, but who did they really play?”
Bowl games don’t matter? That’s up for debate. But do the results of the bowl games have significant importance in the landscape of college football? Without a doubt.