Another week in off-season drudgery, but another week of roundtable discussions. This week, we are talking bowl eligibility. The question is simple but the answers may not be. How many Mountain West teams will be bowl eligible in the 2018 football season? Who will they be?
Alex: I’m thinking 5 to 6 teams will gain bowl eligibility this season. I’ve got Utah State, Boise State, San Diego State, and Nevada as locks for bowls. Fresno, who is losing some key pieces from their MW Championship team, is on the fringe along with Air Force and Hawaii. Colorado State and Wyoming need to prove something after last years’ disappointment, so they are certainly capable of getting to a bowl but I’m not confident until I see the results. If Armani Rogers stays healthy for all 12 games, UNLV can definitely find itself in position for a bowl game at the end of the season, but once again I’m not feeling too good about Tony Sanchez’s group until proven otherwise. New Mexico and San Jose State? Well … they’ll need some good teams to be surprisingly bad and a lot of luck.
Jeremy: Nothing is a given in college sports, but boy did something wild happen if Boise State, Fresno State, Utah State, and San Diego State fail to make the postseason. Four is apparently my minimum. Football is not static. Despite our fun speculation, an unexpected outcome or two is on the horizon. There might be a surprise bowl team and a surprise team to miss out. Despite the building hype, I think Hawaii’s tough schedule could push them to 6-7. We’re told for the second straight year that this is the season Troy Calhoun pulls Air Force out of the cellar, but we’ve heard this before. Wyoming should make the bowl season with stability at quarterback, and my out-of-nowhere dark horse to improve is Colorado State. Nevada has recruited well and should do enough to qualify. I’ll be optimistic and say the Mountain West has 8 bowl eligible teams, but mix it up with a surprise inclusion (CSU) and surprise exclusion (AFA). Boise State, Fresno State, Utah State, San Diego State, Hawaii (barely), Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado State.
Jimmy: As a relative newcomer to the conference I am basing my bowl eligible teams based off of my experience in mid level Division II football and knowledge of the difficulty it takes to get to six wins in all levels of college football. Based solely on trends and talent in the usual recruiting bases I put Utah State (USU) not only as my first bowl eligible lock but also my top pick for MWC Champion in the upcoming season. I attended the Aggies game in Colorado Springs against the Falcons of the Air Force Academy (USAFA), though USU fell in that game the talent was easily apparent as well as the big explosive play ability scoring multiple explosive runs against a normally stingy ground defense in the Falcons. With the development of the talent and obviously exceptional recruiting area in the growing Utah high school football scene, add an experienced head coach who knows how to run a team you have a recipe for continued success for the boys in Logan. Though I feel a bit of a decline from Fresno State coming off a championship season I do believe they are returning the pieces capable to achieve bowl eligibility again in the 2019 season, namely Josh Hokit who became a national story as he went straight from the conference championship game last fall to the wrestling room to lead the newly revitalized Fresno State wrestling squad achieving All-American status at the National Championship tournament at 197 pounds. Hokit will lead the bulldogs with mental toughness and the awareness to stay focussed all season. My final team I believe will finish the season bowl eligible are the aforementioned Air Force Academy Falcons. Though a bowl drought has been in effect in Colorado Springs over the past few seasons, and this may seem a biased opinion because I am writing in the shadow of Falcon’s stadium, the future does look bright in the academy’s future however with a returning quarterback who has established himself as a solid practitioner of the triple option offense in Donald Hammond III. The bruising running style of Senior fullback Cole Fagan will also help establish a physical style of play that I think will push the Fighting Falcons to the next level where they previously played at regularly before their bowl drought.
Zach: Let’s start with the obvious. Boise State is always bowl eligible and has their most manageable schedule in recent memory. Tedford won’t let Fresno State slip that far and Rocky Long will have a bounce back season. So, I think there are three for sure teams. I think Wyoming will have a better year with an easier schedule and a better quarterback. I think Utah State will scratch and claw its way into a bowl game, but that schedule is awfully tough. I also think Air Force, Nevada, and Hawaii have a chance. I think seven teams will be bowl eligible with one of those teams left at home. I want to make it clear, this won’t be like last season where there were three teams with double digit wins. I think we are looking at a lot of 6-6 and 7-5.
Matt: I think bowl eligible and teams that will play in bowls are two different conversations. Last year, we saw an MWC team get left at home even at 6-6, and there’s a good chance we land in the same boat again. Our bowl tie-ins are not great, and we’re on the edge of losing our one premiere tie-in. So we’re down to 5, and hoping we’re left with less than 63 other teams are eligible so we can land a secondary tie-in. And I think we get to 6 bowl eligible teams, with a strong chance of that last team being stuck sitting at home again. Boise, Fresno, Utah State, and SDSU are veritable locks, with Nevada, Hawaii, Air Force, and Wyoming fighting for that last spot. I think Nevada builds on last year, and ends up with another 7 or 8 win campaign. The only way we can really get a 7th team in is if Air Force becomes eligible, since they still get first pick for the Armed Forces Bowl, which could allow us to get 7 if Hawaii falls short.
FatDuckUW: Seven. Like last year, not all will go bowling. The teams (in order of confidence): (1) Boise State, (2) Fresno State, (3) San Diego State, (4) Utah State, (5) Wyoming, (6 & 7) Will be 2 of these teams: Nevada, UNLV, Hawaii, & Air Force. Teams that will miss a bowl include: Colorado State, New Mexico & San Jose State. The Mountain West can probably only count on 6 bowl bids again. If BYU gets to 6-6, they take the Hawaii Bowl bid. Last year BYU took the Potato Bowl.
Jacob: Let’s just get the obvious bowl-bound teams out of the way (Boise, SDSU, Fresno, and USU) so we can get to the good stuff, who isn’t going to make it that should and who will make it that shouldn’t.
I hate to be this guy, folks, but I think Nevada might be staying home for bowl season this year. The non-con schedule is an almost guaranteed 2-2 split (losing to Purdue/Oregon, beating Weber State/UTEP), so they’ll need to find four wins in conference. San Jose State and New Mexico are low-hanging fruit, but I honestly don’t see another easy win for them. The rest of the West is feisty (including a Fremont Cannon rivalry game), and their other inter-divisional games are USU and WYO on the road. Sorry Wolf Pack!
UNLV, on the other hand, has already been the token of my affection in a past Roundtable and I’m not changing my mind here! Give me a 6-6 UNLV team or give me death! If Armani Rogers is healthy and the Tony Sanchez rebuild hasn’t lost steam, I am all in on an improved Rebel team.
Oh, and two out of the three good-but-not-great Mountain Division teams (Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force) will be bowl eligible. Probably the Pokes and Falcons, but it could shake out another way!
Mike: Looks like I’m at 7. I’ll say three are as guaranteed as can be on paper. Those would be Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State barring any major injuries. I feel comfortable with Utah State as well, but not as confident as the first trio. After that, we dive into a bit more speculation. After saying Wyoming would not go to a bowl game last season, much to the anger of Cowboys fans, I see them getting a bowl game this year. Then we get to a lot of what ifs? I think Air Force is bowl eligible this season, but not by much. As I said last year (although I wasn’t correct), I think the last MWC spot will come down to the Fremont Cannon game and I think Nevada gets in over UNLV. I really want the Rebels to prove me wrong, but don’t see it happening.
Alex Wright: I feel comfortable saying that there will be five teams who will go bowling from the Mountain West Conference. Those five teams are Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, and Wyoming. Wyoming is a team that could be out for a breakout season, and even though Utah State has gone through some changes, they still have enough talent to win enough games. Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State have established themselves as consistent programs in the conference that are essentially “shoo-ins” for bowl games every year.
A sixth and possibly seventh team could also represent the Mountain West in a bowl game. The five possible teams that could punch their bowl game tickets are Air Force, Colorado State, Hawaii, UNR, and UNLV. Different from the five teams in the previous paragraphs, most of these programs have not shown the consistency for me to confidently say they will make a bowl game. If I had to pick two, I would lean towards Air Force and UNLV as the two to emerge from that group. It will be fun to see which one of those teams could breakout and develop that consistency. As we know, anything can happen in the wild Mountain West Conference.
Austin: The locks are Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State, and Utah State. Those teams will be in bowl games because of coaching and returning talent. After those four, Wyoming is probably the safest bet. Its defense should still be solid and the out-of-conference schedule should give it three wins. That puts the conference at five bowl teams, and I think it’ll be strong enough for six. Hawaii will be improved, as will Air Force, but I’m going to go with Nevada.
Even with a pretty tough schedule, I think the Wolf Pack will be able to sneak in with six wins. However it will all rest on the shoulders of Malik Henry. If he can get his act together and focus on football, he will be a solid QB. As a former top recruit, the talent is there, it’s just about putting it all together.
Adam- I like six teams to make it to bowl games this season. As with last week’s roundtable I took Utah State to win eight games this season, so there is a good starting point. From there, I did choose the New Mexico Lobos to also be this year’s surprise team, so there is team number two. I think you can write in Boise State and San Diego State as teams number three and four. I believe that the Mountain West still runs through Fresno, and so the Bulldogs are an easy number five.
Now for team number six. Hawai’i’s out of conference schedule is way too brutal for them to put up the eight wins they had a year ago, much less the seven wins they’ll need to become bowl eligible this season. I think Nevada’s schedule is tough enough to keep them at 5-7. Same with Air Force to me. Colorado State is the big question mark entering this season with a couple of tough non conference tilts and a brutal MWC run to boot. I think they too will fall short of the six needed wins. UNLV and San Jose State are still too far away. So I will go with the only team remaining, and that is Wyoming.
The Cowboys’ schedule is back loaded with huge contests, but the early season schedule is as easy as it gets. Four of the first five contests for Wyoming are very winnable games. The season starts with Missouri in Laramie. From there it’s a visit to Texas State; a home game against Idaho; a road test against Tulsa; and they open up MWC play at home against UNLV. The possibility of going 4-1 in that stretch is pretty good. And with Missouri entering this season with some question marks, well stranger things have happened. Leaving the Cowboys to just needing one to two more wins the rest of the way to get to six wins.
Alex Valle - I think there will be six teams that will be bowl eligible in 2019. Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, Boise State and Wyoming are almost guaranteed bets for a bowl game next year. All of these teams have been very consistent in recent years and should have little turnover that would lead to regression. The last team that I believe will be bowl eligible is Nevada. Even with a tough schedule I am confident that the Wolf Pack will be just as successful as they were last year, if not better.