The first bowl game the Mountain West Conference competed in was the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec 18th, 1999 when Utah (MWC member) defeated Fresno State (not an MWC member at that time) 17-16. Since then the MWC has competed in 117 Bowls and has a 66-52 record, 55.9%, in bowl games. If you are wondering how 66+52 is 118 but the MWC has played 117 games, it is not because I cannot do math but rather that on December 29th, 2015 Nevada (a MWC member) defeated Colorado State (also a MWC member), 28-23 giving the MWC both a bowl win and a bowl loss.
Since that time, the MWC has competed in New Year’s Day Bowls 2009 Sugar Bowl 2010 Fiesta Bowl, 2011 Rose Bowl, 2014 Fiesta Bowl, and 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. Ok, the 2009 Sugar Bowl was on January 2nd and 2014 Hear of Dallas was January 1st, but you get the idea. However, the MWC has never made a New Year’s Day bowl under the current format where the highest ranked Group of 5 gets a bid. Is this the year the MWC finally gets the coveted invitation? This week on Stats Corner, we are going to look at which teams, with a month left, are in the running to earn the bid.
1) Air Force
The front runner for the NY6 bid is the Falcons. They are currently the highest ranked G5 team, are undefeated, the defense has allowed 94 points through seven games. They are heavily favored the next four games and slight favorites against Boise State. An undefeated Air Force would probably get the bid. The only issue is the strength of schedule. Their out of conference schedule was light. They do have 2 OOC games against Navy and Army, but the other two were Robert Morris and Sam Houston. The victory against Wyoming is good and they still have UNLV to go, plus whomever they meet in the title game (Fresno State is the preferred match-up since they miss the Bulldogs in the regular season) to boost their resume.
What they need to get invited: Win out (18.6% chance) one loss is not a deal breaker, but takes their destiny out of their own hands.
Last year’s G5’s bid is looking to do it again. They do have one loss against them, hence being ranked after Air Force even though the Green Wave are ranked, but a loss to Ole Miss is not deal breaker. Like the Falcons, their OOC schedule is not the toughest, South Alabama, Southern Miss, and Nicholls. They do have a solid victory over Memphis. The Wave are heavily favored in the remainder of their games, but only UTSA and Rice have winning records. They did miss SMU in the regular season, so a conference title match-up would help them.
What they need to get invited: Win out (8.9% chance), depending on where the Playoff Committee ranks them, need Air Force to lose. If the Committee ranks them over the Falcons, then just win out.
Undefeated? Checked. Ranked? Checked. Heavily favored in the rest of the games this season? Checked. NCAA refuses to grant them a waiver to compete in a bowl game? Checked. As much as I would like the MWC to get the bid, James Madison has the lovable underdog feel. Since they will not get the waiver, not much can be said about them.
What they need to get invited: Divine intervention against the NCAA, because legislators were not able to get the NCAA to change.
The other undefeated G5 school. Liberty is also the only 8-win school on the list, making it the most likely to finish the season undefeated. Four games left instead of five means one less opportunity to goof up and they are heavily favored over their last 4 games. The reason the Flames are not ranked and why they are this low on the list, is their schedule is extremely weak. Bowling Green, Buffalo, Old Dominion, and Massachusetts for OOC and every other CUSA team with at least 2 losses makes the schedule hard to overcome. If all the other teams on this list lose two games and the Flames are undefeated they will probably get it.
What they need to get invited: Win out (45.8% chance) and hope everyone else is involved in a blood bath of losses (much less likely).
Like Tulane, UNLV has one loss and it should not hurt them too much. It was to Michigan, which has beaten everyone so far and now has cheating accusations coming out, there may be some sympathy given to UNLV in the rankings. UNLV does control its own destiny: win out and it probably gets the G5 bid. So why so low? They still need to play three teams on this list, Fresno State, Wyoming, then Air Force then one of them in the conference title game. They are huge underdogs to Fresno State and Air Force and toss-up against Wyoming. The chances of them winning out are .7%, but a huge prize awaits if they do.
What they need to get invited: Win out at .7% chance.
6) Fresno State
Fresno almost got ranked higher than UNLV, but a Wyoming loss hurts more than a Michigan loss. The Bulldogs have a 11.4% chance of going undefeated. The big game is Saturday against UNLV, the winner has an inside track to the title game and loser has two losses and is out of the running for G5 bid. The favored is the Bulldogs, but stranger things have happened.
What they need to get invited: Win out, win the title game against an undefeated Air Force, and have Tulane lose somewhere.
Toledo and Wyoming are on this list due to one thing, they are getting votes in the AP and Coaches poll. Once a team starts getting votes it is easier for them to get more votes as they keep winning. Toledo has one loss to Illinois, not a bad loss, and are favored in the rest of their games, with a 24.9% chance of winning out. If they win the rest of their games they will be ranked going into the MAC title game. That will be enough to keep them in the conversation, but they would need to be the only one loss school left.
What they need to get invited: Win out, and hope everyone losses multiple times.
See first couple lines under Toledo. Wyoming did beat Fresno State, who are above them on the list, due to Cowboy losses to Texas (not a bad loss) and Air Force (also not a bad loss, but now plural losses). With a victory over UNLV and then undefeated Air Force team in the title game, the Cowboys could argue that the only team who beat them were the Longhorns.
What they need to get invited: Win out, beat undefeated Air Force in title game and hope Tulane loses.