Bronco Beat notes: Mountain West lacks sexy bowl picks, but should fill commitments

ccripe@idahostatesman.comNovember 1, 2013 

The Mountain West bowl situation couldn't be much murkier going into the final month of the regular season.

It looks like seven teams will get eligible - enough to cover the league's six contracted bowls plus a Bowl Championship Series appearance for Fresno State - but it's unlikely more than three teams will finish with eight or more wins.

That's going to put a premium on finding the right fits in bowl games because none of the teams other than Fresno State, and possibly the Mountain Division champion, are overly attractive.

The projected eligible teams: Fresno State (7-0), Boise State (5-3), Utah State (4-4), Colorado State (4-4), UNLV (5-3), San Jose State (4-3) and San Diego State (3-4).

Here's a look at the Mountain West's bowl possibilities:

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1)

Matchup: Big 12 vs. BCS at-large

Projection: Texas vs. Fresno State

Outlook: The Bulldogs are set up to earn an automatic BCS bid if they win out. The most dangerous remaining games are Nov. 9 at Wyoming, Nov. 29 at San Jose State and the Mountain West championship game Dec. 7.

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21)

Matchup: MW No. 1 vs. Pac-12 No. 5

Projection: Boise State vs. Oregon State

Outlook: Fresno State is the first choice from the MW. Boise State isn't ideal, because it has been to Las Vegas each of the past three years, but the Broncos are likely the most attractive choice and the best match for a quality Pac-12 team.

Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 26)

Matchup: MW No. 2 vs. Army or MAC

Projection: Utah State vs. Buffalo

Outlook: If Boise State slides past Las Vegas, the Poinsettia will make a play for the Broncos. But the lousy date and low-profile opponent - the Mid-American Conference backs up Army - could result in a terrible turnout.

New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21)

Matchup: MW vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Projection: Colorado State vs. Arizona

Outlook: The Rams are a good regional fit. They could move up in the pecking order if they beat Utah State.

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24)

Matchup: MW vs. Conference USA

Projection: UNLV vs. East Carolina

Outlook: UNLV would be one of the cheapest teams to fly to Hawaii and they likely wouldn't deliver a crowd to any of the mainland bowls anyway. The X-factor: Will Boise State push to send its football team to Hawaii in combination with the men's basketball team, which is set to play in the Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)? ESPN owns both events and likely would be intrigued.

Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30, Fort Worth, Texas)

Matchup: MW vs. Navy

Projection: San Diego State vs. Navy

Outlook: Navy is the automatic choice if it gets eligible, which seems likely. The Aztecs aren't likely to stay home for the Poinsettia again this year.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 21, Boise)

Matchup: MW vs. MAC No. 3

Projection: San Jose State vs. Ball State

Outlook: If ever there were a year for the Broncos to stay home, this would be it. The MAC team in Boise could be the third-best opponent provided to the six Mountain West bowls. Northern Illinois is 8-0 and Ball State is 8-1, and there's a decent chance one of them lands in Boise. But the Broncos have made it clear they'd rather leave town for their bowl game.

Worth noting: ESPN Regional Television owns all of the Mountain West games except Poinsettia.

Other BCS projections

National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Oregon

Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten): Stanford vs. Ohio State

Fiesta (Big 12 vs. BCS): Texas vs. Fresno State

Sugar (SEC vs. BCS): Texas A&M vs. UCF

Orange (ACC vs. BCS): Florida State vs. Wisconsin

•••

Boise State sophomore safety Dillon Lukehart is required to spend the first half of Saturday's game at Colorado State in the locker room. He is suspended for the first half because he was flagged and ejected for targeting in the second half last week at BYU.

"We had to ask around what we do," defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. "We were going to have him up in the press box, but we called and that's not legal. He's going to sit in the locker room. He'll be sitting in the corner with his pads on waiting for the second half."

Lake agreed with the call on Lukehart, who hit wide receiver Cody Hoffman at the goal line to break up a pass. The play ended up saving the Broncos points - the Cougars settled for a field goal.

Lukehart correctly placed his head to the side and did not launch his body at the receiver but hit Hoffman too high.

"(In the past), that's a big-time play. He dislodged the football," Lake said. "… But what he didn't do is he didn't go lower. His shoulder pad hit the face mask of the receiver and, unfortunately - I'm sure to the casual football fan who likes toughness, they probably like that hit - but in today's football rules you can't do that. We'll all learn from it as a group. We did extra drills this week to make sure it doesn't happen again."

•••

Junior college transfer Mercy Maston, who was considered a key recruit in the 2013 class, made a push for more playing time in October. He has emerged as the No. 3 cornerback.

"Mercy Maston has come on a ton in the last really month or so," Lake said. "He has played well. He hasn't made mistakes. He's a really physical corner out there. He's tackled well. So you can count on seeing him even more so as we continue down the stretch here."

Coach Chris Petersen has been holding in-game tryouts at kickoff returner in recent weeks, but outside of the Fresno State game (two long returns by Dallas Burroughs) the Broncos have gotten little accomplished.

"We need to get some production out of there," Petersen said.

The Broncos' best option likely is sophomore wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, who delivered the big return in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas in December. Williams-Rhodes only has six returns this season, but he also is the starting punt returner and leading receiver.

"His role is getting bigger," Petersen said. "We need to be smart back there."

Chadd Cripe is in his 12th year as the Idaho Statesman beat writer for Boise State football. He also is a voter for The Associated Press Top 25. You can contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com, follow him on Twitter at @IDS_BroncoBeat and read his blog at blogs.idahostatesman.com/broncobeat.

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