Projecting Mountain West bowl matchups is more complicated than ever because the availability of the two most-attractive games is dependent on how other teams fare, and a third attractive game could be gutted by the lack of eligible Big Ten teams.
Plus, there’s a long-shot possibility that Boise State could sneak into a New Year’s Six game if the Broncos win out and chaos at the top of the American conference produces a damaged champion.
Assuming the American — which has ranked teams in Navy, Houston, Memphis and Temple — gets the New Year’s Six bid from the five non-power conferences, here are the options for the Mountain West champion:
▪ Las Vegas Bowl vs. Pac-12: The Mountain West agreed to give its No. 1 spot to BYU in 2015 or 2019. The Cougars get the Hawaii Bowl in the other year. The Mountain West gets the Armed Forces Bowl this year as part of the deal.
The Las Vegas Bowl loves BYU, which played there for five straight years (2005-09). It also likes Boise State, which played there the next three years (2010-12). If BYU wins out to finish 10-2 and likely in the Top 25, the Cougars seem like a safe bet for Las Vegas. But if the Cougars lose — perhaps Saturday against Missouri in Kansas City — the door could crack open for the Mountain West champion, particularly if that’s the Broncos. Boise State (7-2) will take the Mountain West if it wins out.
John Saccenti, the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, said BYU’s destination will be determined as part of a cooperative effort between the school, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl and ESPN, which owns both games.
“There’s a perception from the outside that Vegas is holding the selection,” Saccenti said. “We don’t get the choice. It’s supposed to be a mutually agreed-upon decision of what’s best for that particular year.”
The Las Vegas Bowl gets the fifth pick of Pac-12 teams after the New Year’s Six selections.
“Right now, there’s going to be some pretty good teams in our window,” Saccenti said.
▪ Cactus Bowl vs. Pac-12: The Mountain West serves as the backup to the Big 12 and Pac-12 in the game that will be played at the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball stadium. The Pac-12 should fill its spot, which is one below the Vegas Bowl. The Big 12 might not, depending on how many teams it gets into the New Year’s Six bowls and what happens with the middle of that conference over the next four weekends. The projections below are based on the Big 12 only getting one spot in the NY6, which requires the conference to get shut out of the two playoff games.
▪ Armed Forces Bowl vs. Big Ten: This seems like a good landing spot if Las Vegas and Cactus are unavailable. However, the Big Ten’s surprisingly strong season makes it likely the conference will get multiple teams into the New Year’s Six. That would give Armed Forces the 10th pick at best. Barring some upsets, the conference won’t have enough teams to fill its spot in Fort Worth, Texas.
▪ Poinsettia Bowl or Hawaii Bowl: The next best options for the Mountain West champ likely will be the games in San Diego and Honolulu. It’s possible the Poinsettia could stage a clash between the Mountain West and Mid-American Conference champions — a solid result for both conferences. The GoDaddy Bowl gets the first choice from the MAC, but with several good options it might not insist on the champion. Hawaii has a deal with the American, which likely will place its champ in the New Year’s Six but could send one of its other three ranked teams to Hawaii.
New Year’s Six bowl projections
Cotton Bowl, semifinal (Dec. 31, Arlington, Texas): No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Stanford
Orange Bowl, semifinal (Dec. 31, Miami Gardens, Fla.): No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 LSU
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.): USC (Pac-12) vs. Michigan (Big Ten)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, New Orleans): Oklahoma State (Big 12) vs. Florida (SEC)
Peach Bowl (Dec. 31, Atlanta): Navy (Group of Five) vs. Iowa (at-large)
Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.): Notre Dame (at-large) vs. Ohio State (at-large)
Note: Based on Michigan and Stanford winning out and the Big 12 champion having a loss.
Mountain West bowl projections
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 19, Las Vegas): BYU (MW/BYU) vs. Washington State (Pac-12)
Cactus Bowl (Jan. 2, Phoenix): Texas Tech (Big 12/MW) vs. Arizona (Pac-12/MW)
Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas): Air Force (MW) vs. Tulsa (Big Ten/at-large)
Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24, Honolulu): San Diego State (MW/BYU) vs. Temple (AAC)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22, Boise): Utah State (MW) vs. Central Michigan (MAC)
New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 19, Albuquerque): New Mexico (MW) vs. Rice (C-USA)
Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 23, San Diego): Boise State (MW) vs. Bowling Green (MAC)
Arizona Bowl (Dec. 29, Tucson, Ariz.): San Jose State (MW) vs. Middle Tennessee (C-USA)
Boise State’s starters are 8-for-10 on fourth down, including conversions on seven of the last eight tries.
Those plays have included some memorable moments: senior tight end Jake Hardee’s first touchdown, on a 44-yard pass play, against UNLV; freshman wide receiver A.J. Richardson’s second career catch against Utah State; and senior tight end Holden Huff’s 24-yard touchdown catch on the fake-fumble play against Hawaii.
The eight conversions have led to five touchdowns, two field goals and one turnover.
“A lot of it ... comes down to feel,” coach Bryan Harsin said of when he wants to go for it on fourth down. “What do we have to get and do we have something we really feel good about? And do we need it? Where are we in the game — do we need momentum?”
The Broncos practice with fourth down in mind. They have specific plays for those situations, like the play on which quarterback Brett Rypien faked a fumbled snap on fourth-and-inches and hit Huff for a TD.
“You want to have your best call,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said.
The Broncos also have performed better recently on third down. They’re 19-for-33 in the past two games (57.6 percent) after converting just 35 percent of those situations in the first seven games. Coaches have emphasized better play on the “money down” but also credit the reduction in sacks (zero in the past two games) and negative plays (five each in the past two games) for creating more manageable third-down situations.
“We need to continue that,” Harsin said.
Boise State sold 1,400 tickets to Saturday’s game against New Mexico during the half-price sale Wednesday, according to the school. A total of 30,500 tickets have been distributed. ... Five former players are on CFL playoff teams: CB Cleshawn Page (Hamilton), DL Mike Atkinson (Hamilton), WR Geraldo Boldewijn (B.C.), CB Brandyn Thompson (Ottawa) and OL Jon Gott (Ottawa). ... The Huddle in Caven-Williams Sports Complex will re-open at halftime Saturday to serve complimentary coffee and hot chocolate (no alcoholic beverages) to the first 850 fans. Fans can exit through the northwest corner of the stadium and re-enter without going through security.
Chadd Cripe is in his 14th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also votes in The Associated Press Top 25. He can be reached at ccripe @idahostatesman.com.
New Mexico at Boise State
▪ When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
▪ TV: ESPNU (Mike Corey, David Diaz-Infante)
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State is 7-2, 4-1 Mountain West; New Mexico is 5-4, 3-2.
▪ Series: Boise State leads 6-0 (Broncos won 60-49 in 2014 in Albuquerque).
▪ Vegas: Boise State by 30 1/2