Boise State Football

Vegas or Hawaii? Boise State football’s bowl landing spots come into focus

Mountain West football players of the year

The Mountain West unveils the major award winners for the 2017 football season. (Video courtesy of Mountain West)
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The Mountain West unveils the major award winners for the 2017 football season. (Video courtesy of Mountain West)

If the Boise State football team beats Fresno State on Saturday in the Mountain West championship game, the Broncos’ bowl destination is all but guaranteed. A loss would make it a little more unclear.

The Las Vegas Bowl isn’t beholden to take the conference champion to face a Pac-12 foe. Bowl executive director John Saccenti told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “We have full intention of taking the winner of the championship game,” but noted, “you never know what could happen.”

Of the Mountain West’s bowl partners, Las Vegas gets the first pick, and getting Boise State back for the first time since 2012 would just about be a slam dunk. It appears Oregon and Arizona are the front-runners to be the opponent.

Saccenti told the newspaper earlier this month that “we would love a Boise State against an Arizona school matchup,” and on Tuesday said, “I would be surprised if Arizona or Oregon aren’t playing here next month.”

If two Pac-12 teams wind up in the New Year’s Six bowl games, which is very unlikely, both Arizona (7-5) and Oregon (7-5) could move up, and a 6-6 UCLA could play in Vegas. Based on the Pac-12 criteria to select teams for the lower bowls based on standings, Arizona is the most likely opponent, but the Cactus and Las Vegas could swap (though unlikely) and put the Wildcats in their home state.

If the Broncos lose, the Famous Idaho Potato, New Mexico and Arizona bowls are highly unlikely destinations. That leaves Hawaii, a bowl the Broncos haven’t played in since 2013. There they would face a team from the American Athletic Conference, which will put Central Florida or Memphis in a New Year’s Six bowl, and also is home to a very good South Florida team.

“If available, Boise State would be an exciting team to host,” Hawaii Bowl executive director Daryl Garvin said. “The Broncos have played in two previous Hawaii Bowls and we have always enjoyed the passion surrounding Broncos football.”

The Mountain West has a backup agreement with the Foster Farms Bowl, and the Big Ten likely will not fill its spot if it gets three teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State) in the New Year’s Six bowls. The Pac-12 representative in the Foster Farms game appears to be Washington State, and the bowl wouldn’t put Boise State in the game since those teams met this season.

An ideal situation for the conference might be Boise State winning Saturday to face a Pac-12 team, Fresno State playing somewhat near home against a Pac-12 squad in Foster Farms, and sending 10-2 San Diego State to Hawaii to play a good team from the American.

Here are my latest bowl projections:

MOUNTAIN WEST

Las Vegas (Dec. 16): Boise State vs. Arizona

New Mexico (Dec. 16): Colorado State vs. North Texas

Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Wyoming vs. Northern Illinois

Hawaii (Dec. 24): San Diego State vs. South Florida

Foster Farms (Dec. 27): Fresno State vs. Washington State

Arizona (Dec. 29): Utah State vs. New Mexico State

NEW YEAR’S SIX

Rose (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Oklahoma vs. Auburn

Sugar (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Clemson vs. Wisconsin

Peach (Jan. 1): Ohio State vs. UCF

Orange (Dec. 30): Miami (Fla.) vs. Alabama

Fiesta (Dec. 30): USC vs. Georgia

Cotton (Dec. 29): TCU vs. Penn State

DON’T LIKE THE RULES? CHANGE ’EM — EVENTUALLY

A bit of a nightmare scenario hit the Mountain West when Fresno State cracked the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 25 on Tuesday. Two days earlier, Boise State was announced as the host site for the Mountain West championship game.

Usually, the host is the top-ranked CFP team, but after then-No. 23 Boise State lost to Fresno last week, the site was determined by an average of four computer rankings. That was done because waiting until Tuesday night to figure out the site for a game five days later would’ve been messy.

Naturally, the debate about the best way to determine the host was fiery. Should head to head matter? What if the division champions don’t play in the regular season? What if they do play, but the winner winds up with a worse conference record? There’s no easy answer, but BSU coach Bryan Harsin was more than happy to host.

“We earned an opportunity to be in the championship game and our body of work has earned us an opportunity to have it here,” Harsin said. “The way it’s set up, that’s how they did it. If you want to change that, (do it) when the season is over. The funny thing to me is you want to make rules up as you go. You can’t do that. This is what we all agreed upon.”

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch reacts to his selection as Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

NFL THOUGHTS CAN WAIT

Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was named the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday, and it’s been quite a rise from 8-man standout at Salmon River High to walk-on and then to starter.

Vander Esch said “growing up, everybody told me I couldn’t do things, and even still, some people have doubts ... it lights a fire under me.” He said his dream was to play at Boise State and then in the NFL.

That next level could come calling soon. Tony Pauline, a draft analyst who was the first to report that Jeremy McNichols was leaving early last year, said recently that Vander Esch has “been called a ‘special player’ by some in the scouting community.” He said Vander Esch appears to be leaning to stay for his senior year. The linebacker was asked about his future Wednesday.

“I’m not really going to talk about it,” Vander Esch said. “I’ve kind of pushed that to the side. I haven’t been focusing on it. We have one thing that’s on our minds right now and it’s winning a championship.”

WEAVER UP FOR THE PIESMAN

Boise State redshirt freshman STUD end Curtis Weaver was named first-team All-Mountain West on Wednesday, the first freshman in conference history to be named a first-team defender, and he’s up for another honor.

SB Nation created an award, the perfectly named Piesman Trophy, to honor the best play by a big man in college football. Weaver’s play was his 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown on Sept. 9 at Washington State. Weaver (6-foot-3, 252 pounds) is one of 21 nominees, and the winner will be announced Dec. 8. Perhaps he would’ve had better odds when he arrived on campus in summer 2016, when he weighed 287 pounds.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

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