Where will San Jose State go bowling? Breaking down the MWC’s potential postseason

935_-mountain_west_conference-primary-2011The Mountain West Conference is has six bowl tie-ins to fill this year, and potentially a seventh if the Pac-12 comes up short. San Jose State, as of right now, is still likely to be playing in December when this is all said and done, but Saturday’s loss really did a number to where. Before that, one of the higher bowls wasn’t out of the question.

After … It’s looking bleak on the money end, at least. But still likely.

But with the rest of the conference having two or three games left, it’s time to start untangling the Mountain West’s bowl list, and figure out who’s in, who’s out and where the hell they are going.

For the record, things are just as unsettled at the top as they are at the bottom of the bowl picture. Fresno State could still ruin its BCS chances with two and almost certainly three games left, and there’s still some unlikely silliness with New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming to sort out that could determine where the Spartans play.

This is what we have to sort out, courtesy of some fine bloke editing Wikipedia, with the most likely opponents listed.

  • No. 1 The Las Vegas Bowl versus Pac-12 #5 (Las Vegas) – USC, UCLA, Arizona or Washington
  • No. 2 The Poinsettia Bowl versus Army/At-Large (San Diego) – Navy, possibly?
  • No. 3 The Armed Forces Bowl versus Conference USA #3 (Fort Worth, Texas) – East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Middle Tennessee State, Tulane, Texas-San Antonio
  • No. 4 The New Mexico Bowl versus Pac -12 #7 (Albuquerque, N.M.) – Arizona, Washington, or Utah or Washington State if either one can make it to bowl eligibility
  • No. 5 The Hawaiʻi Bowl versus Conference USA #2 (Honolulu, Hawaii) – Marshall, North Texas or East Carolina
  • No. 6 The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus MAC #3 (Boise, Idaho) – Ball State or Northern Illinois, with Buffalo having an outside chance of falling here

This doesn’t take into account the possibility of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., also getting a Mountain West team. It also doesn’t take into account the possibility of a non-BCS at-large bid elsewhere, not unlike last year’s Military Bowl berth for San Jose State, grabbing a team from the conference.

For the sake of this exercise, we are going to assume two things.

  1. San Jose State will be bowl eligible. The Spartans, at 5-4 overall, have not yet made it to that milestone, so all of this speculation means nothing if they can’t even get that sixth win.
  2. Fresno State wins out and makes it to the Fiesta Bowl or one of the other BCS bowls. It would create an open slot, which would bump everyone up on the bowl chain in the conference, making it effectively seven bowls and possibly eight.

With that in mind here is the list of teams likely to be bowl eligible from the Mountain West at season’s end and where they are going (with their projected record):

  • Fresno State (12-0) — BCS, Fiesta Bowl
  • Boise State (9-4) — Las Vegas Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl or better at-large
  • San Diego State (7-5) — Poinsettia Bowl
  • Utah State (8-4) — New Mexico Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl
  • Colorado State (7-5) — Hawaii or Potato Bowl
  • San Jose State (6-6) — New Mexico, Hawaii or Potato Bowl
  • UNLV (6-6) — Las Vegas Bowl or at-large bowl

It’s not the clearest yet which team will land where, but at this point, bowl eligibility is a foregone conclusion for these teams and they are jostling for position. On the bubble is Wyoming (6-6 or 5-7); Eliminated are Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Air Force.

Wyoming’s problem is they still have to win two out of three games to close the season just to get to six wins, with Boise State and Utah State still left to go. Even with the Aggies being shorthanded, they still are talented and will have a lot to play for on Saturday, Nov. 30 since on slip by the Broncos would put them in the Mountain West title game. UNLV has five wins already and a winnable game against Air Force left, as well as San Diego State. They should make it to six wins this season.

That means seven teams for seven bowls, counting Fresno State’s trip to the BCS, which would get the Spartans a trip, depending how the rest of conference play goes, to Albuquerque, Honolulu or Boise. It could still have as many as eight teams, but that would require Wyoming to take a dump on the standings by winning.

Some other notes:

  • The surest bet of anyone right now is that Fresno State will host Boise State in the Mountain West title game on Dec. 7 in a rematch of Fresno State’s narrow win over the Broncos on Sept. 20. If the Broncos defense is still having injury problems by that point, don’t expect the replay to be as close, or for the outcome to be any different.
  • Fresno State can mess up their BCS chances by losing at any point, but screws up their bowl positioning in general if they fall in the conference title game. It means they fall to the conference’s second or third bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego or Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. That would be a startling come down for a team that has done its best to avoid such a drop this year. It would also push everyone down the latter, and likely San Jose State and potentially even UNLV would be stuck hoping someone invites them to the bowl party at the end of the year in a far-flung location.
  • San Jose State’s loss Saturday to San Diego State really hurt its bowl chances. It will be, when this is all said and done, the difference between the Armed Forces Bowl or the Poinsettia Bowl and being stuck in the Hawaii Bowl (an impossible game to break even on because of the travel) or the Potato Bowl (which also has one of the lowest payouts of any bowl games.) It also threw into doubt the very idea of bowl eligibility in the first place, requiring the Spartans to have to regroup with an unfavorable but not impossible schedule just to get there. They will make it with a 6-6 record, but 7-5 would do wonders for their chances.
  • New Mexico could also theoretically join this party as well. At 3-6, they aren’t eliminated yet, but they would have to win out, and the Lobos remaining schedule (vs. Colorado State, at Fresno State, at Boise State) is the most grueling of anyone in the conference. But if they were to find superpowers for three weeks and win out, they would not only be bowl eligible and probably destined for a home massacre in the New Mexico Bowl, they would also throw the entire conference standings into the toilet.
  • Much like New Mexico’s relationship with the New Mexico Bowl, there is a similar set up for UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl, which can take the Rebels as long as they are bowl eligible. They would get murdered by a Pac-12 team in this event, but at least they would get to play in front of their crowd.
  • Wyoming, too, can make the party as well, but they have the second toughest remaining schedule despite a cupcake in Hawaii later this month (Boise State and Utah State also remain.) This is where bad blowout losses like those to Texas State (lost 42-21 in San Marcos) and Colorado State (lost 52-22 at home) are killing them. Momentum is also not on the Cowboys side: They have lost three straight, have fired their defensive coordinator and haven’t held a team under 30 in more than a month.
  • Assuming Utah State wins out (home for Colorado State and Wyoming), they are more than likely going to Fort Worth with San Diego State being a more attractive pick for the Poinsettia Bowl, which plays at the same stadium as the Aztecs. This also assumes the Aztecs at least go 2-1 down the home stretch.
  • Colorado State is one win off from bowl eligibility, but is likely going to make it. Left on their schedule are two teams that don’t pass the ball much, which they can shut down. If the finished tied with San Jose State in the standings, the Spartans hold the tiebreaker because they beat the Rams.
  • Fresno State’s most likely landing spot if they make the BCS is the Fiesta Bowl, because it is the closest bowl to Fresno that will take them (the Rose Bowl, having taken TCU as a non-AQ team in 2011, can pass on the Bulldogs if the Big Ten or Pac-12 champion goes to the BCS title game.) the Bulldogswould get, in this case, either the Big 12 champion (Baylor or Texas) or another at-large. There also could be a situation like there was in 2010, where two non-AQ teams ended up in the BCS, and were paired against each other. That situation, should Northern Illinois and Fresno State both win out, could happen again.
  • Not in the Mountain West, but still relevant: Ball State can ruin Northern Illinois’ year on Wednesday by beating them. They certainly are good enough to do so, although a dumb loss to North Texas (which is in line to compete for the Conference USA crown) sealed any hope of them being a BCS buster this year.
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