The Mountain West likely will finish the season with seven teams with at least seven wins — giving the conference a shot to place all seven.
The bowl-eligible teams already have been decided: Boise State, Air Force, Wyoming and Utah State in the Mountain Division, and Hawaii, Nevada and San Diego State in the West Division.
All have seven wins except for Utah State (6-5), which closes against New Mexico — the only winless team in conference play.
The Mountain West’s bowl fortunes are tied to the Pac-12, which provides the opponent in the Las Vegas Bowl and potentially could vacate the Cheez-It Bowl to give the Mountain West a sixth guaranteed spot.
For Las Vegas, Washington State (6-5) looks like the favorite unless the Cougars beat the Washington Huskies (6-5) in the Apple Cup. An intriguing possibility would be Cal (6-5), coached by former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
But the Bears seem like a logical pick for the Redbox Bowl, which would keep them in the Bay Area. Washington and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen would be a Vegas possibility with a loss in the Apple Cup.
The Cheez-It opportunity seems likely but the Mountain West could lose out on that spot if Oregon State upsets Oregon, or if Utah wins the Pac-12 but doesn’t get a spot in the College Football Playoff. There are other complicated scenarios, but those are the two most likely snags.
Below are our latest projections. A few things to keep in mind:
The highest-ranked champion of a Group of Five conference gets an automatic New Year’s Six bid. That spot is in the Cotton Bowl this year. The American Athletic Conference champion is the favorite with Memphis at No. 18, Cincinnati at No. 19 and Boise State at No. 20 this week. Memphis and Cincinnati meet today in Memphis (12:30 p.m., ABC).
The first selection from the Mountain West goes to the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cheez-It Bowl gets the second pick if the Pac-12 or Big 12 fails to fill its spot. We’re projecting the Pac-12 will be short and the Big 12 will not.
The Famous Idaho Potato and New Mexico bowls choose next in collaboration with the conference. The Hawaii Bowl also fits in this group but the Mountain West gave its spot to BYU this year in exchange for a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl. We’re projecting that ESPN, as the owner of both events, will invite Hawaii to the Hawaii Bowl and put the displaced American team elsewhere, perhaps in Armed Forces.
The Arizona Bowl chooses last. The Mountain West also has a backup deal with the Redbox Bowl (unlikely to open) and a relationship with the Frisco Bowl.
This week’s projection for Boise State remains a date with Washington State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Washington State never has played in the game. If the Cougars beat Washington today, you can slide the Huskies into this spot. That would create a second Bryan Harsin vs. Chris Petersen matchup — though this time the Broncos wouldn’t have any players who played under Petersen.
New Year’s Six
Fiesta, Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal) — LSU vs. Clemson
Peach, Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal) — Ohio State vs. Utah
Rose, Jan. 1 (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten) — Oregon vs. Penn State
Sugar, Jan. 1 (Big 12 vs. SEC) — Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Orange, Dec. 30 (ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame) — Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
Cotton, Dec. 28 (Group of Five vs. at-large) — Cincinnati vs. Florida
Las Vegas, Dec. 21 (MW vs. Pac-12) — Boise State vs. Washington State
Cheez-It, Dec. 27 (Pac-12/MW vs. Big 12) — Air Force vs. Kansas State
Famous Idaho Potato, Jan. 3 (MW vs. MAC) — Nevada vs. Eastern Michigan
New Mexico, Dec. 21 (MW vs. C-USA) — San Diego State vs. Marshall
Hawaii, Dec. 24 (American vs. BYU) — Hawaii vs. BYU
Armed Forces, Jan. 4 (MW vs. Big Ten/at-large) — Wyoming vs. Toledo
Arizona, Dec. 31 (MW vs. Sun Belt) — Utah State vs. Georgia Southern