Utah State football: Mountain West bowl picture still wide open
Dan Hanneke does his best to stay ahead of the curve on the college football postseason. He goes to games and keeps a discerning eye on scores around the West.
But the Las Vegas Bowl's executive director finds himself in the shoes of many Mountain West football fans this season: He doesn't really know who will be playing in his game, which is just over a month away. There still are a handful of contenders.
"I don't know if parity is the right word," Hanneke said. "It's somewhat frustrating that we don't know who is coming yet, but it's kind of fun and it's good for the Mountain West. There's a lot of football left."
By winning its last two regular-season games, Utah State could position itself for a conference championship game berth if Boise State stumbles. But even aside from that scenario, the Mountain West still has much to sort out in its bowl berths. The bowl-eligible Aggies could be playing in Texas, Hawaii, or almost anywhere in between.
Even bowl officials admit 2013 is an unusually complex postseason picture. Four Mountain West teams Boise, Utah State, Fresno State and San Diego State are bowl eligible. Three more teams Colorado State, UNLV and San Jose State can qualify with one more win, and all three will be favored in at least one more game on their schedules.
The possibility that Fresno State earn a trip to a BCS bowl looms over the whole process. That uncertainty has left even the experts running through a variety of scenarios.
"It starts at the very top," Armed Forces Bowl executive director Brant Ringler said. "Does Fresno keep winning? If they lose in the championship game, does Vegas take them or the winner of the game? We just don't know yet."
Though the Mountain West has had a "slot" structure in the past based on order of finish, the conference is a bit more flexible these days, spokesman Javan Hedlund said. The schools, bowls and conferences often try to get the best fits based on geography, record, storylines and match-ups after the Vegas Bowl and Poinsetta Bowl pick their Mountain West representatives.
Utah State has spent the past two years at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but bowl executive director Kevin MacDonald said that didn't strike them out for another trip to Boise. But if the Aggies do win out, MacDonald said, they're likely to have "options."
Several executives agreed that Utah State has a number of attractive elements to its program.
"Where they're located is good with the bowl games because you can just go up the 15 or right down the 15, so you'd think the fans would travel," Poinsetta bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski said. "On the field, it's a great brand of exciting style of football. It's an up-and-coming team."
There's much to determine with two weeks left. If Utah State wins out and manages to go to the championship, that could land it in San Diego or Las Vegas. Even if the Aggies don't go to the title game, Fresno still could open up things by landing in a BCS bowl.
If Boise State and Fresno State take the two top spots, a myriad of options open up. Utah State could go to the Armed Forces Bowl to take on Navy, which has a rich backstory since Wells coached there. The team could go to Vegas if the Broncos, who have been to the Vegas Bowl three straight years, determine they want to go elsewhere.
Utah State also may have an inside track to Hawaii: Of the seven possibly eligible teams, only the Aggies, UNLV and Boise State haven't played in the islands this season, which plays a factor in who makes the trip. Or maybe the New Mexico Bowl or Potato Bowl will take them.
One unlikely scenario: Utah State stays home this season. Hedlund said if seven teams become bowl eligible, the conference will do all it can to find a backup. And Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said no matter where the invite comes from, the Aggies will be ready to play.
"We're just happy we're in a conference with six bowl ties this year," he said. "We want to represent Utah State football and show people what we're about."
Possible postseason destinations
The Mountain West has tie-ins to six bowls, and Utah State still is in the running for any of them. A listing of the bowls, with accompanying notes:
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl • Dec. 21 against Pac-12 opponent. Typically reserved for the Mountain West champion
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsetta Bowl • Dec. 26 against MAC opponent. Gets priority after Las Vegas
Armed Forces Bowl • Dec. 30 against Navy. USU coach Matt Wells once coached in Annapolis
Hawaii Bowl •Â Dec. 24 against Conference USA opponent. USU and Boise State are the two eligible teams that have not travelled to Honolulu this year
New Mexico Bowl • Dec. 21 against Pac-12 opponent. If Utah gets a bid there, that would put USU out
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl •Â Dec. 21 against MAC opponent. The Aggies' postseason destination for each of the last two years
Colorado Stateat Utah State
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