Facing the possibility that eight Mountain West teams could become bowl eligible with just six bowl bids to offer, conference athletic directors are expected to vote Tuesday whether divisional champs will be assured of a postseason berth.
The vote would establish more criteria how teams are selected over others for bowl games.
The vote could help Fresno State (4-6, 3-3) lock up a bowl spot even if the Bulldogs were to enter postseason play with a winning percentage below .500. In such a scenario, Fresno State would win its final two regular-season games to clinch the West Division, advance to the conference title game but lose — and thus finish 6-7 before playing in a bowl.
“At the end of the day, if you look at it logically, you devalue the conference race if your divisional champ is bowl eligible and not in a postseason game,” co-interim Fresno State athletic director Steve Robertello said. “The thing I think people should consider is you can’t place someone in the same division in a bowl until the divisional champion has been placed. I’m not saying they can’t be placed at all. But it should could after the division champ is placed.
“Forget about the other division; I get that part. But if we win the division, even if say a Nevada or San Diego team were to finish at 7-5 and we were at 6-7, they shouldn’t be placed into a bowl over a divisional champion. Because now you’re getting into a discussion about who did you play in the nonleague. And I’d say our nonconference schedule is tougher than anyone’s in the league.”
The Bulldogs are in control of their own destiny, able to win the West Division and advance to the Mountain West championship as long as they win their final two games — Saturday at Nevada then at home against Hawaii.
There are scenarios in which Fresno State go could 1-1 in its final two games and still win the West Division and play for the Mountain West championship, though it’d require the Bulldogs to beat the Wolf Pack. There also are scenarios in which as many as five teams could be tied for first in the West with Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State, Hawaii and San Jose State jumbled atop the standings.
Under NCAA rules, though, teams must reach six wins before the end of the regular season to be bowl eligible. That means even if Fresno State entered the Mountain West title game at 5-7 then won to get to 6-7 overall, the Bulldogs still would not qualify for postseason eligibility.
“I haven’t looked into that possibility in too much detail,” Robertello said. “I’d likely file a waiver to get us in. But right now, I kind of feel like for us to truly win the division, we’re going to have to win both games. We’re still dealing with the issue of (bowl) protecting divisional champs.”
Robertello said athletic directors from the conference heavily favor assuring a bowl spot for division champs when the topic was discussed last month and said he anticipates the votes to reflect their initial stance.
“They just want to revisit it and make sure everyone is comfortable with it,” Robertello said. “The ADs were in favor of protecting the divisional champ resoundingly last time. I’d be surprised if that many people changed their tune. The scary part, though, is when you talk about it right before bowl selection time and now everybody has a vested interest.”
The Mountain West has six primary tie-ins to bowls with the Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 20) given the first selection. The other bowls with Mountain West primary ties are the Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 20), the New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 20), the New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 20), the Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 23) and the Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24).
There are other scenarios that could help the Mountain West accommodate all of its bowl eligible teams. Colorado State (9-1, 5-1) or Boise State (8-2, 5-1) could land in an upper-tier bowl such as the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach. The Mountain West also has a backup tie-in with the Catcus Bowl (Jan. 2), which would be activated if the Big 12 isn’t able to fill all of its bowl tie-ins. If such a scenario occurred, the Catcus Bowl would take the No. 2 pick among the Mountain West teams after the Vegas Bowl.
But thinking about bowl selections at this point, senior receiver Josh Harper said, isn’t the priority yet for the Bulldogs.
“All we’re focused on is going 2-0,” Harper said. “That’s 1-0 this week in Nevada. Then 1-0 the week after. We’re not really thinking about anything else. We’re really not even thinking beyond Nevada. We need to get out of this first round first.”