TCU is ticketed for a BCS bowl with wins over Wyoming and New Mexico, and the rest of the Mountain West Conference's postseason agenda is slowly taking shape.
As a reminder, here's the league's bowl lineup:
BCS: TCU (projected) v. BCS
Las Vegas: MWC #1 selection vs. Pac-10 #4 or 5
Poinsettia: MWC #2 selection vs. Pac 10 #6
New Mexico: MWC #3 or 4 selection vs. WAC #1, 2 or 3
Armed Forces: MWC #3 or 4 selection vs. C-USA #2, 3, 4, 5 or 6
Humanitarian: MWC #5 selection vs. WAC #1, 2 or 3
Currently, TCU, BYU, Utah and Air Force are bowl eligible, with Wyoming one win away and SDSU needing to win out. UNLV, CSU and New Mexico are assured of losing seasons.
While it's mathematically possible that the MWC will have six bowl-eligible teams and fulfill its contracted allotment, it's more likely that a maximum of five, and possible that only four Mountain West teams will play in the postseason.
Projecting a home loss to TCU this weekend, Wyoming will need to win at Colorado State in the "Border War" to earn its bowl bid. SDSU needs to win at Utah and at UNLV to get bowl-eligible.
I could see the Pokes winning in Fort Collins with a bowl bid on the line against the "playing for pride" Rams, but I don't see the Aztecs winning in Salt Lake City.
So, while it would appear that the Humanitarian Bowl will be seeking a dance partner for its WAC entrant, the New Mexico and Armed Forces Bowls will likely be left to split the remaining two bowl-eligible MWC teams, or decide which bowl gets Air Force, should Wyoming not get bowl-eligible.
During the MWC Media Days, Commissioner Craig Thompson hinted that it was time for a change at the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, and that it would be in the best interest of both the bowl and BYU that the Cougars not make a fifth straight appearance in Vegas. Based on those comments, the assumption has been that a successful BYU team would be ticketed for the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, with Las Vegas opting to take equally successful Utah.
Well, it may be time to reconsider those assumptions. The word I'm getting is that the Las Vegas Bowl folks do not feel beholden to Commissioner Thompson's wishes and, and that they want the "best team available" for their game. According to what I'm hearing, Las Vegas wants to invite the winner of the BYU-Utah game, even it does mean a fifth straight invite for the Cougars.
A couple of thoughts about this:
I totally understand the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas wanting the MWC's best available team for its game, since the bowl gets the league's de facto "top team" on an annual basis. I understand the bowl wanting a team coming in off a win in its last game, and a rivalry game, no less.
We know that the Cougars sell out Sam Boyd Stadium, and we also know that Ute fans would travel for the mere novelty, having last appeared in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2001. So, the bowl people have to see the BYU/Utah decision as a win/win.
While Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged some "Las Vegas fatigue" during last weeks' coach's show, he reiterated that he wants the best bowl matchup and best showcase for his team, and that opportunity might be found in Las Vegas. While the Las Vegas and Poinsettia Bowls both get middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 teams, the ostensibly better Pac-10 squad will be in Las Vegas.
BYU fans would be a little more excited about returning to Las Vegas if they are riding the wave of euphoria that follows a win over Utah. If BYU loses its regular season finale, a trip to San Diego would be viewed as welcome consolation.