For the first time in five years, a bowl-eligible Mountain West football team will be staying home for the holidays.
Wyoming (6-6), which rallied to win its final four regular season games to become eligible for postseason play, was the odd team out Sunday, when bowl-game matchups were announced. It’s the first time since 2013, when a 6-6 San Jose State team was bypassed, and only the second time since 2006 that a bowl-eligible team from the 12-team Mountain West hasn’t earned an invitation.
BYU (6-6) edged out the Cowboys for a spot in the Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, one of five postseason games with tie-ins to the MW, under an agreement with ESPN to be placed in a bowl game whenever it’s eligible. ESPN owns and operates four of the five bowls with tie-ins to the MW, including the Idaho Potato Bowl.
Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said on Twitter that ESPN essentially swapped Boise State and BYU in setting up this year’s bowl games. The move sent MW Mountain Division champion Boise State (10-3) to the First Responders Bowl in Dallas. That opened a spot for BYU in the Idaho Potato Bowl, which is played at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium. ESPN also owns and operates the First Responders Bowl.
“The young men in our program and our coaching staff deserved an opportunity to conclude this season, and in the case our seniors their careers, with a bowl game. Burman said in a statement to WyoSports.net and other media outlets. “We will be working with the Mountain West to improve postseason opportunities for conference football teams moving forward. We have an excellent league, and every Mountain West team who is bowl-eligible should have an opportunity to play in a bowl game.”
The other three bowl-eligible teams left out of this year’s schedule of 39 bowl games were Southern Mississippi (6-5) of Conference USA, Miami, Ohio (6-6) of the Mid-American Conference and Louisiana-Monroe (6-6) of the Sun Belt Conference.
The MW adopted a new rule this year requiring the conference to place teams in bowl games based on their records, so that the two seven-win teams — Nevada and San Diego State — took priority over Wyoming in the placement process. MW commissioner Craig Thompson said last week that he didn’t think the conference would be able to find a bowl game for Wyoming.
The MW lost one of its bowl partners when the San Diego-based Poinsettia Bowl folded after the 2016 season. The conference has been unable to find a replacement.
The last time a Wyoming team qualified for a bowl game but didn’t get to play in one was 2006, when the Cowboys also finished 6-6.
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Where MW teams are going bowling
The MW champion Bulldogs (11-2) are headed to the Dec. 15 Las Vegas Bowl to face Arizona State (7-5), the runner-up in the Pacific-12 Conference’s South Division.
The Broncos (10-3) will play Boston College (7-5), the fourth-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division, in the First Responders Bowl, formerly known as the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Aggies (10-2) will play in the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque against North Texas ( 9-3), the runner-up in Conference USA’s West Division.
The Rainbow Warriors (8-5), the runner-up in the MW’s West Division, will play at home in the Dec. 22 Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu against Louisiana Tech (7-5), the third-place team in CUSA’s West Division.
The Wolf Pack (7-5) are headed to the Dec. 29 Arizona Bowl against Arkansas State (8-4), the runner-up in the Sun Belt’s West Division.
San Diego State
The Aztecs (7-5) will play in the Dec. 19 Frisco (Texas) Bowl against Ohio (8-4), which finished third in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division.