Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The fact we’re talking today about where a 7-5 UNLV team may play in a bowl game is a sign of how far the program has come in the past few months. The fact we’re also talking about how a 7-5 UNLV team could get left out of the bowl season altogether is a sign of how far the program still has to go in the next few years.
The Rebels (7-5, 5-3) did themselves a huge favor with Saturday’s 45-19 drubbing of San Diego State. Not only was it a win, but after SDSU’s opening drive UNLV completely dominated a game against a team it could be competing with for a bowl slot.
I went over this a little in that game story, but here’s a more detailed look at how things could play out. First, the basics:
• The Mountain West has seven bowl-eligible teams for six bowl games. This isn’t unique, as the Pac-12 has nine eligible teams for seven bowl games. That makes the competition for the at-large games more difficult for the Mountain West.
• There are currently 77 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots. Three more teams could become eligible next weekend, meaning as many as 10 teams may go at least .500 and miss out on the postseason.
• The Mountain West’s games, in order, are the Las Vegas Bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Las Vegas gets the first choice and the Poinsettia picks second, but after that it’s more of a free-for-all as the four remaining games are on a similar tier and ESPN Regional Television owns all four. ERT also owns and operates the Las Vegas Bowl plus at least three other bowl games.
No matter the outcome of Saturday’s inaugural Mountain West championship game at Fresno State, the Bulldogs and Utah State are likely going to the Las Vegas Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl. The winner would probably come to Las Vegas, and the loser would go to San Diego.
Since the Las Vegas, New Mexico and Famous Idaho Potato bowls are all on Dec. 21, there’s been a push from a few fan bases for the Las Vegas and Poinsettia committees to declare they’re taking those top two teams. That would make the remaining picture a little clearer and would make it possible for some of the games to be decided before the BCS announcement on Sunday.
Based solely on performance, UNLV has a great case that it deserves one of the league’s seven spots. It defeated SDSU head-to-head, and both have the same overall record; UNLV won one more game than 6-6 San Jose State; and the Rebels never played Boise State (8-4) or Colorado State (7-6), which lost to SDSU and SJSU, respectively.
There are cases against UNLV, too, but this will probably come down to connections more than on-field performance anyway. SJSU athletic director Gene Bleymaier was at Boise State for 30 years, leaving him with many friends in Boise despite his 2011 firing. There are also murmurs that the New Mexico Bowl wants Colorado State, in part because the Rams traveled well to Albuquerque in November.
There’s also a general feeling the Armed Forces Bowl wants San Diego State, though that’s harder to sell after a team with the same overall record beat them by 26 on Saturday. Of course, bowl directors don’t really have to justify their decision. These games are about making the best business decisions for the bowl, not the one the public perceives as the most fair.
If those three games were to pick that way and Boise State couldn’t pick up an at-large spot, the Broncos would go to Hawaii. That’s how a 7-5 UNLV team could be left on the outside looking in.
Interim athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who’s poised to become the permanent AD at a Board of Regents meeting this week, is working the phones to gauge the landscape and call in any possible favors. She was a bowl director for 13 years and knows many people who are making these decisions this week.
I personally find the bowl games to be ridiculous. They're a series of exhibitions played weeks or a month after the season and usually cost the university money. Still, I know the players love them, and it would be disappointing for guys such as quarterback Caleb Herring to come this far and not be rewarded.