A record seven Mountain West football teams made it to bowl games. The old record was six in 2013.
Four of those teams will play their bowl games Saturday, the first day of the bowl season. Here’s who I think will win and why. As the other bowl games with MW teams approach, I will pick those as well. As always, your feedback is encouraged.
New Orleans Bowl — Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana (8-4), 9 a.m. MT (ESPN)
This is basically a road game for Nevada as it plays the in-state school that is playing in this game for the fourth consecutive year. The Ragin’ Cajuns won the previous three.
The two teams are evenly matched. Nevada averages 31.3 points per game; Louisiana (8-4) averages 30.6. Nevada allows 28.2 points per game; Louisiana 27.9. Both teams also have dual-threat quarterbacks: Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and Louisiana’s Terrance Broadway.
Nevada is good enough to win this game, but I am sticking with Ragin’ Cajuns as it will have the definite home-field advantage. Plus, Nevada will kickoff this game at 8 a.m. PT on their own time clocks. It may take the Wold Pack a while to wake up.. Louisiana 34, Nevada 28.
New Mexico Bowl — Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5), 12:20 p.m. MT (ESPN)
UTEP averages 212.7 rushing yards per game, and Utah State allows only 129.3 rushing yards per contest. Utah State also is a more well-rounded team offensively and defensively.
UTEP has allowed 46 touchdowns this season, compared to 33 for Utah State. The Aggies may take a little time to get going on offense, but their defense will carry them to an easy victory. Utah State 38, UTEP 20.
Las Vegas Bowl — Colorado State (10-2) vs. Utah (8-4), 12:30 p.m. MT (ABC)
An old Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference rivalry is renewed. Colorado State has senior quarterback Garrett Grayson (3,779 yards, 32 TD, 6 INT) and an All-America receiver in sophomore Rashard Higgins (89 catches, 1,640 yards, 17 TD).
But Utah has a physical defense — the kind that gave Colorado State fits in losses to Boise State and Air Force this season. Grayson will have a rough day under Utah’s pressure, and watch for a lot of Utah running back Devontae Booker.
Also, think former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen — now the offensive coordinator at Utah — wants to beat Colorado State after the Rams beat his UW squad by 30 in Laramie last season? Perhaps a small subplot to this game. Utah 28, Colorado State 17.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — Air Force (9-3) vs. Western Michigan (8-4), 3:45 p.m. MT (ESPN)
Another game that features a strong defensive team in Air Force (24.2 ppg) and a good offensive team in Western Michigan (34.6 ppg). Not sure if Western Michigan has seen a lot of Air Force’s multiple option offense.
However, Air Force better be prepared to slow down some of Western Michigan’s skilled guys. Quarterbac Zach Terrell completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,146 yards and 23 touchdowns. Running back Jarvion Franklin ran for more than 1,500 yards. Expect this game to go back and forth a lot.
The difference will come in the kicking game, and Air Force has one of the best in the nation in Will Conant. He will boot the game-winning field goal in the final seconds. Air Force 41, Western Michigan 38.