The Wyoming football team made a strong push to the end of the season, winning its last four games to finish 6-6 and bowl eligible.
It wasn't strong enough, however, to get the Cowboys an invite to a bowl game.
As a 6-6 team it turned out the Cowboys were at the mercy of ESPN, which it had the final say in light of the fact there were 72 teams with six or more wins, making them bowl eligible, and only 68 Bowl slots, and ESPN actually owns all but a hand full of the bowls.
As well as Wyoming, Southern Mississippi (6-5, 5-3 Conference USA), Miami, Ohio (6-6, 6-2 MAC) and Louisiana Monroe (6-6, 4-4 Southland) were left out of the bowl pairings.
On its Web Site, the MW conference claims to have "primary positions with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, NOVA® Home Loans Arizona Bowl, Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl, and Hawai‘i Bowl, an opportunity with the DXL Frisco Bowl, and secondary positions with the Cheez-It Bowl and the Redbox Bowl. The Mountain West is a possible participant in the DXL Frisco Bowl, along with BYU, C-USA and the MAC, opposite the AAC. The MW is the primary back-up for the Cheez-It Bowl in the event the Big 12 or Pac-12 conferences do not fill their slots; similarly, the MW is first in line to replace the Big Ten or Pac-12 conferences if they leave an opening in the Redbox Bowl."
In response to questions about BYU being in the Potato Bowl, the indication is the "primary position" is subject to the whims of ESPN, and ESPN opted to replace the MW opponent instead of the MAC. In terms of fan interest, a matchup of BYU against a member of the MW, would seem to fuel stronger interest in light of long-term rivalries built over over the years. BYU was a member of the original Western Athletic Conference, and a founding-member of the Mountain West.
The bottom line is Wyoming paid the price for its failure to take advantage of opportunities to win against both Utah State and Hawai'i. Utah State led the MW in offensive production but managed only 53 yards passing and 114 yards rushing in a win at Wyoming. Hawaii beat the Cowboys 17-13 thanks to a 68-yard drive in the closing minutes on which Chevan Cordeiro, filling in for injured Cole McDonald, completed four of vie passes for 59 yards, including the game-winning 38-yard pass.
With a win in either of those games, the Cowboys would have been 7-5, and would have had priority over a team that was 6-6.
"Our team certainly got better throughout the year, winning four games in a row to end the season," head coach Craig Bohl said in a statement issued by the school. "A lot of that is a credit to the leadership of our senior class. I do know the Mountain West is an unbelievably competitive conference, and our scheduled reflected that with the number of Top 25 teams that we faced this season. I thought we played the best competition we could.
"... I do believe that our seniors deserved the opportunity to play another game because of the way we finished, but those decisions are not in my hands."
Four of the Cowboys in-season opponents were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 -- Washington State (12), Fresno State (19), Missouri (24) and Boise State (23). A fifth, Utah State, was ranked 21 in the analytical focused S&P+ ratings. The Cowboys sixth loss was to Hawaii, meaning all six teams the Cowboys lost to are bowl-found, and five were ranked among the Top 25.
"We are disappointed that our football team will not get the opportunity to play in a bowl game this season," said Athletic director Tom Burman said in a statement released by the school. "The young men in our program, and our coaching staff, finished off this season with four consecutive wins. They deserved an opportunity to conclude this season, and in the case of our seniors, their career, with a bowl game.
"Our players and coaches did a masterful job of dealing with the challenges they faced this year. It was a season that included a schedule"
The Mountain West does not have much leverage at bowl time. The conference has "primary' status with the Hawaii Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, Tucson Bowl and Potato Bowl. The MW bowls are played in stadiums of conference members, except Tucson, and this is the final year of the agreement with the Las Vegas Bowl. The Mountain West and Mid America Conference are tied for the fewest bowl commitments of any Division I teams.
The SEC with 10 has the most followed by the AAC and Big 10 with nine apiece, the Big 12, Pac 12 and USA with seven each, and the ACC and Sun Belt with six each.
In addition to having lost the Poinsettia Bowl, which was dissolved after last year, the MW will lose the Vegas Bowl after this year, leaving it headed into the winter with only four "primary" bowl commitments for next year. There is talk that the new stadium being built for the Los Angeles Rams is interested in assuming the Pac 12-MW match-up that has been a staple in the Vegas Bowl.
Backers in Las Vegas have discussed a second bowl in that city for next year with an MW tie-in. That game would be played the day after the new Vegas Bowl, which would be a Big 10-Big 12 match-up played in the new stadium being built for the NFL Raiders.
"We will be working with the Mountain West Conference to improve the post-season opportunities for conference football teams moving forward" said Burman. "We have an excellent league, and every Mountain West team who is bowl eligible should have an opportunity to play in a bowl game."