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By Robert Gagliardi
WyoSports 

Future uncertain, even if Cowboys become bowl eligible

 

November 22, 2018

Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

University of Wyoming strong safety Andrew Wingard attempts to intercept a touchdown dive by Air Force Academy fullback Cole Fagan during the final home game against Air Force at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Laramie. Wyoming defeat Air Force 35-27.

LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming football team is focused on beating New Mexico on Saturday to get its sixth win and become bowl eligible.

But even if the Cowboys (5-6 overall, 3-4 Mountain West) do that, the outlook – as of now – for playing in their third consecutive bowl game is unknown. If anything, they're not overly optimistic.

UW athletics director Tom Burman said he talked to officials at the MW office Tuesday and was told they are afraid that a team like UW at 6-6 could get left out of the bowl picture because the six other bowl-eligible teams in the league will have more wins. Plus, other conferences will fill their bowl ties.

The MW has ties to five bowl games this season. It also has backup spots in three bowls, but that depends on other leagues not having enough bowl-eligible teams to fill those slots.

The first question that needs to be answered is if the MW will have a team in a New Year's Six Bowl. Utah State is the highest-ranked MW team in the College Football Playoff poll at No. 21, but No. 9 Central Florida is ahead of the Aggies and will be favored to win out. No. 23 Boise State could get into that mix as the Broncos host Utah State Saturday, with the winner crowned as the Mountain Division champion.

Simply put, if a MW team plays in a New Year's Six bowl, that opens up a spot in other bowls.

"That is not likely, but it is possible," Burman said.

This season, the MW has ties with the Las Vegas, New Mexico, Hawaii, Famous Idaho Potato and Hawaii bowls. If no MW team plays in a New Year's Six bowl, the champion likely will play in the Las Vegas Bowl against a Pac-12 team.

ESPN owns four of the five MW bowls. The exception is the Arizona Bowl. How teams are chosen is ESPN officials meet with MW Commissioner Craig Thompson and talk about what the best matchups would be – mostly from a television standpoint.

"(ESPN) has a lot to say of who goes where," Burman said. "Attendance has a role, but not as great a role as television value.

"We have a pretty good brand. We've been interesting the last few years, so hopefully somebody will have an interest in us."

A UW win Saturday would mean a fourth consecutive win and a 4-4 mark in conference play, both factors that should work in the Cowboys' favor in drawing interest from bowls and television.

The three backup bowls are the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas; the Cheese-It Bowl in Phoenix; and the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, California.

The Frisco Bowl has a tie with the American Athletic Conference, and also has an at-large spot. Cheese-It (formally the Cactus Bowl) involves the Big 12 and Pac-12, and Redbox is affiliated with the Pac-10 and Big Ten.

The Big Ten has nine bowl ties, but only seven bowl-eligible teams as of this week. Plus, two teams are vying to play in the College Football Playoff – Michigan and Ohio State. However, the Big Ten has four teams with identical 5-6 records as UW. Two of them – Purdue and Indiana – play each other this week. The others are Maryland and Minnesota, and they play Penn State and Wisconsin, respectively.

The Big 12 has seven bowl ties and currently five bowl-eligible teams. Oklahoma is in the picture to be in the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 has four 5-6 teams, including Baylor and Texas Tech, who play each other this week. Kansas State and TCU are the others. They play Iowa State and Oklahoma State, respectively.

Five-win teams in the Pac-12 are Arizona, Colorado and USC. Arizona hosts six-win Arizona State, Colorado plays at six-win California, and USC hosts undefeated and third-ranked Notre Dame.

The AAC is one short of filling its bowl ties, and Central Florida is the No. 1 candidate to play in a New Year's Six bowl. Two 5-6 AAC teams play this week – Tulane and SMU.

If you are a UW fan, you want as many of those other five-win teams to lose as possible.

Burman said if UW becomes bowl eligible, it won't turn down an invitation to play in any bowl.

Fifth-year UW coach Craig Bohl serves on the competition committee for the American Football Coaches Association and has been part of several discussions on the current bowl structure. Bohl said the committee agreed that 6-6 teams are deserving of a bowl berth.

"In my mind, the Mountain West is a great football conference, and it would speak well for us if we can position ourselves to get six wins," he said.

"I have not done the math about all the possibilities, and we can't control all that's out there. But we can control our focus, and that's preparing for New Mexico. We have a lot on the line, and it is good to be playing meaningful games in November. There have been a lot of times around here in the past where there wasn't a lot to talk about this time of the year."

Recruiting update

After the New Mexico game, UW coaches will scatter across the country to recruit. The early signing period is Dec. 19.

"We've been pushing the in-season visits, and we're waiting to hear back on some of those," said Haug, who also is the director of player personnel. "We usually hear within a couple of weeks on those guys.

"We're solid where we normally would be. The first two weekends in December will be really big for us."

UW has seven known verbal commitments, and Haug expects to sign a full class of 25.

For more on UW's commitments and players it is targeting, go to wyosports.net and click on the 2019 UW football recruiting tracker.

Familiar spot

UW ends the regular season at New Mexico for the third time since 2014. The Cowboys lost the previous two contests – 36-30 in 2014 and 56-35 in 2016.

Since 1961, UW has played its regular-season finale at New Mexico six times. It has a 3-3 record and has lost three straight.

Nifty 50

Four seniors will hit or eclipse the 50-game mark in their UW careers.

Tight end Tyree Mayfield, offensive tackle Zach Wallace and strong safety Andrew Wingard will play in their 51st game. Wingard will make his 50th consecutive start, Wallace will make his 49th.

Free safety Marcus Epps will play in his 50th game, and start his 49th straight contest.

Wallace is tied for fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with Drew Kyser of Memphis for the most consecutive starts among offensive linemen. Third is New Mexico's Aaron Jenkins with 49. The leader is Michael Deiter of Wisconsin (52).

Punting prowess

One of New Mexico's strengths is its punting game.

Sophomore Tyson Dyer has the nation's longest punt this season at 84 yards, which is the second-longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 2013. Dyer ranks second in the Mountain West with a 44.4-yard average.

The Lobos have the nation's leading punt returner in redshirt freshman Marcus Hayes with a 19.9-yard average. Hayes tied a school record with an 86-yard return for a touchdown Nov. 16 against Boise State.

 
 

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