From worst to first, the Bulldog football team’s improvement comes years before anyone expected.
The pre-season media poll pegged Fresno State dead last in the western division of the Mountain West Conference. That prediction proved as valuable as polling for the 2016 presidential election.
Fresno State hosts Boise State in the regular season finale this Saturday (Nov. 25), meaning the two teams will play each other two weeks in a row. The Bulldogs clinched the western division last week with a 13-7 road win at Wyoming. The Broncos are mountain division champions.
What is known is that Fresno State and Boise State will meet for the Mountain West title game on Dec. 2 at 4:45 p.m. What is not yet determined is where the game will take place.
But, even if the Bulldogs win Saturday, that does not guarantee they will host the rematch a week later. That is because of a convoluted system the conference uses to pick the home field.
Figuring Out the Title Game Host
It would be simple enough if the best conference record or head-to-head matchup determined home-field advantage. If that were the case, a Fresno State win on Saturday would mean the championship game would be played at Bulldog Stadium.
Instead, the conference uses the top ranking in the College Football Playoff poll. Currently, Boise State is #25 (new results are released Tuesday evening). A win likely keeps them in, a loss probably drops them. However, even if Boise State falls, they are still likely to host the rematch.
According to the Mountain West host determination rules, the system works as follows:
- Highest rated team in the CFP poll as of Nov. 26. If the higher ranked team loses, a composite of four computer rankings will be used. If neither team is ranked in the CFP poll, then the computers decide.
- If the computer rankings still have the teams tied, then head-to-head determines the host.
Ranking the Rankings
Heading into the game, here are the comparative ranks through the Nov. 20 rankings:
|Poll||Fresno State||Boise State|
|Anderson & Hester||52||24|
So, if Fresno State wanted to host the title game, it would need to jump Boise State in these four computer polls, which all use different metrics to determine the rankings.
Is that likely to happen? It depends on the poll.
In the Billingsley Poll, Fresno State would jump ahead with a win.
“My system has a unique ‘head to head rule’ that, given certain criteria in rank and rating, the winner is guaranteed to be ranked ahead of the loser in the next weeks rankings. Fresno State meets all the requirements, so yes, if the Bulldogs beat Boise State, they will be ranked higher next week,” says Richard Billingsley about his rankings.
Another pollster says a major change is unlikely in his ranking system.
“We don’t run the rankings in advance, so we can’t say where exactly teams will end up. But Boise State has a pretty big lead on Fresno State. At this point, that’s a lot of ground to make up,” Jeff Anderson of his eponymous ranking service tells GV Wire.
Bowl Bound, But Where?
As far as post-season bowl games, the Bulldogs have five likely destinations.
The Mountain West bowl selection process is as follows:
|If MWC champion is top ranked “Group of 5” team in CFP poll||New Year’s Six Bowl
(Playoff- Rose or Sugar, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta)
|Pasadena; New Orleans; Arlington, TX; Atlanta; and Glendale, AZ respectively|
|First||Las Vegas Bowl||Las Vegas|
|Second, Third, Fourth||New Mexico Bowl
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
|Fifth||Arizona Bowl||Tucson, AZ|
|Sixth, Seventh*||Frisco Bowl
Foster Farms Bowl
Santa Clara, CA
*If enough teams qualify and there is an open slot. Also, if there is an open slot in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix (if there isn’t a team from the Big 12 nor Pac-12 to qualify), they would choose after the Las Vegas Bowl.
Six Mountain West teams have won at least six games, qualifying them for the postseason: Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Wyoming, Colorado State, and Utah State. UNLV would win its sixth game if it defeats Nevada on Saturday.
If Boise State is the top-ranked “Group of 5” team in the final CFP rankings, they automatically qualify for a prestigious New Year’s Six Bowl game. Currently, they rank #25, so a playoff spot isn’t going to happen. Other “Group of 5” teams in CFP Top 25 are #15 Central Florida (American Athletic Conference) and #21 Memphis (American Athletic Conference). Those two teams are likely to face each other in the AAC title game.
Boise State could jump over one of those two teams if it wins two straight versus Fresno State. If that happens, the Las Vegas Bowl has the first selection of eligible Mountain West teams.
Even with two more wins, the Bulldogs are unlikely to be the top-ranked “Group of 5” conference team. They would be conference champions though. The Las Vegas Bowl has the first pick among the Mountain West teams. It’s logical they will choose the conference champion.
If the Bulldogs fall in the Boise State rematch, a trip to Albuquerque, Boise or Honolulu is likely. As the conference runner-up, they would be the next MWC team to be picked. The three bowls, New Mexico, Famous Idaho Potato and Hawai’i, do not necessarily pick in an order. They work with the conference to place teams that make the most sense.
The best determinate would be the city the Red Wave would be most willing to travel to.
ESPN.com’s bowl prognosticators peg the Broncos heading to Las Vegas, with the Bulldogs going to either the Potato or Hawai’i bowl.