Fresno State played poorly at San Jose State last week. Head coach Jeff Tedford said so himself.
Maybe he underplayed it. It was a disastrous game. Terrible. The second loss of a season — especially to an inferior Spartans team — knocked the Bulldogs out of a potential New Year’s Six Fiesta Bowl game.
San Jose State played like a 10-year-old gamer; Fresno State played like a grandpa struggling to turn on the computer.
OK, enough of that. There is still hope for the Bulldogs to win the Mountain West Conference title and a return trip to the LA Bowl.
If Fresno State had a bad week, it was even worse for Air Force. They lost at Hawaii, also dashing any New Year’s Six opportunity.
Air Force and UNLV are tied at the top of the MWC, with one conference loss; the Bulldogs — along with San Jose State and Boise State — are one game back, with two conference losses. All teams have two more games remaining. The top two teams play for the conference championship, with an LA Bowl berth on the line.
Decoding the Tiebreakers
For Fresno State to have a chance, its best-case scenario is to win its remaining two games (Saturday at home versus New Mexico; and Nov. 25 at San Diego State). The rest will play its way out to unjumble the remaining four teams. The Bulldogs could even host the Dec. 2 title game.
Air Force and UNLV play on Saturday. The winner has the inside track to be one of the MWC title game participants; the loser will join the rest of the two-loss teams.
Fresno State has the edge in the multi-team tiebreaker scenario. The first criteria is a “mini round-robin,” meaning the best record among the tied teams, as long as they all played each other or beat the other teams. Because the other contending teams did not all play each other, the next criteria relates to ranking in the Nov. 21 College Football Playoff poll.
And, since no MWC team is likely to be ranked in that poll, the next criteria is the average ranking in four computer poll rankings — Anderson, Massey, Wolfe, and Colley. This is where Fresno State is likely to win out.
The rankings headed into this weekend see Fresno State in the lead with 35.25 (lower is better); followed by UNLV (40.5); Air Force (47.5); SJSU (73.75); and Boise State (75.0). If this holds, the Bulldogs would qualify for the MWC title game.
(Update, 11/17/23: the computer poll numbers have been updated. The original story used the Sagarin poll instead of Colley. The ranking order is still the same.)
As for hosting, the likeliest scenario is Fresno State would have to win out; and UNLV and Air Force would have to lose at least one more game.
The first tiebreaker in a two-team scenario is head-to-head. Fresno State beat UNLV and Boise State; but lost to San Jose State. The Bulldogs and Air Force did not play each other this season. If it comes to those teams, the tiebreaker would likely skip the CFP poll, and head to the computer rankings. Again, Fresno State is in the lead there.
The two tiebreaker scenarios Fresno State would lose is a two-team with San Jose State; and a three-team with San Jose State and UNLV, if the Spartans beat the Rebels next week. That would give San Jose State wins against the other two teams, and thus propel the Spartans ahead.
And, what happens if somehow teams are tied in the final computer rankings? The next tiebreakers are overall winning percentage; record against the next team lower in the standings; common MWC opponents; and finally, a drawing of virtual lots.
Mountain West Bowl Games
Although the conference champion is likely to play in the Dec. 16 LA Bowl Hosted by Gronk (i.e. colorful NFL retiree Rob Gronkowski), the tie-in is not guaranteed.
Fresno State played in the same bowl last year at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, and bowl games are loathe to invite the same team two years in a row. However, the Red Wave traveled well and could earn a return trip. A Pac-12 team will be the opponent. And, if UCLA and USC are available, it would be hard to imagine one of them not being selected. Fresno State and UCLA play each other next season.
The other games in the MWC bowl lineup include the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl; New Mexico Bowl; Arizona Bowl; Hawaii Bowl; and a possible sixth spot in one of the several lower-tier games operated by ESPN.
Four MWC teams are bowl-eligible, with five more that could qualify in the next two weeks.