By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
The Boise State football team likely is headed to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22. Executive director Dan Hanneke stopped just short of saying the Broncos are his team Tuesday, but it’s clear they’re the favorites.
The Pac-12 side of the game is still wide open.
Hanneke expects Washington, Arizona or Oregon State to land in Las Vegas. USC also is possible. (He does not want Boise State-Arizona State, a rematch of last year’s game.)
At least two of those four teams should be available. A third could be if the Pac-12 doesn’t get two teams into the BCS, but I’m projecting that it does.
Oregon State, which has been highly ranked most of the season, would seem an easy choice for MAACO if it’s available.
Washington is a team that Hanneke likes, but he says he’ll listen if Boise State and Washington tell him they don’t want to play in the bowl and again in the 2013 season opener. However, in Boise State’s case, that could be the difference between playing in Las Vegas and playing in the New Mexico Bowl — it depends on whether there’s a comparable alternative to Washington.
Arizona also would be a popular pick, if it beats Arizona State in this week’s regular-season finale. The Wildcats would finish 8-4 and inside the BCS standings. Their turnaround season likely would generate enough excitement to bring a strong following to Las Vegas.
USC, which seems to be the top choice of Boise State fans, presents a problem. The Trojans likely only will be available if they lose to Notre Dame and finish 7-5. That would be a 1-4 finish for a team that already has had a disappointing season. USC fans likely wouldn’t travel well. However, the MAACO Bowl is owned by ESPN — and a Boise State-USC game would be a ratings winner.
I’m projecting Arizona as the pick this week, but I can see scenarios that place the other three in Las Vegas. For Oregon State or Washington, USC likely would need to beat Notre Dame and get taken by one of the bowls ahead of MAACO. Or, the Pac-12 would need to lose out on a second BCS spot. For USC, ESPN would have to decide that it would rather produce a game with a great rating than a game with a great crowd.
Here’s my updated breakdown of how I think the Pac-12 race will fall:
Oregon (10-1, 7-1): Wins at Oregon State. Projected: 11-1, 8-1
Stanford (9-2, 7-1): Wins at UCLA, vs. Pac-12 South champ UCLA. Projected: 11-2, 8-1
Oregon State (8-2, 6-2): Loses vs. Oregon, wins vs. Nicholls State. Projected: 9-3, 6-3
Washington (7-4, 5-3): Wins at Washington State. Projected: 8-4, 6-3
UCLA (9-2, 6-2): Loses vs. Stanford, loses at Pac-12 North champ Stanford. Projected: 9-4, 6-3
USC (7-4, 5-4): Loses vs. Notre Dame. Projected: 7-5, 5-4
Arizona (7-4, 4-4): Wins vs. Arizona State. Projected: 8-4, 5-4
Arizona State (6-5, 4-4): Loses at Arizona. Projected: 6-6, 4-5
In the Pac-12, bowls have to take the available team with the best conference record or a team within one game. For example, a bowl can take a 6-3 team over a 7-2 team but not a 5-4 team over a 7-2 team. The way I have projected the league, that rule wouldn’t come into play.
Here’s my selection order:
Fiesta (BCS at-large): Oregon
Sun: Oregon State
Las Vegas: Arizona
Kraft Fight Hunger: USC
New Mexico: Arizona State
And here are my updated Mountain West/BCS/Boise bowl projections:
New Mexico (MW vs. Pac-12), Dec. 15, Albuquerque: Nevada vs. Arizona State: If Arizona State beats Arizona, maybe the Sun Devils play their way out of this spot.
Famous Idaho Potato (WAC vs. MAC), Dec. 15, Boise: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois: The Potato Bowl wants a WAC-MAC champs game. It’s possible if the Huskies win the MAC title game.
Poinsettia (MW vs. BYU), Dec. 20, San Diego: San Diego State vs. BYU: This game should be finalized this weekend if Fresno State wins or San Diego State loses. If San Diego State wins and Fresno State loses, the MAACO Bowl might want to hold the Aztecs.
MAACO (MW vs. Pac-12), Dec. 22, Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona: The Pac-12 side is muddy. The Mountain West side is clear — Boise State is the preferred pick.
Hawaii (MW vs. C-USA*), Dec. 24, Honolulu: Fresno State vs. San Jose State: This could be one of the best matchups in the history of this rivalry. The Bulldogs are 8-3; the Spartans are 9-2.
Armed Forces (MW vs. C-USA), Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas: Air Force vs. East Carolina: The Falcons have accepted their invite.
Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten), Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.: Stanford vs. Nebraska: Stanford faces a difficult task, needing to beat UCLA twice in seven days, but the Cardinal never seem to rattle.
Orange (ACC vs. BCS), Jan. 1, Miami: Florida State vs. Rutgers: Worst-case scenario for the Orange Bowl — Georgia Tech beats Florida State in the ACC title game and gets here at 7-6.
Sugar (SEC vs. BCS), Jan. 2, New Orleans: Florida vs. Oklahoma: The Gators clinch a BCS berth if they beat Florida State because of the protection afforded to the No. 3 team. A loss opens the door for LSU here.
Fiesta (Big 12 vs. BCS), Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz.: Kansas State vs. Oregon: Familiar matchup. Different location. Much less at stake.
BCS National Championship Game (1 vs. 2), Jan. 7, Miami: Notre Dame vs. Alabama: Maybe we’ll get more chaos, but this seems like a relatively safe projection at this point.
* indicates conference won’t fill its spot
ESPN will decide Sunday on a game time for the Dec. 1 Boise State-Nevada game. There are three windows in play, according to ESPN — 1:30 p.m. MT, 5 p.m. MT and 8:30 p.m. MT.
I expect the game to land at 8:30 because ESPN has used that game time all year and the only other Western teams at home that day are Oregon State (vs. Nicholls State) and Hawaii (vs. South Alabama).
Louisiana Tech-San Jose State is in the 8:30 time slot this week.