2020 MWC Bowls Preview

2020 MWC Bowls
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Nick Starkel #17 of the San Jose State Spartans looks to pass against the Boise State Broncos in the second half of the Mountain West Football Championship at Sam Boyd stadium on December 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. San Jose State won 34-20. (Photo by David J. Becker/Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 MWC bowls as well as every other conference (plus the FBS Independents). Bowl games will likely look different this year. Many states have their own restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will likely see even fewer fans than normal. Additionally, a number of bowl-eligible teams elected to opt-out of the post-season, so there will be fewer matchups this year. 

Seven teams with losing records made bowls this year (four from the SEC; imagine that). This year, one team will be making its bowl debut. Plus, this season will feature ten first-time matchups. Strap in, it’s time for 29 bowl games! 

2020 MWC Bowls Preview 

Idaho Potato Bowl (December 22, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Nevada vs Tulane 

Head-to-head: Nevada 0-1 Tulane
Nevada bowl record: 6-11 

The first of the 2020 MWC bowls of this season features the Wolf Pack against the Green Wave. Nevada has flown under the radar as a 6-2 team, losing to the other two teams on this list. They are no pushover and will be a tough out for their foe from the AAC. Coach Jay Norvell is building something there and it’s a shame Nevada didn’t have a full season. 

Leading the way on offense is redshirt sophomore quarterback Carson Strong. In two fewer games, Strong already surpassed his 2019 totals in yards (2,587 vs 2.335) and touchdowns (22 vs 11). He averages more than 300 yards per game against some pretty good MWC teams.  

His favorite target is junior receiver Romeo Doubs. With a good game, Doubs can eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. 2020 was a phenomenal year and he will likely build off of it in 2021. 

On defense, the Pack allows only 22.9 points per game, but 379.3 yards. Teams have been able to move the ball on them all year, but they stiffen up when it counts. They don’t force many turnovers, only three interceptions, and two forced fumbles.  

Tulane will come in wanting to establish the run. Nevada has allowed at least 100 yards in each of its games. However, Nevada will win this one. Their offense will propel them to an early lead, which will put pressure on the Wave to throw the ball. 

New Mexico Bowl (December 24, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Hawai’i vs Houston 

Head-to-head: Hawai’i 1-0 Houston
Hawai’i bowl record: 7-6 

At 4-4, the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors will look to end a tumultuous year with a win. Their opponent in this year’s New Mexico bowl is Houston. Overall, this Hawai’i team has been up and down all year. Considering their stadium has abandoned them, they’ll be looking for a new home in 2021. 

In terms of attempts, this team is balanced at 36.5 passes and 36.3 rushes per game. They have been significantly more successful throwing the ball, however. Redshirt sophomore Chevan Cordeiro has been the man all year, throwing for 1,947 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing attempts (108), yards (452), and touchdowns (seven). He’s a true dual-threat. 

He has four athletes who have gotten the bulk of the receptions, but none more productive than running back Calvin Turner. Turner leads the rest of the team in rushing touchdowns with four and the entire team with four receiving touchdowns. With how the game has evolved, dual-threat running backs have become a delicacy. He could be a late-round steal or a gem of an undrafted free agent. 

This Warriors defense is not good against the run, averaging 231.5 yards per game allowed. But they’ve been able to force 14 turnovers. The fewest yards they allowed in a single game was 376, so they’ll give up chunks.  

This game is pretty evenly-matched. Hawai’i is homeless and 4-4. I think the Warriors are going to come out inspired to end this year with a win. I don’t trust Houston enough, but they will likely move the ball easily.  

Arizona Bowl (December 31, 2:00 p.m., CBS)
San Jose State vs Ball State 

Head-to-head: 0-0
San Jose State bowl record: 5-3 

Of the three 2020 MWC bowls, this one is going to be the most exciting. MWC Champion San Jose State faces off against MAC Champion Ball State. San Jose State, due to COVID-19 restrictions in California, has been homeless for the last two weeks. They are 7-0 and overlooked. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t absolutely dominated anyone.  

Senior quarterback Nick Starkel is on his third stop, transferring from Texas A&M then Arkansas. He leads the way with 1,906 yards and 16 touchdowns. He got a chance in 2019 with the Razorbacks, but lost the job and transferred. He’s looked very good for the Spartans this year and has three receivers with at least four touchdowns. 

Leading the way in terms of receptions and yards is grayshirt senior Bailey Gaither. He built off of a successful 2019 by amassing 725 yards and four touchdowns. Watch out for senior tight end Derrick Deese. He may not have the most yards, but he’s been a great red zone threat and has capitalized for five touchdowns. 

Leading the way on defense is stud defensive lineman Cade Hall. Hall has terrorized quarterbacks all year and registered at least one sack in five of the seven games. He’s actually coming off of back-to-back games with 2.5 and 2.0 sacks, so he’s feeling himself. Ball State is a good team, but it’ll be tough for them to score. The Spartans allow an average of 17.9 points.  

Tune into this game on New Year’s Eve. This is a great matchup of Group of Five teams and could go either way. Ball State was able to corral Buffalo and San Jose State was almost counted out against Boise State. They are both motivated to prove themselves. I have San Jose State winning this. As I’ve said with Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina, if San Jose State goes undefeated, they should claim a National Championship, as 2017 UCF did. I would buy that shirt in a heartbeat.  

She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain (West) 

With only three teams bowling in 2020, every matchup will be crucial. It should be noted that MWC runner-up Boise State opted out of a bowl this season. The Broncos are often so good in the post-season, so their presence will be missed. However, they do have a team that has a chance to finish 2020 undefeated. All three games look to be exciting and you would be remiss to skip over these. 

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