It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Once again (and hopefully fully this time), we are going to preview each and every bowl game team by team, conference by conference. This year, there are 41 bowl games and the CFP National Championship on deck. There are 11 brand-new matchups with three programs making their bowl debuts. No bowl-eligible teams were left home. In fact, two technically ineligible FCS-to-FBS teams and a 5-7 team made it! When breaking the teams down, we will look at what certain players did.
The bowl opt-outs and transfers are too hectic to keep track of so we certainly apologize!
2023 MWC Bowls Preview
New Mexico Bowl (December 16, 5:45 P.M., ESPN)
Fresno State vs New Mexico State
Head-to-head: Fresno State 18-1 New Mexico State
Bowl Record: 13-12
The Mountain West was wide open this year and Fresno State was yet another example of this. They took down the two top teams but lost their final three games to fall to 8-4. The Bulldogs did take down the two Power 5 foes on their schedule in Purdue and Arizona State, as bad as they are.
Former UCF quarterback Mikey Keene took over the reins this year and had himself a solid season. He threw for 2,596 yards and 21 touchdowns and owned the best completion percentage in the MWC at 65.8%. 12 players recorded at least one reception but at the top was Erik Brooks and his 711 yards and five scores off of 55 catches. Jalen Moss and Jaelen Gill also hauled in five touchdowns for Fresno State.
Defensively, Fresno State has been decent, allowing just 24.6 points per game. They did have an issue stopping the run, however. On the year, they allowed about 168 yards per game on the ground. They allowed at least 100 in each of their final seven games. That includes the last three weeks of allowing 313, 345, and 226 respectively.
This is a lowkey solid matchup and kicking off this year’s MWC slate is quite the treat. However, New Mexico State has a young, dynamic quarterback who will prove to be the difference in this one.
LA Bowl (December 16, 7:30 P.M., ABC)
Boise State vs UCLA
Head-to-head: Boise State 0-1 UCLA
Bowl Record: 13-7
After dropping each of its first two games on the year against Power 5 foes, Boise State was able to kick it in gear and make it all the way to win the Mountain West Conference Championship. After getting back on track, they dropped three of their next five games, two of which to MWC foes (and that loss to Colorado State always looks bad). Boise State was able to win the final three games on the schedule to qualify. Oh, and they fired their coach with two games to go in the year.
The top talent on this offense is running back Ashton Jeanty. On the year, the sophomore broke out to the tune of 1,262 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground while adding 552 yards and five touchdowns receiving the football. Watch out for quarterback Taylen Green. After a massive performance in the MWC Championship, he is sitting at 1,752 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air and 436 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, he did jump into the Portal. He will have his fair share of suitors.
Overall, this is not a great defense. You don’t lose five games and fire a head coach without a subpar defense overall. However, they still have a few DAWGS. Andrew Simmons and Ahmed Hassanein up front have been monsters all year and have combined for 31.5 TFLS and 19 sacks.
Full strength vs full strength would be a fairly easy decision to choose UCLA in this one. Even without its starting quarterback Boise State wants to be in this game and UCLA is kind of a mess right now. Take the Broncos in an ugly one.
Armed Forces Bowl (December 23, 3:30 P.M., ABC)
Air Force vs James Madison
Bowl Record: 15-13-1
It was quite an interesting year for Air Force. To start the year, they won each of their first eight games. To end the year, they dropped each of their final four. It was after those eight wins that Air Force earned a ranking of 17th in the nation before their free fall. Their schedule was interesting. Four of their first six games were at home, four of their final six games were on the road.
The triple-option attack had a fair bit of success this year. They had five players with at least 427 yards on the ground and nine players scored at least once. Upback Emmanuel Michel led the way with 747 yards and nine touchdowns off of 169 carries. Quarterback Zachar Larrier was just behind with 579 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 744 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
While Alec Mock led the way with 89 tackles, Bo Richter made the most of his 40 tackles by adding 15 TFLs, 7.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles. With Richter, PJ Ramsey accounted for 11.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks on the year. As a unit, Air Force only allowed 17.9 points per game, good for 14th in the FBS.
The early inclination is to roll with 11-1 James Madison here. They’ll be without their quarterback as he’s Portal-hopping but, overall, that’s a good team. They only allow 62 yards per game on the ground.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (December 23, 3:30 P.M., ESPN)
Utah State vs Georgia State
Bowl Record: 6-9
It hasn’t been a great year for Utah State. They managed just five wins against FBS teams and of those, not a single was against a bowl-eligible team. They kept it close with Iowa, James Madison, and Fresno State but moral victories do not translate.
Three quarterbacks suited up for the Aggies this year and they’ve all been dealing with something. Cooper Legas was the incumbent but missed time. McCae Hillstead is a true freshman who played in seven games and missed time. Levi Williams, the Louisiana transfer, played admirably in the final week but he is leaving after this year to begin Navy SEAL training. The offense isn’t without talent, of course. Jalen Royals led the way with 68 catches for 1,023 yards and 14 scores while Davon Booth and Rahsul Faison held it down on the ground.
This Aggies defense is 13th-worst in the FBS in terms of scoring and sixth-worst rushing defense. They allowed over 100 yards on the ground in every game but two, 300+ in three, and gave up 689 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two weeks. With all those yards, it gives plenty of opportunities for tackles and MJ Tafisi took advantage to the tune of 131 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, and two forced fumbles.
Unfortunately, this game might be a perfect storm. Utah State struggles against the run and Georgia State Runs. The. Ball. Panthers should get the win over the Aggies
Hawai’i Bowl (December 23rd, 10:30 p.m., ESPN)
San Jose State vs Coastal Carolina
Bowl Record: 5-5
The team that was left at home with all of the MWC computer rankings mumbo jumbo were these San Jose State Spartans. To kick off the year, San Jose State dropped five of its first six games and that lose win was over an FCS team. Given, those five losses were to five bowl-bound teams. Either way, they rattled off six in a row and are on their way to Hawai’i…again.
There are few Group of 5 quarterbacks this author likes more than Chevan Cordeiro. The kid can sling it. The fourth year in a row, he finished with over 2,000 passing yards (2,558) and added 19 touchdowns. He spent his first four years at Hawai’i so it’ll be a fitting end(?) to his career. The Spartans have a pair of running backs worth mentioning in Kairee Robinson and Quali Conley. The pair combined for 2,397 scrimmage yards and a total of 28 touchdowns.
Coastal Carolina’s head coach is set to retire, so the Chants may play inspired. However, the Spartans are the better team here.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl (December 26, 9:00 P.M., ESPN)
UNLV vs Kansas
Head-to-head: UNLV 1-1 Kansas
Bowl Record: 9-9
It’s been quite the year for the UNLV Rebels. They kicked off the year scoring over 40 points per game in five of their first six games. And, despite a loss to San Jose State in the final week, the computers determined UNLV should get to play in the MWC Championship, which they unfortunately lost. They made it all the way to bowl eligibility with just two wins over bowl-bound teams.
This is a run-first offense and Vincent Davis and Jai’Den Thomas led the way. Davis ran the ball 132 times for 722 yards and six touchdowns while Thomas followed up with 108 attempts for 503 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns. Despite being run-first, Ricky White had himself a monster year. He hauled in 81 passes for 1,386 yards and seven touchdowns and is a massive big-play threat.
Jaxen Turner and his four interceptions led the way in a secondary that allowed 238.7 yards per game through the air. Arkansas transfer linebacker Jackson Woodard was a tackling machine and broke out for 114 tackles, eight TFLS, and 2.5 sacks on the year. Considering he managed a grand total of 16 tackles in three years at Arkansas, it was a massive year for him.
This could be a massive win for the UNLV program. Unfortunately, they’ve struggled against every decent team on the schedule, including in the MWC Championship. Kansas should be able to open up the offense and let it fly.
Arizona Bowl (December 30, 4:30 P.M., The CW)
Wyoming vs Toledo
Head-to-head: Wyoming 1-1 Toledo
Bowl Record: 9-9
There are four MWC teams with at least eight wins this year and Wyoming is one. They improved upon last year’s mark by a game and did quite well after losing a number of athletes to the Portal. They kicked off the year 5-1 with impressive wins over Texas Tech, Appalachian State, and Fresno State. Then, they split the final six by going 0-3 against bowl-bound teams.
This Wyoming offense goes as quarterback Andrew Peasley goes. In addition to his 1,823 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air, Peasley ran the ball 101 times for 403 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns. The leading rusher was Harrison Waylee and his 856 yards and five scores in just nine games.
The Cowboys had a number of studs on this defense that was routinely gashed to the tune of 360 yards allowed per game. Linebacker Easton Gibbs was everywhere for 106 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, two sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. This defense is a tad suspect as it allowed at least 400 yards five times. However, its performance against Texas was the team’s third-best, so anything can happen.
Wyoming has had a solid year this year considering how much talent they lost to the Portal last year. Toledo is going to experience the same what with Dequan Finn making the jump. Overall, the Rockets should still have a better roster and will be able to get the win over the Cowboys.
Mountain West Psuedo Power 5?
With the conference realignment came the death of the Pac-12. That death came from the fact the conference balked at a media deal and lost all of its brands to rival conferences. They could have backfilled with MWC teams but didn’t. Now, those two left in the dust have an Alliance with the Mountain West.
Are we going to see an attempt at the MWC to claim Power status? Or will another Group of 5 conference step up? Either way, the chips may not be done falling.
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