LARAMIE — It may end up being one Wyoming doesn’t want to hear, but the Cowboys still don’t have an answer yet.
As Wyoming continues to sweat it out until bowl matchups are announced Sunday, the Cowboys haven’t received word from the Mountain West Conference as to whether they’ll be a part of the postseason or not, UW athletic director Tom Burman said Friday afternoon. The Cowboys are holding out hope for a third straight bowl game — something that’s never happened in the program’s 122-year history.
“Nothing is final,” Burman said. “The door is not shut. It’s just not wide open.”
Wyoming became the seventh and final MW team to gain bowl eligibility last weekend with its 31-3 win at New Mexico. But the conference only has five contracted bowls, and all of the league’s other bowl-eligible teams have more wins than the Cowboys (6-6, 4-4 MW).
Earlier this week, MW commissioner Craig Thompson appeared on Idaho Sports Talk with Caves and Prater, a radio show in Boise, Idaho, and opined that finding spots for all of the league’s bowl-eligible teams is “just not going to happen,” adding he had a lengthy conversation with Wyoming coach Craig Bohl about the Cowboys’ predicament.
It left many to assume that Thompson delivered Wyoming’s fate to Bohl. Burman said that wasn’t the case, though the league has been honest with Wyoming about its slim chances.
“I’ve had daily conversations with the conference office, Craig and (deputy commissioner) Bret (Gilliland),” Burman said. “They have been transparent in saying from the very beginning, ‘We’ve got seven bowl eligibles and five contracted bowls. Getting a seventh team in is going to be challenging.’ And getting six teams in is going to be challenging.”
So if there’s still a chance for Wyoming to pull the upset and sneak in, how exactly is it going to happen?
With the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six game, the Cowboys need Memphis to knock off No. 8 Central Florida in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game so that either No. 22 Boise State or No. 25 Fresno State, who will meet for the MW championship Saturday, gets that spot. The loser of the MW title game would likely head to the Las Vegas Bowl in that scenario, leaving the league’s other four bowl-eligible teams competing for spots in the three other available contracted bowls (Hawaii is already set to play Louisiana Tech in the Hawaii Bowl).
But the Cheez-It Bowl, one of three backup bowls for the MW that has conference tie-ins with the Big 12 and Pac 12, could look at taking a 10-win Utah State team should Oklahoma make the College Football Playoff and leave the Big 12 without enough bowl-eligible teams. Burman said that would be the most likely scenario for Wyoming to get into one of the MW’s contracted bowls — likely the Arizona or New Mexico bowls — though the Frisco and Redbox bowls are secondary options should spots come open in those games.
“Whether we’re in Arizona or we’re in Albuquerque, we don’t care,” Burman said. “We’d be thrilled to play.”
National prognosticators are torn on the Cowboys’ chances. ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura has Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl against Arkansas State while Yahoo Sports has the Cowboys playing North Texas in the First Responder Bowl in its latest bowl projections. Neither Sports Illustrated nor CBS Sports included Wyoming in its latest projections.
With 81 teams already eligible for 78 spots — a number that would rise to 82 if Virginia Tech beats Marshall this weekend — it likely becomes moot for Wyoming if Memphis isn’t able to pull the upset of UCF. Burman said the school’s primary motivation for wanting a third straight bowl game isn’t monetary seeing how most if not all of the payouts from the MW’s contracted bowls are negated by travel expenses and coaches’ bonuses.
“It probably varies between being down $50,000 and making $50,000,” said Burman, who oversees an athletic department with a $39-million budget. “In a $40-million budget, it’s not really relevant.
“There’s no opportunity cost of dollars, but what there is is opportunity cost of practices. Wyoming has never been to three straight bowl games. It’s all things we wanted to set out to accomplish, and we’re trying like heck to get them done.”