Mountain West Football: Bowl Season Winners And Losers
We take a look back at the winners and losers from Mountain West football’s seven bowl games this month.
Encouragements and letdowns from the postseason that was.
Well, we’ve finally reached the end of the 2022 Mountain West football season. Sure, there’s still a playoff to play and all of that, but who cares? The countdown until next August’s arrival is on, but before we look ahead to the long off-season, it’s time for one last look at winners and losers from the conference’s slate of seven bowl games.
1. Air Force fullback Brad Roberts
The Falcons posted a dominant 30-15 victory over Baylor in the Armed Forces Bowl, overcoming near-record cold and wind to maximize their ground game. The offense, quite literally, put the game in his hands in the fourth quarter to burn clock, as he carried the ball on all but one offensive play and finished with 37 in all for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Though he wasn’t able to run down Falcons great Dee Dowis for the Academy’s career rushing record, Roberts is, as of right now, the nation’s leading rusher with 1,728 yards on a FBS-high 345 carries. He wrapped up a singularly unique career in a way almost no one else could have done, and we’ll miss watching him knife through the offensive line again and again.
2. Boise State’s Texans
A number of Broncos had a homecoming in their 35-32 Frisco Bowl win over Baylor, playing big roles in Boise State’s trip to the Lone Star State.
Freshman running back Ashton Jeanty was chief among the group after exploding for a career-best 178 yards and a touchdown on 28 rushing attempts. It didn’t stop there, though: Eric McAlister’s lone reception went for a 24-yard touchdown, Latrell Caples led the team with six catches for 87 yards, Gabe Hunter had 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakups, and Taylen Green bounced back from a slow start to lead Boise State to its sixth ten-win season of the last decade.
3. Fresno State running back Jordan Mims
The Bulldogs dominated shorthanded Washington State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, posting a 29-6 victory thanks in large part to a standout performance from their veteran in the backfield.
Mims notched nine different runs which went for at least ten yards and scored twice en route to 236 yards of total offense on 18 carries and two receptions. He finished his career fourth on Fresno State’s career rushing list, between Ronnie Rivers and Ryan Mathews, cementing his place as an all-time great in program history.
4. San Diego State’s defensive front
The Aztecs ended their season with a frustrating 25-23 loss to Middle Tennessee State in the Hawaii Bowl, but you really can’t pin that on Kurt Mattix’s defense. They managed to create seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss, both of which either matched or set a season high, and held the Blue Raiders to -66 rushing yards (a singular achievement in itself) and 0.4 sack-adjusted yards per carry.
Michael Shawcroft led the way with eight tackles in the final football game of his career while Keshawn Banks had a career-best four tackles for loss to go along with two sacks and the Tavai brothers, Jonah and Justus, also combined for 2.5 sacks. It may not have been the campaign that fans on the Mesa envisioned, but they can be encouraged for 2023 by the fact that the team’s overall strength flashed its peak potential once again.
1. Getting cute
After a strong start to bowl season, the Mountain West stumbled to a 3-4 overall record. Some puzzling decisions by losing teams certainly played a role in that.
In the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, San Jose State gave wide receiver Elijah Cooks a chance to throw in the second quarter despite having moved the ball well against Eastern Michigan; his pass got intercepted in the end zone and the Eagles turned that into an 80-yard touchdown drive before halftime to go up 30-13.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl outsmarted himself late in the Cowboys’ Arizona Bowl loss to Ohio, too, icing Bobcats kicker Nathaniel Vakos just before a miss in the final seconds of the fourth quarter which would have sealed a Cowboys victory. Naturally, Vakos made the second attempt and sent the game to overtime instead.
2. The Arizona Bowl
Remember when the Arizona Bowl was streamed exclusively on Campus Insiders, alongside a broadcast on the now-defunct American Sports Network, some years ago? That same strategy, now in partnership with Barstool Sports, didn’t seem to work all that well again on Friday afternoon if you were following conversations on social media because national attention was largely focused on a wild Gator Bowl matchup between Notre Dame and South Carolina going on at the same time.
Beyond that, the presentation was divisive, to say the least. Depending on who you asked, it was described by viewers as “a narcissistic shit show”, a “Nickelodeon broadcast targeted towards adults”, an “absolute hoot”, “electric”, or “awful”. Regardless of your feelings, though, the name of the game is eyeballs and casual fans not watching or caring is a cardinal sin. Expect that Barstool will trumpet whatever viewership numbers they garnered as a positive, then remember that Ball State/San Jose State drew 1.77 million when CBS gave this same game its platform back in 2020. Ohio and Wyoming deserved better, especially after battling in such a back-and-forth affair so, to borrow a bit of the Cowboys’ parlance, that brand doesn’t seem like one with which to continue riding in the long term.
3. Utah State
No team in the Mountain West flatlined harder in postseason play than the Aggies, who rarely looked competitive in a lopsided 38-10 defeat to Memphis in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl.
All of the hallmarks of their uneven season reared up one last time: Penalties (eight for 54 yards), ineffectiveness on third downs (5-of-13 on offense, 7-of-14 allowed on defense), turnovers (three interceptions by three different quarterbacks, no less), and way too many explosive plays allowed on defense (12 for 291 total yards). That Cooper Legas got knocked out in the third quarter with a leg injury, too, only compounded the team’s woes, and the loss in turn has led to a surprising talent exodus: Byron Vaughns, Weylin Lapuaho, Tavion Coleman, and Daniel Grzesiak have all entered their names into the transfer portal over the past several days.
This makes 2023 a critical year for head coach Blake Anderson, who may once again hit the portal hard to shore up the roster but will need to start plugging in more of his own recruits in order to keep the competitive window open.
4. San Jose State’s special teams
While the Spartans can be satisfied with their rebound in 2022, one thing that may stick in their craw when looking back on the season is how much they struggled on special teams, an issue which popped up again in their 41-27 loss to Eastern Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Kicker Taren Schive missed a 46-yard field goal — no gimme, to be sure — and finished the season just 12-of-18 on that front, while punters Travis Benham and Alex Weir had kicks of just 27 and 37 yards, respectively. If nothing else, you have to figure that will be a point of emphasis when the team regroups for spring practices early next year.