Following Utah State’s 24-10 victory over New Mexico, the Aggies have seen their name pop up in several bowl projections from various media outlets. At 5-5, the Aggies will need just one more victory either at home versus Hawaii or on the road at Air Force. The general consensus seems to be that USU will achieve it.
There is, however, a variety of different bowls that the Aggies are projected to slot into, ranging from the expected and likely to the unique and improbable. The following is a collection of those projections, and a brief analysis of the likelihood of each and the events necessary for them to happen.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, December 26: Utah State vs Southern Mississippi
The Heart of Dallas Bowl typically features a Big 12 vs Conf-USA matchup. However, only five teams from the Big 12 have reached six wins on the season. Kansas State needs only one more victory to reach the plateau, but a Texas-Texas Tech showdown in the final week of the season will probably prevent one team involved from reaching six wins. That means only seven viable teams trying to fill the Big 12’s eight bowl tie-ins, leaving an extra slot open to a Group of 5 team. Utah State doesn’t have a major following in or around Dallas, however, and might be overlooked in this bowl in favor of a more geographically-friendly team.
In what Kirk calls the messiest bowl picture he’s seen in the seven years of projecting bowl seasons, Kirk sees the Aggies reaching the six-win plateau, but being shut out from the plethora of bowls due to too many teams becoming eligible. Currently, 50 teams have already reached six wins, and another 46 teams sit at four or five wins with several weeks still to play, meaning this possibility does exist. How likely it is, I honestly have no idea. Utah State can avoid almost any possibility of this fate by winning each of their final two games to reach 7-5 on the season.
Cactus Bowl, December 26: Utah State vs Utah
Now this is a bowl matchup I can get behind. The Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona normally features a Big 12 vs Pac 12 matchup, and as noted earlier, the Big 12 may struggle to fill all of their bowl provisions. In this instance, Utah State also makes a lot of sense to travel one state southward to Arizona, and let’s be honest, a Utah State-Utah rivalry renewal would be one of the more convincing matchups in all of bowl season. A possible wrench to be thrown into the mix, however, would be another Mountain West team also wanting to fill this vacant bowl slot. Any team such as San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State, or even Fresno State would look at the Cactus Bowl as a very desirable invitation should any fail to reach the Las Vegas Bowl via a conference championship.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, December 26, Utah State vs UTSA
The same situation would need to occur as in Jerry Palm’s projection. Still not terribly likely, but the game would be a revisit to 2012, Utah State’s last year in the WAC, when the Aggies defeated UTSA 48-17.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, December 29, Utah State vs Appalachian State
The first projection considered here that slots the Aggies into a MW tie-in. This result would be entirely within the realm of plausibility, though it would depend on other eligible MW teams not being chosen to fill the spot. San Diego State, Colorado State, and Fresno State could all be viable candidates for Tucson.
Birmingham Bowl, December 23, Utah State vs UAB
Usually a battle between the AAC and the SEC, both conferences may fall short of filling all of the conference’s bowl games. In slides Utah State from the MW and UAB out of Conf-USA, in their first season after a brief football hiatus. This bowl seems unlikely, however, as a trip to Alabama makes little sense for Utah State, and makes little sense for the bowl itself. If USU is selected to fill another conference’s bowl, it will probably be much closer to home.