Mountain West Football: TCU, BYU, and Utah Prove Their Worthiness

Tyler KnowlesContributor IDecember 27, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 14:  Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With the bowl season underway, an interesting trend has started to unfold for one specific conference. The Mountain West Conference is currently sitting at 3-0 in its bowl games and shows no signs of slowing down.

Yet even with this rapid start to the bowl season, the Mountain West still remains a non-BCS conference; even after last season's shocking upset when undefeated Utah (ranked No. 6 in the nation) dismantled SEC powerhouse Alabama (ranked No. 4 in the nation) 31-17 in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

The 2009 season began with a very promising start for the Mountain West having three teams ranked in the top 20 with No. 17 TCU leading the charge. When the final regular-season BCS standings were revealed, TCU stood at No. 4 while being ranked No. 3 in both the AP and Coaches polls.

The BYU Cougars finished its season ranked No. 14 in the country while Utah came in at No. 23.

Amidst No. 4 TCU earning an at-large BCS bid to play another undefeated team in No. 6 Boise St. in the Fiesta Bowl, this matchup has been labeled bittersweet for both teams for two reasons. The first being that the same two teams met in last season’s Poinsettia Bowl, with TCU slightly edging out Boise St. 17-16. The other reason being that both teams need to prove they can run with the so-called “big dogs” of college football.

It is time that the Mountain West gets the respect and recognition it deserves by being included as a BCS school and having an automatic bid to play in such bowls.

Below is a recap of the three bowl games already won by Mountain West teams and a preview of the remaining two games to be played.

New Mexico Bowl
Wyoming Defeats Fresno State, 35-28

In a double-overtime thriller, the Wyoming Cowboys defeated Pat Hill’s “anytime, anywhere” Fresno State Bulldogs 35-28 after trailing by 11 points going into the fourth quarter.
In a high-scoring offensive game, it was the defense for Wyoming that sealed off the victory in the second overtime period. Wyoming stopped the nation's leading rusher, Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, on three rushing attempts from the one yard line in the first overtime. The Bulldogs then tried a quarterback sneak on the third down, and Mathews came up short again on the fourth down.

In the end, it was a 13-yard touchdown pass by Wyoming’s Austyn Carta-Samuels that sealed the victory.

Quick Facts:

• Wyoming was playing in its first bowl game since 2004.
• The Cowboys finished with their first winning record since '04.
• Wyoming has won two straight bowl games.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
No. 14 BYU Defeats No. 18 Oregon St., 44-20

This game was over at kickoff. After Oregon St. took an early 7-0 lead on a one-yard run by Sean Canfield, BYU rattled off 37 straight unanswered points to take a 37-7 lead about midway through the fourth quarter.

BYU’s Max Hall finished the game throwing for 192 yards and three touchdowns as he led No. 14 BYU past No. 18 Oregon St. (who was one win away from a Pac-10 Title and a Rose Bowl bid).

Hall gave the Cougars their third win in five straight bowl appearances in the Las Vegas bowl and ended the Beavers' run of five consecutive bowl wins.

Quick Facts:

• For the first time, the Las Vegas Bowl featured two ranked teams.

• BYU's 43 wins over the last four seasons move the Cougars into a tie with Ohio State for fourth-most in the country over that span.

• The 44 points are the most allowed in Oregon State bowl game history.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
No. 23 Utah Defeats California, 37-27

With their most recent bowl victory coming on Wednesday night, the No. 23 Utah Utes won their ninth consecutive bowl game extending the longest active bowl winning streak in the nation and tying USC from 1923-1945 for the second-longest such streak in FBS history, improving their bowl record to 12-3 (winning pct. .800).

True freshman Jordan Wynn threw for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns to rally the Utes past California who took an early 14-0 lead, scoring two touchdowns in a matter of 11 seconds.

Utah later tacked on 27 straight points to cap off the victory with the last touchdown coming off a Stevenson Sylvester interception returned 27 yards to put the nail in the coffin of the Golden Bears.

Quick Facts:

• A member of the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were the original BCS busters, beating Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2004 season.

• Cal is the fifth team from a BCS conference to lose to Utah during the nine game bowl win streak.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Air Force Dec. 31, 11 a.m. CST (ESPN)

For the second consecutive year, these two teams will face each other in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl after Houston defeated Air Force in an exciting 34-28 victory in 2008, earning Houston its first Bowl win since 1980.

This year’s matchup brings in a (10-3) Houston team, who up until the last week of the regular season had been ranked No. 18 in the nation, and the (7-5) Air Force Falcons. This matchup also presents the nation's top passing offense in Houston against the nation’s top ranked passing defense in Air Force.

The Falcons will have their hands full with Houston’s junior gunslinger Case Keenum who will enter the game leading the nation in total offense (429.3 yards per game), passing (419.2), and touchdown passes (43).

In contrast to the high-flying offense of Houston, Air Force will come into this game with the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the nation with 273.6 yards a game, which does not bode well for the Cougars who are currently ranked 111th in the nation, giving up 213.1 yards a game.

Jared Tew and Asher Clark each gained more than 700 yards and combined for 12 touchdowns. Tew rushed for 149 yards and two scores in last year's bowl as Air Force held the ball for more than 38 minutes.

Quick Facts:

• The Falcons are 0-6 at Fort Worth's Amon G. Carter Stadium, falling four times to TCU in addition to their losses in the Armed Forces Bowl.

• Keenum had a total of 614 yards passing in the two games against Air Force last season, but the Falcons have improved to own the nation's top-rated pass defense, yielding 148.7 yards per game.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 4 TCU vs. No. 6 Boise St. Jan. 4, 7 p.m. CST (FOX)  

This bowl might as well be named the BCS Buster Bowl, a matchup that brings in two of the nation's top teams and are not even considered BCS schools. This year’s Fiesta Bowl will be a rematch of last year's Poinsettia Bowl, where No. 11 TCU (10-2) barely defeated No. 9 Boise St. (12-0) 17-16.

The 2009 edition of this rematch comes on the grand stand of a BCS bowl game, which all season long both teams strived so hard to earn. Both teams come into this game undefeated and currently ranked in the top 10, with No. 4 TCU coming in as a 7-point favorite.

TCU will enter the Fiesta Bowl ranked No. 3 in scoring offense (40.7 ppg), No. 5 in rushing attack in the nation (255.17 Yards/G) and No. 4 in total offense (467.8 Yards/G).

With an outstanding offense, it is TCU’s defense that has the country talking. Coming in ranked No. 1 in total defense (233.3 Yards/G), No. 4 in passing defense (152.8 Yards/G),  No. 3 in rushing defense (80.5 Yards/G), and No. 6 in scoring defense (12.4 ppg).

Boise St. comes into the game with the No. 1 ranked scoring offense in the country (44.2 ppg) and ranked No. 8 in total offense (460.5 Yards/G). Their defense is not too shabby either ranking in the top 15 in total, passing, and scoring defense.

Both teams come into this game wishing they had the chance to showcase their talent against a team from a power conference, but they also do now want to be on the short end when this game goes final.

Quick Facts:

• TCU’s head coach Gary Patterson was named the AP 2009 Coach of the Year.

• This is the first time two unbeaten teams will play in a BCS bowl other than the national championship game.

• Each of the Horned Frogs' last seven wins were by at least 27 points.

• Boise State’s Moore and TCU’s Dalton had similar numbers in last year's bowl game, both going 22 of 35 with no touchdowns and one interception.


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