Bowl picture still cloudy for Rebels, Mountain West

As it waits for a potential bowl invitation, UNLV has taken on the attitude of former Fresno State coach Pat Hill of wanting to play anybody, anywhere, anytime.

The question is whether the Rebels will get to play at all.

The bowl picture remains cloudy for the Mountain West, which has seven eligible teams for six slots. Conference commissioner Craig Thompson said Monday he didn’t expect to find an outside bowl for one of those teams, which would leave one school out of the mix.

“I really feel our coaches and our players deserve to go to a bowl game,” UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “It doesn’t matter where they go.”

Kunzer-Murphy, the Las Vegas Bowl executive director from 2000 to 2012 and former chairwoman of the Football Bowl Association, has worked the phones to find the Rebels a home.

She could find out news tonight, but the announcement more likely will come Sunday.

What the various bowl executive directors are thinking is difficult to gauge, as is their input. ESPN Regional owns five of the six Mountain West-affiliated bowls, and the network’s influence almost cannot be overstated.

Here’s how the bowls could shake out based on numerous discussions with different entities.

UNLV (7-5) has almost no shot with the Las Vegas and Poinsettia bowls, which own the first and second selections, respectively. Fresno State (10-1) and Utah State (8-4), which meet in tonight’s conference championship game, are expected to be selected to those bowls, though the Poinsettia could select Boise State (8-4) if that game also gets Northern Illinois.

The other four bowls, because they belong to ESPN, essentially are in one big pool.

As of Friday night, Boise State still appeared to be the favorite to go to the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 in Honolulu. Much of the chatter also favors Colorado State (7-6) playing in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21 in Albuquerque and San Jose State (6-6) possessing the inside track for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the same day in Boise.

Should that scenario play out, the Rebels’ best chance becomes the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas. UNLV’s competition for a bid to that game would be San Diego State, which also is 7-5. The Rebels, however, ended the regular season with a 45-19 trouncing of the Aztecs.

But teams are chosen for all sorts of reasons, and whether the above scenario plays out remains a guessing game.

“We’re kind of counting on playing,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. “I think that’s the way to approach it.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.