The 2015 Mountain West football season, as documented here, did not go very well.
Each season brings with it the promise of new hope, however. It was reasonable to think that 2016 could not — would not — replicate the downward spiral of the previous autumn. The conference couldn’t sink to a lower point.
It’s too early to render a verdict on that specific question, but if non-conference play — now largely over — has offered any indication, the Mountain West hasn’t meaningfully improved upon its 2015 body of work.
The MWC has been worked over… again.
Non-conference play has been one long non-compete clause for the league, save its two ruling powers, Boise State and San Diego State.
It’s true that the Mountain West should take pride in what the Broncos and the defending champion Aztecs are doing, but if the Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl bid is something to aspire to — and it should be — the utter lack of depth in the MWC will make it extremely difficult to take the Boise-SDSU winner seriously, should the two teams run the table heading into early December.
Consider this question: If Houston goes 12-1 — with wins over Oklahoma and South Florida in a hypothetical scenario — would 13-0 Boise or San Diego State get the nod over the Cougars for the New Year’s Six bowl bid? It’s not easy to say… but the Mountain West should not feel comfortable.
This, after all, is a portrait of the Mountain West in 2016, the teams Boise State and San Diego State will play the next two months:
Five Mountain West football teams will enter October without a win vs. an FBS opponent:
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) September 25, 2016
Fresno State blew a 31-point lead on Saturday in a loss to Tulsa.
San Jose State got clocked by a not-very-good Iowa State side.
UNLV lost to Idaho, a team which will soon leave the FBS to move to the FCS.
Hawaii and New Mexico didn’t play on Saturday, which means they didn’t have a chance to lose.
The damage done to the league was hardly limited to that quintet of teams.
Nevada blew a 14-3 lead and lost to lowly Purdue.
Colorado State lost to Minnesota for a second straight season.
Friday night, Wyoming lost to longtime MAC and FBS doormat Eastern Michigan.
The carnage was complete.
Naturally, when Group of Five conference teams play Power Five teams, the G-5 teams aren’t supposed to win a majority of the time. However, the Mountain West gained Boise State’s win over Oregon State on Saturday… and nothing else. (Air Force and Utah State played a league game won by the Falcons on the road in Ogden, Utah.) The near-totality of failure over the course of this lost weekend — with five league teams not owning a single FBS win in the month of September — form a very bleak landscape heading into conference competition.
Whenever a national writer sees New Mexico play Wyoming, or UNLV play Fresno State, that writer won’t think of “two good teams beating up on each other in a cutthroat conference.” He or she will think of “parity and mediocrity on display, repeating itself week after week.
A Mountain West Championship Game between 12-0 Boise State and 12-0 San Diego State would rescue this season. If at least one team is 12-0 and the other is 11-1, that would be close enough.
Just about anything less would make it hard to walk away from this season thinking the Mountain West improved itself. Only one month of the campaign is done, but this already seems like a lost year for this conference.
Let’s hope basketball season is better.