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Fixing the Mountain West Football Schedule

It only took two attempts and four hours to create a better Mountain West Football schedule.

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

I like many of you, was disappointed when the Mountain West 2015 football schedule was released. The schedule was disappointing to say the least. Neither division had late season games that seemingly would hold any meaning. As pointed out in Utah State's schedule breakdown, the Mountain Division will potentially be decided by October 17th. In studying the schedule an idea came to me: "This can't be that hard. It can't be that hard to create a better schedule." So I gave it a shot.

The Goals

The goals of this exercise were two-fold. First and foremost, a schedule was to be created where the best division matchups were at the end of the season rather than the beginning. I wanted to do this while maintaining some form of cohesion and without teams having to face the hardest teams on their schedule back-to-back-to-back.

Secondly, let's bring back "rivalry week." When when you see rivalry week (week 11) it might will not fit what you'd expect.  I wanted to bring the rivalry games without throwing the first goal out the window. Sure there is your traditional UNLV and Nevada game and even the budding Boise State vs. Utah State rivalry game. Which if it is to bud into a full blown rivalry Utah State needs to actually win a game or two, but I digress. There are also some non-traditional / not-really-sure-if-they-are-rivals games like Hawaii vs. San Jose State or New Mexico vs. Wyoming but the intent is there.

The Rules Guidelines

The first rule of remaking the schedule is: you do not touch the out of conference schedule. This would make things too complicated and possibly is a rule the actual MWC schedulers had to follow.  The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

After that the rules kind of disintegrated into guidelines.  A goal was to not have any team have a three-game home stand or road trip. This failed both schedules but just barely.  Another goal was to cluster Hawaii's home and away games (two away two at home etc.).  That one kind of got thrown out when making the schedules. An attempt was made to contain ALL bye weeks to a period between the fifth and ninth weeks. As it turns out that was literally impossible, but more on that in the next section.

The Process & Problems

The schedule was modeled to match the grid schedule that the MW released thinking it would be the easiest to ensure scheduling without overlap. In all honestly, creating these schedules was a little easier than expected. My first attempt, or v1.0, took about two hours to create. That sounds like a lot but when you realize the MW worked on making the schedule for months it puts it in perspective.

The biggest problem was the Fresno State at BYU game in week 12.  It is the only week in which an odd number of teams have an OOC game, which presents problems in a 12 team league.  There was no way around one team needing a bye the second to last week of the regular season. There goes BYU ruining things again.

Wyoming and SJSU each got the honor of the super late season bye. The other problem was scheduling homes games for teams coming off of two non-conference road games. In both attempts I built primarily from the end of the season forward. Even when changing the strategies to avoid the three road trips in a row it destroyed the back end of the schedule. The second attempt does a much better job of avoiding these than the first, but there is still one team with three road games in a row. (Sorry, Nevada)

I tried but was unable to get an image that would fit on the page and be readable. So before I analyze each version I figured you'd want to be able to see what exactly was created.  Here is a link to my first attempt or v1.0. This is a link to my second attempt or v2.0. Lastly here is a file link to the Excel Document containing both Schedule v1 and v2

First Attempt (v1.0 click for bigger view)

The Bad: This one could be titled the "I hate Wyoming" schedule. This isn't true at all but when you realize Wyoming plays five road games in six weeks well it looks bad. All teams, except San Diego State, still play FCS opponents. Nothing could be done to change that, but just feel like pointing out that it is bad. There are 17 (including overlaps i.e. week 3-8 of Air Force counts as two) instance of teams playing three road games over four weeks. This may not necessarily be the worst but it does make the schedule feel unbalanced.

The Good: Both goals were accomplished! Sort of.

Utah State still plays Colorado State on Oct. 3 but the rest of the contenders in the Mountain Division have late November games against each other. The same can be said of the West Division. Outside of the Oct. 17 Nevada vs. Fresno State matchup, all contenders (SDSU, Fresno State, Nevada) play in late November. Rivalry(-ish) week has a full slate of games. Additionally all bye weeks, except the impossible to avoid week 12 bye, fall between Week 5 and Week 8. This allows for the stretch run at the end of the conference schedule to be uninterrupted with every team playing a hopefully very meaningful game down the stretch

Overall this schedule is similar to the original put out by the Mountain West in terms of quality. It has some improvements in terms of conference races and when the big games will be played but it contains too many flaws that leave it feeling unbalanced and disjointed. So I decided to give it another shot and we struck gold...

Second Attempt (v2.0 click for bigger view)

The Bad: There is still one team with a three game road trip, sorry Nevada, but that is an improvement on v1.0. Bye weeks are slightly spread out but no week has more than two teams on a bye. New Mexico does get three home games in a row but there schedule still feels balanced.

The Good: All games between contenders in both conferences November with only one, Colorado State vs. Utah State, coming in the first week of November. Rivalry(-ish) week is still there even if it lost the least rivalry game that week in New Mexico vs. Wyoming. There is much greater balance of when teams play at home and on the road. There are 10 instances of teams playing three road games in four weeks. Version 1.0 had 17 such stretches.

Overall I really like this second version. It accomplishes all of the goals completely while maintaining balance in opponents and travel. In the end I'm really surprised that the Mountain West couldn't come up with something better than they did in the months they had. Make sure you let me know what you think of all the schedules in the comments below.