Time to get the car a tune-up, grab the family and take a road trip across the Mountain West for the MWC Road Trip.
Now mind you, this is not a mapped out linear trip all over the Western United States. Mainly because I assume leaving your house to travel to some of the most beautiful locations in all of college football for three months is out of the question.
Rather, this is a guide to the best games by week and the best food you can get in every home town of Mountain West teams. No matter where you live this guide will show you where to go for the best games and grub every week.
How do I know you ask? With the exception of San Diego, I have either visited or lived in every single city on this list, making me somewhat of an authority. I'm sure there are experts that can lay claim to each city and refute my points, but very few have lived in four of the 12 locations and visited the other nine, minus San Diego (I do plan on getting there someday). So here we go.
Week 1: Colorado State vs Colorado (Sep. 2)
We start the season off in the beautiful Colorado Rockies with the Rocky Mountain Showdown. I know this game is technically in Denver and not Fort Collins, but it is close enough and the atmosphere is always high at Sports Authority Field where the Denver Broncos play.
Colorado holds the series lead at 63-22 winning the Centennial Cup last year. Although the Buffaloes are a favorite to win this year due to a large amount of returners, both teams have unknowns going into this game and Colorado State has evened the series lately. This stands to be the most experienced Buffaloes team in years and the Rams are clearly rebuilding, especially on defense.
While you are in the Mile High City be sure to check out Old Major before the game for a great atmosphere. This is a steak lovers dream, as the restaurant does its own butchering and cures the meats in-house.
Week 2: San Diego State vs Cal (Sep. 10)
From the mountains we move to the beaches of San Diego for the September 10th match against the California Golden Bears. A test for both teams early in the season, for which I am giving SDSU the edge. The California defense is average, and that will show against the superior fire power on the Aztec offense.
The Aztecs are returning the best team they have had in years to San Diego, and Cal has lost it's star quarterback as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. The Bears will need to find a few solid receivers for this year as well.
San Diego State needs this win to legitimize a possible run towards a New Years 6 Bowl or possibly even the playoffs. A loss does not doom them but, unlike Boise State, they do not have the luxury of a reputation to carry them with the voters.
One of the best sports bars in San Diego, McGregor's offers vintage shuffle board, pool, darts and plenty of pre-game fun. When you are there be sure to check out the Baja-style fish tacos, which are on special on Saturdays.
Week 3: San Jose State vs Utah (Sep. 17)
Moving up the scenic California Coastline to the bay area, as San Jose State takes on Utah early in the season. Since 2013, Utah has dominated Mountain West teams going 5-0 and the Utes are 4-0 all time when playing in San Jose.
The Spartans are returning a lot of experience, but losing its top running back does not bode well when facing one of the best run defenses in the PAC-12. Utah is a dark horse contender for the PAC-12 championship, much like San Jose is a dark horse contender for the Mountain West Championship.
Utah's rise as a power in the Pac-12 eclipses San Jose State's recent rise, so I expect Utah to win this game, but it will be closer than expected and a good game nonetheless.
I'm going step up my recommendation for a pre-game meal this time. We are in San Jose for crying out loud, experience some of the bay area class. So, before the game you should check out Firehouse No. 1 Gastro pub. It is a bit pricey, but man are the food and drinks good. Order the BBBBBBBLT (yeah, there is a lot of bacon) with their house made potato chips.
Week 4: Fresno State vs Tulsa (Sep. 24)
Staying in California for the third week in a row (enjoy it, we wont be back), we move down to the lovely Central Valley and the city of Fresno. Fresno State takes on what is likely to be a rebounding Tulsa Golden Hurricane's (you know, for all of those hurricanes Oklahoma experiences) team that missed a bowl invite after going 6-7 last year.
The Bulldogs look to also rebound this year after a dismal performance where they ranked 122nd in the nation in total offense. Playing at home will give Fresno State the edge and I expect somewhat of a turn around this season, if only a slight one.
Revamping the Fresno State coaching staff will light a fire under this team. I expect them to do better than their 3-9 performance last year. Odds makers have Tulsa winning this, however, if they do it will be within a touchdown.
You can't head down to Bulldog country without checking out the Dog House Grill. Close to the stadium, fans can order the Monster Burger with 2/3 lb. of meat with Cheddar and Jack Cheese. This is also a great place for kids.
Week 5: New Mexico vs SJSU (Oct. 1)
Heading back to the Mountain Division for week five to see a vastly improved New Mexico Lobo team take on San Jose State. San Jose has the edge 12-4 overall, with a tie, for some reason, in 1971. Although they are in the same conference, this will only be the third time the Spartans and Lobos have faced off in 17 years.
On paper these two seem evenly matched, but the improvements New Mexico has made on defense along with an offense that is focused on limiting mistakes gives me the impression that New Mexico will win this game. Regardless, if either team wants to make an outside run to their respective division titles this is a must win for both.
Having lived in New Mexico for part of my college life I have experienced the true Mexican fair. With it's distinctly non-Spanish name I can only say one thing about Monroe's Restaurant; these guys know Mexican. The folksy atmosphere and generous portions allow for a really nice experience. If you get the chance, check out the beautiful patio.
Week 6: Nevada vs Fresno State (Oct. 8)
Last year Nevada quietly took 2nd in the West Division and they have nine returning starters. Although the Wolf Pack only went 7-6 last year, I expect them to reach a bowl again this season. Nevada's biggest issue is the losses on defense as they only return one starter on the D-Line.
Nevada and Fresno State have faced off a total of 47 times dating back to 1923. Nevada won that 1923 game 46-3, which is what I expect will happen this year as well. Perhaps not by as large of a margin, but a win nonetheless.
As many teams have seen, playing in Reno is difficult on a good day since a brutal fan base makes it known you are not welcome. Combine that with a lack of talent and experience at QB, Fresno will have a tough time overcoming the Wolf Pack .
Simply for the atmosphere, presentation, and happy hour I have to recommend Bistro Napa in Reno prior to your trip to the stadium. Although it may be a little to high end for a pre/post football game meal, that is what you can expect from dining at the top of a casino. Bistro Napa has the biggest wine list on this road trip by the way.
Week 7: BYE (Oct. 15)
Take a break and cool your heels a bit, you are only half way through this glorious season.
Week 8: Boise State vs BYU (Oct. 20)
Boise is my hometown, born and raised, and though I live in Germany right now I think of The City of Trees every day. With that being said, anyone would be silly to not have the burgeoning rivalry between Boise State and BYU on their list of must see games this season.
The BSU-BYU games are always loaded with drama. Last year a hail Mary in Provo gave the Cougars the win. Four years ago a Boise won 7-6 on a pick six by Bronco nose tackle Mike Atkinson. Boise has the edge in wins overall 4-2, but who know what will happen on the Blue this year?
Boise is a better team this year, having pushed through some growing pains and everyone knows The Blue is one of the toughest places to play. Boise is 33-4 at home in the last five years. BYU has a new coach and a less effective receiving corps. This will be a QB showdown but Boise is the slight favorite.
This pick is easy as it has been a staple of Boise for years and I suggest it to everyone even though it seems like 50 new breweries and restaurants have popped up. Outside of the stadium tailgate scene you will not find a better pre-game restaurant than Ram Restaurant and Brewery.
The atmosphere in Boise will likely be one of the best in college football during this week because in the city you are either a Bronco fan or a Cougar fan (or an Idaho fan, but no one cares).
True to the Broncos and the local high schools, you will be awash in whatever color the stadium layout calls for that day. Be sure to sample Ram’s beer line with names like Bottle Rocket Lager, Buttface Amber, and Total Disorder Porter. Additionally, there is no need for a cab since you are only a five minute walk from the stadium.
Week 9: Utah State vs SDSU (Oct. 28)
Keeping with the Mountain theme we head four hours down I-84 to Logan, Utah for the game between Utah State and San Diego State. What will likely be the toughest Mountain West opponent either team faces in the regular season, this game definitely has championship implications.
Utah State was in the drivers seat headed towards a Mountain West Championship after defeating Boise State last year, however losses to New Mexico and Air Force put an end to that. The Aggies have a lot to offer on offense especially in running back Devante May. Unfortunately, major losses on defense and Nick Vigil heading for the NFL hurt Utah State's chances of containing a potent Aztec offense.
If that wasn't enough Utah State also lost six coaches to higher paying jobs. Utah State will once again reach a bowl this year, but they will not win this game. However, spookier things have happened around Halloween.
Deemed as "where the locals eat," Angie's Restaurant is the place to grub before heading to the football game. An extremely family friendly atmosphere and an eclectic assortment of menu items, to include the Fiesty Black Bean Burger and the Navajo Taco, satisfy a wide range of tastes. Breakfast at Angie's is a must.
Week 10 Wyoming vs Utah State (Nov. 5)
Wyoming struggled last season winning just two games in Craig Bohl's second year. Bohl is no stranger to winning though, having led North Dakota State to five straight FCS National Championships. Yet, last year was the worst performance for the Cowboys in 13 years.
Wyoming does return one of the most productive running backs in the nation with Brian Hill. He lead the Mountain West with 135.9 yards per game last year, and set a Wyoming Single Season Record for total yards with 1,631. Hill along with a potent receiving duo ensure this game will not be a walk in the park for Utah State, but the Aggies still have the edge.
Everyone passing through Laramie needs to stop at Born In A Barn, if only for it's name. Known for it's insane portion sizes and delicious wings, you wont have to spend very much at the stadium on extra food after eating here. Enjoy the craft your own burger menu and be sure to order a Fire Flight of wings if spicy food is your thing.
Week 11 UNLV vs Wyoming (Nov. 12)
To contrast the quiet family oriented atmosphere of Laramie, we are headed down to Sin City next to follow Wyoming into Rebel territory. Wyoming will face 2nd year coach Tony Sanchez and a very experienced UNLV team that is on the upswing.
The Rebels look to make an impact this year as they have recruited seven game ready junior college signees, and a program record of ten 3-star rated recruits. Where UNLV is weak is on defense, with opposing offenses amassing an average of 5.7 yards after contact per carry last year. The strong Wyoming running backs may exploit this, but an additional year of conditioning will help the Rebels.
With Sanchez at the helm driving enthusiasm in Las Vegas, I see UNLV beating the Cowboys on what may be a march towards a bowl for only the 2nd time in 16 years for the Rebels.
You are in Vegas so you know what that means, right? Buffets! Winner of the 2015 Vegas.com best buffet award The Buffet at Wynn is your best bet. Here you can sample Frank Sinatra's family recipe of Spaghetti and meatballs. With 120 unique dishes and 39 different deserts to sample, its best you not eat anything prior.
Week 12: Hawaii vs UNLV (Nov. 18)
By now most of the Mountain West is pretty cold, so it's time to grab your board shorts and "slippahs" as we head on over to the world class beaches of Honolulu where the Warriors take on UNLV.
Hawaii Head Coach in Nick Rolovich, who was a the Rainbow Warriors quarterback in 2000-01, has a tremendous task ahead of him in his first season as he tries to get the usually potent Hawaii offense firing again. This is the third coach to take the helm of the Hawaii football team in five years.
Returning a strong 1,000 yard running back in senior Paul Harris and an experienced QB in fifth-year senior Ikaika Woolsey, the Warriors should be better on offense.
Suffering a big loss on defense with the dismissal of All-MWC defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealli, and a myriad of injuries on the line, the Warriors find themselves in a very vulnerable state, especially against an improving Rebel offense.
Although this won’t necessarily be a battle of the bottom feeders, it’s far from the cream of the MWC crop. However, you can take solace in the fact that you are in paradise. So enjoy the 72 degree weather, the beaches, and the food. Oh, and the food is good.
I have a dilemma because I lived in Hawaii for three years and it has by far the best food I have eaten in my travels around the globe. So, I am finding it hard to pick a restaurant.
Therefore, I'm going unorthodox by choosing the best "fast food" I ate on almost a weekly basis when I lived there. It's a chain that dots the island called Blazin' Steaks. It's some of the best chopped steak in the country, it comes with really good rice and salad, in a Styrofoam box for around $7. Put the Korean BBQ sauce on the steak and rice then thank me later.
Week 13: Air Force vs Boise State (Nov. 25)
What better way is there to round out the regular season? Outside of the Mountain West Championship game, this is the Mountain West game of the year. Although the series is tied at 2-2, Air Force has won the last two and are very tough to beat at home.
Boise State is making a concerted effort to combat the triple-option this year, and their offense will be more experienced than last year. However, Air Force can say the same. Returning QB Nate Romine passes well and WR Jalen Robinette is supremely talented. Expect Air Force to be formidable through the air as well as the ground this year. However, in this case Boise can also say the same.
There are question marks on the Air Forces undersized defense, but they still should be one of the top five in the country. Boise State may have the best defense in the conference this year, but again, their Achilles Heal has been that triple option.
This could be a high scoring affair with the win going to whomever can limit turnovers. Both are capable of slowing the game down and striking quickly. Do not be surprised if we come to this game and both teams are undefeated and ranked. SDSU will be watching this game closely.
Being a Soldier, I was going to recommend the Dining Facility at the Air Force Academy because everyone in the military knows the Air Force has the best "DFACs." However, there would be security issues with that so I'm recommending a restaurant in honor of my current location; Germany.
Edelweiss Restaurant in Colorado Springs offers some really good German fare, and trust me, German food is amazing. From the Jagerschnitzel to the Sauerbraten you really can't go wrong. Don't forget to sample the authentic German Beer as well.
Week 14: Conference Championship
So there you have it. If you can get to every city and watch every game, it will be a wild ride across the most scenic and diverse conference in the country. Be sure to make time for the Mountain West Conference Championship game. Will it be in Boise? San Diego? Colorado Springs? Maybe even Albuquerque? Who knows? Either way, it will be fun.