2016 was a crappy year in a lot of respects. David Bowie passed away, America somehow elected a crumpled Reese’s Pieces wrapper as president, and Fresno State couldn’t even beat an FBS team. It was a rough twelve months.
But, hey, it came with a lot of entertaining football.
This is a subjective list, so feel free to chime in with comments of your own about how your favorite game is ranked too low, or how that game your rivals played is way too high. Without further ado, the ten best games of the Mountain West football season.
#10, Week 11: New Mexico 24, Utah State 21
It often seemed like the Aggies couldn’t catch a break in 2016. Utah State was 0-4 in one-score games, but none stung more than the controversial ending that allowed the Lobos to steal a win.
#9, Week 11: Air Force 49, Colorado State 46
CSU wide receiver Michael Gallup was nearly unstoppable in conference play, leading the MWC in catches, yards and touchdowns, and he had a Herculean performance against the Falcons: 13 catches, 213 yards and a score. Unfortunately for the Rams, the end of the game befit a Greek tragedy: Gallup fumbled on CSU’s last-minute drive, sealing an Air force win.
#8, Week 7: New Mexico 45, Air Force 40 (at the Cotton Bowl)
In a game watched by dozens at the Texas State Fair for some reason, the Falcons and Lobos got together for an old-fashioned points bonanza. Nate Romine threw for 280 yards, the most by AF since 2000, while Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens topped 100 yards rushing in a back-and-forth affair.
#7, Week 8: Hawaii 34, Air Force 27 (in double overtime)
Raise your hand if you had Hawaii winning a bowl game this year. Okay, okay, put them down because you’re all lying; going to Colorado Springs to upset the Falcons, however, was the defining win of Nick Rolovich’s first year on the islands.
#6, Week 9: Wyoming 30, Boise State 28
One of the biggest stunners of conference play, the Cowboys rallied from a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit to shock the Broncos. Furthermore, the game gave us at MWC Connection a GIF for the ages, courtesy of Wyoming’s Josiah Hall:
#5, Week 2: San Diego State 45, Cal 40
The Aztecs came into 2016 with questions about whether their talent could hold up against a Power 5 foe, so star running back Donnel Pumphrey went and ran for a season-high 281 yards and three touchdowns, jumpstarting his Heisman candidacy, and defensive player of the year Damontae Kazee sealed the dramatic win with a late interception.
#4, Week 1: Wyoming 40, Northern Illinois 34 (in triple overtime)
We should have seen Wyoming’s flair for the dramatic coming, especially after they opened 2016 with a win that didn’t end until nearly three in the morning in Laramie. Josh Allen, one of the conference’s breakout stars, carried the Cowboys to victory with his arm and his legs.
#3, Mountain West Championship: San Diego State 27, Wyoming 24
The victory might not have been pretty, but the Aztecs’ second straight MWC title was a perfect example of what they do best: Run the ball and play defense. Both Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny topped 100 yards, while SDSU forced Josh Allen to throw two INTs before withstanding a late Wyoming rally.
#2, Week 11: UNLV 69, Wyoming 66 (in triple overtime)
Tony Sanchez’s second year in Vegas had its ordeals, but his depleted Rebels gave us a game that will live in conference lore for a long time. Third-string quarterback Kurt Palandech had 252 yards through the air and 157 rushing yards, accounting for four touchdowns, though UNLV learned (as everyone else did) the Pokes were hard to kill.
Oh, yeah, and UNLV wide receiver Devonte Boyd caught ten passes for 127 yards despite a broken arm. 2016 might not have gone quite like Rebels fans anticipated, but this game is a step in the right direction.
#1, Week 12: Wyoming 34, San Diego State 33
Considering the teams, the stakes and the wild momentum swings, the number one game of 2016 was an easy choice. The Cowboys had an answer for each body blow that the Aztecs threw, including two return touchdowns of over 90 yards, and only took the lead with 67 seconds to go.
No big deal for SDSU, though, who went 99 yards for a touchdown and pushed all their chips to the center of the table by subsequently going for two:
Honorable mentions: Boise State 31, Washington State 28; New Mexico 48, San Jose State 41; Boise State 28, Colorado State 23; Boise State 28, BYU 27; Wyoming 42, Nevada 34