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MWC Rountable: Is the MWC or AAC the best Group of 5 conference?

Our team offers their thoughts on the matter.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

“We need to address the elephant in the room, is the AAC leaving the MWC in the dust?” - Jeremy

Or maybe more simply: “Which of the two is the best conference in the Group of 5?”

Matt: Right now it’s the AAC. In both football and basketball. Top to bottom, their conference average was above ours in S&P over the last three seasons, and now they’ve added Wichita State in basketball. Last year, we were lucky to get 2 teams in the tournament, they got 3 in solidly, since all were Top 6 seeds. We had a 7 seed and an 11 seed, and would have probably only gotten one team in if Nevada had won the conference tournament. We are in a good place to overtake them though. While their bottom teams in both sports are slightly better than our bottom teams are right now, the MWC is doing a better job at building those teams up. I think by 2019, we’ll see both conferences on even footing, which leaves both in a very interesting place headed to the next potential round of conference realignment.

Duane: I am an unapologetic homer and I want to go with the Mountain West, but I can’t in either football or basketball. The success of Central Florida and Houston the last few seasons in football, along with South Florida being an above average team and then thrown in teams like Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple and Navy who have had really good seasons the past few years and it really puts the balance of power in the AAC. I think Boise State and San Diego State would hold their own in that league, but not at the level of what Central Florida did last season. In basketball, Wichita State has become the midwest version of Gonzaga, and then you throw in traditional powers like Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis. The Mountain West just does not compare, or really even come close, especially as traditional MWC powers like UNLV and New Mexico are struggling to return to dominance.

Thomas: I am a homer and I will remain that homer but, until we see better results from the MWC, the AAC wins out. When we talk about how the different conferences came along and how they have been successful let’s take a look. In March we are rooting for our best teams and bam UConn wins both the Women’s and Men’s basketball tournaments in 2014. In football UCF and Houston are both going to New Year Bowls. Boise State has been to quite a few of those, but it has been a while since 2014. UCF went undefeated last season, while Boise went 11-2 their last appearance. Houston went 12-1. Overall the Mountain West Conference was the refugee for the Western Athletic Conference, while the AAC(Big East) was a power conference until the power five raided the conference while laughing. It has been a while since Boise State or anyone has ended the season in the Top 10 or even in the top 20! Man we are lucky if we get in the top 25 at the end of the season. Not to put our fanbase down or anything, but being realistic. Nevada vs UConn Basketball, who wins? Turning to football, Boise State vs UCF? Fresno vs USF? SDSU vs Memphis? Or maybe we can compare our worst schools who would be blown out by Tulsa or Tulane. SJSU might be able to beat UConn in football if they all wore their lucky underwear, but we all know that UConn’s only purpose in the AAC is to bring home Basketball trophies, what about UNLV/New Mexico? UNLV won one in 1990 and Wyoming won some back before the cold war started. If we want to become a better group of five conference we need to do what the AAC did. Instead of becoming a refugee for schools like SJSU, Utah State, Hawaii and others. Sure the AAC took CUSA teams, but it could be argued that the CUSA had a better footing for their schools compared to what the MWC has now. The Mountain West being compared to the AAC is a sick joke. We have Boise State in Football and Nevada in Basketball, the rest of the conference needs to step up. The AAC is a lot more competitive, there is a rich history of football and basketball at even the schools who came in last place in the standings. Adding Wichita State is like adding a cherry on top of the best Group of 5 conference. UNLV football has been historically bad and SJSU football plays 3-4th fiddle in the bay area. Hawaii has dropped off from their great 00’s teams and what is going on with Utah State/New Mexico? What can we do? Add Gonzaga, forget the hate for the LDS church and add BYU to the roster of non-football schools. Sign a deal with BYU football and let’s get the MWC back on track. Yes, The AAC is leaving the MWC in the dust and even if Boise State were to go undefeated, they might have to sit out the new year’s bowl now to a 11-2 or 10-3 AAC school.

Zach: It is the AAC and it is 100% Craig Thomson’s fault. Let’s start with football, I think it is close here. Boise State is still the class of the G5 and might have gotten the NY6 spot over UCF if they went 11-1. As long as BSU finishes at least tied for the top record for G5 teams, they will always receive the NY6 spot. I feel like BSU, SDSU, and Fresno State can compete with anyone in the AAC. After that, there is a steep fall off. The AAC has stronger middle of the pack teams. Teams like Navy and USF are solid middle of the pack teams while Houston and UCF carry the weight at the top. SMU is also a team on the rise and Tulsa usually has a solid football program. However, there is not a team in the AAC that has been consistently good like Boise State or even as consistent as SDSU. But I will give the AAC a slight advantage because of the depth of the conference.

In basketball, it is clearly the AAC and it is because Thompson dropped the ball by not adding Wichita State. The AAC has teams like Cincinatti, Connecticut, and Houston. The Mountain West will not be able to compete unless they find a way to add Gonzaga (Thompson may be too late here) and New Mexico, UNLV, and SDSU can find a way to be consistently great again.

Mike: It’s the AAC for me as well. Football-wise, one could argue the MWC may have the best/better team(s) year in and year out in Boise State and SDSU, but it’s been clear the AAC has the team having the best season more often than not. I would also argue the American has better teams top to bottom and is just better balanced. It’s not just on the field either. The American seems better set up with TV markets, has had more NY6 bowl bids, both of which equal more money. More money means they can pay their coaches more, which is something they have been able to do (although it has yet to lead to coaches staying long-term).

On the hardwood it’s more of the same. I believe the MWC used to be the better basketball conference and could be again, but it isn’t currently. SDSU, UNLV, and New Mexico rounding back into form would certainly help that. The tide could turn back in favor of the Mountain West in this ever-changing landscape of college football, but the AAC has shown it is ahead currently and seems set up long-term to keep widening that gap.

Jeremy: Is there really any room for argument? Since the beginning the NY6 format, the 2014 Boise State Broncos are the only qualifier from the Mountain West. That team went 11-2, the only 2-loss Group of 5 team to qualify. 1 loss maximum or undefeated has been required since, a tough standard to live up to. Stretch this back to the BCS era and only 2006, 2010 Boise State and 2007 Hawaii have made it to major bowl games in the modern era. The Mountain West is improving in football. We may never return to the days of prime Utah and TCU, but strides are being made by the likes of San Diego State, Fresno State, Colorado State, etc. to boost the depth of the conference. Still, if the conference wants to close this gap on the AAC, it must start churning out more 10+ game winners and do so, so much better in out-of-conference play, where annually the conference embarrasses itself.

Vic: The only real time I’ve spent looking at the AAC was from assessing then freshman Spartan starting QB, Montel Aaron, who could have and maybe should have stayed to play for the Temple Owls (he decommitted). The QB situation there at the time was more competitive and I’m betting he wouldn’t have been a freshman starter for the Owls.

I was initially bewildered why Aaron didn’t stay with Temple, since at the time, the Owls did win their division (except this past season’s big drop off). It would have been a more competitive environment given the AAC was stronger overall and there was much more parity across the board, especially teams from the bottom up. So, on the football side, the AAC surely gets the nod over the MWC.

Basketball-wise, the AAC also gets the nod. The AAC has more than just a couple teams buoying their conference with teams like Cincinatti, Houston, UConn and now mid-major power Wichita is in the mix, and in the NCAA tourney, you saw their 3 teams as top 6 seeds. In addition, the AAC has just also shown more aggressive strides to become a Power 6 school, though CFP info seems to say they still have a bit of a ways to go.

Optics-wise, there’s more reasons why the AAC brand itself rises above the MWC. It could be something as simple and mundane as laymen folks thinking it’s similar to the Power 5 ACC conference or that football and basketball is much more a passion and religion coming from the south and east regions of the U.S. vs. the west. There also more lineage and track record there with the AAC, thus a greater brand panache coming from the AAC than the MWC - in addition to the tangible reasons we’re all stating.

A more provocative question further upstream from this particular round-table topic should question how and what each commissioner is doing for their conference; their philosophies, track record, actions, etc. - though a lot of us might not be surprised of the comparison outcome.

Terrance: At this time it’s the AAC and its not even close. From the leadership to the on the field/court product they’ve done what they needed to do to compete. Craig Thompson is an incompetent commissioner who has done nothing to benefit the conference since 2012. The AAC has done a good job of growing the conference with the right combination of teams, and putting a good product out there consistently. They have a favorable TV contract and they are consistently putting teams in the NCAA tournament. Thompson had the chance to add Wichita State which would have bolstered the olympic sports. He didn’t, and he completely botched the Gonzaga move as well. In order for the Mountain West to reach a new level their needs to be a change in leadership at the top. We can get back to a top G5 conference but not with Thompson in charge.