Unfortunately, when a G5 football program plays well—finishes with only a few losses, posts great stats, and has players gaining national recognition—the playoff committee and fans of Power 5 teams respond with an all too familiar phrase:
“But [insert any good G5 team] doesn’t play anyone!”
So, if a G5 team wants to turn heads in rankings and get recognition, a team needs to beat P5 teams. This coming football season, however, will showcase a bunch of good Mountain West vs. P5 (I am going to toss in BYU, Armed Forces, and a few other good G5 schools) matchups, and this post will rank each team on the caliber of their out-of-conference schedule, along with their ability to win these games.
1.) Colorado State
Colorado State takes the top spot here for a few reasons. First, CSU has three P5 opponents in Boulder, Arkansas, and Florida. Neither of these P5 schools had great years last year, and all three are rebuilding. Chad Morris is a stud at Arkansas, but as a new coach he will need a season or two and kick things into gear. The real benefit here is that only one of these games is a true away game, which is Florida. Boulder is a neutral site and Mile High Stadium and Arkansas is a home game for CSU. These programs are not top of their respective conferences, but if CSU wins two of these three it is hard to apply the classic “But _____ Doesn’t play anyone!”
Nevada is my sleeper pick for a strong showing against P5 opponents this upcoming season. Nevada had a tough year last year, but when it comes to scheduling P5 opponents, they have a good shot to win both of these games. Nevada gets Oregon State at home this year, and Oregon State will likely be a little bit (but not much) better than their disaster season last year. Nevada’s second P5 opponent is Vanderbilt away. This game will surely be more difficult, even with higher expectation for Vanderbilt this season with an improved passing game and better steps to improve the run attack. Both of these games give Nevada a chance to rack up some P5 wins to gain some confidence going into conference play.
3.) San Diego State
SD State is in a unique position at the number three spot and coming into this season. Their out-of-conference P5 schedule is both Stanford and Arizona State as away games. However, SD State played these same teams last year and won both games. Even with the loss of Penny at running back, this SD State comes into this season with high expectations and could surely beat Arizona State. Stanford will obviously be an extremely hard away game, but they did it before and could do it again. If SD State repeats both of these wins they should come into conference play ranked.
Wyoming will obviously lose a little firepower without Josh Allen taking snaps, their offense wasn’t that sexy anyway. As long as their defense can stay scary, they should be a force in the Mountain West again. Their P5 scheduling is difficult, but absolutely doable as well. Wyoming did not fare well against P5’s last season taking losses to both Oregon and Iowa but 2018 could end a bit different. Wyoming’s two P5 games are Washington State at home and Missouri away. Washington State is in a very similar situation to Wyoming with the loss of Luke Falk and being so early in the season and at home, an experienced Wyoming defense could rattle a new starting quarterback. Missouri will be a different story with an experienced touchdown passed in Drew Lock returning. If Wyoming can grab one of these P5 games they are in good shape heading into conference play and rankings.
5.) Fresno State
It does seem weird that the 2017 MW leaders are so far down this list, but this list is not predicting how they fare in conference play—only how their P5 games will impact their reputation around the league. With that, Fresno locks in the 5 spot here. Fresno had a great showing last year in conference play but lost both of their P5 games (granted their P5 games were Alabama and Washington). 2018 P5 scheduling is a little bit easier with Minnesota and UCLA, with both games being away however. UCLA has undergone a lot of changes with the loss of Josh Rosen and the addition of Chip Kelly as coach, meaning there will be a learning curve. Minnesota will be a sneaky good Big Ten team this season getting a lot of kinks out of Fleck’s offensive scheme last season and should be much better this season. Fresno should battle SD state again for top of the West in MW play but will have a difficult P5 schedule.
6.) Boise State
Boise State is not only my favorite to win the MW but also represent the G5 in a New Years Six Bowl Game. Their out-of-conference schedule, however, is difficult. Their only P5 game is an away game at Oklahoma State and even with the loss of Mason Rudolph this will be a very difficult game for Boise State. The other potential problem is Troy away. Obviously, Troy is in the Sun Belt, but they are coming off of an impressive 2017 campaign and a game like this is the unfortunate problem of when strong G5 schools play each other. If Boise State wins this it won’t raise their caliber or number in the rankings much—even though it will be a good win because Troy is a very good team—but if Boise State loses they will drop in rankings because of it. Boise State is facing two tough teams away early in season, but their friendly in-conference play should lead them back to MW championship.
7.) Utah State
Utah State is good candidate to chase Boise State for the Mountain division, but their P5 schedule list is short and difficult. The hardest being Michigan State away. Utah State will improve this season but traveling to the Spartans is brutal for any team. Their second opponent is BYU (Independent and bad last year, but I am going to include). BYU only won four games last year, but expect that to improve this season. Utah State is also traveling for this game and two hard away games early in the season and be a difficult.
8.) Air Force
Air Force has similar predicament to Boise State playing Troy. Air Force plays good teams, but none of them P5, so it can be difficult to move up rankings. Florida Atlantic as an away game will be a very difficult game. Lane Kiffin has been a stud as coach at FAU and that should continue (even with the controversial hire of a 25-year-old OC), but similar to Troy, an Air Force win over FAU will be given less credit as opposed to a win over a P5 school. Other difficult games include Navy at home and Army away.
Hawaii has a very similar situation to Air Force in their out-of-conference scheduling. Hawaii will have BYU and Army away, and Navy home. Hawaii struggled big time last season and even with no P5 games scheduled, all of these games will be difficult and could lead to Hawaii entering conference play off to a tough start.
The Rebels should improve this season but an away game at USC is a tough start and will take a miracle to win that game. Their second (sneaky) difficult game is in Arkansas State, a classic example of a game that if UNLV wins there will be little buzz, but a loss will guarantee negative feedback.
11.) San Jose State
San Jose State had a rough year last year. The defense should improve some with plenty of starters returning, but the offense still needs lots of help all over. Washington State and Oregon—both early in the season and away games—could lead to a tough start for the Spartans. A home game of Army could also give the Spartans some problems.
12.) New Mexico
Bob Davie might distract from how unfortunate New Mexico’s out-of-conference schedule is. Their single P5 game is an away game at Wisconsin, and the Badgers are shaping up to be one of the best teams in the country with Hornibrook taking snaps and with Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor a preseason favorite to with the Heisman. Even with wins over Liberty, who just made the jump to FBS, and New Mexico State, who always has a heated fight with New Mexico, there isn’t much room to impress. New Mexico’s schedule provides the least opportunity to turn heads in the college football community.
This list does not argue how these teams will fare in conference play nor how it will impact their overall record. Many teams further down the list like Boise State and Fresno are favorites to win MWC title. This list argues which MW teams play P5 teams and have potential to win and hopefully turn some heads. G5 teams that beat P5 teams and then play well in conference lead to better rankings, recognition, and the ability to say “See! We do Play People!”.