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MWC Roundtable: Biggest storyline for the 2018 season?

Our last roundtable until the spring.

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

We’ve reached the end of our off-season roundtable. We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground over the past few months. For our last post until next spring, we will ask a broad and open-ended question: What will be the biggest Mountain West storyline this football season? It can be about a specific team or the conference in general.

Mike: I debated going with a few different topics here. Will Boise State get the group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Six bowl? Will Fresno State win back to back West Division titles? Will programs like Hawaii, Nevada, or San Jose State take a step forward or backwards this season? Instead, I went with something a bit more general.

For me, this season will ultimately be judged on how the Mountain West place against the Power 5 schools, as well as how they do in bowl games. This means, Boise State vs Oklahoma State, Fresno State vs UCLA and Minnesota, and San Diego State vs Stanford and Arizona State. Can they hold their own and pull a few upsets in these marquee games, or will they come up short?

Also, can the MWC do better than the 3-3 record they compiled last bowl season? To get on the map a bit more, this is another area they need to shine. Assuming they play 6 bowl games (although more would be better of course), at least a 4-2 record or even better to show the rest of nation they should be taken seriously. Each year the conference has to prove itself and those are the best ways to do so.

Zach: There are so many compelling storylines this year. Is this the best Boise State team since Kellen Moore was quarterback at Boise State? Will Air Force recover from a subpar season? Is Utah State going to pass Wyoming and Colorado State? Will San Diego State regain supremacy in the West? Will the AAC continue to separate itself from the Mountain West.

However, I am going to go in a different direction. My biggest storyline resides in Laramie, Wyoming. Will the Cowboys continue to contend in the West now that they no longer have Josh Allen? We all know the Cowboys have a dominant defense. But their offense looked more than suspect at the end of the season. The Cowboys struggled to find a run game after Brian Hill left campus and the passing game was average at best. The Cowboys cannot rely on the massive turnover margin they had in 2017. The Cowboys will need a capable offense if they have any hope of contending this season.

Christian: This is going to be a year of huge disparity in the Mountain West. Boise, Fresno and San Diego State are all going to win games against against power 5 schools (Fresno state at UCLA is a stone cold lock). So the season long plot should be a constant sprint from the top teams to try and outrun the stigma of a weak bottom half of the conference. The SEC actually provides a decent roadmap to how this can happen but it will require flashy play and spotlight stealing highlights that can help direct a national narrative to the quality of play at the top of the conference. So I will label the biggest storyline this year as who will emerge as the cultural center of the conference and who can have the swagger to lead to Mountain West in to the conversation about a New Year’s Day bowl game?

Duane: Personally for me it is what kind of rebound season will Air Force have in 2018. The Falcons had some defensive issues in 2017 and now we still do not know who will be coordinating the defense after the departure of Steve Russ. Can the defense return to its strong defensive form of 2015 and 2016 or will their lack of size up front continue to plague Air Force in 2018. Knowing who will be the coordinator would go a long way in answering some of those questions.

For the conference, it is when will the conference decide that they are not getting the proper leadership from Craig Thompson and decide to move in a new direction. As we watch the American garner all the headlines and place their teams in a better situation than the Mountain West, the schools will surely start to grow frustrated and question what direction the conference is going in and what the future holds. Add to that the bowl tie-ins are subpar when compared to the AAC and BYU is always sitting around with a chance to steal one of the conference bids. Does the conference stay with the status quo or do they decide it is time to play with the big boys?

Matt: Mine will be the bounceback of the West Division in the conference. It’s no secret that the Mountain Division has been the stronger one over the last few seasons, which did coincide with historically bad years from Fresno State. We see the Bulldogs back to their expected spot at or very near the top of the division, SDSU should be solid again, and UNLV has been improving each year under Sanchez. Nevada really started to put their offense together down the line, Hawaii is trying to recapture their early 2000s magic with the run and gun, and SJSU would be hard pressed to be worse. So if Nevada can produce an even passable defense, Hawaii can find an offense, and SJSU can be competent, we could see a much more balanced conference by the end of the year. I don’t think we’ll see the West Division being the strong one for a couple of years with the number of coaching changes, but they can at least be equal to the Mountain Division starting in 2018.

Having balanced divisions is one of the best things the conference can do for itself. That means all of our teams are getting stronger, and our strongest teams won’t be brushed off by playing bad teams in their division (looks at Wisconsin). And there really won’t be a better year for the West Division than this one to match the Mountain Division. Wyoming is starting over after Josh Allen, Air Force needs to rebound, Colorado State can’t get past 7 wins, and New Mexico looks lifeless under Davie. Now may be the time to strike if you’re a West Division team, and want to claim some cross-divisional scalps.

FatDuckUW: Naturally, the Mountain West will be part of the greater focus on which team is the Group of 5 representative in the NY6 bowls. If a MWC team does make the NY6, that will be the obvious storyline. At this point, I’m not sure I see that happening.

As such, I have Bob Davie and New Mexico football as the storyline for the MWC. I don’t know how much the conduct investigations will pop back up as storylines throughout 2018, but I think the talk will somewhat follow Davie and the New Mexico football team into the fall. On the football field, I see another losing season for the Lobos. I see New Mexico parting ways with Davie by the end of 2018 and cleaning house with an entirely new coaching staff in 2019.