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Peak Perspective: An expected four-year cycle of an MWC program

How many wins, titles and bowl appearances should be tallied by then?

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

Every team has its day in the sun sooner or later. In real life, winning and losing cycles vary from weeks to years and to decades.

But let’s assume we’re in a vacuum and call a four-year cycle a practical median for those vested who need to see a reasonable return; for those who need a basis to measure and evaluate; and for those watching who need something to buy into.

“Give it that old college try,” before another change needs to happen. There’s enough MWC benchmarks to make a case all around.

For further relativity, let’s say there are three cultures: a winning and a losing culture, which is pretty clear, and limbo which is neither an overwhelming winning or losing pattern.

Levels of examples

Boise State and San Diego State are cases where they’ve won long-term for all the right reasons based on institutional buy-in, culture and talent - about in the order, respectively. They break the four-year cycle argument and are the models to strive for.

The Air Force Falcons and head coach Troy Calhoun’s 13-year tenure and 99-69 record with 10 bowl appearances gets the durability nod too.

Include former Utah State head coach Matt Wells in the upper level. His six seasons (2013-2018) saw a 44-34 record, five bowl games and two MWC coach of the year honors, which helped catapult him to Texas Tech.

The examples of limbo are Wyoming and Colorado State. This middle-ground is an acceptable area…for a while, but this midway state could get you cast aside just as well.

University of New Mexico, San Jose State and UNLV round out the bronze tier examples with the Spartans a current four-year cycle example.

What kind of numbers constitute a successful cycle?

1. Fresno State and former head coach Jeff Tedford would be the ideal. In Tedford’s short, but extraordinary three seasons from 2017-2019, the Bulldogs were 26-14 with two conference titles. To top it off, they won two bowl games and made the top 25 AP rankings twice, before Tedford faced a major health challenge that hastened his Fresno stint.

2. Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich era from 2016-2019 is the next best ideal. Though Rolovich’s record was only 28-27, his four years with the Rainbow Warriors saw two bowl wins on three trips and a conference title.

3. Nevada head coach Jay Norvell (2017-present) is a tough one to place, but the Wolf Pack are trending up. Though only a 18-20 record overall, Norvell’s 8-5 record in 2018 earned second in their conference and 2019’s 7-6 record was good enough for third. Two bowl games (1-1) and being favored to be among the top in the West in 2020 rounds up a potential successful cycle.

These are the benchmarks and possible benchmarks if we want to stop right here.

Teams that hover in that transitional state for years

Colorado State is the epitome of being stuck in middle earth. Now departed head coach Mike Bobo (2014-2019; 28-35 record) started and stagnated with a 7-6 record in each of his first three years ending with two losing years.

Bobo was generally well-liked and admired. Having surprisingly turned down a salary raise in 2019 in what would be his last year, a health condition also caught up to Bobo. He made it to three bowl games his first three years, though the Rams lost each time. A key takeaway shows character by itself can literally mean nothing in a results-oriented, financial-driven FBS world.

Wyoming’s Craig Bohl era (2014 to present) is also one of possible indifference that’s finding him closer to the hot seat. Even with two good winning seasons, a conference title and two bowl wins, Bohl’s 36-40 record puts his program in the purgatory area going into his seventh year.

Even with the extraordinary challenges of 2020, Bohl and his Cowboys have a promising 2020 outlook. With a host of returning starters, two highly viable QBs, a great running game, and a potent defense, Bohl’s still hoping to recreate a legacy similar to what he left at North Dakota State.

The others

San Jose State is in the limbo of the limbo with year four for Brent Brennan upon us. 2019’s promising 5-7 season has legs for 2020 with a more than formidable quarterback to succeed Josh Love.

Though it’ll be an asterisk year for an entire world in slow motion, Brennan and the university leaders are dead serious to progress the program, as shown by very quick and decisive moves to practice 300 miles away at Humboldt State. A very good 2020 for the Spartans could hypothetically be a gray area #4 in “what constitutes a successful cycle,” though the current 8-29 record still weighs in.

The near-decade of Bob Davie with the New Mexico Lobos was an admirable try, but the 35-64 record speaks for itself. Davie’s 7-6 and 9-4 record in 2015 and 2016, respectively, were his only two winning seasons.

Davie’s final year record of 2-10 was worsened by his own health scare in 2019. It’s something on the back on many people’s minds when these coaches can burn the candle at both ends.

To round out what a four-year cycle should not be: former UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez’s 5-year record (2015-2019) of 20-40 rounds it out. The Rebels new rookie head coach Marcus Arroyo starts a new cycle.

It’s always about the head coach

Whether coaches are looking long term or for a stepping stone, the culture is always spearheaded by the head coach.

Their programs have to always be progressing – meaning these guys also have to function at a high capacity - preferably naturally, so they don’t burn out and/or sacrifice their health.

No doubt they must lead and maintain recruiting, connect and understand players, find and lead a good staff, but they have to evolve and self-evaluate themselves too.

These coaches have to keep creating competition and stay modern to keep up and stay ahead.

From balancing scholarships, charting out current and future rosters, having a good support system, and leveraging technology, these head coaches have a very tough job that’s easy to criticize and most difficult to do.