Today we take a look ahead. All off-season, we’ve talked about the MWC needing to be more successful. What exactly will that look like in 2020? Some might be funny. Some might be very important. Some we might forget to write on here. Last year was a definite success for the conference, as outlined in our review article from January. Anyway, here is what we think will make for a successful MWC season. We used pretty much the same categories as last year but switched up the standards in each:
This year, the post had to be changed to reflect this strange season.
Playing any games in any form at all.
Let’s be honest. Even if every team got to play one game against another team this year, it would be a monumental success. After having the season postponed for so long, anything is a positive. Getting through a week of the season would be a success. Playing the entire conference schedule would be a success. Getting a conference champion or bowl game season would be a huge success. The bar is set low here, so hopefully, it clears.
Strong Showing Against Power 5 Teams This year, the MWC has 21 games in their non-conference slate against teams from Power 5 conferences, which is one more than last year. Some of these games are just a bit one-sided on paper, but last year demonstrated teams from the MWC are still capable of pulling off an upset. Other games look winnable or competitive. After last season, predicting how things go can be anything but easy. It would be unreasonable to expect the conference to match last year’s feat of 9 victories. However, if they can manage six or seven wins (basically one-third of their P5 games), it will allow them to build off of last year’s momentum and get some national attention for their success.
Never mind this category this year.
Bowl Eligible Teams
Last season, the Mountain West produced seven bowl teams. In this day and age, making a bowl basically means you were an above-average team over the course of the year. The number of bowls or bowl teams isn’t the point here, but the MWC should strive to have above-average or better teams at the end of the year.
It’s pretty automatic the conference will end up with at least four teams in bowls this season (Boise State, Air Force, SDSU, and most likely Wyoming). But to be considered successful, they need to get to 6 bowl-eligible teams at the close of the regular season. That would mean the usual suspects took care of business and 1-2 teams surprised or over-achieved or won some close games.
By bowl eligible teams, we mean traditional 6+ win teams. Not the everyone is bowl eligible bowl teams.
Of course, getting to a bowl game isn’t enough on its own. It’s nice, but most people remember who won and who lost. Boise State went 12-2 last year, but their embarrassing loss to Washington in the Vegas Bowl is what most people remember. The conference going 4-3 was pretty respectable last season, despite losing two very winnable games. For the MWC to be considered a success in bowl season, they need to be above .500 once again. That means reaching the four-win mark during bowl season (going 3-3 would be fine), with preferably one or two of those wins coming against power-five teams.
Feel Good Storylines
By this, I mean the kind of stuff that might gain national attention or at least make the conference relevant outside of itself. For example, last year, it was Hawaii running through PAC12 opponents and reaching the MWC championship game. It was Brandon Talton’s game-winning FG to upset Purdue. It was SJSU beating Arkansas and all the other wins over P5 teams. Whether you love or hate those teams, positive attention for any is good for the conference.
Here are some positive storylines that could (not saying will, but could) be played up this season. With so much of last year’s star power gone, record-setting seasons may harder to come by in 2020:
- Boise State extending their streak of having a running back rush for over 1,000 yards for a 12th straight season.
- The MWC is better when Hawaii is relevant. Can they repeat their play from last year?
- Boise State, Air Force, or SDSU make a strong run to be the representative in the NY6 bowl. An undefeated season would be even better.
- A player is chasing a single season or career conference record. Last year Curtis Weaver became the all-time MWC sack leader. Will any records be broken this year?
- A surprise team, like Colorado State, UNLV, or even Utah State, defying pre-season expectations and having a strong year.
- A game for the ages. Like a triple-overtime shootout, a stunning upset capped off by a game-winning FG as time expires or nail-bitter to go to the championship game.
Top Teams Playing Like Top Teams
Conferences are often judged based on the top teams. Some years the SEC hasn’t been all that great, but they have Alabama to carry them year in and year out, so people don’t always notice or remember. For years the Big12 was perceived as strong or weak depending on how good Texas and Oklahoma are. Fair or not, that’s usually how it goes.
Last year the Mountain West did well in this area. Air Force, Boise State, Hawaii, and SDSU all had over ten wins, forming an excellent top tier group. That, plus strong seasons from Nevada and Wyoming, balanced out the disappointing ones from Fresno State and Utah State. All in all, the conference was strong at the top and middle, and the bottom pulled off some upset wins as well.
This year, it is likely three teams will get to 10 wins again, but the Mountain West may need to do more to make it a strong season. It’s safe to say Boise State, Air Force, and San Diego State have strong years. Wyoming and Nevada are good bowl bets. However, to excel in this category, the MWC may need to have more than “just” three to four teams finishing with ten or more wins. It may require one or two of those teams to rise above the rest and be in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl would help the conference. Two ranked teams meeting in the conference championship would be the best-case scenario to give the Mountain West some national attention (see Memphis/Cincinnati in the AAC last year for reference).
I figured this would be as good of a spot as any to go on record with some predictions. Note that all of these are just personal opinions and not hating or favoring any one team. I’d be happy to be wrong about some of these. Just what I think will happen. In January, when we revisit this entire post, I’ll own up to everything I got right or wrong.
- There will be no coaches fired/asked to resign by the end of the year. With six new coaches and no obvious candidates in the other 6, any firing would be a surprise.
- UNLV will not make a bowl game (or in 2020 language, they won’t get to six wins). (2021 may be a different story though)
- There will be more teams in the middle of the conference record-wise this year. Meaning, I don’t see much separation between teams like Fresno State, Hawaii, Utah State, Colorado State, and Nevada.
- Colorado State will make a bowl game this season. They’ll be one of seven teams.
There will be three MWC teams with 10+ wins this year (Boise State, Air Force, and SDSU)
- There will be no undefeated teams in conference play this season, but one one-loss team and two two-loss teams.
- Boise State and San Diego State will meet in the MWC Championship game.
- Air Force will win the Commander in Chief Trophy this season.
Here are some of the factors that could make or break the 2020 Mountain West football season in terms of success. What are some other factors that weren’t listed here? What needs to happen for you to consider the season a successful one for the MWC?