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Peak Perspective: What will make the 2021 season a success for the Mountain West?

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Let’s look at what the conference as a whole needs to do.

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.

Strong Showing Against Power 5 Teams

This year, the MWC has 16 games in their non-conference slate against teams from Power 5 conferences, which quite a few less than 2019. Some of these games are just a bit one-sided on paper, but the 2019 season 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 the out-of-conference magic of 2019 every year. However, if they can manage five or six wins (basically one-third of their P5 games), it will allow them to build off of that year’s momentum and once again get some national attention for their success.

Some games that could result in wins against P5 teams:

Boise State vs. Oklahoma State

Fresno State vs. UCLA

Nevada vs. Kansas State

SDSU vs. Arizona

Bowl Eligible Teams

Last season, the Mountain West produced only bowl teams, but this was related to the pandemic as much as anything, as two Mountain West bowls were canceled, and at least one team declined to be in a bowl.

In this day and age, making a bowl basically means you were an above-average team over the course of the year, and the MWC should strive to have as many above-average or better teams at the end of the year as possible. In order to be successful, the conference will need to get to 6 bowl-eligible teams at the end of the regular season. Five teams seem almost certain, six would be great, and even seven may be possible depending on how teams do with their out-of-conference slate. Having six teams go to bowls would mean the usual suspects took care of business, and 1-2 teams surprised or over-achieved to raise the conference clout.

Bowl Wins

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. San Jose State had an undefeated magical season that ended on a sour note with a loss to Ball State. On the flip side, Hawaii had an up and down season but caught lightning in a bottle and pulled off a surprise victory over Houston. The conference going 2-1 last bowl season, which was pretty respectable, despite losing what was seemingly a winnable game. 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.

National Storylines

This is important for the relevance of the conference. Topics and storylines that gain national attention. Last year it was the feel-good stories of San Jose State and Nevada. The year before, it was the upsets against Power 5 teams. Basically, the MWC needs something to put them on the map and stand out in the college football world.

Here are some potential storylines that could (not saying will, but could) be played up this season:

  • Caron Strong’s quest to become a first-round NFL draft pick
  • SJSU and Nevada’s quest to repeat or build on their strong 2020 seasons. One of them, or maybe Boise State, making a strong run to be the representative in the NY6 bowl. An undefeated season would be even better.
  • A surprise team like Fresno State, Utah State, or Wyoming defying pre-season expectations and having a strong year.
  • A player is chasing a single season or career conference record. Can Strong put up big numbers? Can his receivers set any records? Will any records be broken this year?

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 has been perceived as strong or weak depending on how good Texas and Oklahoma are. Fair or not, that’s usually how it goes.

Last year San Jose State and Nevada seemed to lead the way for the Mountain West. The top tier was pretty strong, all things considered. However, the public perception was the traditional powers, Boise State and San Diego State, had down years (at least for their standards).

This year, it is difficult to know which teams will lead the way. As many as five different teams could find themselves at or near the top of the conference at the end of the year (SJSU, Nevada, Boise State, Air Force, Wyoming). All seem likely to get to bowl games, and others like Fresno State or Hawaii have a shot at bowls as well.

However, to excel in this category, the MWC may need to have more than “just” three to four teams finishing with seasons ending in bowl games. 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. Two ranked teams meeting in the conference championship would be the best-case scenario to give the Mountain West some national attention to compete with the American.

Personal Predictions:

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 two coaching changes by the end of the year. This will be some combination of firing (or “mutually agreeing to part ways”) and leaving for another job.
  • Contrary to what I am hearing from some people on Twitter, Utah State will not make a bowl game this season.
  • Seven teams will make a bowl game this year. (Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, SDSU, SJSU, Wyoming)
  • There will be only one MWC team with 10+ wins this year. Not sure who it will be, though.
  • There will be no undefeated teams in conference play this season, but one one-loss team and two two-loss teams.
  • Boise State and Fresno State will meet in the MWC Championship game. Again.
  • Air Force will win the Commander in Chief Trophy this season.

Here are some of the factors that could make or break the 2021 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?