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Peak Perspective: Was the 2021 season a success for the MWC?

A look back at the standards we set before the season and how the MWC fared.

Welcome to another postseason review post. Way back in August, this post looked at some of the main factors that could qualify the 2021 football season as a success for the Mountain West Conference. Now that the season has concluded, it’s time to revisit those factors to see whether or not the MWC had a successful season. Let’s dive in.

Strong Showing Against Power 5 Teams

This year, the MWC has 16 games in their non-conference slate against teams from Power 5 conferences in the regular season, plus two more during bowl games. Back in August, it was decided winning one-third of the games against would be the standard for this category to be a success. With eighteen total games, that means winning at least six games.

Teams in the Mountain West ended up going 7-11 in the 2021 season, including four wins against the PAC-12 and two for two in their bowl games. San Diego State and Utah State led the way with two wins each, with Air Force, Fresno State, and Nevada rounding things out. It was an extremely impressive non-conference showing for the MWC.

A few games were highlighted as upsets as potential upsets. Here’s how those went:

Boise State vs. Oklahoma State A one-point loss. And for those of you who watched, you know Boise State would have won if not for an awful call by the refs (negating a touchdown) and a missed field goal.

Fresno State vs. UCLA Win (and they almost beat Oregon)

Nevada vs. Kansas State Loss (but they beat Cal)

SDSU vs. Arizona Win (and they beat Utah, which was the more difficult game out of the two)


Bowl Eligible Teams

Here’s what was written in August: “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.”

The Mountain West not only achieved the conference standard but also went above even the radical projection of seven bowl teams. An impressive three-fourths of the conference were selected to play in a bowl game, demonstrating how deep the MWC was this season. Eight conference teams being bowl-eligible and selected for games definitely raised the conference prestige this year. The only downside was that two of those eight teams were unable to play due to not having enough healthy players available.


Bowl Wins

Reaching three or four bowl wins was the goal for the 2021 season, and that goal was eclipsed. This year, the Mountain West continued their bowl season success in glorious fashion. The conference finished with five wins in six games, which is remarkable. In fact, they kicked things off by going four for four and ended up with two power 5 victories among the five wins. The only loss was from Nevada, and while it was an embarrassing game, a loss wasn’t a surprise. The Wolf Pack were a completely depleted team, missing almost all of their coaching staff and all of their key players.

Of the two canceled games, MWC teams were highly likely to win at least one of them, which would have given them a shot at six bowl wins. Still, going 5-1 is impressive.


National Storylines

This is important for the relevance of the conference. Topics and storylines that gain national attention. Basically, the MWC needs something to put them on the map and stand out in the college football world.

Here were the potential storylines that were identified as ideas back before the season started:

  • Caron Strong’s quest to become a first-round NFL draft pick. While this one remains to be seen, Strong had a very good season and has given himself a chance to be a day one draft pick. However, he is far from a sure thing.
  • 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. None of these teams had outstanding seasons. Nevada had the best out of the trio, but even they went 8-5. None of these teams or any MWC team were in the running for the NY6 spot.
  • A surprise team like Fresno State, Utah State, or Wyoming defying pre-season expectations and having a strong year. Mission accomplished Utah State.
  • 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? Perhaps not record chasing, but two players did have pretty historic seasons in 2021, as seen below.

The Mountain West had three major storylines during the 2021 season. Here they are:

  1. Blake Anderson and Utah State: A new coach coming in and taking a team from 1-5 to 11-3 while winning the conference and a bowl game is nothing short of remarkable. It gained some national attention, although likely not enough.
  2. Trey McBride winning the John Mackey Award: McBride was arguably the best tight end in the nation entering this season, and now everyone knows it. He had one of the greatest seasons ever by a tight end and got the recognition he deserved.
  3. Matt Arazia winning the Ray Guy Award: Arazia was an unknown player to the college football world and most of the conference before the 2021 season. He had never been the primary punter before. Then, he went ahead and had the best senior by a college punter ever! He became a national sensation, complete with a renowned nickname, and now the nation’s top punter award.


Top Teams Playing Like Top Teams

Conferences are often judged based on the top teams. The SEC hasn’t been all that great some years, 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.

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

This year, this category was a bit of a mixed bag. No one was in the running for a NY6 bowl. The conference was extremely deep but struggled to have a truly dominant team. San Diego State was ranked for much of the year but wasn’t going into bowl season. Fresno State was ranked in the initial CFP rankings, which was a nice boost for the MWC. While only one team was ranked in the conference championship (SDSU), the other (Utah State) was close and is a good bet to be ranked in the final rankings at the end of the year. In fact, it would not be a surprise to see as many as three Mountain West teams receive votes in the final CFP rankings (Air Force, San Diego State, and Utah State).


Personal Predictions:

It is January, and it’s time to own up for everything I got right or wrong. Spoiler: things didn’t go so well for me this year.

  • 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. WRONG. There were three. One was fired, and two left for other jobs (including one leaving for a job in the MWC).
  • Contrary to what I am hearing from some people on Twitter, Utah State will not make a bowl game this season. WRONG. I could not have been more WRONG. Congrats to the Aggies for proving me WRONG.
  • Seven teams will make a bowl game this year. (Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, SDSU, SJSU, Wyoming). WRONG, but I’m taking half credit. Eight teams made bowl, and I got six of them correct. I was wrong about Hawaii, Utah State, and SJSU. Still pretty good, though.
  • There will be only one MWC team with 10+ wins this year. Not sure who it will be, though. WRONG. And a good one to be wrong about, The Mountain West had four teams with ten wins or more.
  • There will be no undefeated teams in conference play this season, but one one-loss team and two two-loss teams. CORRECT (mostly). SDSU had one loss, and three teams had two losses.
  • Boise State and Fresno State will meet in the MWC Championship game. Again. O for 2 on picking teams this year. Although BSU beating SDSU would have made it happen for both teams, so they were close. WRONG
  • Air Force will win the Commander in Chief Trophy this season. Technically this one was true, even if it was a three-way tie. CORRECT

Rough go of things for me this year in the predictions department. 2.5 predictions correct and 4.5 predictions wrong. I split the decision with the bowl teams since that had a lot of different things going on.

Final thoughts:

Looking at the facts, it is safe to say the Mountain West Conference has a successful 2021 campaign. While they did not achieve a perfect season or NY6 berth, almost everything else was accomplished. Beating teams from Power 5 conferences, having eight teams in bowl games, and winning 83% of their goal games are massive accomplishments for the conference. Having two players win major awards and become national storylines is monumental. Not only was the season a success, but it was the most successful season the MWC has had in quite a few years.

Your turn: What other factors or areas should have been considered? What parts do you agree or disagree with? Leave a comment below.