Since its inception in the 2014 football season, the guaranteed NY6 spot has been the desired destination for all Group of 5 teams. The Mountain West has had some good teams over the years but has only made one NY6 appearance, Boise State, in the first year. An argument could be made that the Mountain West has actually moved further away from a NY6 bowl each season. That is the argument that will be discussed in today’s article.
In the inaugural College Football Playoff season, Boise State got off to a rough start. But then, they caught fire after beginning the year 2-2. While the Broncos were hitting their stride, the teams in the American Athletic Conference continued to beat each other up, with no team finishing with less than three wins. With Boise State running the table and winning a MWC championship after their two losses, they ended the regular season ranked as the highest Group of 5 team. This landed them in the Fiesta Bowl against Arizona, which they won after jumping out to a big first-half lead. Boise State, and the Mountain West, seem poised to make a few more runs in the coming years but weren’t able to replicate this success.
Houston basically led the race from start to finish, going 12-1, with their only loss being a 20-17 content to UConn. They capped off the season by beating Florida State 38-24. On the Mountain West side of things, Boise State started the year ranked in the low 20s, but early season losses to BYU and Utah State, then late season losses to Air Force and New Mexico, sealed their fate. Three other MWC teams received votes at one time or another, but none were ever ranked. However, the Broncos were a contender for a few weeks.
Western Michigan went undefeated during the regular season by “rowing the boat” and made it three different teams in three different conferences to secure the spot. The MAC Broncos went undefeated in the regular season, beating Northwestern and Illinois in addition to their conference slate. Unfortunately, they couldn’t ride the magic all the way through, as they lost 24-16 to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State led the way in the rankings, reaching as high as 13 and 19 in some polls. BSU was rolling before losing to Wyoming (cue the safety dance GIF) and was still ranked 19th in the CFP poll before another big loss to Air Force. Both the WMU and BSU Broncos were neck and neck in the CFP rankings, and Boise State jumped them before their loss.
Who could forget Central Florida’s national championship season? Granted, they were the only undefeated team that year, but they did not play in the playoff, instead beating a ranked Memphis team in the conference title game before dismantling #7 Auburn 34-27. It was a great year for them. The Mountain West had a pretty good year, with Boise State and San Diego State again both being ranked over the course of the season. The Aztecs beat a ranked Stanford team and were as high as 19th in the country before losing to Boise State in Week 7 and dropping two more games. The Broncos suffered two losses in their first four games before winning seven in a row and rising to #23 in the country. However, neither team was ever considered a serious challenger to UCF.
UCF collected another undefeated season and another NY6 Bowl berth, but this time they lost to LSU by a score of 40-32. They were in the driver’s seat from start to finish, and because they didn’t lose, no other team was ever in the running. However, the MWC had a good year overall. Boise State, Fresno State, and Utah State were all ranked in the CFP rankings at one time or another, with the Broncos notching four weeks and the Bulldogs and Aggies splitting the other two, all in the low 20s. All three teams were strong, but they also beat each other up during the season.
This was the last year a team from the Moutain West was a serious threat to claim the G5 spot in the NY6. But in the end, it was Memphis who got in, knocking off #15 SMU and then Cincinnati two weeks in a row to earn the right to face Penn State, a game that they lost 53-39. Air Force, Boise State, and San Diego State were the three Mountain West teams who were ranked that season, with the Broncos appearing in the CFP rankings as well, going as high as 19th. Boise State was actually in the driver’s seat after SMU lost, but it was short-lived, as they lost to BYU. They rebounded, but the committee set up the AAC by putting both Memphis and Cincy ahead of them prior to their matchup. And it was leaked that had Cincy won the rematch in their conference championship, they would have jumped both Memphis and Boise State. October 19th, 2019, was the last time a MWC school was considered the front-runner as the top G5 team.
The Covid season was an interesting one from the start, and the Mountain West was more or less dead on arrival since they began playing so late in the season. Even if it was a normal season, Cincinnati was seen as the best team entering the year and justified that by jumping to #13 by Week 2. They beat three ranked teams before dropping a 24-21 loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Boise State was a trendy pick entering the year, and their stock was hurt by not playing games until October 24th. They got as high as #21 before getting destroyed by BYU and then had two games canceled due to Covid. Then they lost to San Jose State, who had a fun season and ended up being ranked 22nd in the CFP by the end of the season, but they were never seen as serious threats to Cincy.
The Group of 5 started and ended with Cincinnati this year, as they broke the glass ceiling and made the College Football Playoff. Even though they got beat by Alabama 27-6, they had a remarkable season. No Mountain West team came close to matching Cincy, although three different teams found the rankings (Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State). The Bulldogs and Aztecs debuted at 23 and 24 in the CFP rankings, although FSU’s only lasted a week. SDSU made it as high as 19 but fell to USU in the MWC title game. The Aggies ended the year ranked 24th following their bowl win. It was perhaps the deepest year for the conference, but once again, no one team was able to run the table.
Currently, Tulane is in the driver’s seat for the NY6 spot. UCF and Cincinnati also appear in the CFP rankings as the American has once again dominated the discussion. According to the rankings, it has also been the Mountain West’s worst season. None of the twelve teams have been ranked at any point during the season. Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, SDSU, SJSU, and Utah State have all received votes at one time or another, but none have been close to being ranked. That could change by the end of bowl season, but needless to say, no school even being in the conversation is concerning and a sign of how far the prestige of the Mountain West has fallen in recent years.
As seen by the summaries above, since 2014, the only other year a team from the Moutain West conference was truly in the New Year’s Six race was 2019. And even then, they were only the front-runner for a few weeks. Hopefully, the road gets easier going forward when Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF will join the Big 12, giving MWC teams less competition for the spot. If teams like Boise State, Fresno State, or San Diego State can’t top Memphis or SMU over the next few years, things will continue to look bleak for the Mountain West.