Like every other Group of Five conference, the Mountain West strives every year to be relevant and gain national attention for strong play from their teams. During the 2021-2022 football and men’s basketball seasons, one could argue that the league accomplished its goal in some facet. It was by no means the best year the conference ever had, neither in an individual sport or looking at both combined. Mainly due to the fact that no one team truly dominated in either sport. However, this past season did show the depth the conference had in both sports, which will be examined further below.
No truly dominant team.
Football conferences often gain more recognition and prestige by having one dominant team with some other good teams behind them (see Alabama and the SEC). However, that was not the case for the Mountain West during the 2021 season. There was no undefeated team or team that made it through the conference slate unscathed, although they were close. Overall it kept the conference from appearing strong, but as other categories demonstrate below, it doesn’t tell the full story.
Different teams ranked throughout the year.
While there wasn’t a team leading the charge for the conference, it doesn’t mean the Mountain West was short on talented teams. Quite the contrary, as three different teams ended up being ranked at various points throughout the year. Fresno State, San Diego State, and Utah State all had their time in the spotlight over the course of the season. Even more impressive was that those three teams plus Air Force all eclipsed the ten-win mark, which shows the conference had top-level talent even without a top team.
8 bowl teams.
Yes, eight teams, as in 75% of the conference, were named to a bowl game during the 2021 season. That is nothing short of remarkable. The number of teams was higher than the AAC, ACC, Big 12, and PAC-12. Even more impressively, the Mountain West went 5-1 in those games (two games were not played due to covid cases). Again, the Mountain West may not have had a true premiere team, but eight teams making a bowl game demonstrates that the bulk of the conference was average to above average last season. This feat shows the impressive depth of the conference.
The Mountain West was a great basketball league this year. On any given night, at least seven or eight of the teams were capable of beating anyone else. Conference play was a blood-bath in many ways because there were so many talented teams. This likely prevented a team from having a truly historic season, as it was nearly impossible for any team to get through the MWC gauntlet unscathed. The competitiveness of the league contributed more to creating a deeper league as opposed to producing one exceptional team.
3 teams ranked during the season
The strength of a conference is how many wins their teams have, and teams that win enough get ranked. The Mountain West had three of its teams ranked at different points in the season, which is a remarkable feat for a conference that has been a one-big league in recent years. However, this was a step toward a return to being a top-six men’s basketball conference, like it was around a decade ago. Colorado State was ranked early in the year and was the hottest team in the conference heading into conference play, although a few canceled games may have knocked them off of their routine a bit. Wyoming began the year strong and came back to earth a bit before finding their stride and entering the rankings in the back half of the season. Also, Boise State rebounded from a slow start, and after winning a few conference games against some of the other top MWC teams, they achieved the highest ranking in school history right at the end of the season. Having three teams ranked at different points of the year proves the conference was deep this year.
4 NCAA tourney teams
After being a one or two-bid league for many years, the Mountain West was rewarded for its efforts and success during the season by having four teams selected to play in the NCAA Tournament. It was even a bigger deal that Wyoming was selected after many projections had them being among the first four teams left out. Although they had a disappointing showing when tournament games were played (all four teams lost), it said a lot about how much respect the conference had earned. Having four teams selected should still be seen as successful and certainly showcases the depth of top-end talent the MWC had.
All of this points to the Mountain West Conference being deep in both football and men’s basketball this past season. While it may not have been the best season the conference has ever seen, there is certainly an argument that from top to bottom, teams were as solid as they’ve ever been.