I watched a ton of college basketball this year (specifically the Mountain West) and over the course of the season I had a sneaky suspicion that the Mountain West was not as good as the attention they were receiving. Unfortunately, March Madness proved that the Mountain West was not ready for the big stage. As the basketball season came to an end, I wondered to myself, “Is the Mountain West overrated in football as well?” Let’s take a deeper look at this question.
Is the Mountain West Overrated?
Here are some arguments for why Mountain West football is overrated:
1- The league has struggled to field teams that remain in the rankings for a significant amount of time.
The league has had some really good teams since 2015, but there hasn’t been a program that has stepped it up to the point of becoming an annual contender outside of Boise State. San Diego State was close for a while, but they went through quite a dry spell until this most recent season.
This season will provide the Mountain West with a massive opportunity to get back on the national scene. Fresno State, Air Force, Utah State, San Diego State, and Boise State all have the returning production and potential to have a big season. It all starts with the out-of-conference schedule. Boise State has the opportunity to make an instant impact against Oregon State and have an important game against BYU later in the season. Fresno State has games against USC and Oregon State; the Bulldogs need to get at least one of those games. Utah State has Alabama and BYU. If they can hang with the Crimson Tide and pull off the upset against BYU, that would be massive for the Aggies. San Diego State should be able to take care of business against Arizona and have a huge game against Utah. Air Force will have a chance to make a statement against Colorado. I don’t expect these teams to win all of these games, but they need to finish above .500 if they are going to get any respect. These schools have the ability to win the majority of these games. They need to get it done.
This may sound crazy, but the league needs one team to dominate. Parity has killed this conference. They have had a lot of good football teams, but no great football teams. They have beat each other up in conference play and that needs to stop this year. One of the teams listed above needs to dominate conference play. This may not result in a New Years Six appearance, but it will at least keep it interesting.
2- Outside of Boise State, there aren’t any programs that are nationally recognized.
The only team that may have an argument here is Air Force. The Falcons are well known thanks to being a military academy. But the fact of the matter is that no team has built up a track record for being a consistent contender. Outside of Boise State, San Diego State has been the most consistent program, but they have failed to have that special season that sets them apart.
What does it take to become a nationally recognized program? I think there are two ways you can get there. First, you make a big bowl game and you win it. It is icing on the cake when it is against a traditional powerhouse (like Oklahoma). Secondly, everyone loves a good rags to riches story. San Jose State’s 2020 season was a perfect example. The Spartans have traditionally been one of the worst FBS football seasons and provided college football with one of its most compelling stories during the COVID shortened season. However, it is important that these programs follow their Cinderella seasons with sustained success. That was not the case for San Jose State in 2021, as they failed to become bowl eligible.
3- The league has not had a team participate in the New Years' Six since 2014.
We touched on this earlier, but this is ultimately what it all comes down to. If you want respect you have to earn it. Has the Mountain West done anything to earn respect since 2014? Should we determine the success of the conference on its number of New Years Six appearances. NY6 appearances may not be the only criteria we should judge, but it should be the biggest. With Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF headed to the Big 12, the Mountain West has a major opportunity in front of them. It is time to seize the day and become the best Group of Five conference in the country.
These are all problems that the Mountain West can and should be able to fix in the coming years, but I am concerned about the rise of the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt has passed the MAC and Conference USA in the quality of football being played, and they have teams like Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State that are fairly well known throughout the country. The Mountain West also has a television problem. Since leaving ESPN, they have not received as much national attention and are largely ignored on College Gameday. But the new television deal has not been all doom and gloom. CBS and Fox have televised some Mountain West games. If the conference can get more games on the big network and produce quality football in the process, it will only help its case.
So, let’s come back to the question at hand. Is the Mountain West overrated? No. This isn’t basketball where the Mountain West received four bids to the most prestigious tournament of the year and all four teams failed to win a game. The Mountain West is still firmly entrenched as the second best Group of Five conference. But the Mountain West is not gaining ground on the American, and it can be argued that the Sun Belt is gaining ground on the Mountain West. The Mountain West is getting the proper level of respect. Most experts know that there are quality football teams in the Mountain West, but things needs to improve. If this doesn’t happen, the argument will shift from “Is the Mountain West overrated?” to “Is the Mountain West still relevant?” That is a road the conference cannot afford to go down.
What are your thoughts on the current state of football in the Mountain West? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.