Welcome to another postseason review post. Way back in August, this post looked at some of the main factors that could qualify the 2022 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
Back in August, the standard was set at winning five out of seventeen games, or roughly 30% of the matchups against Power 5 teams. It seemed doable on paper, but it did not go according to plan.
Instead, the Mountain West only won a single P5 game, with Air Force emerging victorious over Colorado.
Specifically, a few games were identified as highly winnable. Here’s how they went:
Air Force vs. Colorado A big win
Boise State vs. Oregon State A loss
Fresno State vs. Oregon State A close loss
San Diego State vs. Arizona A loss
Wyoming vs. Illinois A big loss
Making a Statement in OOC Games
Overall, it is important that the Mountain West showcase its talent against other teams in non-conference play. Obviously, the P5 games are a significant part of this, but really every game is taken into account. A conference having a strong first month playing other conferences (or independents) shapes people’s perception about a conference, good or bad, accurate or not.
The goal was set at winning 60% of their non-conference games for the 2022 season. Given the schedule, it appeared to be a realistic benchmark. However, the results were lacking this season. The Mountain West ended up winning 41.67% of those games, falling well short of being considered successful.
During the preseason, a breakdown was provided on how the 49 OCC games should go. See below, with the side-by-side results included (one game was not played, so only 48 games are listed):
- Against P5 teams: 5-12 1-16
- Against BYU: 1-2 0-3
- Against New Mexico State: 3-1 1-2
- Against other G5 teams: 11-2 9-4
- Against FCS teams: 11-1 9-3
- Total: 31-18 (63.27%) 20-28 (41.67%)
FAIL (both overall and in the sub-categories)
Bowl Eligible Teams
Last season, the Mountain West exceeded expectations by producing an unprecedented eight bowl teams, or three-fourths of the conference. This is what was targetted for them in August: “Five teams seem almost certain, six would be good, but after having eight last year, reaching seven this year would continue the high standard for the conference. Having seven bowl teams would mean the usual suspects took care of business, and 1-2 teams surprised or over-achieved to raise the conference clout.”
At one point in the season, the MWC having only five bowl-eligible teams seemed like a real possibility. Then it seemed like six was most likely. But credit to the conference, specifically Utah State, who became bowl-eligible in the second to last game of the season. Even though this was a rough season for the conference, they still managed to get seven bowl teams, which qualifies as a success.
Reaching four bowl wins was the goal for the 2022 season. The conference went 3-3 in their first six games, meaning their fate came down to Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl. Alas, the Cowboys fell in double overtime, bringing their bowl record to 3-4. On the bright side, two of their wins were against a Power 5 school, with Air Force (once again) and Fresno State carrying the MWC in this category following their wins over Baylor in the Armed Forces Bowl and Washington State in the LA Bowl. Beating P5 teams is great, but on the other hand, losing that many games to G5 teams is not.
This is important for the relevance of the conference. Topics and storylines that gain national attention. Last year, it was Trey McBride and Matt Araiza taking home national awards for being the best at their respective positions. In 2019, 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 were the potential storylines that were identified as ideas back before the season started:
- Jake Haener and Fresno State’s quest to be a ranked team while Haener becomes one of the best QBs entering the NFL draft. Unfortunately, Haener got hurt and did not play enough games to put up huge numbers. Neither the Bulldogs nor any other Mountain West team were ranked this season.
- Air Force being one of the best teams in the country while running the old-school triple-option offense. The Falcons had a good start to the year but faltered in October. They ended up with ten wins and had a very good season, but they were not among the best teams in the country.
- Someone, anyone being ranked and making a run at a NY6 bowl. An undefeated season would be even better. Nope. Not even close.
- A surprise team defying preseason expectations and having a strong year. See Utah State or San Jose State for past examples. Wyoming probably comes the closest to qualifying as a “surprise” team, but going 7-5 in the regular season and not winning their division doesn’t put them in the same conversation as the teams mentioned as examples.
- A player is chasing a single season or career conference record. Will any records be broken this year? Brad Roberts’ season is the only thing that comes to mind. In his MWC Offensive Player of the Year season, he broke the Air Force single-season rushing record that was set in 1996. Roberts finished the year with 1728 rushing yards. Unfortunately, that did not gain much national attention.
Top Teams Playing Like Top Teams
Conferences are often judged based on the top teams. Some years conferences like the SEC or Big 12 actually aren’t that great, but if they have one great team like Georgia, people don’t always remember or notice.
Last year Utah State seemed to lead the way for the Mountain West. The top tier was pretty strong, all things considered. However, the public perception was one of the traditional powers, Boise State, had a down year, while the other, San Diego State, had a very solid year.
It was said in August that “to excel in this category, the MWC may need to have more than “just” three or four teams having good seasons. 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.”
In actuality, a few teams have good, but not great seasons, which continues the trend for the Mountain West. Air Force, Boise State, and conference champion Fresno State all finished with ten wins, meaning they all had very good seasons. However, none of them came close to being ranked this year, and none were ever in the conversation to be the Group of 5’s NY6 representative.
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, but they are what I think will happen. In January, when we revisit this entire post, I’ll own up to everything I got right or wrong.
- After so much turnover in the past few years in the coaching ranks, there will only be one change at the end of the year. I don’t think anyone will be straight-up fired. However, there will be one coaching change, some kind of resignation, or “mutually agreeing to part ways.” At the time of this writing, UNLV made a coaching change. Although Marcus Arroyo was fired, there was no sugarcoating the decision. I’ll say CORRECT, but give myself half-credit.
- I’m truly on the fence about UNLV and their bowl berth this year. Year 3 is the year improvement should be seen, and I think the Rebels will improve. In a roundtable earlier this summer, I said I think they make a bowl. I hope they do, but I think they fall just short (think SJSU in 2019). I pretty much described their 2022 season back in August. There was improvement, but the Rebels went 5-7 and just missed a bowl game. CORRECT
- Hawaii will finish with the worst record in the conference. New Mexico will have the worst record in the Mountain Division. Nevada barely edged out Hawaii for the worst team in the West, while New Mexico was at the bottom of the Mountain. Both finished with zero conference wins. HALF-CORRECT.
- Seven teams will make a bowl game this year. (Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, SDSU, SJSU, Utah State, Wyoming). August Mike was smart. Not only did I correctly predict the number of bowl teams, but I predicted the actual seven teams. CORRECT and I’m taking double points here.
- There will be at least two MWC teams with 10+ wins this year. With at least one in each division. Air Force, Boise State, and Fresno State all finished with 10 wins. CORRECT
- There will be no undefeated teams in conference play this season, but there will be two one-loss teams. Boise State finished undefeated in conference play, and Fresno State finished with one conference loss (to Boise State). WRONG on this one.
- Air Force and Fresno State will meet in the MWC Championship game. Fresno State played and won the game, but it was Boise State and not Air Force who they defeated. HALF-CORRECT.
- Air Force will win the Commander in Chief Trophy this season. They beat both Navy and Army. CORRECT
This was probably my best year in the predictions department since I started doing them. 7.5 answers correct, and only one completely wrong is very good. I probably can’t ever top this, but that’s okay. For anyone who ridiculed my thoughts or predictions, you can own up to them at any time.
Looking at the facts, it is safe to say the Mountain West Conference did not have a successful 2022 campaign. They did well in the bowl eligibility category but failed in bowl record, the overall OOC record, and also games against the Power 5. Also, they were not able to muster any national attention through storylines or a team pushing to have a great season. It will be back to the drawing board for the conference in 2023.
Your turn: What other factors or areas should have been considered? What parts do you agree or disagree with? Leave a comment below.