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Peak Perspective: The Mountain West needs to improve Rivalry Week

Restructuring how the Mountain West plays their Thanksgiving Weekend games.

Thanksgiving weekend is the last week of the college football season, also known as Rivalry Week. It is full of classic rivalry games such as the Egg Bowl, the Apple Cup, the Iron Bowl, and “The Game.” The Mountain West also has some long-standing rivalries, although they may not be as widely known. They certainly aren’t as publicized, and the MW conference needs to bring more awareness to their rivalries.

Promote their rivalry week games.

First, general fans need to know the games exist and why they should watch them. The Mountain West version of rivalry week should be prompted through clips from students and hype on social media through team accounts and the official conference accounts. Also, the announcers for the broadcast should be given a history of the games, their significance, and memorable moments.

While a game featuring two Mountain West teams will never rival an in-state SEC battle, the goal should be making these conference rivalries must-watch previews of the bigger games of the weekend.

The lineup.

The goal would be to make all six conference games that week the best rivalries possible. However, the issue would be that the same teams play some of the best rivalry games in the Mountain West. For instance, Colorado State can’t play in both the Border War and the Ram-Falcon Trophy Game. Likewise, UNLV can’t play both Nevada and Hawaii, which are two prime in-conference rivalry games.

This means that not every team will have a true rivalry, but in order to preserve some of the most prominent rivalry games, here is the lineup:

  • Colorado State vs Wyoming in the Border War.
  • Nevada(Reno) vs Nevada Las Vegas in the Battle for Nevada.
  • Boise State vs Fresno for the Milk Can.
  • Air Force vs Hawaii for the Kuter Trophy.
  • San Diego State vs San Jose State in a new/old rivalry game called the El Camino Real Rivalry.
  • New Mexico vs Utah State in a new rivalry game.

This list will likely provoke many thoughts and emotions from readers, both positively and negatively. That being said, choosing these as the rivalry matchups for the final week of the regular season accomplishes a few different things.

First, it preserves four traditional rivalries, including three of the most prominent ones in the conference. The Border War and Battle for Nevada are arguably the two biggest Mountain West rivalries, and the Milk Can game is a top-five rivalry game at worst. Playing these three games over Thanksgiving Weekend should lead to great games and more attention being given to the Mountain West Conference.

As for the other three games, it is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag. Air Force and Hawaii is a rivalry game, although it is far from the main rivalry for either team. The Kuter Trophy game dates back to 1980, and the collaboration of how the trophy came to be is pretty cool.

The San Diego State/San Jose State game seems like it should be more of a rivalry than it is. Again, both schools would consider some other schools primary rivals, but some corners of the internet discuss creating a trophy for this game back in 2014, which would have been called El Camino Real Rivalry. This new format will manufacture a new rivalry between these two teams.

Last are New Mexico and Utah State, two teams whose chief rivals have always been outside of the conference. Now, they will be paired together to play the final game of the season against one another every year. While the game above has some connections already, this one is completely a makeshift rivalry, similar to Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten. There is no denying that is an obvious downfall of this model, but it is also an opportunity to build it up and create a trophy around it. The suggestion of this site would be the Desert Classic or something similar, highlighting the fact that both cities are located in areas with desert climates.

The schedule.

When it comes to scheduling the six games over Mountain West Rivalry Week, the conference has an excellent opportunity to be strategic in its marketing. The obvious thing to do is prioritize the biggest rivalries, especially when one or both teams have good seasons. It also seems important to establish as many consistent time slots as possible to carve out specific timeslots intended to get viewers watching these games. Below are the proposed times for the games.

Friday Primetime on CBS Sports Battle For Nevada

The Mountain West gets to take over this timeslot with arguably the best trophy in college football. Make CBS Sports the home of the game and get Aaron Taylor and his big load of laundry calls hyping this game up every season.

Friday and Saturday nights on FS1: Alternate between Border War and Milk Can

The other two big traditional rivalries will find their permanent homes on FS1 (or Fox in rare years) on the Friday and Saturday night slots. This makes sense for Fox because they get more significant matchups during the times the Mountain West is most appealing to them. Also, the Milk Can game will be a great game more often than not. There is also flexibility to attempt to highlight a game more or less depending on how good the teams are and if they are playing on a blue field or not.

Saturday morning and early afternoon on CBS Sports: alternate between El Camino and Dessert Classic.

Admittedly, these games aren’t prioritized as much as the other four contests. There is some flexibility here by alternating the two games, so if one team is having a good season, they can have the more preferred timeslot, which is probably the afternoon. The goal of these games would be to function as intriguing warm-up games for the big college football rivalries played on Saturday. Also, if CBS Sports is willing to be accommodating, the morning game can start 30 minutes after games on other networks in hopes of getting more eyeballs during halftime or at the conclusion of those games.

Saturday late on CBS Sports: Fixed Time Slot for Kuter Trophy

The Air Force/Hawaii game is the game that will be played during a fixed time slot every year. The reason is more practical than anything else. When it’s played at Hawaii, it should be a night game on the mainland anyway due to the time change. While it won’t be ideal for the Falcons when they are at home, it’s not like they never play night games. The major draw to staying up for this game is that it features two unique offenses, one on each end of the spectrum, in the triple option and the run-and-shoot—the peak Mountain West after-dark game.

These proposed time slots for the six games achieve several positive outcomes. Some games establish themselves as appetizer games leading up to big ones. Others embrace a spot in the Friday night or last Saturday timeslots. At least two matchups will be fixtures in their timeslots every year, while others have some flexibility to take advantage of teams having strong seasons. Overall, it’s balanced and puts teams in a position to be noticed by loyal fans and a national audience.

The imperfections.

As with most ideas, this plan is far from perfect. Here are a few of the identified flaws with a model like this.

Not all of the rivalry games are the top for each team. However, arguably, three of the conference’s top rivalries are preserved, plus a fourth rivalry game, allowing for the best combination of the most significant and highest number of rivalries with the combination of games. For the remaining four teams, it will be just another weekend unless the makeshift or forced rivalries can develop over the years.

The Milk Can game between Boise State and Fresno State may be a preview of the championship game some years, a week before they play for the title. This occurred in 2017 and was a bit awkward and poorly received. If that were to happen too often, it would damper both weekends. On the other hand, it could create some tension in the championship game as neither team has swept the regular season and title game when they’ve played each other twice in a season.

Also, while some of the oldest rivalries in college football are put into the spotlight, others, like the Oil Can and Ram-Falcon Trophy, aren’t prioritized here. Still, this reconfiguration brings well-needed coverage for the Mountain West during Rivalry Week, which is far better than the current slate of upcoming games, which only features the Oil Can game (unless you count the Desert Classic). The Mountain West needs to improve their rivalry week, and this plan is a step in the right direction.