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Peak Perspective: The Mountain West vs the American: 2022 Season Comparison.

Once again, we ask who was the top Group of 5 conference this past season?

It’s time for the annual post to highlight how the Mountain West Conference compares to the American Athletic Conference in a variety of important categories. Since this yearly post has been done, the AAC has had the advantage overall, although the MW narrowed the gap in 2021. Which one was the top Group of 5 conference in 2022? Read below to find out.

Head to Head

The Mountain West and American don’t have many opportunities to play each other from season to season, which should really change since they are direct competitors. Last year, the conferences played one another two times. This year, they played three times, with one of those being in a bowl game. Air Force beat their arch-rival Navy, and Wyoming overcame Tulsa. However, Utah State lost to Memphis in a bowl game. The Mountain West has won this category the majority of the time and do so again this year.

Top Teams Winning Percentage

The American’s top tier enjoyed a successful season and has been seen as a top-heavy conference for years, with this year being no different. Tulane led the way in both conferences with a .857 winning percentage (12-2), followed by Cincinnati at .692 (9-4) and UCF at .643 (9-5). On the other side of things, the Mountain West also enjoyed success at the top of the conference. Air Force actually had the best winning percentage among the twelve teams at .769 (10-3), with Fresno State and Boise State tied for second at .714 (10-4). The AAC’s three-team average comes out to a .731 winning percentage, while the MW averages out to be .732. This is the closest this category has ever been, but the Mountain West comes out ahead by the slimmest of margins.

Record Against Power 5 Schools

Playing games against power 5 teams is usually a great measuring stick for any Group of 5 conference. Usually, the Mountain West does pretty well in this category, but they were horrible in 2022. They 3-16 (15.79%) against schools from Power 5 conferences, plus Notre Dame, with the lone regular season win being Air Force over Colorado early in the season. Air Force and Fresno State added wins over Baylor and Washington State during bowl season. The American ended up going 4-13 against teams from the Power 5 conferences, including a bowl victory (23.53%). This one was ugly for both conferences, but the AAC had one more win and a higher winning percentage, so they edge out the Mountain West.

Number of bowl teams/bowl victories

Bowl season can make or break the year for teams. A win can build momentum for the following year, while a loss can put a sour note to an otherwise productive season.

The AAC sent seven teams to bowl games for the second year in a row. They fared pretty well, going 4-3, with one of those wins being against the Mountain West and another coming in the NY6 Cotton Bowl. Meanwhile, the MWC also had seven teams who were selected to play in bowls last postseason. This year, they had a losing record during bowl season by going 3-4, which was a step back from how they usually fare in the postseason. The two conferences sent an equal amount of teams to bowl games, but the American had more victories, so this category goes to them, although it was close.

NY6 appearances/wins

This one is pretty straightforward.

Tulane represented the Group of 5 in the NY6 spot this past season. Although it wasn’t a Mountain West team, it was nice to see a new team break through that wasn’t Cincinnati, Houston, or Memphis. They also beat USC in a close and exciting game. Getting to the NY6 bowl games is important, and winning them is even better, and the American has owned this category over the years. The MWC comes up short once again. The AAC, hands down.

Recruiting Rankings

It’s hard to know how exactly to decide on this category. Top team? Average of the top few teams? Average of each conference? Let’s go best two out of three in these categories, using 247 composite rankings (recruiting only, so excludes transfers) for each one.

UCF led the way in both the AAC and between both conferences with the 50th-ranked class, which has been a bit of a drop for the conference the past few years. Boise State was tops in the MWC with the 68th-best class in the country.

Looking at the top three from each conference, we have UCF at 50, Houston at 56, and Memphis at 62 as the leading trio in the American for an average of 56, which is a step back from the past year or two. Comparing that with the Mountain West, there is Boise State at 68, Colorado State at 70, and Fresno State at 82, good for an average of 73.33, which is also a sign of regression from last year.

Taking the MWC 12 team average, it comes out to 102.42, which is dragged down by several teams near the bottom of the recruiting rankings., but pretty rough, no matter how you look at it. On the other hand, the conference average for the AAC is 77.91, which is actually slightly better than last year. The Mountain West’s top teams recruit well, but overall the conference struggled this year, which was aided by coaching turnover at a few schools. However, the top of the American is on another level regarding recruiting, as their top four teams ranked higher than the top Mountain West team. The American takes this category with ease, which is a big one.

Draft Picks

The NFL draft demonstrates the star power of each conference as the top players get selected to go on to the next level. Last year wasn’t all that close, and this year saw the gap become more narrow, but there was still a clear favorite. The American had ten draft picks, which was almost a 50% reduction from the previous year, while the Mountain West only managed six this year, which was one of their lowest numbers ever. Easy call for the AAC here.

Coaching Salaries

Although some of these coaches aren’t with their 2022 teams anymore, last year’s names and figures are being compared. This USA Today article will guide this category, although things don’t line up neatly. A few teams (Air Force, SMU, Temple) have not released salaries for their coaches. We will use the average of those listed (assuming $1.5 million for Air Force and the reported $2 million for SMU and Temple).

In the Mountain West conference, the top coach, Brent Brennan, made $1.93 million during the 2021 season. Seven other coaches topped $1 million annually, which is actually one less than last year. However, the remaining three ranged from $960K to $500K. Although the money is slowly increasing, the salaries for the 12 coaches come out to an average of about $1.16 million for the 2022 season, which comes out to be the smallest of increases compared to last season.

The top AAC coach is Luke Fickell of Cincinnati, who checks in at an impressive $5.05 million per year, putting him just outside the top 25 in all of college football. Looking at the other ten schools, seven coaches make at least $2 million, and all over them are over $1 million, with the lowest number being $1.85 million. This comes out to an average of $2.50 million (slightly above last year’s average).

I’m no numbers guy, but the AAC numbers are higher than the MWC ones. While quite a few coaches got raises in the MWC over the winter, the money is flowing over in the American, as the lowest-paid AAC coach would be a very close second in the MWC. This is an area where the gap is vast between the two conferences, so the AAC gets this one easily.

TV Contract Money/Exposure

This category will not be changing at this point, but it’s still an important one because money accounts for a lot.

The current AAC contract (almost $7 million per team) became the benchmark for Group of 5 media deals when they announced their new deal a year before the Mountain West. However, the contract will likely change once Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF leave.

The Mountain West media deal is $270 million total, which comes out to about $4 million for the ten teams under normal circumstances (not Hawaii or Boise State), a massive upgrade from the $1.1 million in the past deal.

However, more goes into the contract than just money, even though money is the bottom line, as this article explains a bit. The AAC took more money ($1 billion) for less exposure (most appearing on ESPN+). On the other hand, the MWC secured a smaller deal financially and traded being the late game on ESPN for potentially better time slots with Fox, as well as sticking with CBS Sports for their secondary game package. Another big difference is the length of the contract. The American is locked in for 12 years, while the Mountain West decided to go for a short-term deal (6 years), citing the ever-changing media landscape, and opted for flexibility in light of that.

Overall, money talks, and the American is getting more of it, even if only looking at the next six years. However, this category is closer than it appears, as the MWC got a big boost and is potentially set up well for the future. This is a slight nod to the AAC.


Another year, another discussion about the American Athletic Conference topping the Mountain West Conference, and this year the American seemed to widen the gap. The AAC beat the MWC in the nine categories by a score of seven to two. While a few of the categories were close, the categories clearly showed how the AAC was more dominant in 2022. The Mountain has shown more ability on the field overall, demonstrated by winning the categories of head-to-head competition and the top team winning percentage. However, it took a step back in categories they have traditionally come out ahead.

On the other hand, the American continues to have the definitive edge in NY6 appearances, NFL draft picks, recruiting, and coaching salaries. Also, they widened the gap in a few of those categories, and all of those led to more national exposure, public perception, and overall more money for the conference. With that being said, the Mountain West could get some momentum back heading into the 2023 season with Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF leaving for the Big 12. Will they finally win this exercise, or will the American continue to be the top Group of 5 conference?