Today we take a look ahead. All off-season, we’ve talked about the Mountain West needing to be more successful. What exactly will that look like in 2023? Some might be funny. Some might be very important. Some we might forget to write on here. Last year was a definite success for the conference, as outlined in our review article from January. Anyway, here is what we think will make for a successful MWC season. We used pretty much the same categories as last year but switched up the standards in each.
Wins Against Power 5 Teams
This year, the Mountain West has 21 games in their non-conference slate against teams from Power 5 conferences, which is a few more than last year. Some of these games are just a bit one-sided on paper, but never say never in the college football world. Other games look winnable or competitive. After last season, predicting how things go can be anything but easy.
It would be unreasonable to expect the conference to match the out-of-conference magic of 2019 every year. After a disappointing showing against Power 5 teams last year, it’s hard to see that improving much in 2023. However, if they can manage three wins in their twenty-one games (basically 14% of their P5 games), it will allow them to slowly regain the momentum they once had and potentially get some national attention for their success.
Some games that could result in wins against P5 teams:
Boise State vs. UCF
Fresno State vs. Arizona State
Utah State vs. Iowa
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. While the Mountain West has done well overall against P5 teams in until last season, they have also lost some games against lesser G5 or FCS teams. This makes it hard to place the conference in terms of prestige.
Looking at the out-of-conference schedule for the twelve Mountain West teams, it is unrealistic to expect them to win every game. However, to be successful, they should win 55% of their non-conference games. The breakdown should generally look like this:
- Against P5 teams: 3-18
- Against New Mexico State: 2-0
- Against other G5 teams: 8-3
- Against FCS teams: 14-1
- Total: 27-22 (55%)
Last year, the Mountain West did not have a team ranked in the top 25 at any point during the 2022 season, but the Bulldogs did get ranked in the final post-season rankings in the AP and Coaches Polls. For the conference to regain its prestige and be successful, a team, any team, needs to find its way into the rankings this season. With how last year ended, no team will get the benefit of the doubt to start 2023. However, if a ranking were to happen, it likely won’t be until the end of the season. It will be important for one Mountain West team can sneak into the rankings if they get hot and run the table in conference play if they are to be deemed successful.
Bowl Eligible Teams
Last season, the Mountain West produced seven bowl teams, illustrating that the conference contained several good teams, but no truly great teams.
In this day and age, making a bowl basically means you were an above-average team over the course of the year, and the MW should strive to have as many above-average or better teams at the end of the year as possible. In order to be successful, the conference will need to get to seven bowl-eligible teams at the end of the regular season once again. Five teams seem almost certain, while six would be good, but in order for the conference to continue the high standard for itself, having seven teams as often as possible is important. It would also mean the usual suspects took care of business, and 1-2 teams surprised or over-achieved to raise the conference clout.
Of course, getting to a bowl game isn’t enough on its own. It’s nice, but most people remember who won and who lost. Fresno State was able to cap its successful season off nicely with a bowl win, while Utah State and San Jose State were thoroughly embarrassed by Memphis and Eastern Michigan. The Mountain West had a down year during bowl season last year, going 3-4 in their games. For the conference to be considered successful in bowl season, they must be above .500 once again. That means reaching the four-win mark during bowl season (going 4-3), with at least one of those wins coming against power-five teams.
This is important for the relevance of the conference. Topics and storylines that gain national attention. Two years ago, it was Trey McBride and Matt Araiza taking home national awards for being the best at their respective positions. However, last year, the conference failed to garner much national attention at all. Basically, the Mountain west needs something to put them on the map and stand out in the college football world.
Here are some potential storylines that could (not saying will, but could) be played up this season:
- Taylen Green building on last year’s Freshman of the Year season and becoming one of the best Group of 5 quarterbacks in the country while leading Boise State.
- Hawaii’s return to the exciting run-and-shoot offense, which is made for highlights seen by a national audience.
- Someone, anyone being ranked and making a run at a NY6 bowl. An undefeated season would be even better.
- A surprise team defying preseason expectations and having a strong year. See Utah State or San Jose State for past examples. Could Colorado State or UNLV be improved teams this year?
- A player is chasing a single season or career conference record. Will any records be broken this year?
Playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl
Conferences are often judged based on the top teams. Some years the SEC hasn’t been all that great, but they have Alabama to carry them year in and year out, so people don’t always notice or remember. Fair or not, that’s usually how it goes.
For the past few seasons, the Mountain West has actually been a pretty deep conference, but has lacked one elite team. There were three ten-win teams, but none of them were close to being ranked or anywhere close to getting the NY6 nod.
This year, the American’s top teams have left for the Big 12, which opens the door for someone in the Mountain West to step in. Going forward, one of the teams in the MW should be the favorite to get the spot in the NY6, or upcoming college football playoff, nearly every year. At this point, there is no excuse and it needs to happen.
In order for this to happen, the MW 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 running for a top bowl game. The ideal situation would be two ranked teams meeting in the conference championship, as it would give the Mountain West some national attention to compete with the American and improving Sun Belt.
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. This is merely 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.”
- Now that there are no more divisions, I predict New Mexico and Nevada to battle it out for the bottom spot in the conference.
- Seven teams will make a bowl game this year. I think it will be Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, SDSU, Wyoming, with the seventh team being one of San Jose State, UNLV, or Utah State. I’m going with San Jose State.
- There will be at least two MWC teams with 10+ wins this year. I’m personally predicting Air Force and Boise State.
- There will be no undefeated teams in conference play this season, but there will be one one-loss team.
- In the first year without divisions, the two teams in the Mountain West Championship game will feature two teams from the former Mountain division.
- Air Force and Boise State will meet in the MWC Championship game.
- Air Force will win the Commander in Chief Trophy this season.
These are some of the factors that could make or break the 2023 Mountain West football season in terms of success. What are some other factors that weren’t listed here? What needs to happen for you to consider the season a successful one for the Mountain West Conference?