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Peak Perspective: Mountain West Football Final 2023 Grades

The grades are in. What did your team get?

With the National Championship game in the books, that means that the college football season is officially over. Like every year, it all went by too quickly. Now, bowl games are over, and every team has finished their season until next August. With things finalized, let’s review the year with final season grades.

The grades are based on a system we have had for a few years. Treat them as a big-picture snapshot rather than an all-inclusive rating. For each team, we have at least two grades:

  1. An objective grade is a grade based on how each team is in relation to the rest of the teams in the country (a more traditional grade).
  2. An adjusted grade is based on how the team is performing in relation to itself and its own expectations. This will provide a more well-rounded depiction of each team, as some teams can be doing well compared to expectations but not well overall. Similarly, a team can have a good record without meeting their own expectations.
  3. A bowl-specific grade was also included for each bowl team, and while that is a pass/fail type of scenario in many ways, we attempt to go beyond that in the grading.

As far as grades go, the A range is exceptional, Bs are very good, a C grade means average, the D range is disappointing/not doing well, and Fs are awful.

Air Force:

  • Objective Grade: B+
  • Adjusted Grade: B

Entering the season, it looked like the Falcons would have to rebuild at the skill positions on offense after losing so many players. Instead, they reloaded and emerged as one of the best Group of 5 Teams in the country, finding themselves ranked in the debut CFP rankings. They stumbled mightily to close out the regular season, and lost their chance at the CIC Trophy, but still found themselves with one of the best records in the conference. Overall, they get a B+ ranking, which is basically the best outcome one would have thought at the start of the season. However, AFA gets dinged a bit for fumbling the ball (figuratively and literally) when expectations increased halfway through the season.

  • Bowl grade: A

The Falcons came into the bowl game coming off of four straight losses and going up against a very talented James Madison squad. AFA looked much more like their September/October versions of themselves and their opponent was no match for the dreaded triple option.

Boise State:

  • Objective Grade: B
  • Adjusted Grade: C

Boise State’s standard is always high: win the Mountain West championship and finish the season at or near undefeated. Only one of those things happened this year and it took a perfect storm to accomplish the former. The offense was great all season but the defense started terribly, and while the pass rush got better later in the year, the pass defense never improved. Also, they didn’t beat anyone of note outside the conference and had a few dreadful conference losses. Still, most other MW teams would love to get to eight wins and a conference championship in a “down” year, but for the Broncos, the standard is higher than this, which is why they grade out below average in their adjusted grade. They will need to figure out how to improve the team’s weaknesses next year.

  • Bowl grade: D-

For the first half, the Broncos came out and dominated. However, the games are two halves long, and everything fell apart in the 3rd quarter. They ended up getting blown out as their shortcomings were exposed, bookending their season with big losses.

Colorado State:

  • Objective Grade: C
  • Adjusted Grade: C-

The Rams were primed to take a big step forward this year and were a trendy pick to make a bowl game this season. They accomplished the former but fell short on the latter. The offense was significantly better than last year, especially after they made the change at quarterback early in the season, finally living up to the Fort Air-Raid moniker. Unfortunately for Colorado State, they didn’t win enough games to qualify for a bowl, which is why they grade out as average or a tick below. However, that should change for next season.

Fresno State:

  • Objective Grade: B+
  • Adjusted Grade: A-

Fresno State was a very good team this year, especially considering they were slated for a rebuilding year. The offense didn’t miss a peat despite breaking in a ton of new players, and the defense was excellent at creating turnovers and stepping up with big plays when needed. Due to that, their adjusted great is a bit higher than where they actually ended up. Overall, they were one of the better teams in the Mountain West, but like those other teams, they seemed to lose when the pressure was on them and that kept them from being considered a great team.

  • Bowl grade: A

The Bulldogs were in control of this one from start to finish, and it was evident by the final score as well. They actually weren’t favored going into the game against an exiting New Mexico State team, but by the end of it, Fresno State reigned supreme.

Hawaii:

  • Objective Grade: C-
  • Adjusted Grade: C+

The Rainbow Warriors returned to the famed run-and-shoot offense this season under Coach Timmy Chang, who excelled in the system back in his playing days. While far from perfect, it allowed the offense to make the most out of their talent at quarterback and wide receiver and helped the team to be more competitive than the previous season. On the other hand, Hawaii still struggled overall on both sides of the ball despite having some noteworthy talent. They were more or less the team many expected them to be, but next season, they should compete for a bowl game.

Nevada:

  • Objective Grade: F
  • Adjusted Grade: F

The Wolf Pack suffered tons of losses the previous season, so things were looking bleak entering the year. They went winless in September and actually went over a full year without winning a game. There was a bright spot during the season when they went on a two-game win streak, but was pretty much the only bright spot in a trying season. While things look better going forward, they get a failing grade for this season.

New Mexico:

  • Objective Grade: D
  • Adjusted Grade: D-

The Lobos were expected to be more competitive this season with their revamped offense and their head coach promised a bowl berth in an early season post-game press conference. The new offense was infinitely better and featured a number of skilled players. However, it was the defense that took a step back, basically leaving New Mexico in the same place it has been much of the past few seasons, near or at the bottom of the Mountain West. outside of a huge upset win against Fresno State, there werne’t many bright spots in 2023, especially when they were expected to be marginally better this year.

San Diego State:

  • Objective Grade: D
  • Adjusted Grade: F

The Aztecs were another team with a new-look offense and hoped that would boost the team’s overall production and get them back in contention for a conference championship. That did not come to fruition and San Diego State ended up having their worst season since 2009. The offense was still lacking but so was the defense, which appeared to get worse the further they got from Rock Long’s tenure. Special teams was the only saving grace, but that wasn’t enough to give SDSU any acceptable grades this year.

San Jose State:

  • Objective Grade: B
  • Adjusted Grade: B

The Spartans may be the most difficult team to grade this season. They started the year a dreadful 1-5, but also played one of the more difficult schedules in the country. Then, they won six straight games to end the season, becoming the hottest team in the Mountain West. San Jose State was left out of the conference championship due to tiebreaker rules, finishing the regular season 7-5. This falls below what some other teams accomplished this year, so their grades reflect that. Also, they were a popular dark horse pick for the MW championship and were in the running until the very end, so they basically get graded for achieving expectations.

  • Bowl grade: D

Things were off from the start for the Spartans in their bowl game. Their talented rushing attacked couldn’t get going and while they kept the game close, it didn’t seem like they had much energy. While they made it a game in the 4th quarter, overall it was a poor showing for a team that had been so great the second half of the season.

San Jose State started off the bowl game pretty well and even held the lead at the end of the first quarter. But then, the bottom fell out, and they weren’t able to recover from being outscored 21-0 in the second quarter. It was not a good showing.

UNLV:

  • Objective Grade: A-
  • Adjusted Grade: A+

The Rebels were one of the best surprises in the Mountain West this season and easily the most improved team in the conference. Their offense lived up to the hype and was fun to watch. The defense was disciplined and aggressive, executing their scheme well. While still not perfect, they wore down a bit the last few games of the season. They get the highest grades in the Mountain West both for having a great season and having such an unexpected season.

  • Bowl Grade: C+

UNLV gets a pretty solid grade despite losing their bowl game. It was a fun game to watch and the team competed from start to finish despite some poor plays and letting things slip away at the end. The Rebels got the matchup they deserved for their successful season, they just couldn’t bring home one last victory.

Utah State:

  • Objective Grade: B-
  • Adjusted Grade: B

The Aggies continued to consistently be one of the most inconsistent teams in college football. They had a habit of slow starts looking lost before finding their groove and scoring quickly in bunches with their dynamic passing attack, which was on display no matter which of the three different quarterbacks were on the field this year. Likewise, the defense still forced timely turnovers when it was playing their best. Unfortunately, the up-and-down tendencies mean they graded out a bit above average, which was better than expected for Utah State.

  • Bowl-specific grade: F

For the second year in a row, the Aggies had a rough bowl game showing. They trailed 28-3 at halftime and never recovered. While they showed some signs of life in the fourth quarter, the game was already well out of hand.

Wyoming:

  • Objective Grade: B+
  • Adjusted Grade: A-

Wyoming was expected to be a bowl team with a great defense and their offense was a pleasant surprise this year, improving just enough to balance the team out a bit. Ultimately, they were still no a legitimate conference championship team in the Mountain West this season, but reaching the nine-win make is impressive and it put the Cowboys in the same grouping as the other top MW teams when all was said and down. Basically, they were a good team that gets some bonus points for being a bit better than expected.

  • Bowl-specific grade: B

The Cowboys won the game on the most Craig Bohl-like win imaginable. A 16-15 victory featuring a stifling defense, one lone offensive touchdown on a run, and a game-winning field goal. It was really impressive how they were able to shut down the Toledo offense in this game.

Alright, let’s hear it. Which grades did you agree with? Which ones would you change, and to what? Talk about it in the comments section.