The Mountain West hasn’t necessarily been the most intriguing conference for the better part of the last decade.
It’s almost been predictable who will be at the top of each division when the regular season reaches its end.
This season could be different, however.
For the first time since 2012, the MW won’t have any divisions. Instead, the league will debut a three-year schedule rotation where each program will face two guaranteed opponents annually and six other teams on an alternating basis. Throughout the cycle, all programs will play each other at least twice, including once at home and once on the road.
So, for Wyoming, the Cowboys’ guaranteed opponents will be Air Force and Colorado State, and then they play their six other conference opponents based on that rotation.
The league believes “the new schedule format will put the MW in the best position for a spot in the College Football Playoff.”
That would be great if that were the case.
Here are some observations from this inaugural schedule format for the league.
Power 5 Presence
If this conference wants to put a team in the CFP, then it definitely needs to face some quality non-conference competition. More of that will take place in 2023.
Nine of the 12 teams will see a P5 opponent in their first contest of the season. This includes Boise State vs. Washington State, Fresno State vs. Purdue, Hawaii vs. Vanderbilt, Nevada vs. USC, New Mexico vs. Texas A&M, San Jose State vs. USC, Utah State vs. Iowa, and Wyoming vs. Texas Tech.
Yes, two teams open up the season against USC — SJSU in Week 0 and Nevada in Week 1. There are a dozen more matchups against P5 schools throughout the first three weeks of the season — including many premier programs. It would be huge for the MW to get a win in any of those. The most likely may be SDSU over UCLA or Boise over UCF — if you want to call UCF a premier program.
Big Conference Matchups Early And Late
It’s typically a theme for most leagues that the final games of the season dictate who’s going to be playing in the league title game. It’s good for the sport. That especially has been the case for the MW over the past couple of seasons. This year, however, there are some early-season contests that could have a huge impact down the line. And when I say early, I’m talking first conference games of the year.
In Week 3, San Diego State and Boise will matchup in what are typically two of the top dogs, and when they’re released, college football betting odds should have them as two of the favorites to win the league. Week 3 also features a matchup between SJSU and Air Force. Both of these squads should be contenders, especially the Spartans.
New Faces In Title game?
I wrote in January about the redundancy that is the MW title game. Three teams — Boise, Fresno, and SDSU — have combined to take up 14 of the 20 spots in the championship game in the past decade. Utah State and SJSU are the only two other teams that have won a championship in that span, and the Spartans’ came in the COVID year.
However, the 2023 schedule favors some teams that are always barely on the outside looking in.
Typically in what was the Mountain Division, Air Force and UW would be looking up at Boise in the standings, but with the help of the schedule, that could change. The Falcons are the only team that doesn’t face a P5 opponent and has a favorable home and away set-up for the rest of the year. Their worst stretch will be at SJSU and vs. SDSU on back-to-back weeks. As for the Spartans, three of their toughest league games — Air Force, Fresno, and Boise, will be played at home. Wyoming is one of two teams with three consecutive home games on the slate (the other SDSU), and one of those is Fresno. The next two games feature a visit to Air Force and to Boise, which is luckily separated by a bye week. It will be a crucial stretch for the Cowboys.
Don’t be surprised if, with the help of their favorable schedule, one of these teams finds itself in the title game. This format might be good not only for a chance at making the CFP but for the parity of the league, as well.