Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quest for Respect: Part I

It’s been a big last 12 months for the Mountain West. The conference collectively flexed their muscles during football season, with 5 of the 9 teams going bowling and TCU and Utah both finishing in the Top 10. That spilled over into quite a bit of offseason discussion about whether or not the league deserved the automatic BCS bid we want for it so, so bad.

I think we were all glad to hear the national media actually debating something that we have been adamant about for some time, but the conference’s work is far from done. To really garner the respect we all think they deserve, the teams of the MWC have to show that last year wasn’t a fluke and that they can perform like that consistently. To do that, they’ve got to win as many games against out opponents from outside the conference as possible. We all know about the Frogs’ four non-conference opponents, but let’s take a team-by-team look at who the rest of the conference will be taking on, and which games are the most important for the MWC:


Air Force:

Sep 5: Nicholls State

Sept 12: @ Minnesota

Oct 3: @ Navy

Nov 7: Army

As much as the Falcons would love to win the MWC title, winning the Commander in Chief’s Trophy is equally important to them. After basically owning the thing for most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Air Force hasn’t brought it home to Colorado Springs since 2002. They’ve lost to Navy six times in a row- so you know they’ve got that trip to Annapolis circled on their calendars. They will also be playing in the first game ever at Minnesota’s brand-new, on-campus stadium. That is a great chance for a mid-tier MWC team to take down a mid-tier Big Ten team, and spoil their grand opening in the process. The Falcons really need to win at least one of those road tests and finish no worse than 3-1 out of conference.

BYU:

Sep 5: Oklahoma (at Jerry World)

Sep 12: @ Tulane

Sep 19: Florida State

Oct 2: Utah State (Friday)

Clearly, BYU has the most to gain with their season opener against the Sooners. A win there would catapult the Cougars up the rankings and into the nation’s attention. I’ll sure be rooting for them, and I hope I’m wrong- but I think OU is just going to be too much for them. They’ve got a great chance for redemption, though, with Florida State travelling to Provo. The ‘Noles aren’t quite the world beaters they were in the ‘90s, but they’re still one of the best teams in the ACC and beating an icon like Bobby Bowden would earn BYU some respect in the Eastern part of the country. With a win against FSU, the Cougars should be 3-1 although we’ll hold out some hope of an upset of OU. Side note: how funny would it be to see the Mormons’ culture shock when they head down to New Orleans to play Tulane?

Colorado State:

Sep 5: @ Colorado

Sep 12: Weber State

Sep 19: Nevada

Oct 3: @ Idaho

If Colorado State-Colorado isn’t already on your list of games to watch opening weekend, you might want to re-think it. Those teams HATE each other, and these games are always very physical and heated. Aside from last year, each game since 2002 has been decided by a touchdown or less. After three years of being played in Denver, the series moves back to Boulder, so this is the Rams’ best chance to really make some noise for the conference. The other important game for CSU is when they welcome the Nevada Wolfpack to Fort Collins. As Boise State’s main obstacle toward a 42nd consecutive WAC title, Nevada presents a chance for CSU to help assert the MWC’s superiority over the WAC as well as hurt Boise’s strength of schedule- which I promise you’ll be paying attention to later in the year.

New Mexico:

Sep 5: @ Texas A&M

Sep 12: Tulsa

Sep 26: New Mexico State

Oct 3: @ Texas Tech

After a few seasons as the trendy pick to challenge the “Big 3” of the Mountain West, the Lobos are being picked near the bottom of the conference this year. That doesn’t make their OOC games any less important, though. The knock on the MWC the past few years has been that while, sure, the top of the conference is playing great football, the middle to bottom of the league doesn’t really inspire much fear. I don’t want to promise that New Mexico is going to be a cellar-dweller this fall, but if they are hopefully they can show that a struggling MWC team can still compete against the rest of the nation. Road trips to Lubbock and College Station aren’t going to be easy, but then again A&M did lose to Arkansas State in their season opener at Kyle Field last year. The home date against Tulsa may be the most important game for UNM, though- the Golden Hurricane absolutely embarrassed them last year, and you know that beating an MWC team fires up Conference USA like nothing else. A win in that game should get the Lobos to at least 2-2.

Coming Friday: San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming

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