Best MWC Division: Mountain vs. West
By Ken Pomponio
A milestone season is on deck for the Mountain West Conference.
Not only will it be the league’s 15th season, but for the first time the Mountain West will feature two divisions and a football championship game. It’s all been made possible by the additions of Utah State and San Jose State – which become official MW members July 1 – giving the league a dozen schools.
And in case you missed it, the programs will be divided as such: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming making up the Mountain Division and Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV comprising the West Division.
It all tidies up rather nicely from a geographic standpoint, and there are no abstract Leaders and Legends monikers to memorize.
But, talking big picture here, which six-team division will be the best?
Glad you asked.
Let us debate:
The Case For The Mountain Division
Any argument for this division begins — and realistically ends — with a discussion of the conference’s flagship program, Boise State. The Broncos just happen to be the nation’s winningest FBS team during the last 10 years with 129 victories and they were the only one of the MWC’s five postseason qualifiers to win a bowl game a year ago.
The boys from Boise, in fact, have played in a bowl in an impressive 13 of the 17 seasons they’ve been an FBS/Division I member, winning nine of them.
Narrowing it down to the last five seasons, the Broncos have won or shared in four conference titles, and combined with Utah State’s Western Athletic Conference championship a year ago, it gives the Mountain members a combined five conference crowns to the West’s four — all shared titles — since the start of the 2008 season.
And while Air Force, CSU, New Mexico and Wyoming haven’t finished atop the conference since the Rams scaled the Mountain (West) a full 11 year ago, all six teams in the division won at least four games in 2012 — something the West can’t say with Hawaii (3-9) and UNLV (2-11) saddled with the worst overall marks in the league a year ago.
Where the Mountain really trumps the West, though, is in a comparison of the head coaches.
The six Mountain sideline bosses are entering the upcoming campaign with a combined 18 seasons at their respective schools and have racked up 15 bowl appearances. By contrast, the West’s half-dozen head coaches — which include two first-year FBS head coaches and two more entering their second seasons — have been with their programs a combined seven seasons and have only three bowl appearances to show for it.
The Mountain’s big coaching edge is courtesy of the MWC's two longest-tenured coaches — Boise’s Chris Petersen (entering his eighth season) and Air Force’s Troy Calhoun (heading into his seventh year) — who have combined for 13 bowl appearances and seven bowl wins.
The Case For The West Division
While the West doesn’t have a Boise State, it does feature two (Fresno State and San Diego State) of the three MWC tri-champions from a year ago and had four (FSU, SDSU, Nevada and San Jose State) of its six members post winning overall records and go bowling in 2012.
By comparison, only Boise and Utah State, both 11-2, finished North of .500 among the Mountain squads with the other four teams combining to go 18-32.
The West squads also boast more experience than their Mountain brethren with a projected 96 combined returning starters to the Mountain’s 76, including a 22-15 edge in players who garnered first- or second-team all-conference honors in 2012.
Among those All-MWC and All-WAC selections are a trio of standout quarterbacks, the game's most vital position, in Fresno State’s Derek Carr (the 2012 MWC Offensive Player of the Year), Nevada’s Cody Fajardo (second-team All-MWC) and San Jose State’s David Fales (second-team All-WAC).
The Mountain, meanwhile, only features one highly-decorated QB from 2012: All-WAC first-teamer Chuckie Keeton of Utah State.
In all, each of the six West schools can fall back on a returning starter at QB, while only four Mountain squads can say the same.
True, as mentioned above, the West does have the MWC's two worst teams, 3-9 Hawaii and 2-11 UNLV, from a year ago, but the Rebels and Rainbow Warriors are the two most experienced squads in the conference with a combined 37 returning starters between them. Additionally, the distractions and sights alone make it tough to stroll into Vegas or Honolulu and notch an easy win.
The West in a tight call.
Not only did things neatly divide geographically for the new-look MWC, but it appears as if it’ll turn out to be a fairly even competitive split as well.
And while the slight overall edge goes to the West right now based mainly on having more projected quality teams and players, it definitely won’t shock anyone if the Mountain’s Boise State wins the inaugural Mountain West Championship Game on its own blue turf come Dec. 7.