But what about the other half? What are the prospects for the MW teams whose 2012 seasons are finished? This is important, because when it comes to measuring the over-all strength of a football conference, it's not just what happens at the top that matters. Conference strength can also be measured from the bottom up. There were numerous positive developments for each of these five teams during the 2012 season, and each has reason to look forward to being in bowl contention next season.
In Norm Chow's first year as a head coach, Hawai‘i revamped their offense and started making the shift from the days of the run and shoot to Chow's more traditional offensive approach. The win-loss total wasn't what Chow is aiming for, but the foundation for the future appears to be in place. Chow opted to red shirt many of his best recruits this season, and big things are expected down the road from the likes of quarterbacks Taylor Graham and Ikaika Woolsey.
Chow also came into this season stressing the need for the Warriors to play better defense, signaling an attitude shift: less pure entertainment and more focus on a championship.
Things didn't go exactly has planned for UNLV this season, the Rebels third straight two-win campaign. But Rebels coach Bobby Hauck believes he also has a foundation in place for next season, and getting to a bowl game in his fifth year is his only priority. This season featured four losses by a total of 16 points - an indication that the Rebels are getting much closer to challenging the best teams in the conference.
New Mexico looked like they might make a run at a bowl game in Bob Davie's first season. They jumped out of the gate with a 66-point outburst in a win over Southern, and after dropping a pair to Big 12 opponents, won three of their next four to reach the .500 mark. They faded down the stretch, but Davie's move to the option offense provided a taste of success for a program that had managed only a single win the past two seasons.
"I appreciate these kids effort, I really do," Davie said following the season ending, last second loss at Colorado State. "I love how hard they fight. At the end, they were still standing there swinging. I guess if you look it like that, you can call it a success. They put themselves in a position to win.
"We start our off-season program tomorrow."
The season ending win over New Mexico allowed Colorado State to avoid another 3-9 finish, which would have been their fourth in a row. Instead, they won three of their final five games - all in front of the home fans - and served notice that better days are ahead.
"There's a lot we can build on," said first year CSU Head Coach Jim McElwain after the New Mexico win. "We had some young guys step up and make some plays.
"Three wins at home here at the buzzer, I think this is something that can really help our program moving forward." McElwain added. "There's some good positive things we can take here from this back half of the season. I'm disappointed in our win loss record, but I am not disappointed at all in what we are building, the direction this program is heading. It's not okay not to give your best every day, and that's where this organization is headed."
Wyoming was the one team in this group that expected to challenge for not just a bowl game, but possibly even the 2012 conference title. Among these non-bowl MW teams, the Cowboys have the best prospects for 2013 due mainly to the return of star quarterback Brett Smith. Smith missed significant playing time this season battling concussions, but when he was healthy, he showed the same flashes that earned him Freshman of the Year honors in 2011. If Smith can stay on the field next season, Wyoming should be a factor in the league title race.
2013 should prove to be an equally challenging and exciting year for all the conference teams. Western Athletic Conference champs Utah State and San Jose State replace Boise State and SDSU, but don't expect any drop off. Both the Aggies and Spartans finished the regular season ranked in the BCS Top 25, a sign that the battle for bowl slots will be just as intense next season.