It wasn't a banner year for the Mountain West in bowl games; that much we know. What we don't know is what those outcomes - along with the next wave of changes that will take place - will mean for next season and beyond. But it's sure going to be fun to watch...
Along with a not-as-good-as-normal 1-4 record for existing MW teams in the postseason, we need to factor in a pair of wins - and likely Top 25 BCS finishes - for Utah State and San Jose State as well. The Aggies and Spartans will be new members of the conference next fall, and their late-season performances have to be strongly considered when you look at next season's league race. Then again, both those schools - along with Nevada - will be breaking in brand new head coaches too, so there's that to consider.
First, now would be a great time for a tip of the cap to the Wolf Pack's Hall of Fame Coach Chris Ault, the inventor of the "pistol" offense and the school's all-time winningest head coach. All Ault did in Reno during his 40 years as the head coach was win 10 conference titles and go to 10 bowl games, while winning 233 games. Already in the College Football Hall of Fame, Ault is retiring, and turning over a loaded roster to his yet to be named successor.
At SJSU and USU, they'll also be replacing coaches. What none of those guys have to worry about is replacing standout quarterbacks. At the start of the season, the Spartans didn't know what they had in transfer David Fales, but by the end of the year, they had the nation's leader in completion percentage, a guy who threw for over 4,000 yards and was the MVP of the Military Bowl win over Bowling Green. That should make things a little smoother for new coach Ron Caragher.
Aggies new coach Matt Wells will hand the keys to dual threat standout Chuckie Keeton. All Keeton did this year was pass for 3,373 yards and rush for 619 while accounting for 35 touchdowns. Nevada's new head man will be able to count on junior Cody Fajardo, who threw for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He also rushed for 140 yards in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
And don't sleep on Brett Smith of Wyoming - if he can stay healthy. Smith and the Pokes had a snake-bit kind of season, but the conference's Freshman of the Year from 2011 did his fair share of damage when he was on the field this fall. Fair to expect a big year out of Smith in 2013.
And oh yes, the MW's Offensive Player of the Year will be back under center at Fresno State. Based on the talent (and head coach Tim DeRuyter) returning, you'd probably make the Bulldogs the pre-season MW favorite next season. Their star quarterback David Carr is slated to return to continue his assault on the Bulldogs (and conference) record book, and he'll have some talent receivers to throw to. Can Carr better his 4,104 passing yards and 37 TD's next fall?
If what we saw in 2012 is any indication, there's the potential to see some serious offensive explosions during Mountain West play in 2013.
Visit 2012 MW Bowl Central for full postseason coverage!
Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the last in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: Air Force, which finished fourth this season in the MW, earned a bowl bid for a school-record sixth straight year under coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons are 10-11-1 all-time in the postseason, having posted a mark of 1-2 in three previous appearances in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force and Rice are meeting for the seventh time overall. The Falcons lead the series 5-1, with the most recent meeting culminating in a 22-16 win by the Falcons in 1998. Rice, meanwhile, which won five of its final six games to finish in a tie for second place in the West Division of Conference USA, earned its 10th bowl bid in school history and third in the past seven years. The Owls, whose most recent postseason appearance came in a 38-14 win over Western Michigan in the 2008 Texas Bowl, have an all-time mark of 5-4 in bowl games.
When Air Force Has the Ball: Sixth-year senior quarterback Connor Dietz has completed 67-of-108 passes for 1,127 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He was one of just three players (Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Louisiana Tech's Colby Cameron) to avoid throwing an interception until the ninth game of the season. Dietz's completion percentage of 62.0 percent ranks as the third-best single season mark in school history. He is second on the team in rushing with 658 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Senior running back Cody Getz ranks ninth in school history in single-season rushing yards with 1,213. Ranked No. 20 nationally with an average of 110.3 yards per game, Getz opened the season with five straight 100-yard games. He has topped the 200-yard mark a school-record three times this season and has six 100-yard games, tying the single-season school record. Junior receiver Ty MacArthur, who is averaging 17.1 yards per catch, leads the team with 24 receptions for 411 yards. MacArthur is also fifth on the team in rushing with 419 yards and two touchdowns while averaging a team-best 8.7 yards per carry. Defensively, Rice is paced by first-team All-Conference USA selection Phillip Gaines, a junior cornerback who is tied for the national lead with 18 pass breakups. Defensive tackles Hosam Shahin and Christian Covington have combined for nine sacks this season. Shahin's career-best 5.0 sacks are the most by a Rice interior lineman in 15 years. Shahin and Covington have combined with defensive ends Cody Bauer (5.5) and Jared Williams (5.5) for 20 sacks this season.
When Rice Has the Ball: Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue has had a hand in 22 of the Owls' 46 touchdowns this season. McHargue, who has completed 188-of-317 pass attempts (59.3 percent) with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, also leads the team in both rushing yards (809) and rushing touchdowns (11). Junior running back Charles Ross (763 yards, 4 TDs) averaged 5.7 yards per carry during the regular season. Senior tight end Vance MacDonald, a first-team All-Conference USA selection who has been invited to participate in next month's Senior Bowl, has caught 35 passes for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite missing three games due to injury. He had a combined 16 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown in the team's final two games, finishing with a career-high nine catches in the season finale against UTEP. Air Force senior inside linebacker Austin Niklas and senior outside linebacker Alex Means pace the Air Force defense. Niklas is second in the MW and 28th nationally with an average of 9.5 tackles per game. He has recorded 10 or more tackles five times this season. Means, who ranks second on the team with an average of 7.4 tackles per contest, leads the team and ranks fourth in the league with 11.0 tackles for loss. He also has two interceptions, nine pass breakups and has blocked four kicks in his career.
Special Teams: Rice junior placekicker Chris Boswell leads the nation with six field goals of 50 or more yards this season and tied an NCAA record by kicking three from that distance against SMU on Nov. 17. He is 6-of-7 from 50 or more yards this year and has made his last four from that distance. He has connected on a school-record 21 field goals in 2012 while establishing a Rice scoring record for kickers with 105 points. Air Force senior placekicker Parker Herrington has made 4-of-10 field-goal attempts this season, while the do-everything MacArthur is averaging 19.7 yards on kickoff returns and 7.6 yards per punt return. MacArthur's 965 all-purpose yards rank second on the team. Rice junior Jeremy Eddington preserved the team's spot in the postseason when he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown with just over six minutes remaining in the season finale at UTEP. Eddington finished with 210 yards on four kick returns, the second-best total in school history.
Analysis: Only one team in the nation --- Army --- averaged more yards rushing per game than Air Force (328.75), which is matched against a Rice squad that ranked tied for 91st in the country against the run (192.75 ypg). Conversely, the Owls, who boasted the second-best ground game in Conference USA (201.25 ypg), will test a Falcons rush defense that endured its own share of struggles, allowing an average of 198.0 yards per contest. In a game where the numbers are relatively even, much could be determined by special teams and Air Force's ability to protect the ball. The Falcons turned it over 26 times during the regular season, seven more than Rice.
Visit 2012 MW Bowl Central for full postseason coverage!
Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the fourth in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: Mountain West tri-champion Fresno State enters the game riding a five-game win streak while pocketing its first league championship since 1999. This will be Fresno State's 24th bowl game in program history. The Bulldogs, who are 12-11 all-time in the postseason, are making their 12th bowl appearance in the last 14 seasons. Fresno State's most recent postseason appearance came in a 40-17 loss to Northern Illinois in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl. SMU, under the direction of former Hawai‘i head coach June Jones, has dropped five of its six meetings against Fresno State, the last coming in a 42-0 loss on Oct. 30, 2004. The Mustangs won four of their final six games of the season, capped off by an upset of Conference USA West Division champion Tulsa, to become bowl eligible for the 14th time in program history. SMU, which topped Pittsburgh in last year's BBVA Compass Bowl, is 6-7-1 all-time in the postseason.
When Fresno State Has the Ball: The Bulldogs positively exploded in their first season utilizing offensive coordinator Dave Schramm's spread offense. Fresno State, which ranks first in the MW and 12th nationally in scoring offense (40.2 ppg), scored 40 or more points seven times. During the course of their current five-game win streak, the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more in every game. Paced by junior quarterback David Carr, the MW Offensive Player of the Year, Fresno State ranks first in the league and 12th nationally in passing offense (322.58 ypg) while ranking 14th in the country in total offense (488.50). Carr, the only quarterback in the league to average more than 300 yards passing per game (311.8), has completed 68.1 percent of his passes (311-of-457) this season while throwing just five interceptions. His 36 touchdown passes are nine more than any quarterback in the MW. Senior running back Robbie Rouse, the nation's third-leading active rusher and Fresno State's all-time leader with 4,625 career yards, tied the MW record this season with nine 100-yard games. He ranked third in the league and 13th nationally with an average of 122.3 yards per game. Wide receiver Davante Adams, the MW Freshman of the Year and a unanimous all-league first-team selection, led the conference in every receiving category. His 89 catches are 26 more than any other MW receiver this fall. His 1,168 receiving yards are 314 more and his 13 touchdowns are seven more than any player in the league. None of which bodes terribly well for SMU, which has allowed an average of 271.71 yards passing per game and ranks 103rd nationally in pass defense. The Mustangs, who finished second in the West Division of Conference USA, also ranked last in the league in sacks while allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw 26 touchdown passes.
When SMU Has the Ball: Whereas running the ball was largely considered a gadget play during Jones' run-'n'-shoot tenure at Hawai‘i, such is not the case at SMU where senior Zach Line rushed for 1,207 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. The Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, Line is the only running back in SMU history with three 1,200-yard seasons. His 4,114 career rushing yards and 46 rushing touchdowns rank sixth and third, respectively, among active players, while his 4,715 career all-purpose yards are second all-time at SMU and his 276 career points are third. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who transferred from Texas last season, has thrown for 2,720 yards and 14 TDs against 13 interceptions. As good as Fresno State's offense has been this season its defense has been no less sparkling. Led by senior strong safety Phillip Thomas, the MW Defensive Player of the Year and finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bulldogs ranked first in the MW in pass efficiency defense (100.0), pass defense (163.42 ypg; tied 4th nationally), sacks (35) and tackles for loss (85). Fresno State tied for first in the MW in takeaways (33) and was second in the league in total defense (335.33 ypg) and scoring defense (22.25 ppg). Thomas (82) and junior free safety Derron Smith (72) ranked first and second, respectively, in total tackles while combining for 14 interceptions. Thomas led the nation with eight INTs and took three of those thefts to the end zone. He also accumulated 12.5 tackles for loss on the year.
Special Teams: Fresno State senior Quentin Breshears, who made 11-of-14 field-goal attempts (78.6 percent) during the regular season, led all MW kickers with 89 points. Senior Andrew Shapiro ranked fifth in the league in punting with an average of 42.4 yards. SMU junior placekicker Chase Hover has endured his share of struggles, connecting on just 61.5 percent (16-of-26) of his field-goal attempts. Sophomore Der'Rikk Thompson (25.69 ypr) ranked fifth among kickoff returners in Conference USA this season for the Mustangs, who blocked six kicks during the regular season.
Analysis: It's been a magical ride for first-year coach Tim DeRuyter and Fresno State, whose three losses came against opponents (Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State) with a combined record of 31-6. The Bulldogs head to the islands playing at an extremely high level on both sides of the ball, and there's little reason to believe that an SMU team that allowed an average of 433.2 yards (286.2 passing) in its six losses will be able to slow one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
I know I've outgrown making a list and all, but it never hurts to ask, right? You're never too old for a few presents. So here's wish my list...
First, I want an automatic bowl tie in for the champion of the Mountain West Conference with the Fiesta Bowl, starting with the 2014 season. This just makes sense. The game is being left out of the tie-ins with the soon-to-be-former BCS conferences. The Fiesta will get two "at-large" teams. So I ask: Will a Northern Illinois be a better draw than the MW champ? Of course not. Let the MW champ face an at-large team and watch the conference profile grow.
Before that could happen, I want more "BCS" level schools to come play MW teams on OUR turf. More games like Nebraska at Wyoming (the 2011 game was a great event), Texas at New Mexico (Lobos played both UT and Texas Tech on the road this season), Kansas State at Colorado State, Notre Dame at Air Force (coming fall of 2013!), USC at UNLV (LA vs. Vegas...awesome) and maybe Oregon AT Fresno State. We get games like this way too seldom. The MW teams have to travel 80% of the time, often times for long distances. Make it a 50-50 sort of arrangement and the MW schools would come out on top a lot more often. And the profile will grow.
I want a shiny new on-campus football stadium for Colorado State and a bowl game for Denver's Sports Authority Field. They play lots of bowl games in places with weather worse than Denver, and there's plenty to do in the football crazed Mile High City.
Staying with that theme, I want a holiday college basketball tournament to return to Pepsi Center in Denver. The return of "The Mile High Classic" circa 1989, could feature Colorado, Colorado State (for a possible second meeting each season, the first being their annual on-campus game in early December), Nebraska (now coached by former CSU head man Tim Miles) and say, Oklahoma State. If the atmosphere at the CSU - CU game in Boulder is an indicator, there is an appetite for more quality college hoops along the front range. Add in the fan fervor from Nebraska and the basketball history of Okie State, you'd have a smash hit.
I want pre-season college baseball tournaments in places like Fresno, Las Vegas and Albuquerque that bring some of the nation's best programs west. Entice some of the powerful teams from Florida and the east coast to come to MW territory for some early season tests. If the SEC and ACC schools won't venture out to play MW teams, the conference RPI will never get to where it should be.
I want a trip to Omaha for the College World Series - via bus ride of course - for Ray Birmingham and the New Mexico Lobos baseball team. Come to think of it, I want to see Tony Gwynn take the San Diego State Aztecs to Omaha, too. (My guess is they would fly...) I also want to see Mike Kazlausky and the Air Force Falcons play in the MW tournament. They deserve it.
I want baseball programs brought back at Colorado State and Wyoming. I know, it's about money and weather....but hey, we made it work when I was in school. It could work now, too. It's working at Air Force, by the way.
Finally, I want a period of quiet calm on the realignment front for Commissioner Thompson and everyone in the MW offices. They deserve it, too.
Is this asking for too much????
Visit 2012 MW Bowl Central for full postseason coverage!
Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the third in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: Mountain West tri-champion Boise State is making its third straight appearance in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos topped Utah 26-3 in the 2010 game before blitzing Arizona 56-24 in last year's contest. One of just 10 teams nationally to play in 10 or more consecutive bowl games, the Broncos, who are 8-4 in FBS bowl games, will be making their 11th straight postseason appearance and 12th in the past 13 years. The game marks the third consecutive postseason appearance for Washington following last season's 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. The Huskies, who finished fourth in the Pac-12 North, have an all-time bowl mark of 16-15-1.
When Boise State Has the Ball: While the loss of four-year starting quarterback Kellen Moore was destined to have a significant impact, the Broncos nonetheless averaged 30.4 points and 390.0 yards per game. Junior Joe Southwick, who assumed Moore's spot behind center, concluded the regular season completing 66.7 percent of his pass attempts (222-of-333) with 17 touchdowns. In his last two games, Southwick has completed 36-of-46 passes for 415 yards. Senior running back D.J. Harper, a second-team All-MW selection, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in the team's regular-season finale at Nevada and has accounted for 15 of BSU's 42 touchdowns in 2012. The Broncos will be facing a Washington team that ranks 16th nationally in pass efficiency defense (2nd in Pac-12) and 30th in total defense (3rd in Pac-12). Only three teams in the Pac-12 allowed fewer points per game (23.83) than the Huskies during the regular season.
When Washington Has the Ball: Led by dual-threat quarterback Keith Price, the Huskies have endured their share of offensive struggles in 2012, ranking 10th in the Pac-12 and 99th nationally in total offense (347.58 ypg). Washington, which will be facing the nation's No. 9-ranked defense, has been limited to 21 or fewer points seven times this season. Now the Huskies are presented with the challenge of finding the end zone against a Boise State defense that is yielding an average of just 14.92 points (No. 6 nationally) and has not allowed more than 21 points in a game since Week 4. Four BSU players --- DL Mike Atkinson, DE Demarcus Lawrence, LB J.C. Percy and CB Jamar Taylor --- earned first-team All-MW honors, with Percy becoming the program's first player to record more than 100 tackles in a season (101) since 2006. Lawrence's 9.5 sacks led the MW. Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a finalist for the John Mackey Award, presented annually to the nation's top tight end, holds school records for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end. His 63 receptions this season ranks second nationally among tight ends and also represent a single-season school record.
Special Teams: Broncos senior placekicker Michael Frisina has already connected on 12 field goals in 2012, quadrupling his total from all of 2011 (three). The Broncos' average of 25.77 yards per kickoff return ranks 9th nationally, while senior Chris Potter ranks 18th in the country with an average of 11.83 yards per punt return. Washington placekicker/punter Travis Coons has converted 7-of-11 field-goal attempts this season and is averaging 39.5 yards per punt.
Analysis: While Washington does possess its share of weapons in Price, Seferian-Jenkins and sophomore running back Bishop Sankey (102.83 ypg), this is a tall order for the Huskies, who must deal with a team that ranks fourth in the nation in turnovers gained (33) and is tied for fourth in pass defense (163.42 ypg). The Broncos are also sixth in scoring defense, seventh in pass efficiency defense (101.42) and ninth in total defense. Nationally, Washington ranks no higher than 86th (passing offense) in any offensive category.
Ever since the music started and chairs began to get rearranged, and conference realignment became an on-going news story of its own, college football has been not only front and center, but THE center of everything related to realignment. Thoughts about what was best for other sports - even revenue-generating sports like NCAA men's basketball - were cast aside. Consider this: during the first wave of changes, there was a brief period of time when basketball superpower Kansas wasn't sure it was going to have a home in a BCS conference.
Football had dictated every single move in this ongoing saga - until last week. Finally, a group of schools who don't play football and had grown tired of having their athletic futures decided by what was best for other school's football programs, decided to stand up for hoops.
Because DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova carve out much of their athletic identity from their basketball programs, the recent football-fueled expansion moves by their conference, the Big East, left them feeling left out. As a result, a conference that was originally formed to be a basketball power and grew into the best hoops conference in the country - which had over the course of the last couple of years over-extended itself in order to try to keep up with the madness created by football - appears to be mortally wounded. At the very least, the Big East Conference has completely lost its identity, if not much much more.
Considering how popular NCAA basketball and "March Madness" have become, it's always been puzzling why what was best for basketball programs has never really been considered during all the crazy conference shuffling. It's not like the basketball programs are irrelevant and won't be affected, right? There are numerous schools that have changed or will be changing conferences whose basketball teams are better than their football teams. Often times, those powerful basketball teams aren't getting to take a step up in conference, but a good-sized step back. How does this make any sense?
It was their unhappiness with having their conference watered down in hoops that led those seven prominent Big East schools to announce they were breaking away. Who knows if they will be the last to do so.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West is one of those handful of conferences that has had great balance between football and basketball. Over the past eight seasons, MW football teams have posted the best win percentage in bowl games of any conference - better than the Almighty SEC. Yet collectively, hoops might be even better, with the MW's conference RPI ranking in the top five each of the last three seasons. Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada - the schools that have joined the MW in the past three years (with the exception of Hawaii, a football-only member) have all enjoyed a step up in conference affiliation in ALL their sports, not just football. The same will be true for San Jose State and Utah State starting next season.
Realignment isn't finished - not by a long shot. But you have to wonder, now that the soon-to-be former Big East members have seemingly struck the first blow for what's best for basketball, how many other schools might be thinking and rethinking decisions that have been made, to this point, without much thought about the well being of their other sports programs.
Visit 2012 MW Bowl Central for full postseason coverage!
Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the second in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: San Diego State, which captured its first league title since 1998 by finishing in a three-way tie atop the Mountain West with Boise State and Fresno State, won the Poinsettia Bowl two years ago with a 35-14 victory over Navy. The game matches a pair of former MW foes, with the teams' last meeting culminating in a 24-21 win by BYU on Oct. 9, 2010. SDSU, which is 2-5 in bowl games, is making its third straight postseason appearance after dropping a 32-30 decision to Louisiana in last year's New Orleans Bowl. BYU, which earlier signed a three-year agreement to play in the Poinsettia Bowl has appeared in seven straight postseason contests, its latest coming in a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the 2011 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars, who are 12-17-1 in bowl games, lead the all-time series against SDSU 27-7-1.
When San Diego State Has the Ball: Since losing starting quarterback Ryan Katz to a season-ending ankle injury against Nevada in Week 8, the Aztecs have largely leaned on the running back tandem of sophomore Adam Muema (112.9 ypg) and senior Walter Kazee (68.5). The duo has enabled SDSU to rise to 16th in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 229.17 yards per game. Muema, who has six 100-yard games this season, rushed for a career-high 255 yards in the regular-season finale at Wyoming to post his second career 200-yard game. The 255 yards were the ninth-most in a game in program history and most since Larry Ned had 285 in 2001. Junior Gavin Escobar, a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, annually presented to the nation's top tight end, has six touchdown receptions this season and has multiple receptions in 10 of the team's 12 games. SDSU has outscored opponents by an average of 15 points during its current seven-game win streak. The challenge for the Aztecs will be finding room to run against a BYU defense that ranks second in the nation in rush defense (84.25 ypg).
When BYU Has the Ball: Though seniors Riley Nelson and James Lark will likely split time at quarterback against the Aztecs, Lark made the most of his first start of the season in the regular-season finale at New Mexico State, completing 34-of-50 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman was on the receiving end of five of Lark's TD passes, establishing a BYU single-game record. Hoffman, who ranks 20th nationally with an average of 94.50 receiving yards per game, has seven 100-yard games in 2012. He has caught at least one pass in 31 consecutive contests. Meanwhile, running back Jamaal Williams enters the contest with 744 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the ground. His rushing total is the highest ever by a BYU true freshman and his 11 scoring runs equal the school record for a true freshman. San Diego State leads the MW in rushing defense, limiting opponents to just 140.25 yards per game. The Aztecs ranked third in the MW in sacks during the regular season, with sophomore linebacker Jake Fely (86 tackles, 11 for loss) registering a team-high seven quarterback sacks.
Special Teams: After enduring some early-season struggles, Aztecs senior placekicker Chance Marden has connected on eight of his last nine field goal attempts. SDSU junior Colin Lockett has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. BYU, meanwhile, which blocked five kicks during the regular season, possesses a legitimate weapon in senior punter Riley Stephenson, whose average of 47.31 yards ranks No. 2 in the nation.
Analysis: SDSU sophomore quarterback Adam Dingwell has performed admirably in place of injured starter Ryan Katz, setting career highs in completions (19) and completion percentage (79.17 percent) in the regular-season finale at Wyoming. But this figures to be no small test for Dingwell, who will be facing a team that ranks third in the country in total defense (266.33 ypg) and has allowed more than 24 points only once this season (42 vs. Oregon State). Meanwhile, BYU is facing the task of not only winning what is essentially a home game for the Aztecs, but trying to snap the momentum of a team that has won seven straight, its longest streak since winning seven consecutive contests from Nov. 15, 1980-Oct. 10, 1981.
Visit 2012 MW Bowl Central for full postseason coverage!
Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games in 2012. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the first in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: The all-time series is tied 1-1-1, but the teams have not met in 72 years, with Arizona claiming a 26-7 decision in the schools' last meeting on Oct. 11, 1941. Nevada has an all-time mark of 4-8 in bowl games after dropping a 24-17 decision to Southern Miss in last year's Sheraton Hawai‘i Bowl. Arizona is bowl-eligible for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Wildcats' last bowl appearance came in a 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Overall, Arizona, which finished fourth in the Pac-12 South in 2012, is 6-9-1 in the postseason.
When Nevada Has the Ball: Nevada sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, who ranked first in the Mountain West and 11th nationally in total offense during the regular season (319.2 ypg), will take aim at a Wildcat pass defense that has endured more than its share of struggles in 2012, ranking last in the Pac-12 and 116th nationally (295.92 ypg). Meanwhile, senior tailback Stefphon Jefferson, the nation's second-leading rusher (141.92 ypg) and third-leading scorer (23 total TDs), will attempt to exploit an Arizona rush defense that ranked second-to-last this season in the Pac-12 (189.75 ypg).
When Arizona Has the Ball: The only running back in the nation to average more yards per game than Nevada's Jefferson during the regular season was Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey (146.42). Carey, who has 20 rushing touchdowns, will be matched against a Nevada defense that allowed 213.17 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Wildcat senior quarterback Matt Scott (338.45 ypg) ranks seventh nationally and first in the Pac-12 in total offense. Sophomore Austin Hill (99.08 ypg) was the third-leading receiver in the Pac-12 during the regular season. Wolfpack senior linebacker Albert Rosette enters the game as the leading tackler in the MW (10.7 tackles per game). Senior Duke Williams led all MW cornerbacks in tackles during the regular season (100), while sophomore defensive end Brock Hekking ranked second in the league in sacks with eight.
Special Teams: Nevada senior Khalid Wooten averaged 16.4 yards to rank first in the MW in punt return average during the regular season. Wolfpack senior placekicker enters the contest having connected on 7-of-8 field goals (87.5 percent) and 50-of-51 extra-point attempts. Arizona senior kicker John Bonano was 51-of-52 on PATs during the regular season, but missed six of his 20 field goal attempts, including three from a distance of 20-29 yards.
Analysis: If you're a fan of offense, this has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. While Nevada ranks first in the MW and 20th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 37.0 points per game, only 20 teams in the nation have allowed more points per game than Arizona (34.25), which has yielded more than 40 four times. Conversely, Arizona's offense averaged 37.25 points (second in the Pac-12) during the regular season, while Nevada allowed 32.5. Might defense prove paramount? Just a hunch.
At least with the BCS, you know where you stand. You already know if your football conference has been designated a "have" or a "have not." Basketball has no such official NCAA-approved caste system (thank goodness) so theoretically, all teams have the same shot at getting to the top of the mountain. Still, for whatever reason, some conferences are anointed by the pundits and given the designation of being "power" conferences, while others are stuck with the label of "mid-major," whether the labels are deserved or not.
Sure, in basketball, it's more semantics that economics, because in the end, it doesn't matter to teams like Butler, Creighton or Wichita State if they're in a conference labeled a "mid-major." So it doesn't REALLY matter if the national media still wants to refer to the Mountain West as a "mid-major" conference. Those who know the game know better. There's nothing "mid" about Mountain West hoops.
Just for the sake of argument, wouldn't it be nice to know what constitutes a "power" conference in college basketball, and how that designation is earned? I mean, the MW put half of its conference teams in the NCAA tournament a year ago, and could do even better this season. Two years after the "once in a lifetime" season of Jimmer and Kwahi, and one year after having a conference RPI that was better than the ACC, the Mountain West is back again, and possibly better than ever. Three teams are nationally ranked, two more are inside the Top 40 of the RPI, and another, Boise State, which was projected in the lower half of the conference, has already gone on the road and knocked off 11th-ranked Creighton 83-70. It's the Blue Jays only loss of the season so far.
From top to bottom, could the MW be the best it's ever been?
Right now, the MW is the No. 5 rated conference in terms of RPI, ahead of two "power" conferences in the Big 12 AND the SEC. This isn't the first time the MW has been ranked among the top five, either. It concluded both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons as the fifth-ranked RPI conference. So, the MW is ranked among the top five leagues for the third straight year and yet still "some" pundits continue to dwell on the "mid-major" label.
Through the end of November, the MW had the nation's best collective winning percentage, and in addition to New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV being nationally ranked, Wyoming, Boise State and Colorado State all had received votes. All nine teams in the conference had a winning record.
What about all this says "mid-major?"
It was a power conference atmosphere in Boulder last week when Colorado State visited Colorado and the two played before the biggest crowd to ever watch a game at CU. The Buffaloes held off a spirited second-half charge by the Rams to win at home, just days after Wyoming had whipped the defending Pac-12 tournament champion Buffs in Laramie. Meanwhile, the Rams had already traveled to Washington and pasted the Huskies. These games illustrated the small difference between the best of the "power conference" Pac-12 and a couple of teams that finished in the middle of the Mountain West last season. (As for the top of the MW, San Diego State has already beaten UCLA, and New Mexico has whipped USC, just for good measure...)
So we ask again, what makes a college basketball league a "power conference" and what makes it a mid-major? Is it just the random opinions of the biased media? Do facts and results have anything to do with it? Do these labels even matter?
No...and yes. They matter only come tournament selection time. They matter if the NCAA selection committee can't look past conference affiliation when awarding bids to deserving teams outside of the "power" conferences. This HAS happened in the recent past. There were some in the media advocating for five MW teams to get NCAA bids a year ago. "Only" four did, which tied a conference record for the second time in three years. You could have made a strong case for more.
That record could be short-lived. Along with New Mexico, Wyoming has started the season 10-0 and the Cowboys appear ready to join the upper echelon. There really is no reason why the veteran group from Colorado State doesn't earn a repeat trip...and the threesome of the Lobos, Aztecs and Rebels appear to be locks. So if five out of the nine MW teams get to go dancing this coming March, I say we get some sort of official proclamation from the state governors that puts an official end to this "mid-major" nonsense, once and for all.
Or we could just enjoy the postseason and remember then that labels don't matter. Much.
Now that the regular season is over, we know where Mountain West tri-champions Boise State
, Fresno State
and San Diego State
are going to spend Bowl season. We also know that Nevada
and Air Force
will be bowling as well, meaning half the conference teams are playing in the postseason.
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.
Mick McGrane has covered the Mountain West since the league's inception in 1999. He spent 12 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he served as the beat writer for San Diego State football and men's basketball. He currently represents the MW as a member of the Football Writers Association of America All-America Committee and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. McGrane serves as senior writer to the Mountain West, providing readers with exclusive, in-depth information about the Conference by highlighting its 10 member institutions and contributing feature stories on student-athletes that participate in the league's 18 sponsored sports.
Have a question for Mick? E-mail him at mick@TheMWC.com or check him out on Twitter @MWCMick.
Mark Knudson is a Colorado State journalism school graduate and a 12-year veteran of professional baseball. During his playing career, Mark pitched for three major league teams, including the Colorado Rockies, where he was the first Colorado native to play for the hometown team. He recorded wins over three of the four legendary pitchers who make up the 4,000 strikeout club: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. His win over Ryan came for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day in 1991.
Since his retirement, Mark has been a feature writer and columnist for Mile High Sports, a radio talk show host and TV analyst for numerous sports media outlets. For the past six years, he was a columnist and baseball analyst for The Mtn., along with being one of Colorado's six Heisman Trophy voters.
Have a question for Mark? Visit him at ElevationSportsNetwork.com or check him out on Twitter @MarkKnudson41.