Mountain West is a step behind the big boys in 2013

Fresno State aside, the league has struggled against FBS teams this season.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comNovember 16, 2013 

The last time Boise State won a regular-season nonconference game against an FBS opponent with a winning record, defensive tackle Mike Atkinson provided the offense with an interception return for a touchdown in a 7-6 victory over BYU last season. Boise State dropped two such games this year in blowout fashion — 38-6 at Washington, and 37-20 at BYU — a microcosm of the entire Mountain West. The Mountain West is just 1-17 against the six BCS conferences this season, with No. 14 Fresno State providing the lone win in overtime against Rutgers in Week 1. The league was last in the computer rankings last season, even below the WAC in its final year of football.

JOE JASZEWSKI — Statesman file

— Boise State and the Mountain West built reputations as giant killers in college football during the 2000s.

Now that they’ve joined forces, neither has been able to retain that rep.

The Mountain West has claimed one nonconference victory over a team with a winning record this season — Fresno State over Rutgers — and is 0-17 against the five conferences that will have automatic access to the new College Football Playoff beginning next season.

The Mountain West likely will finish with a losing nonconference record for the second straight year, which hasn’t happened since 2005-06. This year’s struggles follow an abysmal 2012 that saw the Mountain West finish last in the computer rankings — behind the Sun Belt, Mid-American, Conference USA and folding WAC.

Fresno State, which at No. 14 in the Bowl Championship Series standings is in line for a Fiesta Bowl berth, can cover up this year’s struggles with three more wins. The Mountain West hasn’t landed a BCS bid since TCU’s trip to the Rose Bowl in 2010.

“I guess Fresno has done pretty good, beat whoever they’ve played,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “The rest of us have not.”

At the Mountain West media preview in July in Las Vegas, Petersen was among the coaches who predicted big things for the Mountain West this year.

“This is a pretty strong conference,” he said then. “On the outside, nobody really knows that yet. It will take a while to figure that out.”

That process might take a little longer than he thought — perhaps another season or two.

There are promising signs. Former doormats UNLV and Colorado State are on the verge of earning bowl berths, San Jose State and Utah State have backed up last year’s breakout seasons with strong efforts and San Diego State has shaken off a dreadful start.

But like the Broncos’ previous home, the WAC, the Mountain West has too many teams stuck in the bottom quarter of the national rankings — six, which is half the membership.

“This is a good league,” Petersen said this week. “This is going to be a good league. It’s a good fit and all those types of things. I think it’s one year. I think the parity in the league is better, and so that’s something. Hopefully we can all stay a little healthy and do better when we play outside the conference.”

Coaches point out the Mountain West has been hit hard by injuries this season. Boise State and Utah State lost their starting quarterbacks, which contributed to blowout losses to BYU.

The league also likely would have had a Pac-12 win had the Fresno State-Colorado game not been canceled because of flooding.

“The difference in some years is the ability to win those close games out of conference,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “Fresno finds a way to beat Rutgers. Utah State goes down to the Coliseum and loses 17-14 (to USC). Wyoming loses to Nebraska, loses a very close game. … I think it’s too simple to just look at the nonconference record and say, ‘Boy, they’re not what they’ve been,’ because a couple of field goals in a couple of those games and it’s a different story, and people’s opinion might be different.”

One area where the league hasn’t disappointed is offense. The Mountain West boasts five of the top 30 teams in yards per game (No. 5 Fresno State, No. 16 Wyoming, No. 18 Boise State, No. 28 Utah State, No. 29 San Jose State).

“I know this, Fresno is a BCS-type team,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “I saw it last year when they came out on the field. I think everybody is seeing it this year. … I can’t imagine there’s a better offensive league across the country than this league. You’ve got two teams in Fresno and potentially Utah State — and Boise’s still in the thing — that are BCS-caliber teams. That’s a pretty good league.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398; Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service