probably definitely way too early to tell.
San Jose State and Utah State haven’t officially joined the Mountain West Conference (2013 schedules have yet to be finalized) – and with National Signing Day today, teams across the nation are only beginning to mold their rosters for next season.
But still, there is that forceful magnetic pull – one that only comes with sudden change – that begs an answer to a million-dollar question.
The Mountain West announcing that it will host divisions and a conference championship game (when only a month beforehand Boise State and San Diego State were slated to leave for the Big East Conference) epitomizes that sudden change.
Beginning in 2013, the league will consist of two regionally structured divisions within the conference: the Mountain Division – with Boise State, Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah State and the West Division with Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV, Hawaii, San Diego State and San Jose State.
Each team will play against its five divisional opponents and three games against cross-divisional competition, annually, with the non-division rotation to be determined by computer.
On Dec. 7, the league will host its inaugural Mountain West championship game in football between the two division winners at the home stadium of the team with the highest Bowl Championship Series ranking.
The NFL has the AFC North, the SEC has Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the West … so which Mountain West Conference division will be, not the most dominant, but the most competitive heading up to the league’s inaugural championship game next season?
The curiosity probably wouldn’t be as high if it weren’t for San Jose State and Utah State’s sudden rise. Both teams went 11-2 in their final season in the Western Athletic Conference and went a combined 4-0 against Mountain West schools en route to finishing their seasons with seven-game winning streaks.
Also consider: these are teams that were both a field goal away from upsetting Pac-12 champion Stanford and Big Ten champion Wisconsin in nonconference play.
Despite the fact that both the Spartans and Aggies underwent coaching changes this offseason, their performances make you wonder how last season’s Mountain West title race would’ve unfolded had the two schools switched conferences a year sooner.
Both divisions seem to be getting welcomed additions.
Fresno State benefits
The Bulldogs arguably benefit from this alignment in more than one way. With San Jose State and San Diego State in the West Division, Fresno State – in a traditional 12-game schedule – has the chance to play eight of its games within state lines.
The Mountain West benefits as a whole from its schools’ strong finishes this season.
Utah State (16th), Boise State (18th) and San Jose State (21st) were ranked in the season’s final AP Top 25 poll.
Fresno State, though routed by SMU 43-10 in the Hawaii Bowl to end the season, was ranked 20th in USA Today’s Early 2013 Top 25 poll.
One conference from the “Group of Five” (Mountain West, Big East, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Conference-USA) will receive an automatic berth to one of the six premier bowls for the highest-ranked conference champion in college football’s new playoffs model.
In an alternate reality…
… The Mountain West Conference held its first-ever conference championship last season with its current 10-team league.
Based solely on the 2012 Mountain West schedules, and its teams’ conference and theoretical division records, this year’s three-way split for the championship crown would’ve been settled a little something like this:
West Division champion Fresno State at Mountain Division champion Boise State
The Bulldogs lost to Boise State on the road 20-10 on Oct. 13 – but, remember, Fresno State technically clinches the West Division with its 52-40 shootout win at home against West rival San Diego State on Sept. 29.
Boise State was ranked 19th in the BCS standings after its final contest of the season.
To reiterate, this dream scenario would be far from precise.
Teams such as Fresno State and UNLV and Boise State and Air Force, both pairs slated to become division-mates next season, did not play each other in 2012. This food-for-thought postulation is merely for the sake of argument.
Though with that said: How long of a stretch would it be if that were actually how the first-ever Mountain West title game were to be settled?
In a world of speculation and argumentation, there is no clear-cut answer as to which division will have the competitive edge this coming season. Simple math would give the edge to the West (with 4-of-6 teams breaking .500) than to the Mountain Division (2-of-6).
The one thing that does seem apparent: the road to a Mountain West Conference title next season does not go through any one school.