It's Mountain West week, you know, the conference that's home to eternal underdog and BCS buster Boise State. Yesterday we gave you a look at what went down in the conference last season. One could say it will it be hard to top the craziness that happened in 2012 for the Mountain West to say the least.
Today though, we take a look forward and while the Mountain West has some new parts to it, those of us who are old enough to remember what the WAC used to be like have a very strange feeling we've seen this makeup of the conference before…. Yep, what was old is now new again and in total all twelve members of the Mountain West at one point in time were members of the WAC… Including six who were there when the bitter split that caused the creation of the Mountain West happened to begin with.
All of this adds up to old foes becoming new again for a whole new generation of students and fans. Good football may also be the result with the likes of San Jose State and Utah State showing over the past few years that they can be serious contenders. So, with that said, what games will become the most important to the new look Mountain West? Who will end up in Las Vegas for the first championship game in conference history?
Let's take a look at the games that will be biggest in the new look Mountain West!
10. Nevada at San Diego State (Oct. 14): Nevada and San Diego State could be the biggest challengers to Fresno State in the West division, so this meeting in mid-October could have big implications for the Mountain West title. However, it also requires the Wolfpack to find life without Chris Ault at the helm to be better this time around than the last. This game could be even more important when looking through the prism of the season recap, however it's hard to put this higher right now due to the unknown nature of what Nevada will be like this season.
9. Colorado State vs. Colorado (Sept. 1): Now this is a bit of a personal favorite of mine and it's because it's one of the best and most under appreciated rivalries in college football. Any time CSU and the Buffs get together expect some craziness. It's the one game that really gets Coloradoians excited for college football as it regularly draws the biggest crowds in the state. Of course playing it on a neutral field in Denver also helps that happen. It's also a great launching point for both teams. While it's been 7-3 in favor of the Buffs in the past ten years, only once has this game been a blowout (a 24-3 CU win in 2010) over that 10 game span. Expect the unexpected in this one as CSU took the trophy last season and it could well be another evenly matched game in 2013 as well.
8. San Jose State at Nevada (Nov. 16): Again, two possible challengers to Fresno State and by the time this game comes around in mid-November one of these two could be major contenders in need of this win. My money is on San Jose State for that function in this matchup, but sleeping on Nevada is always a mistake and with this game being played in Reno the weather could be a major factor in this one. With both of these teams having new head coaches a lot will be unknown about these teams going into the season and that's why this one isn't higher. I could be totally missing the mark and this will have major importance or the exact opposite. But, it's hard to see SJSU not being a challenger in need of a win at this point in the season.
7. Utah State at Air Force (Sept. 7): Air Force has been a steady force, making bowl games and making waves in the MWC in the past few seasons. But they've also done a slow decline from a conference challenger to a barely bowl eligible team this past season. Troy Calhoun's bunch need to show their youth becomes experienced players and this early season battle against a team that won 11 games last season will tell a lot about who could be in the upper division of the Mountain division. The biggest twist in this one is that the Aggies won't have Gary Andersen at the helm, as he's at Wisconsin. Thankfully they'll have Chuckie Keeton back at QB and a ton of returning starters all over the place. For me that adds up to a pretty smooth transition and this will be a big test to that transition to say the least.
6. Colorado State at Air Force (Nov. 30): This end of season rivalry for the Ram-Falcon trophy could make or break someone's hopes of being a bowl eligible team and if that's the case recent history tells us expect the Falcons to be that team as they are 8-2 in the past ten meetings, winning the last seven of these contests. For Colorado State it'll be the 2nd year under Jim McElwain and by this point we'll know if the momentum built to end 2012 has carried over. If CSU can stay healthy, hell if both of these teams can stay healthy they could be surprising challengers and this game could mean more than just the rivalry between these Colorado neighbors.
5. Utah State at Utah (Aug 29): Does this game really need a lot of hype? It's a Utah squad trying to become relevant in the Pac-12 versus a Utah State team trying to prove last season wasn't a fluke. No, I'm not talking about their 11 win season, I'm talking about their win over Utah, who had won 12 straight before going down 27-20 to the Aggies. This is also a rivalry game we may not see much of in the future if the Pac-12 stays at nine games (not likely) and Utah doesn't agree to a home and home setup like they have in the past. Either way this game has exciting and important as launching pads to the season written all over it. Opening the season against a team looking to avenge an embarrassing loss to "little brother" never is good. Add in the debut of Matt Wells as the Aggies head coach and you have a reason to tune in on opening night of college football.
4. Boise State at Utah State (Oct. 12): Could this be winner take all in the Mountain division? A lot of pundits seem to think so and on paper these are the clear front runners for the division title so it well could be. However, having this game played early in the conference slate also means the winner has the pressure of keeping the undefeated conference play streak alive too. Expect this one to be a dynamic battle between two of the best offensive teams in the Mountain West. We also may witness the best matchup of quarterbacks in the conference (yes SJSU's David Fales included) against two of the better defense's as well. Buckle up for perhaps the biggest of big boy football matchups in the high powered Mountain West conference.
3. Boise State at San Diego State (Oct. 14): How long as San Diego State been a sleeping giant? Every time you think you'll see this team step up to the expectations of becoming a true contender they fall flat. Well, here's a chance to play a great team in Boise State and show they can be one of the biggest players in the West division all in one. Someone has to challenge Fresno State, why not SDSU? Besides SDSU took down Boise State last season and have won 26 games over the past three seasons. It's also a rare west coast team that runs and passes the ball with a near equal footing and plays quality defense. That's how they won last season 21-19 over the Broncos. Can you say revenge? This will be one fun cross divisional contest and don't be surprised if there's a rematch to end the season.
2. Rutgers at Fresno State (Aug. 29): Fresno State appears back to it's old self under Tim DeRuyter's leadership and no bigger statement that that is fact could be made than showing it to open the season at home against a future Big Ten and current The American member in Rutgers. There are all sorts of undertones for this game as these two conferences are hoping to become "the next" conference – you know the one just outside of the Big 5 of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12…. Well, the winner of this one will certainly help their conference's case to be that next best conference. On the field it's an interesting matchup of high powered offense (Fresno State) vs. physical defense (Rutgers) and this is perhaps one of the top games of opening week regardless of conference affiliation. Expect a great game here and if it weren't a non-conference game this would top our list.
1. Boise State at Fresno State (Sept. 20th): These two schools have been the biggest successes out west of all the schools not in the Pac-12/Pac-10 for the better part of the past 15 or so years and they've also played some very entertaining football along the way as well. What you may not know is that this is an actual trophy game. These two schools have been battling for conference supremacy since both became members of the WAC back in 2001 and have played for the Milk Can trophy since 2005. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they have a horrible 1-11 record against their Milk Can rivals since the annual series began in 2001 and are down 11-4 overall between these two schools. This year they'll be cross-divisional rivals and a loss could really put either team behind the eight ball with some very talented schools looking to take them down inside their own divisions.