The Mountain West Preview: Wild things are happening in the mountains

Photo: USA Today Sports

Crystal Ball Run will be previewing each conference for the 2013 season with week-by-week coverage. Today we continue our 2013 conference previews with a look at the Mountain West Conference.

College football has very few guarantees on a yearly basis, Alabama being a national championship contender aside. One thing that appears to be a near certainty though is that the Mountain West Conference will offer you some fun football to watch week in and out. Last season was no different with some wild offenses, surprising defenses and a conference that ended in a three-way tie for first place. This year things should be a bit more defined as the conference expands to 12 members and splits in to two divisions with the champions from each advancing to a true championship game. Will this be another year of Who can beat Boise State, or is the conference deeper than you might expect?

Let's begin our Mountain West Conference preview week with a look back at the 2012 season and some of the changes occurring for 2013.

2012 In Review

In the first season without perennial Mountain west power TCU in the conference (TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012), it looked as though the conference would be Boise State's to lose. Technically that was true, as the Broncos managed to take the top spot in the conference despite ending the season in a three-way tie for first place sharing identical 7-1 conference marks with Fresno State and San Diego State.

It was not the typical Boise State season casual fans have been accustomed to seeing out of the Broncos, despite an 11-win year. The Broncos opened the season at Michigan State but could not find enough offense to leave East Lansing with a win. The defense played well in a 17-13 setback as we would soon learn it would be Boise State's defense that would be the strength of the 2012 Broncos. No other time was that more evident than a Thursday night game at home against BYU. Somehow Boise State managed to pick up a 7-6 win in a game that saw BYU turn the football over five times and a combined total of 461 yards of offense between the two schools. It was also Boise State's defense that recorded the only touchdown for Boise state, with a 36-yard interception return by Michael Atkinson, and the defense stopped BYU on a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter.

Photo: USA Today Sports

The conference welcomed in a handful of Boise State's former conference rivals in the WAC with the additions of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii. Fresno State made their impact evident right out of the gate by topping San Diego State 52-40 in the first MWC game in program history. The two would go on to tie Boise State for the conference championship. Fresno State had an explosive offense, scoring 40 points or more six times in conference play.

Who's In, Who's Out?

The Mountain West Conference was on the verge of losing Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East, but both institutions came to grips with reality and determined their best conference home was the Mountain West. As a result, the conference is not scheduled to lose any schools to opposing conferences any time soon. The conference, however, will be undergoing some changes this season with the additions of San Jose State and Utah State. Both new members are castaways from the deserted WAC football lineup and brings the conference to a membership of 12 members. This means the conference is now set up to split in to divisions and hold a conference championship.

The Mountain Division will consist of Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming. The West Division will include Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, San Diego State and San Jose State. The championship game will be hosted by the school with the highest BCS ranking on Saturday, December 7.

Head Coaching Changes

Another off season dodged by Boise State. Chris Petersen remains the head coach of the Broncos and he does not appear to be going anywhere. Elsewhere around the conference we saw just a small handful of changes in the head coaching ranks, and none were a result of a school's decision. One coach resigned from his long-time position and is now in the NFL, while two others were hired away by programs from the typical power conferences. Of course, it is the two new members who had their coaches hired away, for whatever that is worth.

Nevada – Chris Ault retired (and since has joined the Kansas City Chiefs front office). He is replaced by Texas A&M assistant coach Brian Polian.

San Jose State – Mike MacIntyre was hired away by Colorado. He is replaced by FCS San Diego head coach Ron Caragher.

Utah State – Gary Andersen was hired away by Wisconsin. He is replaced by Matt Wells, who is promoted from offensive coordinator.

BCS Busting Dreams Busted

Boise State has become the role model for BCS busters everywhere in more recent college football memory. Last year the Broncos looked to become the first program form a non-AQ conference to reach a BCS bowl game three separate times, but their quest was derailed with a 21-19 loss at home to San Diego State. the loss dropped Boise State to 7-2 overall and made it nearly impossible to crack the BCS bowl eligibility requirements. That honor would turn out to be awarded to Northern Illinois out of the MAC. The Broncos still managed to put together a record of 11-2 despite having a shaky offense.

The MWC in Bowl Games

Photo: USA Today Sports

The Mountain West Conference did not have a strong showing in the postseason, going jus 1-4 in bowl games. Boise State picked up the lone bow victory for the conference, topping Pac 12 representative Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl, 28-26. Nevada nearly scored a second victory over the Pac 12 but Arizona put together a remarkable comeback with two touchdowns in the final minute of the game to stun the Wolfpack, 49-48.

The rest of the bowl games were awful results for the Mountain West. Air Force was dominated by Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl, 33-14. Fresno State was no match for SMU in the Hawaii Bowl, 43-10. San Diego State had no answers for BYU's stingy defense in the Poinsettia Bowl, losing 23-6.

Biggest Win of 2012

No. 24 Boise State 7, BYU 6 (September 20) – It may not have been the prettiest game to watch, but when you look at the top wins by the conference in 2012 this Boise State victory may have to be on the top of the pile. This was a non-conference win against a quality non-conference opponent that would go on to win 10 games.

Biggest Loss in 2012

No. 19 Boise State 19, San Diego State 21 (November 3) – With Boise state losing to San Diego State, the Broncos were effectively eliminated form the BCS picture. No BCS busting hopeful has ever reached the BCS with two regular season losses. After losing the week one match-up at Michigan State, Boise State had little room for error for a potential BCS berth. A win and Boise State likely would have wiggled back to the BCS stage for a third time. You could make an argument this was the best win of 2012 as well.

Dishonorable mention: Nevada 31, South Florida 32 (September 8) – How Nevada let this one slip away still boggles the mind. Of course, so did their bowl loss to Arizona.

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook.

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About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to’s College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.