Welcome back, Mountain West.
The conference returns to action on Saturday along with the Big Ten. Once the Mountain West and Big Ten play their first games of the season, the Pac-12 and the Mid-American Conferences will be the only two conferences at the top level of college football that haven’t started.
We composed a Big Ten preview earlier this week. Now it’s time to go through what you need to know for the Mountain West’s 2020 season.
Unbalanced conference schedule
The Mountain West is the only conference in college football that released an unbalanced schedule. Every team in the 12-team conference entered the 2020 season with eight games on its schedule but not all of those games were conference games. Boise State and San Diego State are both playing seven conference games (with a non-conference game against BYU) while Air Force only has six conference games on the schedule thanks to annual rivalry games with Army and Navy.
The unbalanced schedules mean that the Mountain West won’t have Mountain and West divisions in 2020. Winning percentage will determine the conference standings and the top two teams at the end of the regular season will play in the conference title game on Dec. 19.
A game has already been canceled
Colorado State and New Mexico won’t be opening the season with everyone else on Saturday. Their game was canceled earlier this week because of coronavirus cases at New Mexico. The Lobos were having to practice in groups this week because of a virus outbreak among the team.
"Due to the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus in Bernalillo County and in accordance with state guidelines, the University of New Mexico is unable to participate in the scheduled football game on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Colorado State University," the conference said in a statement earlier this week.
Notice the use of the world “canceled” and not “postponed.” The game won’t get made up. That leaves CSU and UNM with seven games this season. CSU is set to play Fresno State on Oct. 31 while UNM is scheduled to play San Jose State.
It’s unlikely that the New Mexico-Colorado State game will be the only game canceled this season in the Mountain West. Without any off weekends built into the schedule and teams testing for coronavirus just three times a week and not daily, it seems inevitable that there will be more cancellations.
Todd Graham, Brady Hoke have head coaching jobs
Half the conference’s teams have new head coaches in 2020.
That New Mexico-Colorado State matchup would have been the first games for Danny Gonzales at UNM and Steve Addazio at Colorado State.
Fresno State’s new coach is former Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and UNLV’s new coach is Marcus Arroyo, who was the OC at Oregon. Hawaii and San Diego State have new head coaches too. You’ll recognize their names.
After Nick Rolovich went to Washington State, Hawaii hired former Arizona State coach Todd Graham. And when Rocky Long stepped down at SDSU, the team elevated former Michigan coach Brady Hoke from defensive line coach to replace Long.
This is Hoke’s second stint as SDSU’s head coach and his first head coaching job since he was fired at Michigan in 2014. Hoke coached at San Diego State for two years in 2009 and 2010 and posted a 9-4 record in his second season with the Aztecs before he was hired by UM.
Graham, meanwhile, is starting his fifth head coaching job at the top level of college football. Graham was at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh before he was hired by Arizona State after the 2011 season. He spent the previous two seasons out of college football after the Sun Devils fired him following the 2017 season.
Boise State is the favorite again
You’ll be unsurprised to find out that Boise State is once again the favorite to win the Mountain West.
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier is one of 11 starters returning for a team that was just outside the top 25 of the AP’s preseason poll and we’ll get a good idea of how good the Broncos are pretty quickly.
Boise State is a 16-point favorite against Utah State on Saturday. But the team’s next two games are against Air Force and BYU. The Falcons beat Navy 40-7 earlier this season and BYU is ranked at No. 12 and is currently undefeated.
That game with BYU could end up being for a New Year’s Six Bowl berth. A 9-0 Boise State team with a Mountain West title and a win over BYU could be the favorite to get the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six spot if there are no undefeated teams in the AAC. And if BYU goes undefeated at 8-0 with a win over a strong Boise State team, the Cougars will have a good case for an at-large berth to a New Year’s Six game.
Who is Boise State’s top challenger?
The MWC is pretty open behind Boise State. Who could join the Broncos in the title game?
Don’t sleep on Nevada. The Wolf Pack bring back 17 starters from a team that went 7-6 in 2019. Nevada gets both Wyoming and San Diego State at home in 2020 and the toughest road trip looks to be a late-November trip to Hawaii.
Wyoming could also challenge for a spot in the title game. The Cowboys get both Air Force and Boise State at home. The winner of Saturday’s game between Wyoming and Nevada could have a significant early advantage in the race to the conference title game.
Players to watch
Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier
Wyoming RB Xazavian Valladay
Hawaii WR Jared Smart
Boise State LB Riley Whimpey
Air Force LB Demonte Meeks
Fresno State LB Justin Rice
Utah State S Troy Lefeged
San Jose State DB Jay Lenard
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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