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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

For One Last Time, the M.W.C. Schedule

It’s the end of the Mountain West as we know it, but not just yet. Come 2013, the league formerly known as the Mountain West and the league formerly known as Conference USA will merge, creating one awkwardly-named super conference. Super in size, at least. But the Mountain West will still exist in its current, non-Conference USA-affiliated form for this coming season, albeit with its own slight degree of awkwardness. Boise State and San Diego State will play out the string in the Mountain West before taking their wares to the Big East in 2013. A few of Boise’s former pals from the WAC will join the fold, but it’ll be a short-lived reunion.

And the league, now 10 teams strong, will play an eight-game schedule. This leaves the potential for a disputed conference champion, should two teams that don’t meet during the regular season — like the Broncos and Air Force — finish tied atop the final conference standings; in the past, thanks to the league’s round-robin schedule, the Mountain West only listed its tie-breaking procedures in case of a three-team split.

Can you name the Mountain West’s 10 teams? No, T.C.U. is not one of them. Neither is Utah or B.Y.U., if you’re late to the party. Here are the 10: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, U.N.L.V. and Wyoming.

The Mountain West as a whole hits the ground running on the opening weekend of the regular season. All 10 M.W.C. teams are in action; seven take on B.C.S. conference competition. It starts on Thursday, Aug. 30, with U.N.L.V. hosting Minnesota — a game originally scheduled for Saturday but moved up for broadcast purposes. The following evening, Boise State takes on Michigan State in East Lansing.

There’s your M.W.C. game of the year, non-conference edition. It’s an early test for the rebuilding Broncos, with no position under a greater spotlight than quarterback, where it’s expected that junior Joe Southwick will take over Kellen Moore. It’s also a big game for Michigan State, which could use a marquee non-conference win to further its hypothetical at-large B.C.S. hopes.

The first Saturday of the regular season features four games against Pac-12 competition. Nevada goes to California after hosting — and embarrassing — the Golden Bears in 2010. Hawaii does the same with U.S.C., which beat the Warriors in Honolulu two years ago. San Diego State meets Washington in Seattle. Colorado State renews its rivalry with Colorado, hoping to reverse its two-game losing streak in the series.

Bob Davie, back in the college game as the head coach at New Mexico, will be greeted with open arms by the Big 12. After opening the season with a home game against Southern University, the Lobos go to Texas on Sept. 8 and Texas Tech a week later. It won’t be a pretty September for New Mexico altogether: New Mexico State comes next, on Sept. 22, followed by a home game against Boise State.

And what about Boise? Once again, the Broncos will take on a non-conference slate worthy of our respect: Michigan State on the road, Miami (Ohio) at home, B.Y.U. at home and Southern Mississippi on the road. This young and largely untested team will go through a trial by fire before entering the heart of Mountain West play.

Even if Boise start slow — say, goes 2-2 in non-conference play — it’s difficult to see another team challenging the Broncos for the Mountain West title. Again, any lumps the team takes in September and early October will lead to a stronger team down the stretch; the Broncos end the year with seven straight M.W.C. games.

The final full weekend of the regular season, on Nov. 24, features two games with potential bowl implications: Air Force goes to Fresno State while Wyoming hosts San Diego State. The weekend is also headlined by the M.W.C. game of the year, conference edition. Nevada hosts Boise State nearly two years to the day that two last met in Reno — Nevada won, 34-31, thanks to Boise’s kicking woes. Sound familiar?

Boise got the better of the Wolf Pack last fall in a non-conference affair, but the two will be far more evenly matched come November: Boise will be taking a step back while the Wolf Pack should challenge for nine wins in the regular season. After their one-year break, the Broncos and Wolf Pack pick up right where they left off. For one more year, at least, before they separate for good.

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  1. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    You wrote: “Barring any further expansion, once Boise and S.D.S.U. head east the league will return to the seven-game conference schedule it used in 2011.”

    As things stand now, this will be the last season of MWC sports, and beginning in 2013 there will be a new Alliance between the leftover MWC schools and the leftover C-USA schools.

    Who knows what their 2013 schedule will look like . . .

  2. Brian says:

    You totally blew past Wyoming. The first game of Wyoming season is against Texas and reasonably anyone would expect Wyoming to shoot for the MWC title in 2012.

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