Home for the Holidays: Mountain West Football
Mountain West Teams That Didn't Make a Bowl Game in 2012
Another day, another conference realignment rumor, this one involving the Mountain West conference.
CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd reported today that the Big East is trying to lure Fresno State and UNLV away from the MWC as football-only members. Such a move would theoretically give the Big East more leverage negotiating TV deals and BCS membership and would put the Mountain West in jeopardy.
While rumors swirl about the conference’s future, half of its teams are preparing for bowl games, and the other half are already beginning to regroup, hopefully for a more successful season in 2013.
Nevada, which was 4-4 in conference play this year, lost to Arizona by just one point in last weekend’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
San Diego State has the next chance to put the MWC in the win column this bowl season; the Aztecs take on BYU tonight in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
Boise State, Fresno State, and Air Force will also represent the conference in postseason play this year.
Five other coaching staffs got a jumpstart on planning for next season when they failed to win enough games to qualify for a bowl berth. Of the teams that didn’t make it, several were still in the hunt for bowl eligibility late in the season but fell short of the goal.
UNLV, one of the schools that might consider a move to the Big East, had the worst overall record at 2-11, but both those wins came against conference opponents, putting them above New Mexico, which had bowl aspirations in the first half of Bob Davie’s first season at the helm, and Hawaii in the conference standings.
None of those three finished strong enough to get to a bowl game, putting them in the same spot as Colorado State and Wyoming: home for the holidays in 2012.
If the college football season was just a little longer, the Wyoming Cowboys might have sneaked into a bowl game. The team started off with an abysmal 1-7 record before winning three straight in November. The win-streak came on the heels of head coach Dave Christensen's one-game suspension for a profanity-laced tirade directed at Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. Cursing at another coach and taking shots at his military service surely isn't the best way to light a fire under your team's collective rear, but in this case, it worked. If the team had been able to pull off a big upset over San Diego State in the season finale, they would've finished .500 in conference play despite their awful first half.
The Rams won the rivalry game over in-state foe Colorado on opening weekend, but a six game losing streak after that kept them from becoming bowl eligible. Head coach Jim McElwain has a solid base of young players returning for 2013, and the quarterback battle heading into next season will be one to watch. Junior starter Garrett Grayson suffered a broken clavicle partway through the season and was replaced by redshirt freshman Conner Smith, who made a strong case for himself as the Rams' quarterback moving forward. Smith started four of the team's final five games and was under center for three of CSU's four wins in 2012.
UNLV could be considering a move to the Big East as a football-only member, but the team's 2-11 record doesn't make them the most attractive addition. Third-year coach Bobby Hauck has just six wins during his stint at the school, but athletic director John Livengood expects him to match that total next season and take the team to its first bowl game since 2000. Team leading tackler John Lotulelei will graduate, but fortunately for Hauck and his squad, the team will return its quarterback and top two rushers next season.
After the Lobos wrapped up their 13-game schedule, head coach Bob Davie admitted that he was initially concerned just about making it through his first year. The team was perilously thin at key positions, partly as a result of scholarship reductions stemming from NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations back in 2004. The team ended up playing three different quarterbacks this season: injury-prone fifth-year senior B.R. Holbrook went down again partway through the year, as did his backup, Cole Gautsche, which forced third-string sophomore Quinton McCown into action. Junior running back Kasey Carrier was a huge part of the team's offense in 2012, earning second-team All-MWC recognition. Voted New Mexico's team MVP, he set a new school record for single-season rushing yards and became the first Mountain West player to rush for more than 300 yards in a single game.
Norm Chow became the first Asian American head coach for a major college football program, but his first season was a struggle from start until (almost) finish. His team was 3-9, closing out the year with a 48-10 blowout win over UNLV to snap an eight-game losing streak. The Warriors hope that junior kick returner/cornerback Mike Edwards skips the NFL draft and returns to Hawaii for another season. Edwards, who was tied for 12th in the nation with 17 passes defended, was the Mountain West's Special Teams Player of the Year and was recognized as a CBSSports.com All-American.
In addition to re-recruiting Edwards for another year, Chow will have to focus on keeping talented Hawaiian players on the island. The success of players like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Oregon's Marcus Mariota has raised the profile of recruits from Hawaii, and winning the recruiting battles at home will be crucial to getting the Warriors back on top.