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1,000 Words: Ranking Mountain West football schedules from easiest to toughest

Nevada football
On paper, Nevada's schedule ranks in the middle of the Mountain West pack. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* THE MOUNTAIN WEST released its football schedules this week, so let’s take a look at the slates around the league, ranking them from the easiest to the most difficult. Here we go.

12. NEW MEXICO (Non-conference: vs. Sam Houston State, at Notre Dame, vs. New Mexico State, at Liberty). New Mexico has typically played soft non-league schedules, and it’s the same in 2019 outside of a big game at Notre Dame. Sam Houston State is an FCS team, Liberty just moved to the FBS and NMSU has historically been one of the worst FBS teams in the nation. This is basically Notre Dame and three FCS-caliber teams. New Mexico’s last five games are tough. The first seven aren’t.

11. AIR FORCE (Non-conference: vs. Colgate, at Colorado, at Navy, vs. Army). The Falcons play a Power 5 team for just the second time in the last four years when it goes to Colorado, which is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Air Force has its usual games against Navy and Army and draws five bowl teams in all, including a stretch of four straight in the middle of the season (vs. Fresno State, at Hawaii, vs. Utah State, vs. Army). Outside of that stretch in October, the schedule is favorable at the start and at the end.

10. WYOMING (Non-conference: vs. Missouri, at Texas State, vs. Idaho, at Tulsa). Wyoming hosts an SEC foe, which is rare for a MW team, but the rest of the non-league schedule is soft. Texas State and Tulsa both won three games last season and Idaho won four games at the FCS level last year. The Cowboys must go to Boise State and Utah State in back-to-back weeks and plays five 2018 bowl teams in total. There’s a difficult stretch in the middle of the season, but there’s plenty of potential to reach a bowl.

9. SAN DIEGO STATE (Non-conference: vs. Weber State, at UCLA, at New Mexico State, vs. BYU). The non-league schedule isn’t overly challenging with UCLA rebuilding, NMSU perennially bad and BYU more average than good in recent years. The Aztecs also avoid Boise State and Air Force in conference play and host the three most difficult foes in its MW schedule (Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State). Only one of SDSU’s first eight opponents made a bowl in 2018, so there’s opportunity to get fat early.

8. BOISE STATE (Non-conference: at Florida State, vs. Marshall, vs. Portland State, at BYU). The Broncos’ schedule probably looked strong on paper when scheduled. But Florida State went 5-7 last year and BYU 7-5, so those foes aren’t as powerful as usual. Boise State also dodges Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada from the West Division, which means the Broncos only play two MW bowl teams from a season ago (Hawaii and Utah State). Boise State plays a MW-low four bowl teams from last year.

7. COLORADO STATE (Non-conference: vs. Colorado, vs. Western Illinois, at Arkansas, vs. Toledo). The Rams draw a pair of power conference teams, but neither are especially good. Neither Colorado nor Arkansas made a bowl last season. Half of the Rams’ MW foes reached the 2018 postseason. Games at Utah State and Fresno State won’t be easy and the Rams finish the regular season with Boise State. This is a solid schedule but not one that is overwhelming difficult. It could set up for a bowl appearance.

6. FRESNO STATE (Non-conference: at USC, vs. Minnesota, vs. Sac State, at New Mexico State). This one largely hinges on how good USC is. If the Trojans are legit, the first two games against USC and Minnesota are strong. That said, only one of the Bulldogs’ first seven foes reached a bowl last season, that being Minnesota. Then comes a stretch of four straight games against 2018 postseason participants (at Hawaii, vs. Utah State, at San Diego State, vs. Nevada), although that stretch isn’t too hard.

5. NEVADA (Non-conference: vs. Purdue, at Oregon, vs. Weber State at UTEP). Nevada's first two games are difficult with Purdue and Oregon, two Power 5 bowl teams from last year, but its other two non-league games are basically gimmies. Four of Nevada’s final six contests are on the road, and they’re against solid competition in Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State and Wyoming. The Wolf Pack does drop Boise State from the schedule, but with six bowl teams, including two Power 5s, it’s a solid schedule.

4. SAN JOSE STATE (Non-conference: vs. Northern Colorado, vs. Tulsa, at Arkansas, at Army). After scheduling at least two Power 5 teams every year from 2006-18, including many seasons with three Power 5 teams, SJSU eased up its non-conference slate. Of its four non-league foes, only Army made a bowl last season. Still, six of the Spartans’ final seven games are against bowl teams after opening the season with five straight games against non-bowl foes. Luckily, SJSU’s tougher games are at home.

3. UTAH STATE (Non-conference: at Wake Forest, vs. Stony Brook, at LSU, vs. BYU). Utah State faces three returning bowl squads in non-league play, including two Power 5 teams, one being a potential top-10 team in LSU. The Aggies also play at Fresno State and at San Diego State in cross-division matchups and host Nevada and Boise State. This tough schedule could be payback for last year’s soft slate, which included just four bowl teams – there are seven games against bowl teams this year – that paved the way for the Aggies to go 11-2.

2. UNLV (Non-conference: vs. Southern Utah, vs. Arkansas State, at Northwestern, at Vanderbilt). UNLV has its hands full with non-conference games against an SEC team (Vandy), a team that appeared in the Big 10 title game (Northwestern) and a team that has reached eight straight bowls (Arkansas State). But it doesn’t end there. UNLV plays eight teams that reached bowls last season, the most in the MW. (Utah State is second with seven and Hawaii, Nevada and SJSU are tied for third with six). Coach Tony Sanchez almost certainly needs a bowl berth to keep his job, and he’ll have to earn it with this schedule.

1. HAWAII (Non-conference: vs. Arizona, vs. Oregon State, at Washington, vs. Central Arkansas, vs. Army). Hawaii took things easy in 2018, which helped it win eight games in the regular season. That’s not the case in 2019. In non-conference play, the Rainbow Warriors face three Pac-12 teams as well as Army, which finished 2018 ranked. Toss in games with Boise State and Fresno State and Hawaii, which faces six teams that played in the postseason last year, could play up to four ranked teams in 2019.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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