The Mountain West continues conference play this weekend with six league matchups. Here is a preview of Week 13 of the college football season from the MW's perspective with seven questions that will be answered this week.
1. Who will win the West?
Good job scheduling out the season, Mountain West. The conference pitted Hawaii and San Diego State in their final conference games of the year, thus giving us a true divisional title game. The winner of the Hawaii-SDSU contest will win the West and move on to the MW championship game (both teams have non-conference games next week). It's a true contrast in styles as SDSU wants to run the ball and Hawaii wants to air it out. The Rainbow Warriors have the home-field edge, which is not a minor advantage, and are a small favorite. SDSU has won two West Division titles while Hawaii is looking for its first divisional crown. While two division crowns could be won Saturday, we knew for sure the West will name a champ.
(Sidenote: If Hawaii wins this game and Nevada wins out, the Rainbow Warriors, Wolf Pack and Aztecs will all finish 5-3 in the MW. While Hawaii would win the tiebreaker and play in the MW title game, Nevada head coach Jay Norvell would get a $25,000 bonus for tying for the West Division title.)
2. Will Boise State wrap up the Mountain?
The Mountain Division also could be wrapped up when Boise State plays at Utah State on Saturday. If the Broncos win, they win the Mountain. If the Aggies win, things could get very complicated. In that second scenario, Boise State, Utah State and Air Force could all finish 7-1 in conference, which could eventually send the decision on who wins the Mountain Division to the computer rankings (and I don't think anybody wants titles determined by computers). A Boise State win would make things clear cut, but the more interesting result would be Utah State winning and making the final weekend of the regular season extra intriguing. The Broncos are a nine-point road favorite but could be forced to start its third-string quarterback.
3. Will Fresno State remain in bowl hunt?
Fresno State was supposed to be playing meaningful games at this stage in the season, and I guess the Bulldogs are still playing meaningful games, but not in the way everybody thought. Fresno State was picked to finish first in the West Division in the preseason poll but instead will be playing to keep alive its bowl aspirations when it hosts Nevada on Saturday. Fresno State is 4-6 overall and victories over Nevada and San Jose State the next two weeks would make the Bulldogs bowl eligible but not for sure grant the team a spot in the postseason given the MW already has more bowl-eligible teams (seven) than guaranteed bowl spots (five). A bowl spot would at least salvage something positive outside of an otherwise disappointing year.
4. Can Colorado State, SJSU do the same?
Colorado State and San Jose State are in the same situation as Fresno State. All three sit at 4-6 with two weeks remaining, meaning they must win out to become bowl eligible. SJSU has a much easier path than Colorado State. The Rams play Wyoming and Boise State the next two weeks, so the odds of winning both of those games are almost zilch. Most likely Colorado State goes back-to-back seasons without a bowl berth for the first time since 2011-12. SJSU's path to a bowl is a little easier. The Spartans must beat UNLV this week and Fresno State next week. The last time SJSU made a bowl was 2015, although the Spartans only went 5-7 that season but was added to the postseason because of a shortfall of bowl-eligible teams.
5. Can UNLV, New Mexico win a MW game?
The last time a MW team went without a win in conference play was 2016 when Fresno State went 1-11 overall and 0-8 in league actions. UNLV and New Mexico could both match that feat this season as they are 0-6 in the MW entering the weekend. A MW team has gone win-less in conference play just seven times since the league was formed in 1999. The only time two MW teams didn't win a conference game in the same season was 2013, the first year of the divisional split. Air Force and Hawaii both went 0-8 that season. That could happen again this year. UNLV hosts San Jose State this week and plays at Nevada next week, so it has a better shot of winning than New Mexico, which gets Air Force this week and Utah State next week.
6. Can Nevada keep the momentum?
Nevada has won its last two games, so we're not talking about some extended winning streak, but the people who set the betting lines haven't bought in. The Wolf Pack plays at Fresno State on Saturday as a 14-point underdog. Nevada won at San Diego State in its last game; Fresno State lost at San Diego State in its last game. Nevada is 6-4; Fresno State is 4-6. But Vegas still likes the Bulldogs to roll past the Wolf Pack. Nevada can disprove that on the field. It has already won two games outright this season while being a double-digit underdog (against Purdue and SDSU). Taking a third victory in such a scenario would be big considering the Wolf Pack entered the season 6-52 outright when being a double-digit underdog.
7. Will Wyoming lock up its bowl spot?
Wyoming closed last season with four straight wins to go from 2-6 to 6-6 and bowl eligibility, although the Cowboys were not rewarded with a postseason game as the MW couldn't find a spot for the team. This season, Wyoming started fast, going 6-2 before losses in its last two games. Could the script be flipped with the Cowboys losing their final four to finish 6-6 and be at the mercy of the bowl gods again? Wyoming hosts Colorado State this week before traveling to Air Force to close the regular season. Given it got the short stick last season, I imagine Wyoming has a postseason game in its future, but the Cowboys certainly want to win a seventh game and not allow the powers to be decide their fate. A win over the Rams on Saturday should do the trick.