Until told otherwise, I'll assume the college football season will proceed as normal, with exceptions coming in the stands where fan attendance will be limited. With that as a backing, I was looking at the Mountain West's 2020 football schedule and one week stood out above the rest. That was week three, and fingers crossed we get a week three. But that week, more than any other, will define the MW's season. Why? Just look at it.
Saturday, Sept. 19
* Air Force at Purdue
* Florida State at Boise State
* Northern Colorado at Colorado State
* New Mexico at New Mexico State
* Utah State at Washington
* Utah at Wyoming
* Hawaii at Oregon
* Nevada at South Florida
* UCLA at San Diego State
* San Jose State at Penn State
* UNLV at Iowa State
The Mountain West will play 11 games that Saturday – Fresno State is off that week – and eight are against Power 5 opponents. The second most populated week for MW schools against Power 5 schools has four such games. In total, the MW has scheduled 21 games against power conference opponents in 2020, so nearly 40 percent of those contests will be played on the same day, and if the MW is going to return to the a New Year's Six bowl for the first time since 2014, it will require two things: (1) a standout season by one of the league's members, and (2) better results in non-conference. The MW accomplished part one last season thanks to Boise State, which went 12-1 heading into bowl season. It didn't accomplish part two, which allowed Memphis to get the Group of 5's New Year's Bowl spot with the same 12-1 record.
Yes, the MW scored 10 wins over Power 5 conference teams last season, but none of those came against teams with a winning record. One came against a 2-10 team; one against a 3-9 team; three against 4-8 teams; two against 5-7 teams; and three against six-win squads, two of which fired their coach, which tells you about the quality of those teams. No victory over a Power 5 opponent is a bad one, but the MW's wins over those foes last year didn't move the needle enough to get its champion, Boise State, into a high-money bowl.
Whether the MW can do so this season will, in part, stem from its results in week three. The MW will play five Power 5 bowl teams from a season ago that week, including the Pac-12's Oregon, Washington and Utah as well the Big Ten's Penn State, the Big 12's Iowa State and the ACC's Florida State. The other Power 5 opponents are Purdue and UCLA. Three of those teams won at least 11 games last season, which offers opportunity for big-time wins. And while most games against Power 5 schools are on the road, three of these eight are in MW buildings with SDSU hosting UCLA, Wyoming hosting Utah and Boise State hosting Florida State.
The non-Power 5 games that week include New Mexico at New Mexico State, the Lobos' biggest rivalry game; Nevada at South Florida, a rare MW versus AAC matchup that's important in Group of 5 supremacy; and Northern Colorado at Colorado State, the only game that doesn't really matter that week.
Yes, week three will have no bearing on who wins the MW in 2020 because there aren't any conference games being played that Saturday. But it will have an enormous impact on how the conference is viewed, and thus how the eventual conference champ is perceived.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.