The Mountain West released its 2020 schedule Thursday, with nine of the conference's teams playing eight MW games, two playing seven and one playing six. That uneven schedule, plus the possibility of games being canceled by COVID-19 outbreaks, has led to a lengthy list of tiebreaker rules as the conference does away with divisions for this season. The MW typically plays an unbalanced schedule with teams facing eight of 11 conference members, so things are typically not even from a schedule standpoint to start with. And this season is no different with some teams getting more difficult schedules than others.
With the release of the official schedule, I broke down the MW's most difficult conference schedules from toughest to easiest. I used SP+'s preseason rankings to slot MW teams from one through 12. (For the record, those rankings go Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Wyoming, Hawaii, Fresno State, Utah State, Air Force, San Jose State, Nevada, New Mexico and UNLV). I took each MW team's scheduled opponents (if you played Boise State you get one point, SDSU two points, Colorado State three points, etc.) and divided the total by the number of games. The lower the number, the tougher the schedule. Here's how they rank.
1. UNLV, 5.00: The Rebels had the most difficult 12-game schedule entering the season and that doesn't change with the revised format (although UNLV's game against Boise State went from a road game to a home game). UNLV plays the six best teams in the league (per SP+'s rankings), the only MW school to face that task this season. Good luck to first-year coach Marcus Arroyo.
2. Utah State, 5.63: And now we get a run of five straight Mountain Division teams, which makes sense because despite not having divisions this season the MW stuck with the traditional format of playing five in-division foes and three cross division, which means Mountain teams will play more difficult schedules overall. Utah State draws Boise State, SDSU, Colorado State and Wyoming. Tough.
3. Air Force, 5.83: Air Force only plays six conference games this season with Navy and Army also on the slate in non-conference due to the importance of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Air Force doesn't play SDSU (they both have byes the last week of the season), but it does get three of the other four top-ranked teams in the MW, so it's a tough slate.
4. Colorado State, 6.38: The Rams are one of only two MW teams scheduled to play at Boise State and San Diego State, the preseason favorites to win each division (San Jose State is the other). Colorado State does get the MW's two-worst team (UNLV and New Mexico, both of which are at home) to even things out, but the Rams still rank as having one of the league's more difficult schedules.
5. New Mexico, 6.5: The good news for the Lobos is they don't play Boise State or San Diego State, making them the only team in the MW outside of Boise State and SDSU to not play one of the top two teams in the conference. It's actually a relatively manageable schedule, although New Mexico still hasn't gotten the OK to host games this fall, still allowing for a potential eight-game road schedule.
6. Boise State, 6.86: Boise State is one of two MW teams scheduled to play a non-league game along with Air Force. The Broncos will host BYU (we're not including that game in schedule strength). The Broncos get four road games in its seven MW tilts, the only team in the conference with more road games than home games. Overall, it's a fairly average schedule in terms of strength.
7t. San Jose State, 6.88: Like Colorado State, San Jose State plays the league's top two teams as well as its two worst teams, per the rankings. The Spartans are one of only three MW teams to play the three worst-ranked teams in the conference, so there's a chance to pick up some wins there despite having to play road games at Boise State and San Diego State.
7t. Hawaii, 6.88: It will be interesting to see if Hawaii gets any Thursday or Friday games given how tough the team's travel typically is. You'd hope the team would play all Saturday games. But it's a manageable slate in terms of opponents. The Rainbow Warriors are the only MW team to draw the four lowest-ranked teams in the league, but it does get Boise State, SDSU and Wyoming.
9. Nevada, 7.0: The Wolf Pack got fortunate in the cross-division matchups by avoiding Boise State and Colorado State, which are ranked first and third in SP+, as well as Air Force, which is always a tough matchup. Added bonus: Nevada's toughest opponents are at home (SDSU, Wyoming, Fresno State, Utah State) and its easiest opponents are on the road (UNLV, New Mexico, SJSU). It's a favorable setup.
10. Wyoming, 7.13: The Cowboys got some fortunate cross-division matchups playing UNLV, Nevada and Hawaii and hosts Boise State in the regular-season finale, which could be a huge game (although playing in Laramie on Dec. 12 doesn't sound fun weather-wise). Wyoming got the Mountain Division's easiest schedule, by a good margin. Can it take advantage of that?
11. Fresno State, 7.38: The Bulldogs avoided Boise State and Wyoming out of the Mountain and doesn't have to travel to Hawaii (it's a home game), so things are set up well for first-year coach Kalen DeBoer, who could use the help given how little Fresno State has been able to practice the last several months. That's a bummer, but he can't complain about the schedule.
12. San Diego State, 7.4: And the easiest schedule of the season goes to SDSU, which plays only seven games, four of which are at home. The Aztecs play only one of the league's top four teams (Colorado State, which is at home) and doesn't have to travel to Hawaii (that's an Aztecs home game). Yes, SDSU's "home games" are almost two hours from campus this season, but this is as easy as it gets in the MW.