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Rest of the Mountain West, American should follow Boise State, UCF's lead

Boise State
Boise State has a lot of future games against the American. The rest of the Mountain West does not. (Otto Kitsinger/AP)

Boise State and UCF, the two most successful Group of 5 football programs over the last decade, agreed Tuesday to a home-and-home series with games in 2021 and 2023.

There are a lot of reasons to love the matchup, and the series should be followed by the rest of the Mountain West and American Athletic Conference.

The MW and American have dueled for the title of "Best Group of 5 Football Conference" since the the American formed out of the ashes of the Big East in 2013, which marked the same year the MW settled on its current 12-team football membership.

In the seven seasons since 2013, MW and American teams have met on the football field just 20 times, with one more matchup set for later this season. That's an average of just three games per season. Of those 21 matchups, seven of them have been the annual Air Force-Navy game, which has been played every year since 1972 as part of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

If you remove those games, which would be played no matter what given the rivalry, you're talking about 14 games between the MW and American in the seven seasons the American has existed. That's a shame. It's borderline ridiculous. You're talking about the two best Group of 5 conferences in the nation almost purposely avoiding one another on the football field.

Boise State and UCF will pit the top two programs in the respective conferences against each other in a marquee matchup, but the rest of the MW and American should follow suit. Each MW team gets four non-conference games per season, with Hawaii adding a fifth to create some extra revenue given its travel situation.

I understand most MW teams want one big road payday game to help prop up its budget as well as one FCS opponent for the automatic win. But there are two other games to play with. The MW (and the American) should be targeting at least one game with each other, something that clearly hasn't been a priority.

Both leagues want to argue they're the best Group of 5 football conference, with the AAC marketing itself as the #Power6 in 2017, but it could be proven on the field if the conferences actually played each other.

Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth, in a 2017 Q&A, stumped for a MW-AAC challenge in football and men's basketball, something that hasn't materialized in either sport, although the MW has set up a challenge with the Atlantic-10 in basketball starting in 2020-21.

“I would love to tell Commissioner (Mike) Aresco, ‘Get on a plane and fly out here. Let’s see how good the American Athletic Conference does playing football in Laramie, Wyo. Let’s see how good you can be playing basketball at (San Diego State's) Viejas (Arena). Let’s see how great you are coming to Reno and playing us. Bring UConn out here and play us and then we’ll see who is the better conference,’” Knuth said back in 2017. “There has to be that conversation. You can’t just anoint yourself as the Power 6. Let’s do it.”

But it hasn't happened. In addition to this year's Air Force-Navy game, there were only two other MW versus American matchups, both including Tulsa, which beat Wyoming at home and beat San Jose State on the road. Overall, the MW is 11-9 against the American, but the games between the conferences have been so sparse it's hard to draw any conclusions from it.

Since Nevada joined the MW, it hasn't played an American opponent, although that will change next season when the Wolf Pack plays at USF, which was originally scheduled when the Bulls were in the Big East. Instead, the Wolf Pack has opted for more geographically close series with teams like UTEP, New Mexico State and Texas State as well as series with BYU, Toledo and Buffalo.

Mind-boggling is the fact the MW and American have matched up just three times in bowl games since 2013, and one of those was a result of the Pac-12 being unable to fill a slot in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl, so the American was a late add. That's out of 38 bowls played by the MW in that time period and 39 bowls played by the American. It's almost like the conferences are trying to avoid each other. (By the way, the MW is 3-0 in those bowl games.)

I understand a lot of games were scheduled many years in advance, but a glimpse into the future shows few MW-AAC showdowns. Only Boise State seems willing or able to schedule teams from the American. The Broncos have 10 future games scheduled with the conference. The rest of the conference combined, minus the annual Air Force-Navy game, has just three games scheduled with the American, and some of these schedules go out to 2032. There are a lot of games against New Mexico State, though, in the MW's future.

Both conferences like to promote their superiority in football. There is a way to prove this. On the field with an annual series. But that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon.

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