In some respects, we had a changing of the guard in a wacky and weird Mountain West Conference season last year. The Boise State Broncos made yet another appearance in the MWC Championship Game, their fifth in the seven-year history of the game, but it was the San Jose State Spartans that won the league.
San Jose State hadn’t had a winning record since 2012 and went 7-1 with an unblemished 7-0 record in league play. The undefeated dream died a painful death against Ball State in the Arizona Bowl, but it was still an incredible season for SJSU. It may be tough to repeat the feat with some big losses on offense, but at least QB Nick Starkel is back to give it another go.
While San Jose State was the best story, other teams had good seasons as well. Nevada put it all together and had a fine campaign with a 6-2 record in conference and a 7-2 record overall. Nevada and Hawaii played the most games with nine. Colorado State only played four. New Mexico managed to play seven, but had to spend most of the season outside of their home state because of COVID-19 protocols.
It was a rather interesting season, but as you’ll see from the odds, Boise State is still the team to beat.
THE PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE ODDS
Boise State has only lost 12 games in league play over the last 10 years. This program has been a model of consistency that all Group of Five teams try to emulate. The Broncos get a lot of great players on the Smurf Turf and the recruiting pipeline has stayed strong, even with the transition from Chris Petersen to Bryan Harsin several years ago.
Now Harsin is with Auburn, but Boise State didn’t go far to find his replacement. Andy Avalos was on the Boise State staff from 2012-18 and left for Eugene to be the defensive coordinator at Oregon. He is back and Boise State shouldn’t really miss a beat.
That makes it hard to bet on other teams in the Mountain Division, like Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, Utah State, or New Mexico. You’re better off finding some sort of value pick in the West Division. While the prices look a lot sweeter on the East teams, it will also take finding a way to upset Boise State and not slip up in any other games.
As the odds show, Boise State is the odds-on favorite to win this conference. Give credit to Wyoming, who isn’t all that far down the board and has a really good head coach in Craig Bohl and a strong defense year in and year out.
Over in the West Division, San Jose State was a true Cinderella story last season, but as you can see, teams like Nevada and Hawaii are being given good chances at making some noise. Perhaps San Diego State, a two-time winner of the conference championship game, which started in 2013, can right the ship and the Aztecs can make a move. The odds say that it is a long shot, but the West Division truly looks wide open.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE FOOTBALL HANDICAPPING
Until proven otherwise, Boise State is the class of this conference. The Broncos fell short in 2013, 2015, and in 2016, as they failed to represent the East Division in the championship game those two seasons, but they’ve appeared in four straight and have been the home team every time they’ve been in the game.
Fresno State has actually been in the MWC Title Game four times since it began in 2013. No other team has more than two appearances, but eight of the 12 teams in the conference have made at least one appearance. That means that you could find a long shot with some value.
Boise State is well up there on the power ratings front in this conference, but a lot of the other teams are on a similar wavelength from a talent standpoint. Coaching seems to matter a lot in this league, as the Mountain West often gets Power Five transfers or scours the JUCO route to bring in more proven players.
This is not a neutral-site conference championship game. The team with the better record or the tiebreakers will host the game. That could change with Allegiant Stadium now in the mix in Las Vegas, but for now, the team with the better record still has a noteworthy advantage in the game. If you’re looking for a team to bet, consider the regular season schedules and see where their toughest games are so that you can see which team has the highest likelihood of the best record and a chance at home field advantage.
Even though Boise State is clearly the class of the conference, they’ll have to play somebody from the West if they get in and that means a built-in hedging opportunity if you pick the right future. If you get lucky with that team and Boise State does not make the championship game, your bet will gain a lot more equity.
While this is a tough conference to handicap because of the parity, particularly in the division opposite Boise State, that also means you can find some good value.