Last week we looked at the WAC, one of the mid-major leagues that will be undergoing significant changes over the next two seasons. Now we will take a look at the Mountain West, another conference experiencing a makeover this season and in 2012. For some background on whats going on, here's the link to last year's Mountain West post.
As usual, this first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2010 Mountain West regular season, conference play only, the average Mountain West team gained and allowed 2946.44 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 617.70 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 667.42 yards. Air Force gained 3399 yards and allowed 2906 yards. Their offensive SDPI was 0.73 = [(3399-2946.44)/617.70]. Their defensive SDPI was 0.06 = [(2946.44-2906)/667.42]. Their total SDPI was 0.79. This number ranked 3rd in the Mountain West.
Here are the 2010 Mountain West standings.Now here are the 2010 Mountain West SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 9 teams) in parentheses.In late October the Mountain West actually had two teams ranked in the top-10 of the AP poll. The Utah Utes lost two games down the stretch, then lost to Boise State in their bowl game to fall out of the top-25 altogether. Still, the Mountain West enjoyed a solid season, with a 4-1 bowl record, including two bowl wins over BCS conference teams (Wisconsin and Georgia Tech), had their league champion finish ranked number two in the country for the second time in three seasons, and saw one of their coaches leave for one of the premiere jobs in the nation (Michigan). With Boise State joining the fold in 2011 followed by Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada in 2012, the Mountain West is poised to remain one of the preeminent mid-major leagues despite the losses of BYU, Utah, and TCU.
So Who Was Better Than Their Record Showed?
BYU began the season 1-4, with non-competitive losses to Air Force, Florida State, Nevada, and Utah State. After upsetting San Diego State, TCU blew the Cougars out in Fort Worth. BYU proceeded to win four of their final five regular season games, with the lone loss coming by a single point at arch-rival Utah. Statistically, BYU was the second best team in the Mountain West, but thanks to that close call against Utah (lost when their game-winning field goal attempt was blocked), they had to settle for a tie for third in the Mountain West standings.
So Who Was Worse Than Their Record Showed?
In their final season of play in the Mountain West, Utah looked like they may leave for the Pac-10 with a conference title in tow. However, despite their sterling 7-1 league mark, Utah was actually several notches below league champ TCU, and very fortunate to finish with just one league loss. Within the conference, Utah was 3-0 in one-score games, beating the other bowl-eligible teams (Air Force, BYU, and San Diego State) by a combined 10 points. The Utes did not acquit themselves well in their high-profile contests, scoring just 13 points in games against TCU, Notre Dame, and Boise State (lost by a combined 88 points).
Best Offense: TCU 1.79
The Horned Frogs gained at least 500 yards in five of their eight league games, and were held below 400 yards just once (against BYU).
Worst Offense: New Mexico -1.30
Year Two of the Mike Locksley era was not much of an improvement over Year 1. The Lobos topped 400 yards just once during Mountain West play, in their lone win versus Wyoming. At least Mr Locksley didn't punch any assistants or have busy hands with his secretary.
Best Defense: TCU 2.08
The Horned Frogs amazingly held six of their eight league opponents to fewer than 200 yards of total offense.
Worst Defense: New Mexico -1.29
The Lobos pulled double duty at the bottom of the Mountain West. Their defense held only one league foe (San Diego State) below 400 yards.
The Mightiest of the Mids
There's a reason Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada did not hesitate to say 'Yes' when the Mountain West offered them membership. While they may not all be able to use the Mountain West as a stepping stone like Utah and TCU, and gain entry into one of the BCS conferences, the league does provide a stiffer challenge and better prestige than the WAC. The Mountain West has been by far the preeminent non-BCS (mid-major conference) over the last half-decade. Don't believe me? I have graphs! This first graph simply lists the number of victories each mid-major conference (Mountain West, WAC, CUSA, MAC, and Sun Belt) have over BCS conference foes (and Notre Dame) since 2006.
With the exception of 2006, the Mountain West has boasted more victories over BCS conference foes than any other mid-major conference. Over the past five seasons, Mountain West teams have won 37 games against BCS conference opponents. The WAC is second in that span with 23 such victories. And don't think that the wins have been limited to the Big 3 (BYU, TCU, and Utah). Middling teams like Wyoming (wins over Tennessee and Virginia), UNLV (Arizona State and Iowa State), and New Mexico (Arizona twice) have also contributed some scalps.
The Mountain West has also been the mid-major conference with the most teams ranked in the final AP poll.The Mountain West has had 10 teams finish the season ranked in the top 25 since 2006 (an average of two per season). The WAC is next with six. In this case, your initial hunch is correct. the Big 3 have accounted for each top-25 appearance. Alas, the Sun Belt has yet to have a team finish the season ranked in the top 25.