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September 20, 2006

MWC is struggling

When will we ever learn? Every preseason, usually starting around the mid-July MWC media day, the whispers start up, quickly turning into a din.

"This is the year the Mountain West Conference will show everyone it belongs in the BCS!"

"Top-to-bottom, this league is easily as strong as most of the power conferences!"

"Hey, maybe we can get MULTIPLE BCS bids this year!"

You've heard it all before. And you'll most likely hear it all again, but here we are in mid September and the league stinks once more. The MWC is 7-12 against 1-A teams (5-12 if you count Utah State as 1AA.) They are 2-8 against BCS teams, both victories coming courtesy of TCU. The WAC, supposedly the MWC's little brother, is 3-3 against their MWC foes, but again, two of those wins have come against Utah State.

What gives? This conference should be beating their mid-level BCS competition, dominating everyone in the WAC outside of Boise and Fresno, and should probably also avoid losing to Portland State at home. But none of those things are happening. Again. TCU is holding up their end of the bargain, but they are still new to the league. Perhaps they haven't figured out how to disappoint yet. As it stands, with no conference games yet on the board, there are six teams in the league that are either 1-2, 0-2 or 0-1. Air Force can have a pass because their only game so far was a squeaker at Tennessee, in which they played the Vols toe to toe.

A common excuse around every MWC team is the injury bug. Almost every single team has a contributor or two lost for the season with a torn something or a broken blah blah. So what. Replace him. Everyone has 85 scholarships, so if the conference really is as good as it should be, depth should be able to fill in the gaps. A big reason why Utah was so good in 2004 was that they had enough on the two deep to make up for guys like Eric Weddle and Kawika Casco getting hurt, and had two top-flight running backs to spell each other. Yes it is a bummer that CSU has to go all season without Kyle Bell, but shouldn't they be able to average more than 76 yards rushing per game? Especially considering how good the Rams have been historically at the position.

There are general reasons for the disappointing results, such as the upper echelon of the WAC just becoming really good. And then there are team specific reasons that vary greatly. Utah can't seem to win on the road outside of the state, with a small break in 2004. Their conference road mark is hit or miss, but in past years they have been markedly better than Arizona, North Carolina, etc. only to come up short. This year's disaster at UCLA could be attributed to the Bruins being surprisingly good, although losing by 21 points when you are supposedly just as talented as your BCS busting year is never something to aspire to.

BYU is just cursed. That's the only explanation. How can John Beck and the boys be so inept at winning close games? Cougar fans always blame the refs, which are an easy scapegoat, but after countless close losses starting in the Crowton era and continuing today, you have to wonder what the problem is. Maybe it's a mental block in Beck. Or maybe Ben Olson put a hex on the team after he didn't start against Utah State back in 2002.

If New Mexico knew what was good for them they would cut Rocky Long loose after this season. He had 4-year stud DonTrell Moore and NFL receiver Hank Baskett, along with a monster of an O-line and some good defensive players. And what did he get out of them? A few piddly bowl games in which they were trounced. Now Moore, Baskett, Cox and the bunch are gone, Long has brought in some just-plain-bad recent recruiting classes, and the team is awful again. Crummy team that couldn't get motivated when it was talented and now has a bare cupboard? Sounds like a recipe for chef Gary Andersen.

The list goes on and on. SDSU with their great recruits that suddenly forget what football is. Air Force with their senile old coach that is good for a few scares of big teams but also for a few bad losses in November. Wyoming is trying hard, but you can only disguise the fact that you play in Laramie for so long to recruits.

The MWC is once again a paper tiger. What will it take to find its fangs?


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