Has the Mountain West gotten better, or has Boise State gotten worse?

The question was raised on Twitter the other day: Is the MWC better or is Boise State worse? Well, like everything, it depends on how long the timeline is that we’re looking at. Keep in mind – we’re short on data points. I did not think it was fair to look at Pre-Boise State Mountain West, because the teams have changed so much, so we’re working with a dataset of five years from 2011-2015.

To start with, lets look at how Boise State has fared. This data is taken from jhowell.net’s CF Power Rankings, which is a calculation of points scored and points allowed, adjusted for SOS. Can’t really sugarcoat it – Boise State has not consistently outperformed themselves since 2011. Of course, in 2011, arguably the best Boise State team of all time ended up 12-1 on an extremely close home loss to TCU that snapped two separate NCAA record breaking streaks – most home regular season wins, and most conference home wins.


Judging Boise’s performance since then is a little like measuring every day of someone’s life against the best day they ever had. Good for driving success, but destined to feel like a failure most of the time. If the Broncos manage to keep to one loss again this season, with 2016 data they will look more consistent. So are they better? No. Can we expect them to be consistently better than the 2011 mark? That means undefeated every year, and while it’s admirable to work towards perfection, it’s hard as hell to maintain. It’s not fair to expect that, and getting emotional because of a single loss and calling for heads is an overreaction of the highest order.

So what about the rest of the MWC? For this, we’re looking at out of conference win percentages, adjusted for strength of schedule from colleyrankings.com during the same time frame.


Overall, the conference did get incrementally better. While not enough to call it a definitive positive trend, 2013-2015 were  better than the two years prior. The Mountain West was stronger before it split up in 2011 – regularly outperforming this. But all looking at that data does is make one wistful for what could’ve been if the MWC hadn’t had their heads up their ass in the mid 2000’s. We could’ve been P5…

It really does seem like the Mountain Division did get better, so I ran the same power ranking data as in the first graph above, split out by division. Turns out – that theory is correct.


The West division stayed flat – the rise of SDSU has pretty much coincided with the destruction of Fresno and caused them to not even move the needle. However the Mountain division has definitely improved over that same timeframe. Interestingly, it seems as if the biggest bang for the MW buck has been bringing New Mexico out of the cellar. Good on ya, Bob Davie. Of course, it’s pretty much the opposite story of Boise State, Judging a team by its worst performance means that mediocrity will look and taste like victory. Is New Mexico a consistently better team than Boise? No. But they have improved the most since 2011.

The Broncos are still on the cusp of a special season. One loss is nothing to scoff at. Sure, there are things for the Broncos to clean up as always, and no, they did not manage to stay perfect. Neither did a whole bunch of other teams. Boise State no longer controls their destiny and needs some help to win a MWC championship. Hey, Bob Davie, help a Bronco out and beat Wyoming, will ya? For me, for all Mountain West kind, and especially for statistics. That parity in the Mountain division is real and quantifiable. Investments in facilities, coaching, and recruiting have started to pay off. C’mon West Division. Get it together. The Broncos are as good as they ever were. The teams around them are just getting a little better. Yanno, enough to beat us every once in a while and make regular season football fun and meaningful – just like we always wanted.


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