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Where College Football is Now and Where it Goes in the Future: MAC and Mountain-West

So, as we pick the series back up let’s look at the two most stable G5 Conferences with some of the better teams playing college football at that level. The MAC is the Rust Belt 2nd level league, and the Mountain-West is the PAC-12 everywhere else.

NCAA Football: LA Bowl-Oregon State vs Utah State
Mountain-West Champs Utah State
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Pause was Caused by Good Stuff

As NCAA Tournament baseball post season gets started and happens rather quickly. The NCAA College Tournament and World Series will start up on Friday with Tech hosting a regional and maybe a super-regional. We’ll keep reporting on that with the potential Super Regional match-up against the Florida Gators for the baseball team there might be a bit of a revenge angle next weekend. It’s a special event and we’ll work to keep you informed on the games as close to completion as possible. It’s certainly an exciting time in Jamerson Hall, and the post semester weekend events are most certainly welcomed by the local merchants and restauranteurs.

Getting Back to College Football Musings

Softball and Baseball tournament excitement does make digging into the details of the FBS a bit boring. No worries, because the series continues, and the news and rumors are getting interesting on that front. We promised to finish the marathon and we certainly will.

In the course of looking at the churn and changes, though there is the discovery that several of the conferences in the blender that we know as the Group of 5 just aren’t breaking up. Like that stubborn ice-cube or two in the smoothie they are just not cooperating, for largely the same reasons, with the big changes going on at both levels of the FBS.

The Mid-America Conference and Mountain-West just don’t seem to be making very many moves over the next few seasons; if at all for potentially a decade. The reason for the “boring” nature of those conference makeups looks like it is largely because they have gone through their own churns and changes over the past two decades and have pretty much settled on their current geographic, competition level, and program size limits. The result has been two very stable and “average” leagues with little impulse for either to throw in with the others.

Mid-America Conference – Old, Stable, Predictable but Divisions Unbalanced

Look, folks, the MAC is seriously old. It was founded in 1946 but its history is far from stable. It’s expanded to as far south as Florida and east as Temple. The came crashing back to its current footprint as the edge programs filtered off to other leagues. The core twelve teams left have been in the conference for at least 24 years (Buffalo joined in 1998). This is an old world, blue collar mid-sized university, middle American league. There just doesn’t seem to be the impulse to change it all that much. The MAC seems to be happy with what it settled with over the years and there aren’t too many rumors of any comings and goings.

If you look at the stats and the 2021 W/L records for In-conference and non-conference performance the reality just jumps out and bites you hard (well maybe just drapes over you like a wet blanket). The MAC-East, is weak in both conference and non-conference play, and the MAC-West wins overall but most of the teams are par within the league. The fact that the MAC-West put all 6 of its teams into a bowl bid position and the MAC-East qualified only 2 programs is a telling stat. The next wild mark in the ledger is even more of a head scratcher. Even though the West teams had more teams qualify they did so at mostly .500 seasons, and the division anchor Western Michigan actually had the best overall record in the West at 8-5.

The Mid-American Conference for 2022 and Beyond

Team Grade Comments
Team Grade Comments
Akron Zips C The East Division anchor-Zips are new to FBS and still learning.
Bowling Green Falcons C The home of the Urban Meyer invented Read-Option Offense was in the middle of a weak division
Buffalo Bulls C Another newish FBS program only one game better than the Zips
Kent State Golden Flashes B- Won the division in 2021 with a 7-7 (6-2) record that included the conference championship game
Miami (OH) RedHawks B Came in 2nd for the division with a 7-6 (5-3) record one of the 4 higher ranked progams in either division
Ohio Bobcats C A sub-par season where 4 teams in the division had well below .500 records
Ball State Cardinals C+ This is an old line school but really an FCS program operating in the FBS for the money
Central Michigan Chippewas B+ Central Michigan is finding traction and is one of the four best teams in the conference
Eastern Michigan Eagles C+ Lots of Michigan going on in this Rusty world. Eastern is still learning FBS level play.
Northern Illinois Huskies B+ One of the four best teams in the league, if the B1G expands by pulling teams up they'd be in consideration
Toledo Rockets B Toledo is an old time presence in the conference with 11 conference titles since 1952 - struggled a bit in 2021
Western Michigan Broncos B They have some promise but serious competition for recruting it still was a slightly above par year
Solid football, good programs, no league excitement Gobbler Country

This is a prime example of near perfect parity; not much ceiling and not much floor. Whether or not that reality is good or bad, it certainly ranks high on the “Boring” scale. Everyone can beat up on four teams in the East, but no one can really pull themselves out of the pile in conference play among peers, either.

The result is conference inertia. No one program has enough momentum to really and truly dominate in revenues, recruiting attractiveness, or coaching longevity.

The outside impression of the MAC ends up being the Rust Belt Junior league with above average programs vying for their conference championship and some nice juicy bowl money. Unfortunately, the only way a MAC team will really ever get the opportunity to challenge for a playoff spot and national championship if either there is a real 16-team playoff based on conference championships or a real Super Divisional Split in FBS where Division 1 and Division 2 have their own playoffs and championships.

This does not mean that the MAC isn’t exciting football. Watching those teams on TV in the mundane hours of a Thursday, Friday or Saturday is infinitely better than watching some thing else. It’s fun middle America blue collar football, but it isn’t current championship level competition or league construction. There doesn’t seem to be the conference desire to change that, either. So, sit back and enjoy it’s fun to watch.

Reputed to be the PAC-12 Junior League but Actually Really Good

The other side of the spectrum of movement is league survival. We’ll have to see if C-USA can pull that off, but the first big G5 example of survival mode is the Mountain West. In the period between 1998 and the present, the Western Athletic Conference became the Mountain West, it shed programs like BYU, Utah, and TCU bolted for other conferences, as the MWC solidified, it picked up other schools, and with the University of Hawaii (now UofH at Manoa). That makes it an absolutely huge territory which makes travel interesting. The high-density coastal areas contain the schools not pulled into the PAC-12 like San Diego State, San Jose State. Sort of those two the PAC-12 constitutes a slash right through the middle of the territory.

Just like MAC programs are aligned and levelized with some sort of parity – and long-term membership in the conference even with its new name its core is still the WAC. The reality is that the current membership of the PAC 12 Jr, is about as boring organizationally has it’s G5 relative the B1G Jr.

The final reality of the Mountain-West is that they managed 8 of 12 teams getting bowl bids, and of that number six actually won their bowls. Prestige wise that’s really excellent, and the money isn’t so bad, either.

Mountain-West for 2022 and Beyond

Team Record Conf(Overall) Bowl (Win) Grade Comments
Team Record Conf(Overall) Bowl (Win) Grade Comments
Utah State 6-2 (11-3) Yes(Yes) A- The Aggies won the conference championship game in 2021, and their bowl - Solid program
Air Force 6-2 (10-3) Yes(Yes) B+ One of the wealthiest of the programs that has been helped by the relaxation of service requirements
Boise State 5-3 (7-5) Yes(No) B Boys Estate is running above average for now - the Smurfs will be back in contention
Wyoming 2-6 (7-6) Yes(Yes) C+ They had a par season with a bowl win - floor and ceilings are close though
Colorado State 2-6 (3-9) No C Been struggling for a while still trying to find an identity and purpose
New Mexico 1-7 (3-9) No C Still a struggling progam looking to find some way to get better
San Diego State 7-1 (12-2) Yes(Yes) A- Someone got a new quarterback - I wonder who? Lost their championship game but won their bowl
Fresno State 6-2 (10-3) Yes(Yes) B+ Better than you'd expect - no one sneezes at 10 win seasons
Nevada 5-3 (8-5) Yes(No) B Above average season for the north country of Nevada - lost the bowl though
Hawaii 3-5 (6-7) Yes(Yes) C+ Self-bid bowl - but ended up winning the final two games of their season - need a June Jones/Colt Brennan combination
San Jose State 3-5 (5-7) No C Struggled and made not enough traction
UNLV 2-6 (2-10) No C Too many distractions? Dunno but they aren't as good as their basketball program
Stability with mostly good to above average teams Gobbler Country

The major issue with the Mountain West is the possibility of future raids on its better members by either the BIG XII trying to rescue itself, or perhaps something like C-USA trying to restabilize with an entire conference merger. (Hey, that’s just wild speculation but we are Spitballing at this point.)

Going On A Jet Plane and Not

The facts on the table remain that for now, these two conferences are pretty much locked in for the immediate future – meaning the next five or so years. That’s buses for the MAC and lots of airline miles for the MW. Do charter passengers pick up travel points?

Time to sound off on this one.


What are your feelings about the two most stable of the G5 conferences?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    There’s just a big part of me that is envious because every other year I’d get a trip to Hawaii. And I am still perplexed as to just what a Zip is.
    (3 votes)
  • 39%
    MAC fans love their football, their conference, and their relative isolation. The MW teams are the party plane from Tahoe to Vegas to Honolulu. Who cares about football?
    (9 votes)
  • 34%
    Don’t follow either conference, and don’t really think most of college football does either.
    (8 votes)
  • 13%
    You got one conference left, is it going to be this boring?
    (3 votes)
23 votes total Vote Now

Next up we check in with the G5’s most roiled up and exciting organizational action league - the Sun Belt. The Conference that no one really paid much attention to has now become the hot ticket, big G5 Conference loaded with good teams and there will be a lot going on there after 2024.

Until then, as always!