Conference realignment has wrought significant damage on the Mountain West which, not long ago, was on the verge of gaining acceptance as the "7th BCS conference". It now finds itself more on a par to the MAC or Sun Belt than the ACC or PAC-12. The comparison is legitimized by bowl losses last season by Wyoming to Temple (MAC), Air Force to Toledo (MAC) and SDSU to Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt).
In fact, the conference was just 2-3 in bowl games at the end of the 2011 season. TCU downed Louisiana Tech 31-24 in the Poinsettia Bowl and Boise State trashed Arizona State 56-24 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
The conference loses TCU to the Big 12 this year, adding to the defections of BYU and Utah a season ago. Still worse, it is scheduled to lose Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East next year.
Former WAC members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada come onboard for 2012 to make the conference a 10-team league, and the Mountain West is scheduled to add two more WAC teams in San Jose State and Utah State to maintain a 10-team roster in 2013.
With those changes, the Mountain West is merely morphing into the WAC as we knew it two years ago.
With TCU's disappearing act, the Mountain West loses its 3-time defending outright champion. The Horned Frogs were a four-time champion since 2005. TCU is just two years removed from a perfect 13-0 season that included a 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, enabling the school to finish the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in CollegeFootballPoll.com's final Congrove Computer Rankings, ahead of BCS Champion Auburn.
Last year, the 12-1 Broncos were ranked No. 4 in the final Congrove Computer Rankings and the 11-2 Horned Frogs were No. 14.
The absence of TCU makes Boise State the odds-on favorite to claim its first 2012 MWC championship in its final season in the league. The Broncos are projected to win every conference game, but are only projected to go 9-3 overall with road losses to Michigan State and Southern Miss, and a home setback to BYU.
Nevada gets the nod for 2nd place, losing only to Boise State in conference play. The computer's forecast for the Wolf Pack includes a home loss to USF by less than a point (0.07) in the second game of the season.
Wyoming is expected to achieve a 3rd-place finish, also with an overall record of 9-3 and a conference mark of 6-2. The Cowboys were 8-4 in the regular season a year ago when they were picked to go just 6-6.
At 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the Mountain, San Diego State is the projected 4th-place finisher. However, the Aztecs could easily move up the ladder as they are only a 1.26-point underdog at Nevada and fractional underdogs (0.07) at Wyoming in the season finale.
Air Force is expected to finish 6-6 after going 7-5 in the 2011 regular season when it retained the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for a second straight year. The Falcons reclaimed the hardware in 2010 after Navy had held onto it for 7 consecutive seasons. The trophy goes to the winner of the military academy round-robin competition between the AFA, Army and Navy. The computer makes Army the favorite to win the trophy this year as none of three academies are forecasted to finish the year above .500.
Four Mountain West teams - Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii and New Mexico - will enter the 2012 season under the direction of a new head coach.
Colorado State named Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain as its new head coach, succeeding Steve Fairchild. McElwain joined the Rams after helping coach the Crimson Tide to the BCS Championship game victory over SEC West rival LSU. Fairchild was fired after a third consecutive 3-9 campaign. In his first season in 2008, Fairchild replaced Sonny Lubick and improved the Rams from 3-9 to 7-6 with a New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State. He leaves CSU with 16-33 record overall, including a horrendous 7-24 mark in Mountain West Conference games.
Fresno State fired Pat Hill the day after a loss to San Diego State sent his team to a 4-9 finish for the season. It was only Hill's third losing season in his 15 years with the Bulldogs. He compiled a record of 112-80, including 78-40 in conference games, but his one and only conference title came in his third season in 1999. Fresno State turned to Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter who led the Aggies to a win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas as an interim head coach in his final game at College Station.
Honolulu-born Norm Chow is Greg McMackin's replacement at Hawaii. Chow spent 2011 as the offensive coordinator at Utah and has also served in that same capacity with USC (2001-2004), UCLA (2008-2010) and the NFL's Tennessee Titans (2005-2007). He began his college coaching career in 1973 as a graduate assistant at BYU where he became co-offensive coordinator in 1982 and was OC from 1996-1999.
McMackin announced his retirement on December 5 and surrendered $500,000 the school owed him on his 5-year contract, saying he hoped it would help strengthen the Warrior football program. McMackin was promoted from defensive coordinator when June Jones left to take the head coaching job at SMU after the 2007 season that saw the Warriors go 12-0 before losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. McMackin's 4-year record was 29-25 overall and 18-13 in the WAC. The Warriors were co-champions of the conference in 2010 with records of 10-4 overall and 7-1 in the WAC, but they finished just 5-8 last year and missed the bowl season for the second time during his tenure.
New Mexico made Mike Locksley the first head coach to be fired during the 2011 season on September 25. The move came a day after the Lobos fell 48-45 in overtime to FCS member Sam Houston State for their 7th straight loss, dropping Locksley's record to 2-26 in 2-1/3 seasons. Associate head coach and defensive coordinator George Barlow was immediately named interim head coach for the rest of the season.
Locksley was a former Illinois offensive coordinator and Florida recruiting coordinator. He replaced Rocky Long after the 2008 season when Long resigned after a 4-8 campaign. Long had taken the Lobos to five bowl games in 7 seasons from 2002-2008, including a 2007 New Mexico Bowl win for the school's first bowl victory since 1961. Long became the defensive coordinator at San Diego State under Brady Hoke in 2009 and took over as head coach of the Aztecs last year when Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.
New Mexico brought Bob Davie out of retirement when the school hired the former Notre Dame head coach on November 16th. Davie was 35-25 as the head coach of the Irish from 1997-2001.
Locksley's tenure was scandal-ridden. He was suspended for a game in his first season for punching an assistant coach and sued for sexual harassment by a former administrative assistant. Prior to his final game, 19-year old Joshua Butts was arrested for DWI while driving a vehicle owned by a Locksley family member. Reportedly, there were three other intoxicated underage men in the car when Butts was pulled over after nearly stroking a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Reports had said that Locksley barely clung to his job after the 2010 season when the school renegotiated his buyout to a more manageable figure after a second consecutive 1-11 season. His last contest drew an announced crowd of 16,313 to make it the lowest-attended New Mexico home game since 1992.
On September 13, 2011, Boise State was cited for multiple violations in various sports. The case included numerous major violations involving more than 75 prospects and student-athletes in five sports over the course five years. The committee cited recruiting, impermissible housing and transportation violations in the football program during the summers of 2005 through 2009. In particular, it noted that the football violations occurred over a lengthy period of time and involved 63 prospective student-athletes.
Violations were first reported by a former assistant track coach. The university initiated an investigation which was joined by the enforcement staff. This resulted in the discovery of additional violations. Although the university believed the violations reflected a failure to monitor, the committee found that the scope of nature of the violations demonstrate a lack of institutional control. Specifically, Boise State failed to establish an adequate compliance system to report NCAA rules violations with regard to impermissible housing, transportation and other benefits to prospective and enrolled student-athletes. The university failed to provide adequate rules education and training to staff members to ensure compliance. In addition, the university failed to monitor its program to deter, find and report instances of NCAA violations to the NCAA.
The penalties included a reduction of football scholarships from 85 to 82 for the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, as well as a reduction in practice opportunities for football