The Mountain West Conference was founded in 1999, and has had as few as eight and as many as 12 football teams with seasons in there with nine and 10. In all, that’s 17 seasons of college football and 156 teams taking the field.
Only six of those teams opened Mountain West play with conference road games in back-to-back weeks, and Fresno State this season will do it for the second year in a row.
Only six of those teams started Mountain West play with three road games in a four-week span of conference games, but the Bulldogs this season will do that for the second time in three years.
But throw a 12-team conference with divisional play and teams that miss others every two years into an equation with nonconference games that fall anywhere from Week 1 to Week 9, 10 or 11 and a slew of other variables, including scheduling requests from schools, and that is the end result. It can get messy.
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If everybody has some positives and negatives across the board in all 12 markets, then we’ve done our job.
Jaime Hixson, an assistant commissioner in the Mountain West
“We always say that nobody should be thrilled, be over the moon about their schedule, and then nobody should be just devastated thinking they have the worst schedule in the world,” Jaime Hixson, an assistant commissioner in the Mountain West, said at the conference’s media days. “If everybody has some positives and negatives across the board in all 12 markets, then we’ve done our job.”
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter is no conspiracy theorist. “I haven’t been, other than we’ve had our share of some bad luck happening to us,” he joked.
But for a team that again will be young at several crucial positions, opening conference play with two road games is less than ideal – before 2015, the Bulldogs had not opened conference play with road games in consecutive weeks since 1983 when in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association.
It is one of many challenges Fresno State faces in bouncing back from a 3-9 season, opening Mountain West play at UNLV, at Nevada and, after a game at home against San Diego State, at Utah State. The Bulldogs on Tuesday were picked to finish fourth in the conference’s West Division.
We play when the conference tells us to play.
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State football coach
“It is what it is. You line up and play,” DeRuyter said. “Obviously, we’d love to get on a roll and we’ve played well at Bulldog Stadium. But we play when the conference tells us to play.”
In developing a schedule, the Mountain West partners with Sports Scheduling Group, which creates schedules for Major League Baseball as well as a number of college conferences including the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference.
The process starts in January, when they put into the computer nonconference schedules, TV considerations, cross-divisional matchups, as well as requests from each school – they get one, which is not guaranteed; an example, TCU, when it was in the Mountain West, didn’t want a home game the same weekend Texas and Oklahoma were playing the Red River Rivalry 40 miles away.
“Dump all that in and they’ll get us a schedule and we’ll go through dozens of models as necessary until we get one that is we think the best,” said Bret Gilliland, deputy commissioner of the Mountain West, who in the first years of the conference put together the schedules by hand with a grid sheet, a pencil and presumably a good supply of aspirin.
Oct. 1 Fresno State’s conference opener, at UNLV. The Bulldogs visit Nevada a week later, on Oct. 8.
“We’re looking at it, we think, as objectively as anyone from the perspective of all 12 institutions and we try to put competitive equity as close to the top as we can. We will literally look at each institution’s schedule block by block and we’ll say, ‘They’ll find that as a positive; they’ll find that as a negative.’ You do all of that analysis, and then it gets down to a kind of splitting of hairs.”
There are few hard-and-fast rules.
The Mountain West doesn’t want a team to be away from home in conference play for three weeks in a row or to have back-to-back open weeks.
If two teams are playing on a non-Saturday, the conference wants to avoid a situation where one of them is not open the week before while the other is playing a game.
It also wants to avoid cross-divisional games the final week of the regular season to avoid a potential rematch in the conference championship game.
Teams play back-to-back road games often and go three out of four on the road – it is just the timing, to open conference play, that puts Fresno State in a unique situation.
The Bulldogs, DeRuyter said, just have to be ready to play football.
Since joining the conference for the 2012 season, they have the third-most conference road wins with nine, trailing Boise State with 12 and San Diego State with 11. Only four Mountain West teams are above the .500 mark – Boise State (12-4), San Diego State (11-5), the Bulldogs (9-7) and Utah State (7-5).
“It’s difficult to have everybody be happy with their schedule,” DeRuyter said. “It seems like every time we have the coaches get together there are always more than a handful of guys that aren’t really happy with their schedule. But it is what it is.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MW Preseason Poll
Predicted order of finish for the 2016 football season, with rank, team, first-place votes in parentheses and total points.
- 1. San Diego State (29) 174
- 2. Nevada 129
- 3. San Jose State 122
- 4. Fresno State 76
- 5. UNLV 73
- 6. Hawaii 35
- 1. Boise State (27) 172
- 2. Air Force (2) 126
- 3. Utah State 111
- 4. Colorado State 95
- 5. New Mexico 74
- 6. Wyoming 31
Fresno State football schedule
Home games in CAPS
Sept. 3: at Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Sept. 10: SACRAMENTO STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Toledo, noon (ESPN3)
Sept. 24: TULSA, 1:30 p.m. (MWN)
Oct. 1: at UNLV, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 8: at Nevada, TBA (ESPN network TBD)
Oct. 14: SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 22: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28: AIR FORCE, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (ROOT SPORTS/MWN)
Nov. 12: BYE
Nov. 19: HAWAII, 4 p.m.
Nov. 26: SAN JOSE STATE, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Dec. 3: Mountain West Championship, TBA