The challenge of building a championship contender in the Mountain West can seem monumental at times.
When Bobby Hauck took over as UNLV’s coach before last season, he took over a program that was lagging far behind the elite few in the MW. The Rebels went 2-11 last year, and bring back a young team that will probably struggle again. UNLV was picked to finish seventh, ahead of a New Mexico team that has two wins in two seasons, and behind a Wyoming team that went 1-7 in the league last year and doesn’t have a quarterback who has thrown a pass in college.
The reality of the challenge is heavy.
“I’m looking at TCU, last year and the years leading up to that,” Hauck said. “They’ve done such a good job building their program – everything from facilities to recruiting to philosophy. They’ve done a masterful job.
“It’s hard to overcome that. If you’re not a team that has things in place like they do - it’s hard even when you have everything in place. So for those of us that aren’t in that situation, you need some breaks in order to get it done.”
The facts are hard to ignore. In the Mountain West, if you’re not one of the elite teams, it has been almost impossible to break into the group.
In the 12 seasons of Mountain West play, UNLV has finished with a winning record in conference games once and hasn’t finished higher than sixth since 2002. San Diego State has two third-place finishes, and never has finished in the top two. Colorado State hasn’t had a winning MW record since 2005. Wyoming has finished with a winning conference record twice, and never has finished higher than third. New Mexico was competitive for most of the 2000s, but never won a title.
BYU, Utah and TCU have won 10 of 12 titles (Colorado State won in 2000 and 2002). Winning championships makes it easier to stay on top. Ticket sales and booster donations are easier to come by for a successful team. Recruiting becomes easier too. The other teams have a tough time keeping up. Even though BYU and Utah have left the conference, and TCU will be leaving next year, Boise State comes in with years of championship success in the Western Athletic Conference to build upon.
“When you become one of those teams, the resources they get dramatically increase,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “That puts the other guys trying to fight to catch up further and further behind.”
Hauck was hopeful. He talked about how college football’s personnel turnover and how that can open the door for second-division teams to make a title run. However, it takes a lot of effort to get a team to that position.
“It’s every aspect of it, from university administration down to the guys filming for you, everybody is working in the same direction,” Hauck said. “That’s how you consistently have a chance to win.”