Mountain West Football Championship Game: Current Tiebreaker Scenarios, Explained
San Jose State, Boise State and Nevada are the three teams left in the race to the Mountain West football championship game. What could happen in the last week of the regular season?
A lot is still on the line.
And then there were three.
Though Boise State’s road trip to UNLV was ultimately canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, San Jose State and Nevada were able to take care of business against Hawaii and Fresno State, respectively, to set up what’s certain to be an epic set of regular season finales.
The Broncos, Spartans, and Wolf Pack are all still alive and well in the race to the Mountain West football championship game, but factors in and outside of their control could shape their path between now and next Saturday. For now, we’ll tease out as best as we can some of those things.
If you want to know how the Mountain West has set up its tiebreaker contingencies, make sure to keep this link handy.
Who’s still eligible for the championship game?
As we touched upon last week, the technical answer is that everyone is officially eligible. The linked document above states that eligible teams “must play no less than two fewer Conference games than the average number of Conference games played by all Conference teams (rounded up/down at .50”. In a nutshell, this meant that when the average of conference games played was seven, teams had to have at least five games under their belt to be in play.
At this point, the number of canceled conference games has dropped that average number to six. No matter which games happen in Week 15 or not, that average can only drop and everyone in the conference will have played at least four games (Colorado State and Boise State will get to five if they get to play next weekend).
What are the four scenarios?
Because there are three teams still alive in the championship race, it basically means most of the focus will be on four different outcomes. Thankfully, most of them are very straight forward, so we’ll start with those first.
1. San Jose State beats Nevada, Boise State beats Wyoming. This one is easy. As the two lone unbeatens, the Spartans and Broncos would play for the title.
The only wrinkle would regard the privilege of hosting. Unless something changes between now and December 19, Santa Clara County’s current COVID-related restrictions on group activities would keep San Jose State from hosting Boise State at CEFCU Stadium. According to the Mountain West’s own language, the game would then simply shift to Albertsons Stadium.
2. San Jose State beats Nevada, Wyoming beats Boise State. The Spartans would claim the top spot as the lone unbeaten at 6-0, but since Boise State would be the only team with one conference loss, they’d claim the second spot and probably host the title game as in the first scenario.
3. Nevada beats San Jose State, Boise State beats Wyoming. In this scenario, Boise State stands alone at 5-0 and would definitely be in the game. The primary tiebreaker between two teams is head-to-head results, so the Wolf Pack would head to Boise for their shot at the crown.
This quote from the Mountain West’s document is the most important here: “In the event of an unbalanced schedule where there is the tie for the best record in the loss column, head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage.” Nevada would have both in hand over the Spartans, anyway.
4. Nevada beats San Jose State, Wyoming beats Boise State. Okay. Though it is open to some interpretation, this one may not be as complicated as it looks.
In this situation, all three contenders finish with one loss: The Wolf Pack end up at 7-1, the Spartans at 5-1, and the Broncos at 4-1. By winning percentage, this one should be straight-forward: Nevada, as the lone team to complete the conference schedule, owns the advantage at .875 over San Jose State (.833) and Boise State (.800).
The likely interpretation is simple. If it’s all about winning percentage, then 7-1 and 5-1 are just straight up better than 4-1, meaning that Nevada and San Jose State would make the cut.
The other interpretation involves two-team tiebreakers.
The first revolves around winning percentage against the next highest-placed team in the standings, and that’s where things can get weird depending on how the rest of the weekend shakes out.
Here’s where things stand at the moment outside of the top three:
- San Diego State – 4-2
- Fresno State – 3-2
- Air Force – 2-2
- Hawaii – 3-4
- Wyoming – 2-3
- Colorado State – 1-3
- Utah State – 1-5
- New Mexico – 1-5
- UNLV – 0-5
The Aztecs and Falcons have already finished their conference campaigns, so their record won’t change on that front. A Wyoming win over the Broncos would push them to 3-3, too, but what matters most here is this language from the Mountain West: “If one or all teams did not play a certain team, move to the next highest-place team(s) in the standings.”
In a nutshell, SJSU and Boise State didn’t get to play either of Fresno State or SDSU, so those two team are ignored. Both have a win over Air Force and Hawaii, but there are no more common opponents after that. Boise State may have lost to Wyoming in this scenario, but SJSU didn’t play them at all.
The next tiebreaker involves win percentage against common conference opponents. Again, the Spartans and Broncos would be even on this front. Then, it basically comes down to computers. Last we checked, Boise State had the edge on that front, though they’d probably have to travel to Reno for the chance to secure another conference title.
Got all that? Now let’s complicate things a little further.
What if there are more games canceled?
If Boise State/Wyoming gets canceled: This has the effect of making Nevada/San Jose State a win-or-go-home affair. The Broncos are secure at 4-0 and would probably host the title game one way or the other even if the Spartans also finish undefeated, as we discussed before.
If Nevada/San Jose State gets canceled: Oh, boy.
The Spartans would lock in their title game berth at 5-0, so this would mostly depend on what happens with Boise State/Wyoming. If the Broncos win, they’re in, too. If the Cowboys win, then Nevada is 6-1 and Boise State is 4-1 without a head-to-head result to resolve things.
Again, this may require some interpretation. If win percentage is the primary factor here, then Nevada wins out here because, well, 6-1 is better than 4-1.
If it’s designed to go to tiebreakers despite the Wolf Pack’s two additional wins, it gets hairy but the result is still the same. Again, we go to record against the next highest-ranked team in the conference, but this time the result is much different. San Diego State, Fresno State, and Air Force are all ignored, but then… there’s Wyoming.
That’s because Wyoming’s victory over Hawaii back in October suddenly becomes relevant. Even if the Warriors beat UNLV in their finale to finish 4-4, 3-3 Wyoming still finishes ahead of them because of that head-to-head result.
Nevada beat Wyoming in its season opener and Boise State would have lost in its finale, so the Wolf Pack earn the tiebreaker.
If both Nevada/San Jose and Boise State/Wyoming are canceled: The Spartans and Broncos would advance as the two remaining unbeaten teams. Reno would burn to the ground. Wolf Pack fans would march over the Rockies to Colorado Springs and demand Craig Thompson’s resignation or his hair or something like that. The optics on this would be Ugly with a capital U, so you can bet the conference will try to do whatever it can to make these games happen and avoid creating fertile ground for conspiracies.
Let’s just hope, for our sakes, that it’s largely about head-to-head and win percentages. As a result, just hope your favorite team puts forth its best effort and wins next weekend.