LARAMIE – There’s officially light at the end of what has been a seemingly endless tunnel for University of Wyoming football fans.
The Mountain West Conference released its updated eight-game football schedule Thursday afternoon, a week after the conference announced it would reverse course and play a fall football season after all. UW starts its season on the road at Nevada on Oct. 24, the same day all teams in the conference start play.
The MW initially postponed its fall sports season Aug. 10 due to ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19, with aims of potentially playing in the spring.
Five of UW’s opponents played in bowl games last season, including reigning Mountain Division champion Boise State and reigning West Division champion Hawaii. Three of the Cowboys’ 2020 opponents (Boise State, Air Force and Hawaii) won 10 or more games last season.
There will be no divisions within the conference this season. The two teams with the highest winning percentage in conference games will play for the MW title Dec. 19. UW normally resides in the Mountain Division of the league.
In the case of a tie among teams that have played the same number of conference games and have the same winning percentage, the tie-breaker goes to the team that won the head-to-head matchup between the teams.
If teams have not played the same number of conference games, but have the same number of losses (Boise State, for instance, is only playing seven MW games due to a matchup with Brigham Young), head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage. Because of the “eight games in eight weeks” format, any matchups unable to be played due to positive COVID-19 tests will be canceled, rather than postponed, which could potentially lead to some teams playing more games than others.
“It was a collective Mountain West decision (to play this fall),” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said at a news conference last week. “But individual institutions might have to adjust.”
On Thursday, Thompson said the shift from the two-division format was to optimize the schedule and allow maximum flexibility among the constraints that had to be considered.
“In as much as the season begins with an uneven number of conference games, and the possibility exists additional games may be lost to COVID-19 challenges, the procedures for determining the participants in and location for the MW football championship game were adapted to accommodate a range of outcomes in as equitable a fashion as possible,” Thompson said.
Depending on television scheduling by Fox Sports and CBS Sports, certain games could be moved to Thursday or Friday of a given game week.
UW finished the 2019 season with an 8-5 overall record, capped off by a 38-17 victory over Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The Cowboys went 4-4 in conference play.
The only opponent appearing on UW’s 2020 schedule the Cowboys did not face in 2019 is Hawaii. UW went 4-3 against its other seven 2020 opponents last season.
Among the highlights of the revised schedule are an earlier-than-normal Border War matchup with Colorado State on Nov. 7 in Fort Collins, Colorado, the third game of the season for both teams. War Memorial Stadium will host a tough trio of teams in the back half of the schedule, with Air Force, Utah State and Boise State traveling to Laramie on Nov. 14, Nov. 21 and Dec. 12, respectively. UW lost each of its games against those three opponents by a combined 22 points in 2019.
In UW’s original schedule, the Cowboys were slated to play nonconference games against Weber State, Louisiana, Utah and Ball State. That would have been followed by an eight-game conference slate of games against UNLV, San Diego State, Air Force, Colorado State, Utah State, Nevada, Boise State and New Mexico.
The conference pivoted to an eight-game conference slate with up to two additional games for its teams Aug. 5. That schedule would have started Sept. 26, though specifics were never released. Five days later, the season was postponed completely.
Partially due to advances in rapid testing technology, the MW, along with the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mid-American Conference have decided to restart their fall seasons in recent weeks. Every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is now scheduled to play football this fall.
Last week, Thompson said all MW football players, coaches and staff would be tested three times per week during the season using an antigen test. The conference has yet to announce its threshold for canceling games.
On Tuesday, UW announced it would allow 7,000 fans at its first home game, which will end up being against Hawaii on Halloween. Every school in the conference will have different capacity limits based on local health guidelines. Social distancing and facial coverings will be enforced at games, and tailgating will be prohibited this season.