The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Mountain West had a moment in the sun. Then reality set in.

Air Force won against Colorado on Saturday, a victory it won’t soon forget.
Air Force won against Colorado on Saturday, a victory it won’t soon forget. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Of all the exquisite resentments that have made college football so irresistible to so many, one of the most enduring breathes in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, where fans and other malcontents long have chafed at the football snootiness emanating from the Eastern and Central. There’s a word for their resentment, and that word is “justified.” It took us the first 27 years of Heisman trophies before we gave them even one, and we’re forever oblivious to their exploits for reasons that include our bedtimes and our snootiness.

That means we might walk around not only pooh-poohing the Pac-12 Conference (with merit lately) but also ignoring the Mountain West — maybe even unaware of who’s in it. That means we might not have prepared for the fact that on Saturday, Air Force of the Mountain West played Colorado for the first time in 46 years, for the first time since Air Force cadets visiting the game in Boulder got pelted with eggs, tomatoes and whatnot in an apparent Vietnam War protest, proving that people in a debate can be both right and inane.

Further, we might not have followed that just after Kadin Remsberg streamed 25 yards up the right sideline in overtime in Boulder to give Air Force a 30-23 win, and just after he told reporters, “We want to be the kings of Colorado,” the Mountain West had quite some distinction. Right then Saturday afternoon, it stood 7-5 against Power Five teams this season, with four such games either underway or about to get underway.

It could warm the heart of anybody in possession of one.

For those either in the dark or in the East, the Mountain West is a league of 12 teams that play in some gorgeous places — Honolulu, San Diego, Colorado Springs, etc. — such that our snootiness might owe to its own resentments. Here in the heavily nonconference portion of the season, with all the usual record-fattening dotted with upsets, the Mountain West had Boise State’s win at Florida State, Wyoming’s win over Missouri, Hawaii’s wins over Arizona and Oregon State, Nevada’s win over Purdue, San Diego State’s win over UCLA and Air Force’s win over Colorado.

Could it actually sustain a winning record against the Power Five by, say, midnight?

High above the Power Five, things went as usual. Ohio State and its new coach continued to look like wow. Jalen Hurts, who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma, has three games, 49 completions, 61 attempts, nine touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 373 rushing yards, 99 on the absurd first possession Saturday in the Rose Bowl. People stormed the field at BYU for beating Southern Cal even though more people do that than used to. People stormed the field at Virginia for beating Florida State even though more people do that than used to.

Missed field goals, those bummer occasions that sway civic moods, dotted the landscape: at Michigan State (where a tying field goal died of having 12 men on the field and Herm Edwards’s Arizona State won, 10-7), at Kentucky (where a freshman barely missed a 35-yarder with about a minute left and Florida ahead 22-21 before it won, 29-21), at Penn State (where Pitt missed a 19-yarder while trailing 17-10 with five minutes left while hoping it could become that rare field goal that could count for seven points).

And then, around the reigning national champions, they’re chattering about how Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s fifth interception of the season, thrown in Syracuse, tops his total from all of last season. They’re chattering about that because that’s what people resort to when they’re studying a team sitting 3-0 with a 117-30 point differential. Lawrence, after the 41-6 win against a team that has given Clemson hassle in recent years, attributed the interceptions to “defenses making good plays” and “me trying to do too much.”

Victories continue.

On Saturday, though, victories came to five alleged underlings. One did not come to Georgia Southern, which parlayed two wacko touchdowns into a late lead over Minnesota, or to Furman, which led 14-3 at Virginia Tech at halftime.

But Air Force did become the kings of Colorado. And Temple emerged happy from that football goo with Maryland.

And BYU nudged then-No. 24 Southern Cal, 30-27 in overtime, one week after nudging Tennessee, 29-26 in two overtimes, all of which caused quarterback Zach Wilson to tell reporters, “Man, it was crazy,” and caused USC Coach Clay Helton to say the fresh noise around USC hadn’t doomed USC because the Trojans live in Los Angeles where there’s “a ton of damn noise.”

Central Florida blasted Stanford 38-7 at halftime and ­45-27 at the end, with another quarterback from Hawaii (Dillon Gabriel), a true freshman who took the postgame lectern in a lei, who looked outrageously young and sounded perfectly wise. (“We’ve got to prove it,” he said of UCF’s claims to eliteness as the ambitious program heads next for Pitt.) Stanford Coach David Shaw said of the Power Five and Group of Five designations, “We’re years past that,” even though around college football, of course, we’re never really years past anything.

And Eastern Michigan raised the Mid-American Conference to 1-14 this year against the Power Five by winning, 34-31, at Illinois, which Coach Chris Creighton called “an awesome, awesome day for our program.”

And look here. Burrowing down into the subterranean charm of the Football Championship Subdivision, we find that The Citadel improved its record against ACC teams to a freshly giddy 1-22. That’s after the theater that is the Georgia Tech field revealed a 6-foot, 170-pound kicker, Jacob Godek, running in joy after his winning 37-yard field goal in overtime.

Soon Brent Thompson, the fourth-year Citadel coach, told reporters, “It’ll help us in fundraising, scholarship fundraising and things that we really need in our football program.” And the merriment among those in military uniforms in the stadium looked emblematic of a swell day for military football: Navy won; Army won; Coast Guard beat Nichols, 24-23, in overtime; VMI beat East Tennessee State, 31-24; and even though the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy team was off, don’t forget Air Force.

After the win Air Force will never forget, the Mountain West stood 7-5, ahead of all the other Group of Five conferences in the eternal upward struggle against the obnoxious Power Five. So far, the American Athletic stands 4-10, with the Sun Belt 2-7, the MAC ­1-14, Conference USA 0-12 and the Group of Five independents 2-6, both wins from BYU.

Of course, then, New Mexico of the Mountain West had to persist with playing at Notre Dame, where it lost, 66-14; and then UNLV had to play at Northwestern, where it lost, 30-14; and then Colorado State had to play at Arkansas, where it lost, ­55-34, with Arkansas still sore at it for winning their match last year; and Hawaii had the courage to venture to Washington, where it lost, 52-20.

So the Mountain West stands 7-9, and reality is a mean, old bastard.

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