The Salt Lake Tribune recently rated the toughest places to play in the Mountain West. Their list had Rice-Eccles Stadium at 5th in the conference, with Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium coming in at number one. The mix of elevation, weather and a rowdy crowd has made Laramie one of the most feared places to play, it's just a shame their teams aren't nearly as feared.
The Tribune seems to use a mix of attendance, atmosphere and success in trying to find their conclusion. I'm not so sure that's necessarily the right indicators for such a hypothesis. While War Memorial up in Laramie may be a foreboding place to play, the struggles of Wyoming football has really put a dent in its perception. In fact, the same thing could be said for LaVell Edwards Stadium down in Provo, where BYU has been less than stellar since the retirement of legendary head coach LaVell Edwards.
Utah on the other hand has always had the stigma of having a pretty passive fan base. And in reality, it's probably true. During the concluding seasons of the McBride era, attendance took a big hit and fan excitement was definitely not where it should have been. Though Urban Meyer has shown, and Whittingham continues to show that a winner will draw the fans and make Rice-Eccles a difficult place to play. And even with their struggles toward the end of McBride's career, Utah still managed to have some of the best home records in conference history. In fact, that's the entire point of this whole post. In the end, home field advantage only matters if your team capitalizes off of it and wins. If you don't win at home, like Wyoming, your home field advantage really is a moot point.
So, that's what we're going to look at. Going back to when the Mountain West Conference debuted (1999), here's how every Mountain West team has faired at home. Now TCU has only one year under their belt within the conference, but instead of not including them, I've decided to just go back to their days in the WAC and C-USA to get their results.
MWC home team records from 1999-2005:
TCU: 34-5 (.871)
Utah: 28-10 (.736)
CSU: 27-10 (.723)
Air Force: 26-16 (.612)
New Mexico: 25-16 (.610)
BYU: 25-17 (.595)
Wyoming: 18-21 (.461)
SDSU: 16-22 (.421)
UNLV: 9-23 (.281)
TCU has had the most impressive winning percentage at home since 1999, with Utah and Colorado State a close second and third. While this never does prove which team has the toughest home environment, Utah's 28-10 record at home (even with two losing seasons in there) only proves Rice-Eccles isn't nearly the library the Salt Lake Tribune makes it out to be. Utah hasn't had a losing home record since 2000 and has gone undefeated at home twice ('99 and '04). Last season, Utah finished with a 4-2 home record with losses to San Diego State and New Mexico.
It's also interesting to see that many of these team's home records are more influenced by earlier conference success than current success. Colorado State, Air Force and BYU all built their solid home records earlier on in the conference's existence and in fact BYU hasn't had a winning conference home record since the 2002 season.
So what Mountain West team really has the toughest home field advantage? Well I guess it's the home team that fields the best squads year in and year out. Currently, that seems to be TCU and Utah. In the end, W/L's is all that matters when it comes to stadium difficulty and I think that's why Utah is at least a top-3 team in terms of home field advantage.