A Saturday showdown with the Auburn Tigers will be a huge test for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Y-Boise State Broncos 9-3 (7-1)
Through the first seven games of the 2016 college football season, the Boise State Broncos appeared to be the team to beat in the Mountain West Conference, while also having a chance to make a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Broncos were 7-0, but they would lose two out of their last five games. And being that those losses came to the Wyoming Cowboys and Air Force Falcons, Boise State missed out on a chance to get back to the Mountain West Title Game. Boise’s slide would continue as they lost their bowl game by 19 points to a Baylor Bears team that entered the game on a six-game losing streak. And for Boise State head football coach Bryan Harsin, he and his team must find a way to bounce back after letting things get away from them towards the end of 2016.
For Harsin, his Broncos should once again have one of the most balanced offenses in the Mountain West. Last year Boise had the 21st ranked offense in the nation as it was under the command of first-year offensive coordinator Zak Hill.
If it wasn’t for the exploits of San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey, Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien would have been the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. But with Pumphrey now in the National Football League, the award is Rypien’s to lose this year.
Rypien is set to begin his junior year and he is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in school history. Last year Rypien completed nearly 62% of his passes. Rypien knows how to spread the football around, and most importantly he has solid pocket awareness. Rypien also doesn’t get fazed quickly which is important as his demeanor should once again pay dividends for the fortunes of Boise State.
The Broncos will miss the contributions of running back Jeremy McNichols who is now in the National Football League, but they have shown the ability to be able to replace players when they move on. Sophomore running back Alex Mattison should get the bulk of the carries this year for the Broncos after he was the understudy to McNichols last season. At 5’11”, 216 lbs., Mattison will look to use his speed and elusiveness to compliment Rypien, and I also anticipate him being used coming out of the backfield as a receiver which will add another element to the Broncos offense.
Senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson has the potential to be the best pass catcher in the Mountain West this season. Wilson spent last year as being one of the go-to-guys in the passing game for Rypien and with his height being 6’3″, he will once again have an advantage versus defensive backs in the conference.
Defensively the Broncos must replace their top four tacklers from last year’s team, but one standout player to keep an eye on will be junior defensive tackle David Moa. At 6’3″ 272 lbs., Moa is a little light for the defensive tackle position; however he possesses a high motor which allows him to split double teams in order to wreak havoc in an opponent’s backfield.
Winning the Mountain West won’t be easy for Boise State as they’ll have road games versus San Diego State and the Colorado State Rams, while their non-conference schedule includes road meetings with the Washington Cougars of the Pac-12 Conference and the BYU Cougars.
X-Wyoming Cowboys 8-4 (6-2)
2016 saw the Wyoming Cowboys produce one of the best turnarounds for the year in college football. The Cowboys were only able to win two games in 2015, but they came out of nowhere last year to go 8-6 which was good enough for them to win the Mountain Division. Wyoming’s turnaround led to their head football coach Craig Roh being named as the Mountain West Conference’s Coach of the Year as “Cowboymania” took over Laramie. However as the Cowboys were able to sneak up on teams last year, what will they be able to do this time around when the rest of the Mountain West is focused on slowing them down?
When quarterback Josh Allen was on he was as good as any other signal caller in the Mountain West, however when he struggled, the fortunes of the Cowboys went south. Of Allen’s 15 interceptions last season, 12 of those came in Wyoming losses and as his junior campaign is set begin, he must cut down on the turnovers while also becoming more accurate. However it won’t be as easy for either Allen or Wyoming as he won’t have the same amount of talent around him on offense.
Wyoming was able to win the Mountain Division last year in spite of the fact that they were 104th in the nation in total defense. Wyoming surrendered at least 50 points in a game three times which resulted in the school moving on from Steve Stanard as their defensive coordinator. Former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton will be Wyoming’s new defensive coordinator. It doesn’t help the Cowboys situation that their top two tacklers from last season were defensive backs, however middle linebacker Logan Wilson was able to tally 94 tackles as a freshman. And being that the Cowboys were able generate 15 interceptions in 2016 which includes the return of junior strong safety Marcus Epps and sophomore cornerback Tyler Hall, this unit will be able to somewhat balance off the yards in which they surrender.
Wyoming won’t be dealing with an easy non-conference schedule as they’ll travel to face the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten Conference, while they will also host the Oregon Ducks of the Pac-12 Conference. And when Mountain West play begins, Wyoming’s season will be defined by a road game against the Boise State Broncos and the Air Force Falcons in November as these two meetings will have a big bearing on who will get to the conference championship game.
X-Colorado State Rams 8-4 (6-2)
It’s been under the guidance of two different head football coaches, but the Colorado State Rams have made a bowl game in each of the last four years and a winning record here in 2017 could send them bowling for a fifth consecutive season which would mark just the second time in school history that this has occurred. Mike Bobo is entering his third year as Colorado State’s head football coach and he has a team that is capable of vying for a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game.
Nick Stevens has been Colorado State’s starting quarterback in each of the last two years and that experience should benefit him in this his senior campaign. Stevens’ best asset is that he takes care of the football as he only threw 5 interceptions last year, while he was able to complete more than 64% of his passes. And if Stevens continues to do a good job in regards to protecting the football, the Rams should be one of the better teams in the Mountain West.
Senior running back Dalyn Dawkins and junior running back Izzy Matthews each have the ability to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. Both Dawkins and Matthews are explosive as they push each other for reps. Prior to taking over at Colorado State, Bobo was the offensive coordinator of the Georgia Bulldogs and his system there thrived on using multiple running backs. This tactic keeps both ball carriers fresh and it should pay dividends for the Rams when the second half of the season rolls around.
Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup is a dependable target in the passing game for Stevens and he has the potential to be one of the better pass catchers in the Mountain West, while the Rams also have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country that features senior left tackle Trae Moxley.
2016 was not a banner year on defense for the Rams, but they will enter the upcoming season with some play makers on that side of the football. Junior free safety Braylin Scott along with junior middle linebacker Josh Watson should be impact players this year for Colorado State and hopefully this unit will be able to do enough to keep up with their offense which will be one of the best in the Mountain West.
Special teams is always strong for the Rams as they possess one of the best kickers in the country. Junior kicker Wyatt Bryan possesses a strong leg which included him connecting on three kicks from at least 40 yards out last year. Bryan also has the benefit of thin Rocky Mountain air which is always an advantage for Colorado State.
On September 1st, the Rams will have their annual meeting with their in-state rival in the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference, while they will travel to Tuscaloosa to meet the Alabama Crimson Tide of the Southeastern Conference on September 16. And when Mountain West plays begins, the Rams will have a four-game stretch against the New Mexico Lobos, Air Force Falcons, Wyoming Cowboys, and Boise State Broncos which will go a long way in determining whether or not that they’ll be able to reach to conference title game for the first time in school history.
X-New Mexico Lobos 7-5 (5-3)
It has taken New Mexico Lobos head football coach Bob Davie some time, but he has gotten his program on track in Albuquerque. After the Lobos never won more than four games in each of their first three years under Davie, they’ve won a combined 16 games over the last two years which included winning 9 games last season for the first time since 2007. And now after New Mexico was an afterthought, Davie has a team that could be ready to win the Mountain West Conference.
What has allowed this turnaround at New Mexico is Davie’s commitment to the running game. Last year the Lobos averaged 350 yards on the ground which was tops in the nation as they averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Senior quarterback Lamar Jordan and junior running back Tyrone Owens will be a big part of New Mexico’s triple-option attack. And as the Lobos running game will depend on the blocking of an offensive line which features three seniors as the unit if led by left tackle Raymond Baylor III and center Blaise Fountain, this offense will once again be difficult for defenses in the Mountain West to handle.
But it will be very important for New Mexico’s offense to be able to dictate things as their defense lacks play makers which means they are going to have to continuously win the time of possession battle in order to keep their defense fresh.
The schedule for the Lobos won’t be easy as they’ll face the Boise State Broncos, Wyoming Cowboys, and San Diego State Aztecs, while they will also dip out of conference to face the Texas A&M Aggies of the Southeastern Conference in College Station on November 11.
X-Air Force Falcons 6-6 (4-4)
When it is time to discuss the top college football programs that the Mountain West Conference has to offer, you cannot go too far without mentioning the Air Force Falcons. Over the last three years Air Force won a combined 28 games as the triple-option running game of head football coach Troy Calhoun has kept defenses around the Mountain West on their toes. But whereas that the Mountain Division is much more difficult to navigate than the Western Division, will Air Force get lost in the shuffle this season?
The biggest key to operating a successful option attack is to have an experienced quarterback leading the charge. Junior quarterback Arion Worthman will be leading the charge after he saw some action in 2016. Worthman will team with senior running back Timothy McVey to be the two focal points of the Falcons rushing attack which could be a successful combination in Fort Collins.
Air Force will also possess one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Mountain West which has four seniors and a junior. Senior center Alexander Norton is the anchor for this group as they could potentially be paving the way for a pair of 1,000-yard ball carriers in McVey and Worthman.
There will be a huge question mark on defense for the Falcons as they lost so much talent from last year’s team and it will take some time for everything to come together for them.
Unfortunately for Air Force, they will face the New Mexico Lobos, Colorado State Rams, and Boise State Broncos all on the road this season as they will be a long shot to reach the Mountain West Championship Game.
Utah State Aggies 2-10 (1-7)
It appears that the well has run dry for the Utah State Aggies. The Aggies went 3-9 last season and in the process their streak of making a bowl game came to an end after five consecutive trips. For Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, he must find a way to get his team to compete better as they lost five games by at least 11 points, while they were only able to win one game within Mountain West Conference. And as the Mountain Division is once again loaded, it could be easy for the Aggies to get lost in the shuffle.
The Aggies simply don’t have the talent to win right now in the Mountain West which is going to make this a very long season in Logan.
X-San Diego State Aztecs 9-3 (7-1)
The Rocky Long era has been a successful one for the San Diego State Aztecs. Long has been San Diego State’s head football coach since 2011 and he is orchestrating one of the best runs in program history. The Aztecs have won the Mountain West Conference in three of the last five years as they’ll enter the new season as the two-time defending champs. And as the Western Division is once again expected to be weak, will anyone be able to overtake Long and San Diego State?
The Aztecs will enter the upcoming season without the services of running back Donnel Pumphrey who after setting a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 6,405 career rushing yards is now pursuing a career in the National Football League. But the Aztecs running game won’t miss a beat as senior running back Rashaad Penny is set to be the primary ball carrier. Penny was Pumphrey’s understudy last year and he still managed to gain 1,005 yards on the ground while Pumphrey went for 2,133. Like it was with Pumphrey, speed is the name of the game for Penny as San Diego State’s running game will once again be among the best in the nation.
Junior quarterback Christian Chapman should be able to once again feed off of San Diego State’s powerful rushing attack. Last year Chapman was extremely efficient as he was able to complete 61% of his passes while only being intercepted 6 times. San Diego State does not throw the football as much as other programs do, but when it happens they are very productive.
One thing that could hinder the Aztecs offense this season is their inexperienced offensive line. Including left tackle Tyler Roemer, San Diego State’s starting offensive line will have two freshman, while the lone senior in the bunch will be right guard Antonio Rosales. This could be a problem for the Aztecs early on, however as the season progresses they should be able to improve.
Danny Gonzales is set to begin his first season as San Diego State’s defensive coordinator and he inherits a very opportunistic group. Last year the Aztecs were 11th in the nation in total defense, while they also led the country in interceptions with 26. Senior cornerback Kameron Kelly and sophomore cornerback Ron Smith combined for eight interceptions last year and this duo could once again be one of if not the best corner combo in the Mountain West. Junior outside linebacker Ronley Lakalaka is a solid tackler while he combines that with good range which means that it will once again be difficult for opponents to score points against the Aztecs.
The Aztecs should once again benefit from the Western Division not having that much competition for them which means that a third consecutive Mountain West Title could be around the bend for them.
X-UNLV Rebels 6-6 (4-4)
As Tony Sanchez is set to embark on his third season as the head football coach of the UNLV Rebels, he is attempting to do something that has never been done in the program’s history which is to make them a consistent winner. Since 2000, UNLV has only had two winning seasons and you have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last time that they were able to win at least 10 games. Sanchez is attempting to turn the Rebels into winners and making a bowl games here in 2017 would be huge.
For the Rebels, winning football relies on a basic game plan on offense which focuses on the rushing the football. Last year Nevada-Las Vegas was 15th in the nation as they averaged 5.6 yards per carry as a team. There is not one player that opponents can focus on in UNLV’s running game as Sanchez has done a solid job in regards to spreading the love. But being that UNLV needs to improve defensively as they were 80th last season in total defense, will they be able to overcome defensive inefficiencies to make a bowl game for the first time since 2013?
UNLV should be slightly improved from last season, however finishing the regular season with consecutive road games against the New Mexico Lobos and Nevada Wolf Pack will have a huge part in whether or not that they’ll be able to go bowling this season.
X-Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 6-6 (4-4)
Nick Rolovich’s first year as the head football coach of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors was very successful as he was able to lead the program to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Hawaii is not an easy place get the top high school football recruits to attend as players are weary about making the trip from the Continental United States to Honolulu, while the top talent on the Hawaiian Islands tends to get recruited to play for West Coast powerhouses such as the USC Trojans. But Rolovich isn’t in the business of making excuses as the Rainbow Warriors will head into the new college football campaign seeking to do something that they have not done since 2008 which is to make a bowl game in consecutive years.
Junior quarterback Dru Brown has been dependable for Hawaii as he is a player who tends to protect the football. As running back Diocemy Saint Juste is ready to begin his senior season, he will look to build off of his breakout campaign in 2016 that saw him gain 1,006 yards on the ground, while he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The Rainbow Warriors will also benefit from having a solid offensive line as led by senior left tackle Dejon Allen, there will be three seniors as well as a junior on the starting unit.
Defensive football has never been a specialty for the Rainbow Warriors which included them being 112th in the nation last season in total defense. Legi Suiaunoa is set to embark of his first season as Hawaii’s defensive coordinator and the only way for his unit to go is up. Junior middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai led the Warriors in tackles last season with 129 while he was the team’s best pass rusher as he had 7 sacks and he’ll once again be an impact player for them. Senior safety Trayvon Henderson can fly around in the secondary in order to cover ground as both he and Tavai have the potential to be All-Mountain West performers.
The defense could once again be an issue for the Rainbow Warriors, but they should be in position to once again take advantage of a weak Western Division in the Mountain West in order to reach a bowl game.
Nevada Wolfpack 4-8 (3-5)
In four years as the head football coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack, Brian Polian was never able to maintain the level of success which had been established by his predecessor Chris Ault. Ault was the innovator of the “pistol offense” who led Nevada to new heights which included winning 13 games in 2010. However Ault’s success came when Nevada was in the Western Athletic Conference. The Wolf Pack joined the Mountain West Conference in 2011, and since then they have been unable to win more than seven games in a season. Now it will be Jay Norvell’s turn as Nevada’s head football coach to turn things around, but it will be easier said than done.
One of the biggest issues that Norvell must be able to fix for Nevada is their inconsistency on offense. Last year the Wolf Pack were limited to scoring 20 points or less in a game five times as they need to have a semblance of order.
There will be one building block for Norvell in sophomore middle linebacker Gabe Sewell who could be one of the most underrated players at his position within Mountain West.
A difficult schedule which includes Nevada stepping out of the conference to face the Northwestern Wildcats of the Big Ten Conference and the Washington State Cougars of the Pac-12 Conference, along with road games within the Mountain West versus the Colorado State Rams, Boise State, and San Diego Aztecs means that Norvell will definitely have his work cut out in regards to getting Nevada back on track.
San Jose State Spartans 2-10 (1-7)
The 2016 college football season was over before it started for the San Jose State Spartans. The Spartans failed to keep contests close as six of their eight losses came by 14 points or more which included losing by 39 points to the San Diego State Aztecs. After four years as San Jose State’s head football coach, Ron Caragher was relieved of his duties as he was never able to lead the Spartans to a winning season. Now Brent Brennan will have his chance to turn things around for San Jose State as their head football coach. Most recently Brennan was the wide receivers coach for the Oregon State Beavers as this was a post that he held for the last six years. Brennan has never been a head coach at any stop along his football journey, but will he be able to make San Jose State respectable in the Mountain West Conference?
One positive that Brennan will have going for him to begin his tenure at San Jose State is the fact that he’ll have four seniors on the offensive line. Left tackle Nate Velichko and center Keoni Taylor lead this experienced group, however the Spartans are lacking play making ability at the skill positions.
Defensively San Jose State is looking to improve off of being 88th in the nation last year in total defense. Derrick Odum was on Oregon State’s staff last year with Brennan as he was the school’s safeties coach. But it will take Odum some time to turn things around as San Jose State’s defensive coordinator being that he simply does not have the players who can make an impact as of yet.
The Spartans have a long way to go before their program will get turned around and they will definitely take their lumps here in 2017.
Fresno State Bulldogs 1-11 (0-8)
In 2016, the Fresno State Bulldogs went through two head football coaches which is never a good sign for a program. After a 1-7 start, Tim DeRuyter was fired and he’d be replaced by Eric Kiesau on an interim bases. Kiesau would not fare much better as the Bulldogs would go 0-4 at the helm. Fresno State’s struggles would lead the school to seek out and ultimately hire Jeff Tedford as their next head football coach.
Tedford is most recognized for his run as the head football coach of the California Golden Bears as in 11 years at Berkley he compiled a record of 82-57. At California, Tedford sent his fair share of talent to the National Football League which includes Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Now Tedford will be charged with reversing the fortunes of a Fresno State program that is coming off of three consecutive losing seasons.
It is going to take Tedford some time to turn around the fortunes of the Bulldogs as he must get players who will fit his system. On offense Fresno State was 120th in the nation in total offense last season, while they were 84th in passing which gives you an idea as to why they were only able to win one game last season. Things aren’t that much better for Fresno State on the defensive side of the football where they were ranked 68th in the nation in total defense and like the offense, they are lacking play makers.
For Fresno State this is a team that must find a way to compete in the Mountain West as they’ve failed to win a conference game since November 2015. And if Tedford can begin to put the pieces in play in order to make this team believe, it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Mountain West Championship Game: Boise State vs. San Diego State
Conference Champion: Boise State
Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com
Boise State Broncos 13-0 (8-0)
It’s hard to believe, but the Boise State Broncos have only fielded a Division-I football program since 1996. Over that stretch the Broncos have won 12 conference titles, including two out of the last four in the Mountain West Conference. And as Boise State head football coach Bryan Harsin is set to embark on his third season with the Broncos, he has a squad that is capable of winning the Mountain West, while also cracking the College Football Playoff.
Offensively Boise State will be led by sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who last year as a freshman was the Mountain West Conference’s Freshman of the Year as he threw for 3,353 yards and 20 touchdowns. Rypien is the nephew of Super Bowl winning quarterback Mark Rypien, and like his uncle, the youngster has solid pocket awareness as he can lead the Broncos.
Like Rypien, junior running back Jeremy McNichols could become a household name as he has the potential to gain 1,500 yards on the ground this season, while he also doubles a solid receiver coming out of the backfield. And all that senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck does is catch passes as his 88 receptions in 2015 were among the top receivers in the nation while he is a prime candidate to win the Biletnikoff Award.
Led by offensive tackle Mario Yakoo, Boise State has three senior starters on the offensive line which could pave the way for an offense that could be among the best in the nation.
Whereas the Broncos are spoiled with play makers on the offensive side of the football, the same cannot be said about their defense which will be a work in progress as the season goes along.
The Broncos should waltz through their regular season schedule until a November 25 road game against the Air Force Falcons which could determine who’ll represent the Mountain Division in the conference title game.
Air Force Falcons 11-1 (7-1)
As the head football coach of the Air Force Falcons, Troy Calhoun is fighting an uphill battle just like the other service academies due to student-athletes being required to give the United States Government a two-year military commitment following their graduation. But in Calhoun’s nine years at Air Force, he has only had two losing seasons, while he has taken the Falcons to eight bowl games. And after Air Force fell just four points short of winning the Mountain West Conference Title last season, Calhoun has a team that’ll once again be in contention here in 2016.
Offensively Air Force wears down opponents with its triple-option rushing attack that can frustrate opponents. Last year the Falcons produced the fourth-ranked rushing unit in the nation as they gained 4,468 yards on the ground. Calhoun will rely on senior running back Jacobi Owens as well as junior running back Timothy McVey as they’ll be protected by an offensive line that only has one senior starter in guard Colin Sandor.
It didn’t seem like it, but the Falcons were 32nd in total defense in the nation last year as their undersized unit relies on speed and discipline. And you can expect the Falcons to get leadership on defense from seniors such as defensive end Kellen Cleveland, outside linebacker D.J. Dunn Jr., and cornerback Roland Ladipo.
Air Force’s season will come down to their regular season finale against the Boise State Broncos which will more than likely determine the winner of the Mountain Division.
Colorado State Rams 7-5 (5-3)
2002 was the last time that the Colorado State Rams won the Mountain West Conference. From 2004-2012, the Rams had seven losing seasons while they’ve also had five different head coaches over that stretch. Mike Bobo is in his second year as the head football coach at Colorado State, and though he may not be there for the long haul as he’ll probably attempt to land a job at a bigger school in the near future, he will try to guide the Rams to their fourth consecutive bowl game.
The Rams do have a seasoned starting quarterback in junior Nick Stevens. Stevens made solid strides last year under Bobo who himself was a collegiate quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs. Stevens had solid pocket awareness which should keep him in the conversation as far as being a first-team Mountain West performer. I expect Colorado State to have a solid commitment to the ground game which means that junior running back Dalyn Dawkins should get 200-250 carries this year. Dawkins will be running behind an offensive line that features senior left tackle Nick Callender who is one of the best offensive linemen in the conference.
The strength of the Rams defense lies in their linebackers where senior linebackers Kevin Davis and Deonte Clyburn tackle everything that moves. I anticipate Davis and Clybrun each being on the Mountain West’s all-conference team, while they should also push each other in the running to be the conference’s defensive player of the year.
The Rams should be able to have their way in the non-conference schedule, but things will get tougher when the Mountain West slate begins as it includes road games against the Boise State Broncos, Air Force Falcons, and San Diego State Aztecs.
New Mexico Lobos 8-4 (4-4)
It took New Mexico Lobos head football coach Bob Davie four years to get his program to a bowl game along with having a winning record. And as Davie appears to have the Lobos going in the right direction, he is hopeful that his team is ready to compete for the Mountain West Conference Title.
Teams know that when they face the Lobos they are going to get a heavy dose of the running game. New Mexico was ninth in the nation last year in rushing offense as Davie employs an option attack. You can expect junior quarterback Lamar Jordan, and senior running back Teriyon Gipson to receive the bulk of the carries as they look to help the Lobos be one of the top teams in the Mountain West.
Defensively the Lobos are returning seven senior starters on defense. But under second year defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, the Lobos must improve in all phases as they were 97th last year in total defense which included surrendering 30 points or more in six contests.
If New Mexico can get through their non-conference schedule unscathed, it could give them the momentum needed to tackle their early Mountain West schedule which features games against the Boise State Broncos, along with the Air Force Falcons. And those two contests should give us an idea of how 2016 will turn out for the Lobos.
Utah State Aggies 3-9 (1-7)
The Utah State Aggies football program is in the midst of its greatest run in school history as each of the last five years has ended with them making a bowl game. Utah State has been a member of the Mountain West Conference since 2013. But in that time the Aggies have one Mountain Division Title to their credit, while they have never finished worse than third in the division. But for Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, 2016 will provide him with his most difficult task since taking over.
Defensively the Aggies must replace their five leading tackles from last season which includes linebacker Nick Vigil who had 144. But any success that the Aggies intend to have this year will rest on the legs of senior running back Devante Mays who will be the heart and soul of the offense.
After the recent success that the Utah State program has enjoyed, a step backwards in 2016 will be a bitter pill for them to swallow.
Wyoming Cowboys 2-10 (0-8)
Unfortunately for the Wyoming Cowboys, they have been unable to be a consistent contender in the Mountain West Conference. The Cowboys are coming off of their first 10-loss season since 2002, while they have not been able to produce a winning campaign since 2011. And you have to go back to 1999 for the last time that the Cowboys were able to have consecutive winning seasons.
For Wyoming head football coach Craig Bohl, he must find a way to get his team to compete in 2016 as they lost seven games by 17 points or more last year. There are a few bright spots for the Cowboys which includes junior running back Brian Hill, along with senior linebackers D.J. May and Lucas Wacha. But it is going to take more than three players to get the fortunes of the Cowboys turned around.
This season for the Cowboys could be as brutal as the winters in that region of the United States.
Nevada Wolfpack 8-5 (6-2)
10 out of the last 11 years have seen the Nevada Wolf Pack make a bowl game which included winning the Western Athletic Conference in 2005 and 2010. But since Nevada joined the Mountain West Conference in 2012, they have not been able to be a title contender which could be changing the fall.
Brian Polian is entering his fourth year as the head football coach at Nevada and he has continued to employ the same “pistol offense” that was so successful under former Wolfpack head football coach Chris Ault in Reno.
Polian has a solid quarterback to rely on in senior Tyler Stewart who is one of the bigger signal callers in the conference. Nevada’s pistol offense is continuing to grow as Stewart has solid timing with senior wide receivers Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson as each player could be a members of the Mountain West Conference’s All-First team. On the offensive line, Nevada has four starters returning who will look to provide protection for Stewart and junior running back James Butler who will be in the mix to the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year.
Defensively, Nevada will have to replace senior leaders from last year’s team such as linebacker Jordan Dobrich, but after defensive back Dameon Baber led the team in interceptions with 5, and defensive back Asauni Rufus led the team in tackles with 105 last year as freshmen, it gives the unit hope to compete for the school’s first Mountain West Title.
The beginning of Nevada’s schedule is daunting as it includes a road game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But as the season goes along, the Wolfpack should improve and be one of the better teams in the Mountain West.
San Diego State Aztecs 7-5 (6-2)
2015 was a banner year for the San Diego State Aztecs as their 11 wins tied the school record for wins which was set in 1969. The Aztecs would win their first undisputed Mountain West Conference Title in school history, and it will interesting to see how this group that is led by head football coach Rocky Long will be able to follow it up in 2016.
As of now the starting quarterback position appears to the job of redshirt sophomore Christian Chapman to lose. Chapman played sparingly last year for the Aztecs, and it will be interesting to see how much that he’ll be able to progress this season. In a surprising move, running back Donnel Pumphrey decided to spurn the National Football League in order to return to school for his senior season. And what Pumphrey gives the Aztecs is a play maker, a leader, and a guy that can put the offense on his back as he is the reigning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
And whereas Pumphrey is one of the best offensive players in the Mountain West, San Diego State might have the best defensive player in the conference as well in senior linebacker Calvin Munson who led the team in tackles (98), and sacks last season (9.5). Senior cornerbacks Malik Smith and Damontae Kazee are as stingy as they come as the duo combined for 13 interceptions in 2015 and quarterbacks in the Mountain West will have to think twice about testing them.
Under Long, the Aztecs don’t face cupcakes in their non-conference schedule as they’ll host the California Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference on September 10, while they’ll travel to face the always tough Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference in the following week. But San Diego State’s chances of getting back to the Mountain West Conference Championship Game will come down to the latter part of their schedule which will see them travel to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack on November 12, while finishing the regular season at home against the Colorado State Rams.
UNLV Rebels 6-6 (4-4)
2015 marked another difficult college football season for the UNLV Rebels. The Rebels went 3-9 en route to their 28th losing season in the 38-year history of the program, but they were close to breaking through. And as UNLV head football coach Tony Sanchez is set to begin his second year in Las Vegas, he is hopeful that he can get the Rebels to their first bowl game since 2013.
Last year as sophomore, quarterback Kurt Palandech did see some time as a starter, but now it will be his job to lose. Luckily for Palandech he’ll be able to rely on pair of veteran wide receivers in junior Devonte Boyd, along with junior Kendal Keys in passing situations, and the speed of senior running back Keith Whitely.
Defensively the Rebels were ranked 110th last year in total defense, but they have several impact players in senior linebacker Ryan McAleenan and sophomore defensive back Tim Hough who could be difference makers.
Sanchez is attempting to breath some new life into UNLV’s football program, and some early wins in the season could be a huge confidence booster as they look to become bowl-eligible.
Fresno State Bulldogs 3-9 (2-6)
After joining the Mountain West Conference in 2012, the Fresno State Bulldogs were shot out of a cannon as they won 20 games in their first two years and it appeared to be business as usual. But in the past two years it hasn’t been as easy for Fresno State as they’ve lost 17 games en route to consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1996.
For Fresno State head football coach Tim DeRuyter, the talent level has dipped for his program and the elephant in the room is whether or not that his early success with the Bulldogs was attributed to the fact that he inherited solid players from former Fresno State head football coach Pat Hill. And with another long season on the horizon in the Silicon Valley, the hot seat for DeRuyter is warming up.
San Jose State Spartans 4-8 (2-6)
After making a bowl game for the first time as a member of the Mountain West Conference in 2015, the San Jose Spartans are looking to take the next step. But for Spartans head football coach Ron Caragher, he has to find enough play makers on both sides of the football to turn that dream into a reality.
In his first year as San Jose’s starting quarterback, Kenny Potter threw 15 touchdowns, but he will need to have a much bigger impact in this his senior campaign. Defensively the Spartans do return their top three tacklers from last season in senior linebacker Christian Tago, junior defensive back Maurice McKnight, and sophomore linebacker Frank Ginda. The unit was ranked 34th in the nation in total defense and they’ll once again look to be stingy in the Mountain West.
The Spartans will definitely compete, but I am not sure if they will have enough to win games in the Mountain West.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 2-11 (0-8)
Ever since making the jump from the now defunct Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference in 2012, things have not been good for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. In 2010, Hawaii won 10 games. But in four years in the Mountain West, the Rainbow Warriors have only managed to win 11 games. Hawaii has become a whipping boy as in 2015 alone, they were shut out three times, while losing seven games by 19 points or more.
Nick Rolovich will have his work cut out for him as he has taken over as the new head football coach at Hawaii. Rolovich previously played and worked at Hawaii. From 2000-2001, Rolovich saw time as Hawaii’s starting quarterback under then head football coach June Jones. Rolovich was also an assistant coach for Hawaii from 2008-2011, and now he gets his chance to be the main decision maker.
Hawaii’s recent struggles begin with the quarterback position as last year their signal callers managed to throw just 12 touchdown passes while also accounting for 21 interceptions. There will be an open competition to be the Rainbow Warriors quarterback this year. Senior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and sophomore Beau Reilly will compete for the starting job, but I am not sure who will get the nod to be Hawaii’s starter.
Hawaii will lean on senior running back Paul Harris who is one of the better running backs in the conference to be a spark for their offense, while the Rainbow Warriors need to find some play makers on a defense that was ranked 105th last year in the nation in total defense.
With not that many soft spots in their schedule which includes non-conference tilts with the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference and Arizona Wildcats of the Pac-12 Conference, this will be another difficult year at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Mountain West Championship Game: Nevada vs. Boise State
Conference Champion: Boise State
Coach of the Year: Bryan Harsin-Boise State
Offensive Player of the Year: Brett Rypien-Quarterback-Boise State
Defensive Player of the Year: Kevin Davis-Middle Linebacker-Colorado State
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com, Ourlads.com
Boise State Broncos 11-2 (8-1)
Transition is not a tough word for the Boise State Broncos to handle. In 2001, the Broncos left the Big West Conference to join the Western Athletic Conference where they shared or outright won the WAC Title nine times. In 2011, Boise State joined the Mountain West Conference and they have not slowed down as they’ve won the conference title there twice. Last year for Boise State was their first year under head football coach Bryan Harsin who was able to pick up right where former Boise State and current University of Washington head football coach Chris Petersen left off at.
The Broncos are no longer college football’s little secret that resides in the Potato State of Idaho and plays on the blue turf. With 10 of the last 13 years resulting in the Broncos finishing the season ranked in the top 20 under three different head coaches, the Broncos know how to roll with the punches which is important as they’ll once again look to win the Mountain West in 2015.
For Harsin and Boise State, nine starters are returning on offense, but they’ll have to replace a pair of impact players.
The Broncos lost quarterback Grant Hedrick to graduation while running back Jay Ajayi left school early to play in the National Football League. At 6’4″, sophomore Ryan Finley has the size to be a good quarterback and Boise’s system tends to bring out the best in their quarterbacks. Junior running back Devan Demas is the opposite of Ajayi. Whereas Ajayi was a big, powerful back for the Broncos, Demas is a scat back that relies more on his speed and elusiveness. But the fact that the Broncos have a ton of talent returning on the offensive side of the football which includes senior offensive tackle Rees Odhiambo and senior center Marcus Henry, Boise State should once again have one of the top offenses in the Mountain West.
The Broncos return eight starters on defense and under defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, this unit should only get better as the season progresses.
The non-conference schedule won’t be an easy for Boise State as they welcome an old friend in Peterson to town with his Washington team before traveling to meet the BYU Cougars and Virginia Cavaliers of the Atlantic Coast Conference which should get them prepared for everything that the Mountain West Coast has to offer in 2015.
Air Force Falcons 8-4 (6-2)
After going 2-10 in 2013, the Air Force Falcons enjoyed an incredible turnaround last year as they went 10-3 and won a bowl game. For Air Force head football coach Troy Calhoun it is simple, just rely on his triple-option attack as much as possible which means to give the football to sophomore running back Jacobi Owens early and often. With Air Force cadets having to give the United States Military a two-year commitment after their collegiate days, Calhoun doesn’t have an easy sell when it comes to recruiting, but this mentally tough program won’t be one that too many teams will be ecstatic to play this fall.
Utah State Aggies 7-5 (5-3)
The best way to describe the Utah State Aggies football program over the past several years is that they are a thorn in the side of their opponents. Over the past three years the Aggies have won 30 games including winning the last Western Athletic Conference Championship in 2012 along with winning the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference in 2013.
For Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, he is hoping that senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton can bounce back healthy in 2015. The last two years have seen Keeton go down with knee injuries and after the NCAA granted him a special waiver for this year, he is looking to make the most of it as he can be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks within the conference.
The Aggies schedule in 2015 is far from easy as in their non-conference portion they’ll meet the Utah Utes and Washington Huskies of the Pac-12 Conference along with the BYU Cougars. Within the Mountain West, the Aggies will face the Boise State Broncos and San Diego State Aztecs in a two week span as those two contests will more that likely determine their fate in the conference this year.
Colorado State Rams 9-3 (5-3)
The Colorado State Rams have enjoyed some success in the past two years, but things will be a little bit different this year. After three years as the head football coach of the Rams, Jim McElwain was lured away from Fort Collins by the money and prestige of the Southeastern Conference and the University of Florida. But with McElwain’s departure, Colorado State went back to the SEC to find their next head coach football. This time the Rams went to Athens, Georgia and plucked Mike Bobo from the University of Georgia. Bobo was a quarterback at Georgia and he spent the past 14 years there either as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. But now at the age of 41, Bobo is ready to become a college football head coach.
The Rams did lose some talent on offense, but they still have junior wide receiver Rashard Higgins who has the potential to a first-team All-Mountain West player this year.
If Colorado State is able to take advantage of their non-conference schedule which includes a game against the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference, they could gain the confidence that will be necessary for them to hang around in the race for the Mountain West Championship.
Wyoming Cowboys 6-6 (3-5)
The Wyoming Cowboys enter 2015 college football season looking for their first winning season since 2011. And for that to come to fruition for Wyoming head football coach Craig Bohl, he’ll rely heavily on sophomore running back Ben Hill to be a workhouse for him.
If Wyoming is able to take care of business in their non-conference schedule that includes games against North Dakota and Eastern Michigan, they might be able to do just enough in the Mountain West to in order to become bowl eligible.
New Mexico Lobos 3-9 (1-7)
The hot seat is warming up for head football coach Bob Davie in 2015 with the New Mexico Lobos. Davie is entering his fourth season with New Mexico where he has compiled a record of 11-26 without a bowl appearance. And with the Mountain Division in the Mountain West Conference expected to be tough, victories for the Lobos might be few and far between in 2015. The best chance for the Lobos to have success in 2015 will be for them to rely on senior running back Jhurell Pressley having an epic season. But with there not being too many soft spots in New Mexico’s schedule this year, it will be another long season for Davie and the Lobos in Albuquerque.
San Diego State Aztecs 9-4 (7-2)
The San Diego State Aztecs have seen their win total decrease in each of the last three seasons, but with this year expected to be a very down year for the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference, the Aztecs could find their way to the conference title game under head football coach Rocky Long.
The key to the Aztecs team will be junior running back Donnel Pumphrey and senior running back Chase Price. Together in 2014, Pumphrey and Price combined to rush for more than 2,500 yards and they are once again expected to effective in 2015.
With the Western Division expected to be weak, San Diego State will also avoid the heavyweights that are in the Mountain Division and they should have a relative easy road to the conference title game.
Fresno State Bulldogs 5-7 (4-4)
2014 saw the Fresno State Bulldogs have their toughest season since 2011 and for head football coach Tim DeRuyter, things won’t get any easier this time around. The State of California has long been a recruiting hotbed for high school football, but Fresno State typically tends to get over looked by the bigger schools that are in the Pac-12 Conference. Periodically Fresno State is able to find solid players, but they are in the midst of a dry spell right now.
This season the Bulldogs will be dealing a ton of adversity as their non-conference schedule includes road games against the Utah Utes of the Pac-12, the Ole Miss Rebels of the Southeastern Conference, and the BYU Cougars who are a football independent while within the Mountain West, they’ll travel to meet San Diego State and the Air Force Falcons which will make it difficult for them to become bowl eligible.
Nevada Wolfpack 5-7 (4-4)
The Nevada Wolf Pack were able to turn things around last season under head football coach Brian Polian. In Polian’s first year, Nevada went 4-8 while they were 7-6 last season. But for Nevada to have a chance as far as winning the Western Division of the Mountain West in 2015, Polian must find a player or players that can offset the loss of quarterback Cody Fajardo who is now pursuing a career in the National Football League.
Nevada will spend this season teetering on bowl eligibility, and with their last two games of the season taking place on the road against the Utah State Aggies and the San Diego State Aztecs, it will be tough for the Wolf Pack to find their way back to a bowl game.
UNLV Rebels 3-9 (2-6)
After three consecutive double-digit losing seasons, the UNLV Rebels were able to break through and post a winning campaign in 2013. But the losing trend re-emerged for the Rebels last season as they were 2-11 which resulted in a coaching change. The Rebels went to the high school ranks to find a new head football coach in Tony Sanchez who is out to show that he can produce a consistent winner in Vegas. And any opportunity for Sanchez to get things turned around while establishing himself in 2015 at UNLV will mean that senior quarterback Blake Decker and sophomore wide receiver Devonte Boyd must have big seasons.
UNLV’s non-conference schedule includes trips to face the Northern Illinois Huskies from the Mid-American Conference and the Michigan Wolverines from the Big Ten Conference with road games within the Mountain West Conference against the Nevada Wolfpack and Colorado State Rams as victories will be few and far between this for the Rebels in 2015.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 4-8 (1-7)
After going 1-11 in 2013, there was only one way for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to go under head football coach Norm Chow in 2014. Hawaii was 4-8 last year and they are hopeful that they can get over that hump in 2015 in order to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Chow has a reputation in college of working with and developing quarterbacks. Junior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey will be Hawaii’s starting quarterback and he will need to improve on his 13 touchdowns from last season while decreasing his 13 interceptions to help the chances of the Rainbow Warriors in the upcoming college football season.
With a daunting schedule that includes a road game versus the Ohio State Buckeyes who are the defending national champs, Hawaii and Chow will have their work cut out form themselves this fall.
San Jose State Spartans 2-10 (1-7)
It’s hard to believe that in 2012, the San Jose State Spartans won 11 games as they’ve fallen apart rather quickly. The Spartans are coming off of a 3-9 season and things won’t get any easier for them this year in the Mountain West Conference. Ron Caragher is set to begin his third season as the head football coach at San Jose State where he’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get his team to compete as they lost eight games last season by 10 or more points. And with a schedule for San Jose State this year that includes games against the Air Force Falcons, Oregon State Beavers, Auburn Tigers, San Diego State Aztecs, and BYU Cougars, it will be another long year in Northern California for the Spartans.
Mountain West Championship Game: San Diego State vs. Boise State
Conference Champion: Boise State
Nevada Wolf Pack 9-3 (7-1)
Fresno State Bulldogs 6-6 (5-3)
San Diego State Aztecs 7-5 (5-3)
San Jose State Spartans 4-8 (4-4)
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 3-9 (2-6)
UNLV Rebels 3-9 (1-7)
Utah State Aggies 10-2 (8-0)
Air Force Falcons 7-5 (4-4)
Boise State Broncos 7-5 (4-4)
Colorado State Rams 7-5 (3-5)
New Mexico Lobos 3-9 (1-7)
Wyoming Cowboys 3-9 (1-7)
Mountain West Championship Game- Nevada vs. Utah State
Mountain West Champion-Utah State
The Mountain West Conference may no longer be home to TCU, Utah, and BYU, but this is still a football conference that must be respected. The Utah State Aggies have senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton who is returning from an ACL injury and he will be in the running to be the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year.
Led by a trio of seniors, the Nevada Wolf Pack could have one of the best offenses in the nation. Senior quarterback Cody Fajardo, running back Kendall Brock, and wide receiver Richy Turner could come up big if the Pack are able to win the Mountain West Conference this year.
After a 2-10 season in 2013, you can expect the Air Force Falcons to once again get into bowl contention. Under head football coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons had the 12th ranked rushing attack in the nation last year and the triple option is still in affect in Colorado Springs.
A new life begins for the Fresno State Bulldogs begins as quarterback David Carr is now in the National Football League. But for Fresno State head football coach Tim DeRuyter he will look to junior quarterback Brian Burrell to be the next good quarterback in the Valley. At 6’4″, 221 lbs., Burrell has the prototypical size of a pro quarterback with a live arm as he will look to help the Bulldogs to remain as a player in the Mountain West.
The Boise State Broncos will miss head football coach Chris Petersen who after eight years on the job left for the University of Washington. Brian Harsin replaces Petersen at Boise where he will look to keep the machine going for the Broncos as they have finished the season ranked in the top 20 nine times since 2002.
Colorado State head football coach Jim McElwain will look to lead the school to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2003 while the San Diego State Aztecs have made a bowl game appearance in the past four years and you can expect more of the same in 2014. Led by senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler, senior wide receiver Ezell Ruffin, and sophomore tailback Donnel Pumphrey, the Aztecs will be in thick of things in the Mountain West.
In 2014, the Mountain West should live up to its reputation of high scoring, wide open football.
Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com