X-Boise State Broncos 12-1 (9-0)
Anyone who thought that the dominance of the Boise State Broncos would end once they lost head football coach Chris Petersen to the Washington Huskies need think again. In four years under head football coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos have won a pair of Mountain West Conference Championships, while they have won at least 9 games in each campaign. And as Boise State heads into a new college football season as the defending conference champs, they know that the target will be on their backs, but they’ve got a team which can claim the title once more.
Last year quarterback Brett Rypien didn’t have the big passing season that he was expected to, but he did finish up strong as he passed for at least 300 yards in each of his last five games. Rypien is another in a long line of quality quarterbacks who have played for Boise, and as he is set to embark on his senior season, we could be looking at the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Like the quarterback play at Boise State, the Broncos continue to roll out quality ball carriers as well. Senior running back Alexander Mattison has tremendous play making ability which makes him tough to defend. The best plan for the Broncos will be to get him the football early and often as if he is able to get at least 25 carries per game, Boise will have a tremendous chance to repeat as conference champs.
The Broncos may have lost the conference’s defensive player of the year in outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to the National Football League, but defensive coordinator Andy Avalos will once again have a loaded unit. Junior middle linebacker Tyson Maeva is a solid tackler, while he also gives the unit good leadership. Sophomore Curtis Weaver recorded 11 sacks last season and he has an NFL career in his future due to to is versatility as a defensive end and outside linebacker. Weaver is a tremendous edge rush who could follow Vander Esch as being the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. And in Boise’s secondary, there is a wealth of talent with junior free safety Kekoa Newahine, as well as at the cornerback position with senior Tyler Horton and Avery Williams.
The Broncos will once again be the team to beat in the Mountain West, but more importantly they will be up for the challenge.
X-Colorado State Rams 7-5 (5-3)
Each of the last three years have seen the Colorado State Rams finish the college football season with a record of 7-6. On the surface it might appear that the Rams have endured through a trio of mediocre years, but once you delve a little bit more, you can see how close that they were from putting together something special. In each of those years it was just one conference loss that prevented Colorado State from playing in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game as there is a nemesis that they cannot overcome.
Ever since the Boise State Broncos joined the Mountain West in 2011, Colorado State has been unable to defeat them as this has been the game which has typically decided the Mountain Division Title. And as the Rams are expected to once again contend for the top spot in the conference, will they have enough to get past the team that plays on the “smurf turf”?
As Mike Bobo is set to begin his fourth year as the head football coach at Colorado State, his offense is going to look different this time around. The Rams lost their starting quarterback, running back, and wide receiver from a year ago to graduation as this trio combined to account for 37 touchdowns last season. Bobo will now turn to an inexperienced quarterback in sophomore Collin Hill, while lightly used running back Izzy Johnson gets his chance to be the featured ball carrier in this his senior season.
Defensively the Rams will once again be an up and down team, but two players to focus on will be senior middle linebacker Josh Watson and junior cornerback Anthony Hawkins. Hawkins had solid coverage skills as a corner, while Watson will be one of the top middle linebackers in the Mountain West due to his tackling skills, as well as his ability to read offenses.
Colorado State’s non-conference schedule won’t be easy as they’ll travel to Denver for their annual in-state showdown with the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference, while they’ll also take a couple of trips to Southeastern Conference country to face the Arkansas Razorbacks and Florida Gators. But for the Rams, their season will be defined by their October 19th game versus Boise State as this will more than likely determine who will get to the conference title game.
X-Wyoming Cowboys 8-4 (5-3)
It has been a steady climb to success for the Wyoming Cowboys in the Mountain West Conference as after they were able to only win a pair of games in 2015, they are now one of the top teams in the league. The Cowboys have won a combined 16 games over the last two years as head football coach Craig Bohl has worked his magic. And as a new college football campaign is set to begin, Bohl and his team will once again be in contention to bring a conference title to Laramie.
But if the Cowboys are going to once again contend in the Mountain West, their defense is going to have to carry them. Last year the Cowboys struggled mightily on offense as they were 126th in the nation in total offense which included failing to score at least 20 points in five games.
Junior middle linebacker Logan Wilson will tackle anything that moves, and thus he will be in the discussion to be the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year, while junior outside linebacker Cassh Maluia has great instincts coming off of the weak side. But Wilson won’t be the only Wyoming defender who’ll be in contention to be conference’s defensive player of the year as senior defensive end Carl Granderson has a future in professional football ahead of him. Aside from being Wyoming’s leading sacker last year, Granderson was also fourth on the team in tackles, and his ability will allow this unit to continue being stingy.
Wyoming also has a hungry secondary as they recorded 16 of the team’s 20 interceptions. The Cowboys also have plenty of experience returning in their secondary as senior strong safety Andrew Wingard and senior free safety Marcus Epps combined for 9 picks in 2017. And anytime that a defense has a pair of safeties that can dictate things in the secondary the way that Wingard and Epps can, it makes opposing offenses think twice.
This Wyoming defense which was 23rd in the nation last year in total defense is once again loaded as defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton will be getting some attention in regards to being a head coach very soon.
Wyoming’s first conference game will be on September 29th at home versus Boise State as this contest will go a long way in determining who’ll win the Mountain Division and get to the conference title game.
X-Air Force Falcons 7-5 (5-3)
The 2017 college football season marked just the second time in which the Air Force Falcons failed to make a bowl game under head football coach Troy Calhoun. The season never got off on the right foot for the Falcons as they began with a record of 1-4. Air Force would finish with a mark of 5-7 which is something for Calhoun to build off of since his team had one of the toughest schedules in the Mountain West Conference. However only time will tell if the Falcons will be able to quickly reascend and once again be one of the top teams in the Mountain West.
With Calhoun’s offense at Air Force, you know that you are going to get a healthy dose of the running game. The Falcons primarily use the triple-option attack as they wear down defenses. Last year the Falcons were fourth in the nation in rushing and you can expect more of the same this season.
Senior quarterback Arion Worthman is a solid all-around athlete who can burn you with the pass if you focus too much on his ability to run the football. And as we’re heading into a new season, Worthman will look to add his name to the long list of option quarterbacks who have have success at Air Force.
But it will be imperative for Air Force’s ball control attack on offense to dictate the pace as the Falcons have an undersized defense which will fail to keep up with the offenses in the Mountain West.
Air Force won’t have to deal with a brutal schedule like they did last year which should allow Calhoun and his team to get back to a bowl game.
Utah State Aggies 5-7 (3-5)
The Utah State Aggies are in the midst of their longest stretch of success in the program’s history. The Aggies had to endure and up and down 2017, but they still managed to go bowling. Gary Wells is Utah State’s longest tenured head football coach since Chuck Shelton in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the only thing that is missing from his resume is bringing a Mountain West Conference Championship to Logan. It will be a long shot for Wells to make that a reality this year, but are the Aggies poised to shock some people in the Mountain West?
If Utah State is going to shock some people this year, it is going to start with the play of sophomore quarterback Jordan Love. Love took his lumps last year as a freshman, but his last two games of the season saw him pass for more than 250 yards in each of those contests; albeit they both resulted in losses. At 6’4″, 220 lbs., Love has prototypical size for a quarterback, but he will need to get his completion percentage close to 60% in order for the Aggies to have a fighting chance.
Love will have the privilege of being protected by one of the more experienced offensive lines in the Mountain West as the Aggies will have four seniors up front which includes left tackle Roman Andrus.
Utah State’s defense will be paced by a pair of senior inside linebackers in Chase Christiansen and Suli Tamaivena. Both Christiansen and Tamaivena know how to fly to the ball carrier, and that intensity should propel the Aggies to a better 2018.
The beginning and the end of Utah State’s schedule will be tough as they’ll start of by traveling to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten Conference, while they will finish up with consecutive road games versus the Colorado State Rams and Boise State Broncos which means that they must make the most of their slate in between that.
New Mexico Lobos 2-10 (0-8)
After breaking through for one of the finest seasons in program history in 2016, the New Mexico Lobos took a huge step backwards last year. The Lobos went 3-9, while only winning one game within the Mountain West Conference. Bob Davie is set to begin his seventh season as New Mexico’s head football coach, but there isn’t the same level of excitement around him as in year’s past.
This past February, Davie was suspended by the university for 30 days following an investigation which showed that the football staff had improper involvement, while also mishandling alleged player misconduct. This has put a black mark on Davie’s reputation, while it has strained his relationship with the school as he appealed the ruling. And all of that makes you wonder if his time in Albuquerque will be coming to an end soon.
Offensively New Mexico will once again rely on their ground game as they were 19th in the nation last season in rushing. Senior running back Tyrone Owens will be the Lobos main ball carrier, but in order for this team to have a chance to compete this year in the Mountain West, he will need to gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground.
The Lobos were bad one defense last year, and you can expect more the same this time around. And with a lack of play makers, along with a difficult conference schedule, things won’t get any better for New Mexico, while this will more than likely be Davie’s last hurrah there.
X-Fresno State Bulldogs 10-3 (7-2)
The 2017 college football season saw the Fresno State Bulldogs complete one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in Football Bowl Subdivision history. The Bulldogs were only able to win one game in 2016 which led to the school hiring former California Golden Bears head football coach Jeff Tedford to lead their program. And in just one year, not only was Tedford able to once again make Fresno State a winner, but he brought them within an eyelash of winning the Mountain West Conference for the first time since 2012. Tedford and Fresno State were able to use the element of surprise last year in order to sneak up on teams. But with that element gone, how will the Bulldogs fare here in 2018?
Don’t look now, but Fresno State may have the best quarterback in the conference. Senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion made tremendous strides under Tedford who is known to be a quarterback guru. McMaryion had four games last year where he passed for at least 250 yards, while his completion percentage was over 62%. And if McMaryion is able to continue improving off of his strong 2017, he could be on the radar of the National Football League.
McMaryion’s top target in the passing will be senior wide receiver KeeSean Johnson. Johnson is a burner who can put stress on opposing defenses due to his big play ability. Last year Johnson had four receptions of at least 40 yards to go along with 8 receiving touchdowns. Also in 2017, Johnson was a second-team All-Mountain West receiver, but this year should see him become a first team member.
When you think about Tedford’s brand of football, the offense tends to overshadow the defense. However Fresno State was stingy on defense and they have to potential to do it again. The Bulldogs were 15th in the nation in total defense which included limiting eight opponents to under 20 points, while two teams failed to score against them at all. Fresno State lost their defensive coordinator from last year’s team as Orlondo Steinauer is now pursuing a career in the Canadian Football League, but his replacement Burt Watts still has a formidable unit.
Led by junior middle Jeffrey Allison and senior outside linebacker George Helmuth, the Bulldogs will have strong play at the second level of their defense, while junior cornerback Jaron Bryant leads a deep secondary.
Fresno will once again be one of the top teams in the Mountain West. And just like it was last year, don’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs clash with the Boise State Broncos twice in order to determine the conference champion.
X-San Diego State Aztecs 9-3 (6-2)
As the San Diego State Aztecs are set to embark on their 50th season of football, they once again have a team that’ll be in contention to win the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs were able to win the Mountain West in 2015 and 2016, while a loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs was all that prevented them from making another trip to the conference title game last year. As head football coach Rocky Long is set begin his eighth season as San Diego State’s head football coach, he will look to keep building on the winning culture that he has established. Long’s 95 wins are more than any other head football coach in San Diego State history, and personal accolades aside, he once again has a team to be reckoned with.
San Diego State’s program has produced some quality running backs, and they have another waiting in the wings. After serving as a backup to Rashaad Penny, Juwan Washington is ready for his to opportunity to be the featured ball carrier at San Diego State. At 5’7″, 190 lbs., Washington is a speed burner who’ll put stress on defenses throughout the Mountain West. Long will give Washington the football early and often, and a strong season by Washington will put him in the mix to be the conference’s offensive player of the year.
But Washington will have to do this behind a young offensive line as San Diego State only has one senior in right tackle Ryan Pope in the starting lineup, while the unit will have three sophomores.
Defensively the Aztecs were 11th in the nation in total defense with six of their opponents failing to reach 20 points. Two players to keep an eye on will be senior outside linebacker Ronley Lakalaka is one of the better outside linebackers in the Mountain West due to his versatility to play both the run and pass, while defensive back Tariq Thompson is looking avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” after he led the team in interceptions last year with 5. And in Thompson we could be looking at a sleeper in the race to win the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
San Diego State was able to upset the Stanford Cardinal of the Pac-12 Conference last year at home, but things will be a little tougher this season when these two clash in Palo Alto to begin their respective campaigns. However once Mountain West play begins, a pair of road games versus the Boise State Broncos and Fresno State will determine whether or not that the Aztecs will be able to win the conference.
X-UNLV Rebels 6-6 (5-3)
In three years under head football coach Tony Sanchez, the UNLV Rebels have been taking strides towards being a contender in the Mountain West Conference. Last year the Rebels entered the final week of the regular season needing to defeat the Nevada Wolf Pack in order to reach a bowl game for the first time since 20013, but unfortunately they came up short. And as Sanchez has been building his foundation at UNLV, will this be the year that it all comes together and he can lead his program to a bowl game?
Last year as a redshirt freshman, quarterback Armani Watts was the newcomer of the year in the Mountain West, but he must be able to build off of that and take his game to the next level. Watts is a solid dual-threat quarterback as he’s surprising elusive for a big guy at 6’5″, 225 lbs. which led to him being the team’s second leading rusher last season.
Overall the running game was en vogue for the Rebels as they were 18th in the nation in rushing last season. And aside from Watts, the Rebels could have the best ball carrier in the Mountain West in the form of senior Lexington Thomas. Last year Thomas averaged 6.2 yards per carry as he’s a burner at 5’9″, 170 lbs. But more importantly, Thomas is a dependable ball carrier who could flirt with getting 250 carries this year.
However if the Rebels are going to take the next step, their defense which was 114th in the nation in 2017 must improve. It also isn’t a good look when a defensive back is leading the team in tackles as linebackers such as junior Gabe McCoy will need to step up and have a bigger impact.
The running game will carry UNLV in 2018, but only time will tell if it’ll be enough for them to go bowling for the first time since 2013.
Nevada Wolfpack 5-7 (3-5)
After the Nevada Wolfpack began the 2017 college football season with a record of 0-5, it was difficult for them to recover from that slow start which is what led to them finishing with a record 3-9. It was also the first year for Jay Norvell as Nevada’s head football coach, and now that he has a season under him in Reno, will he begin to add to his foundation there?
One thing that Norvell has going for him is that he has veterans at the skill positions. Senior quarterback Ty Gangi was able to progress as 2017 went along, and if he is able to cut down on his 11 interceptions which included a pair of 3 interception games last year, Nevada could be able to improve. Aside from Gangi, the Wolfpack also have a durable and bruising running back in junior Kelton Moore. At 5’11” 240 lbs., Moore can be an impact player for Nevada due to his ability to wear down an opposing defense. But it will be imperative for Nevada’s defense to improve as the running game is a non-factor if you’re always playing catch up. The Pack also has depth at the wide receiver with sophomore McLane Mannix and junior Brendan O’Leary-Orange as Nevada could have one the most balanced offenses in the Mountain West Conference.
But this Nevada defense must improve after they were 120th in the nation in total defense which included surrendering 40 points or more in five games. However two impact players to keep an eye on will be senior defensive end Malik Reed and senior free safety Dameon Baber who both have the potential to be among the top players at their respective positions in the conference. But will it be enough for Nevada to improve enough to reach a bowl game?
The Wolfpack should be able to improve, but the month of October won’t be kind to them as they’ll have to clash with conference heavyweights in the Fresno State Bulldogs, Boise State Broncos, and San Diego State Aztecs.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 4-8 (2-6)
After winning seven games in 2016, there was some optimism that the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors would be able to build off of that. However that wasn’t the case as Hawaii was only able to win three games last year which included just one in the Mountain West Conference. When you think about Hawaii football, you think about a wide open offense which is the tradition that head football coach Nick Rolovich has attempted to maintain in Honolulu. But when that offense isn’t clicking, the Rainbow Warriors don’t have the talent on defense which will keep them in games.
Last year Hawaii was 115th in the nation in total defense which included surrendering 50 points in a game twice, while they lost five games by at least 14 points. The struggles on defense prompted Rolovich to make a change at defensive coordinator as Corey Batoon will be the team’s new defensive coordinator.
Batoon will rely on senior middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai and junior outside linebacker Solomon Matautia for leadership. Even as Hawaii struggled last year, Tavai and Matautia were standout players on defense who will need to be at their best and then some this season if the Rainbow Warriors are going to shock some teams here in 2018.
But unfortunately for Hawaii, outside of Tavai and Matautia, they lack talent on either side on the football which going to result in another tough year on the gridiron for them.
San Jose State Spartans 2-10 (1-7)
Things have not been easy for the San Jose State Spartans ever since they joined the Mountain West Conference in 2013. In the Mountain West, the Spartans have never been able to put together a winning season which includes them going 2-11 last year. And as Brent Brennan is set to begin his second year as San Jose State’s head football coach, don’t expect things to get any better for the Spartans.
The Spartans were 121st in the nation last year in total offense which included failing to score at least 20 points in eight games. And with a lack of play makers on offense, 2018 will once again be a struggle for San Jose State on that side of the football.
But it’s no better on defense for San Jose State where they were 125th in the nation in total defense which included giving up at least 40 points in eight contests. The lone bright spot on defense will be senior cornerback Dakari Monroe who possesses some of the best hands on defense in the Mountain West which could lead to some turnovers.
The one advantage that the Spartans will have is their edge on special teams with senior kicker Bryce Crawford. Last year Crawford made 70% of his kicks from beyond 40 yards. Crawford will once again be a weapon for San Jose State, while he will be in the mix to win the Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker.
Expect the Spartans to take it on the chin once again as this team simply does not have the talent to keep up in the Mountain West.
Mountain West Championship Game: Fresno State vs. Boise State
Conference Champion: Boise State
Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com