1.) Boise State: Not a lot should have to be said here. But if you read a lot of the publications coming out you might think differently. Fresno State has become the “sexy” choice in the MWC this season, despite the fact that Fresno State has not beaten Boise State since 2005. The Bronco’s on the other hand bring plenty to the table this year in my mind to deserve the number one ranking to start the season. Joe Southwick has a lot to prove entering this season, however as the season ended last year Joe looked poised to have a big Senior campaign. Add to that he returns his top six receivers from last year, picking up where they left off should not be a problem.
The question marks for Boise State really rest on the defense. With the departures of Jamar Taylor, Lee Hightower, Sam Ukwuachu, Michael Atkinson, and J.C. Percy, Boise State has holes to fill, and some new players will have to make an immediate impact. Bottom line however, until Chris Petersen is no longer the coach at Boise State it is hard to start any season in the MWC with Boise State not at #1.
2.) Fresno State: The power of the Bulldogs rests in its passing game. Derek Carr is back and all the attention is on him. Many have him as the best QB in the MWC – some have him even as a possible Heisman candidate (Though I am not personally one of those people). He also returns dynamic WR’s Davante Adams, Issiah Burse, & Josh Harper. If the Bulldogs can replace Robbie Rouse, Tim DeRuyter should find himself another successful season for Fresno State. They return a lot of defensive talent, and the schedule suits them well. Question is – is Fresno a team that can rise to the occasion in conference play? Or, are the ghosts of Pat Hill still lurking in those locker rooms. If the culture has completely changed, they could find themselves in the MWC championship game.
3.) Utah State: I admit, I am likely higher on Utah State than most people. They lost their Head Coach to Wisconsin, they lost all of their top receivers, their RB, and they are coming from the WAC. Last season might have been an enigma for Utah State football. However, I really believe in 3rd year starting QB Chucky Keeton. To help his case, he returns four of five offensive lineman, meaning he will have time to work his magic. He is a dual threat superstar, who last season almost single hand-idly beat Wisconsin. Though I see four near guaranteed losses on their schedule, I believe to start the year these Aggies deserve some respect. If nothing else, Chucky Keeton deserves it.
4.) San Diego State: It is hard to win in college football with defense. However, San Diego State under Rocky Long has done that. This year will likely be no different as they return a projected nine starters from last season on defense.The question is do they have a QB who can win you games when the defense falters? Adam Dingwell never really looked like the guy last season. Though he was 5-1 as a starter he still threw seven picks to only eight touchdowns and completed less than 60% of his passes. The Aztecs have enough talent to be a bowl team, but to be a championship team Dingwell is going to have to take a big step forward. If not, returning RB Adam Muema is going to have to carry this team through a tough schedule that includes both Ohio State, and Oregon State, in two of their first three games.
5.) San Jose State: What was more surprising last year than Utah State’s turnaround? San Jose’s. What is even crazier, is it is not nuts to think they will have another big year. With a prolific offense that returns its top four receivers and QB David Fales, San Jose has a chance to really start to build something for the much maligned football program. Even more in the Spartans favor is a schedule that gives them the best chance to win, especially during conference play. Utah State, Fresno State, San Diego State, and Air Force all travel to San Jose, meaning if the Spartans can rekindle the fire they had last season, San Jose might be a force in the MWC West. So with all that why are they down at #5? Like Utah State, last season may have been as much about the WAC as it was about the turnaround of these programs. In the MWC they are going to face much better defenses on a consistent basis. Also like Utah State, after a big year last year they lost their head coach as well so you never know what is really going to happen now that MacIntyre is out, and Caragher is in.
6.) Nevada: No more Chris Ault. Seems odd to say but it is true. The Wolfpack are going into this season with a new man running things. Good news for them is QB Cody Fajardo is back. Bad news is, this team lost a lot of pieces and has a tough schedule to manage. Games @ UCLA, @ Florida State, @Fresno State, @ San Diego State and @ Boise State make this year seem like a major up hill battle. If they can manage to win a couple of those games they should be able to return to a bowl game. If not however, this year could be a major rebuilding year with lots of questions marks. They come in at number 6 because of Fajardo, and because you have to believe Ault didn’t leave the cupboards completely empty. But really, only time will tell what this UNR team is made of.
7.) Air Force: The Falcons and Troy Calhoun are that team that is always pretty much the same. You can expect around a .500 record and for the fans who watch them play to be treated to the “dynamic” option offense. Last season the Falcons failed to impress in their bowl game against Rice. This season they have to replace both their leading rusher, and QB. I expect the option to get the Falcons a few wins. But I won’t be surprised to see another sub .500 season.
8.) Colorado State: This team is going to go as far as the running-game will allow them. To do that, Alexander and Nwoke are going to be the oil that keeps this engine running. Last season the Rams showed signs of life, but they also showed signs of a bad football team. Though I expect more than four wins this season, I also expect some really embarrassing ones….(Especially when they travel to Alabama). If Conner Smith can turn the corner at QB this team could surprise some people. I however, expect that surprise to be another year down the road.
9.) Wyoming: There is a real chance Wyoming could start the season 5-1 under QB Brett Smith. Only issue is those wins will come against Idaho, Northern Colorado, Texas State, New Mexico, and Air Force. The one loss, will likely come in the opener at Nebraska which means more than likely, Wyoming will rise up this chart as the season goes on. Problem is it will be very hard to evaluate the Cowboys until they play rival Colorado State on 10/19. With a projected 14 returning starters, Wyoming could be a dark horse this year in the MWC. They find themselves here however because of their early schedule, and the inability to see what they are made of until later in the season.
10.) UNLV: With 19 potential returning starters it is a sad statement I have UNLV at 10. Problem is they are likely to start the season with two quick losses. That means this team is going to have to try to rebound from that mental block that teams that lose all the time have. UNLV has some positives going into this season – experience on the field and a head coach who has been given his chances. It is just up to them to show they can win more than two games a year now.
11.) Hawaii: Like others in the MWC Hawaii starts the season with a really tough schedule. Coming off a 3-9 season under Norm Chow, this season looks to be potentially more of the same. With the very real potential to start the season 0-5, Hawaii is going to have to have a strong second half of the season to really improve on last year. They return plenty of players, but if you watched them play last season, that is not saying much.
12.) New Mexico: It seems unfair to put New Mexico back at the bottom of the MWC. Last season they showed so much improvement that you would think this year will be even better. The problem for Bob Davies and Lobo fans however is that they only return three defensive starters on a defense that was already lackluster at best. Running Back Kasey Carrier is going to get himself numbers in this offense, but the question will be can QB Cole Gautsche become a threat defenses have to care about? Bob Davies has New Mexico on the right path. But like a couple of other MWC teams they may be a year or two away from breaking into that next level.