2014 MWC Preview
July 21, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
2014 Mountain West Football Preview
We’re Back, Again
For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent at least five teams into postseason bowl games in 2013. The MWC has earned 62 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 35-27 (.565) all-time record in those contests. However, the Mountain West finished with a 3-3 mark in postseason play in 2013, marking the third year in a row the league failed to post a winning bowl record (6-10 last three seasons).
Fresno State (11-2), Utah State (9-5), Boise State (8-5), San Diego State (8-5), Colorado State (8-6), UNLV (7-6) and San Jose State (6-6) all reached bowl eligibility, marking the ninth year in a row, and tenth overall, the MWC has boasted at least five bowl-eligible teams.
In fact, its .596 win percentage (28-19) in bowl games since 2004 is second only to the SEC’s .659 glossy (54-28) mark.
The Mountain West has welcomed 22 new head coaches over the last 15 seasons, nine of which played in a bowl game in their rookie year.
Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton posted the most wins and highest win-percentage among the group with 12 victories and an .860 win percentage in his inaugural year in 2001. Utah State’s Matt Wells became the first to conclude his inaugural season by leading his team to the Mountain West Championship Game and a bowl appearance.
Two new head coaches debut this season: Bryan Harsin with Boise State and Craig Bohl with Wyoming.
We Won’t Back Down
The 2014 non-conference slate features 25 games against teams that earned bowl berths last season.
Six non-conference opponents finished ranked in last year’s final USA Today/Coaches’ and Associated Press Top 25 polls.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
AIR FORCE (Offense - *7/2 Defense - 9/2)
TEAM THEME: A MAJOR FLYOVER
Talk about a difficult job. After winning 34 games in his first four seasons, and taking the program to six straight bowl games, Troy Calhoun is suddenly up against it. Between no redshirts, a successful Navy program siphoning off considerable talent, and government budget cuts, Calhoun has witnessed three years of regression. Ravaged by injuries, the Flyboys were forced to play a slew of backups last season, including four different QB’s. As a result, Air Force lost 10 games for the first time in the program’s history. Ron Vanderlinden, former Maryland head coach and LB coach at Penn State the last 13 years, arrives to shore up 2013’s dreadful defense.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons were the worst team in the nation in Turnovers Gained (9) last season.
BOISE STATE (Offense - 5/2 Defense - 8/1)
TEAM THEME: A COMFORTABLE PAIR OF SHOES
An 8-5 record is perfectly acceptable at most schools, but not at Boise State. The school won 112 games during the double-oughts (2000-09), an unprecedented mark for any school since 1900. Now for the first time in eight years, the Broncos will head onto the blue turf led by someone other than Chris Petersen, who went 84-8 as HC from 2006-12. Fortunately, it's a familiar face, that of Bryan Harsin – who played his entire college career and then coached on the Bronco staff from 2001-10 (Boise went 61-5 during his tenure as OC from 2006-10). His staff is young with all sorts of ties to BSU. Petersen left some big shoes to fill. Harsin breaks in a new pair this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last 5-loss season for the Broncos was in 1998. They have averaged an 11-2 season since.
COLORADO STATE (Offense - *5/1 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
Jim McElwain, a Nick Saban disciple, welcomes back the top returning passer in the Mountain West, Garrett Grayson, who threw for 3,696 yards and 23 TD’s last season. Three of Grayson’s top four receivers are back as well, but someone will need to fill the shoes of Kapri Bibbs, who left early for the NFL draft, and the loss of four senior OL. Fortunately, the Rams will be playing two-thirds of their games in the state of Colorado. McIlwain will try to build on last year’s successful campaign that concluded with an incredible 48-45 win over Washington State, a game in which they were down by 15 points with 3 minutes to play in the New Mexico Bowl.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: CSU was the only team in the nation to end the 2013 season with a 3,000 yard passer (Grayson) and a 1,500 yard rusher (Bibbs).
NEW MEXICO (Offense - *6/3 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: THE NEXT STEP
The Lobos enter the 3rd year of a rebuilding plan masterminded by HC Bob Davie. Progress has been slow but the improvement is evident. “It’s time for us to take the next step and start to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” says Davie. The footprint on the team is its overland game, one that ranked No. 4 (308.8) overall last year. QB Cole Gautsche, who rushed for 872 yards last season, keys the offense. The problem is the Lobos owned the worst Passing Efficiency Defense in the nation in 2013. After enduring sanctions, New Mexico has a full 85-man roster for the first time since 2008, albeit only two 5th-year seniors on the squad.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos have been outscored 7.1 PPG under Davie. They had been outscored 26.0 PPG the prior three seasons.
UTAH STATE (Offense - *4/1 Defense - 5/1)
TEAM THEME: CHUCKIE’S BACK
En route to winning back-to back-bowl games for the first time in school history last year, 1st-year HC Matt Wells was named MWC Coach of the Year. The Aggie defense did not appear to fall off much when Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin last year. After earning the top spot in the land in red zone defense in 2012, USU finished No. 6 last season. The big news this year, though, is the anticipated return of star QB Chuckie Keeton, a 3-year starter who missed the final seven games with a broken leg and knee injury last year. His backup, Darell Garretson, went 6-1 as a true freshman last year, including five straight wins to start his career.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies are 25-8 in their last 33 games, with the eight losses coming by a combined 48 points.
WYOMING (Offense - 7/2 Defense - 9/3)
TEAM THEME: A COWBOY COUP D’ETAT
To quote Bill Connelly of SB Nation, “Wyoming pulled off a coup by landing Craig Bohl as its new head coach.” The former HC at North Dakota State led his team to three consecutive FCS championships the last three years, going 42-3 in the process – including a season-opening shocker at Kansas State last year. A former DC at Nebraska (his alma mater), Bohl needs to desperately remold a defense that surrendered nearly 50 PPG in its final six games last season. Losing QB Brett Smith in an early out to the NFL hurts but returning the Cowboys’ leading rusher and wide receiver is certainly a huge plus. September road trips to Michigan State and Oregon are not.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys were the worst-ranked team in the nation in Time Of Possession last season.
FRESNO STATE (Offense - 5/3 Defense - 8/1)
TEAM THEME: CARR TROUBLES
With the Derek Carr era now in the rear-view mirror, 2014 could be a very tough year for Tim DeRuyter in Fresno. The Bulldogs open with an ambitious schedule before the meat of the Mountain West slate kicks in. The defense remains nearly intact but the loss of Carr’s gaudy passing numbers (over 5,000 yards and 50 TD’s), and the three graduated receivers who combined for 33 TD catches, cannot be easily replaced. After a 10-0 start last season, Fresno saw a BCS bowl slip through its fingers, then suffered a throttling by USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. All things considered, the Bulldogs will be hard pressed to win a third straight MWC title.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Six of the eight returning starters on defense played in all 13 contests last season.
HAWAII (Offense - 7/4 Defense - 6/2)
TEAM THEME: YAP-A-LAKALAKA
Norm Chow heads into his third season as HC on the island of Oahu coming off a dismal 1-11 record. But the Rainbow Warriors weren't as bad as their record might indicate. In fact, we might even say they were the best 1-11 squad to come down the pike in a long time. You just couldn’t tell it in the win column. Consider: In Norm Chow’s first year at the helm with Hawaii in 2013, their 9 losses were by 31.1 PPG. Last year’s 11 defeats were by 13.0 PPG. With RB’s Joey Iosefa, Diocemy Saint Juste, and bruiser Steven Lakalaka – plus star DL Beau Yap – leading the charges, this team is certainly not lacking in name power.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Chow is 0-15 SU vs. greater-than .333 opponents, but 6-1 ATS vs. non-conferences foes.
NEVADA (Offense - *7/3 Defense - 10/4)
TEAM THEME: AULT HEIMER’S DISEASE
It’s not surprising that the Wolfpack regressed big time following the second retirement of Chris Ault. The inventor of the pistol offense reached a zenith in 2010 (Colin Kaepernick’s senior year) when Nevada went 13-1. But in their first season under Brian Polian last year, the Pack went 0-8 against teams with a winning record. Polian’s team got ‘rappykacked’ by UCLA and Florida State early in the year on the road, and finished with an 0-6 road mark. They’ll once again turn to SR QB Cody Fajardo, who threw for 2,633 yards and rushed for 762 more last year. His .678 career completion percentage ranks third nationally and is tops in Nevada school history.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolf Pack was the only one of 42 FBS teams last season to finish with a positive TO margin and a losing record.
SAN DIEGO STATE (Offense - *6/3 Defense - 4/2)
TEAM THEME: SUNNY IN SAN DIEGO
For a football team that won 35 games between 2001-09, 34 wins over the last four years is especially notable. And after appearing in four bowls from 1969-2009, the Aztecs’ four bowls the past four seasons is downright inspiring. More impressively, they kept their bowl streak alive despite ranking dead last nationally in red zone defense – and fielding the 118th-ranked red zone offense. HC Rocky Long’s reliance on former head coach Bob Toledo (OC) and ex-NFL QB Brian Sipe (QB coach) speaks for itself. Quarterback Quinn Kaehler completed 232 of 389 passes for 19 TD's and 3,007 yards in 2013 and looks to have a breakout season this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aztecs were the only team in the nation to participate in four overtime games last season.
SAN JOSE STATE (Offense - 5/2 Defense - 8/4)
TEAM THEME: WITHOUT FALE(S)
After taking the program from 1-12 to 11-2 in three years, Mike McIntyre left San Jose and handed the keys to Rod Caragher, who slipped to 5-7 last season. Safe to say the injury bug bit the Spartans hard in 2013 when their leading rusher, wide receiver and linebacker played in a combined three games all year! Caragher faces a stiffer test in 2014 – namely life without star QB David Fales. The good news is Tyler Winston, the MWC Freshman of the Year, is back after snaring 58 receptions for 858 yards last season. In addition, RB Jarrod Lawson was the team’s leading rusher (788 yards) as a freshman in 2013. A deep front seven will anchor the defense.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Former Syracuse head coach and Michigan and Texas Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson takes over as DC for the Spartans in 2014.
UNLV (Offense - 7/4 Defense - 6/2)
TEAM THEME: NOT MAKING THE GRADE
With the team’s average APR score (925) falling 5 points short of minimum NCAA requirements, the Rebs were given sanctions: no postseason competition, replace four hours of practice time with four hours of academics weekly and have five days of football-related activities a week instead of six. Not what the program needed after finally crawling out from under a 6-32 rock by reaching the Heart Of Dallas Bowl last season. Biggest losses on the field this year include QB Caleb Herring (2,718 yards with 24 TD’s and 5 INT’s), and RB Tim Cornett (1,284 rushing yards with 15 TD’s). HC Bobby Hauck’s mission will be to somehow keep this squad glued together.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The offensive line returns 136 career starts among six players with starting experience.
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