2018 Mountain West Preview

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Can You Spell Defense?

Forget the ‘The Wall” that our self-proclaimed genius president is insistent on building. All we need instead is a blueprint of the top defenses residing in the Mountain West Conference these days.

The strength of the Mountain West Conference last year was its defense. That’s’ confirmed by the fact that no less than three teams finished the season ranked in the Top 25 in overall defense: #11 San Diego State (314.5), #22 Boise State (332.6) and #23 Wyoming (335.2).

20 For 20

As the Mountain West Conference begins its 20th football season this year it’s worth noting that have more than held their own in games outside the conference. And a stellar 52-38-1 ATS mark as dogs of 20-plus points since its inception, including 12-7 ATS in season opening games likely sets the table for Utah State, and the loop, this season.

Bowling For Dollars

Speaking of non-conference clashes, the MWC has more than held its own in bowl games, going 49-41 SU all-time.

More important, they stand 12-3 ATS all-time as bowl dogs of 6 or more points, with Boise State taking down Oregon, 39-28, as 7-point pups in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents 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 - *5/1 Defense - 6/2, 52 Lettermen)


Rest assured, Air Force HC Troy Calhoun did not like staying home for the holidays last year. When the Falcons concluded a dismal 5-7 effort last season, after going 10-3 in 2016, it marked only the second time in 11 seasons that Calhoun’s flyboys failed to earn their bowl stripes. And for what it’s worth, AFA stormed back the next year after failing to land a bowl bid to go 10-3 the following campaign. This is what “mission teams” do, especially of the military variety. Calhoun has averaged 7.5 wins per season with the Academy and with starting QB Arion Worthman back, expect the same to hold true this year. Worthman, 10-6 as a starter, rushed for 935 yards last season and holds the keys to the cockpit.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 2-14 ATS in games after facing Army and Navy since 2010.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (10/6)

BOISE STATE (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 10/4, 48 Lettermen)


As we pointed out last year, you have to go back to 1998 to find the last time a Boise State football team failed to win 8 games in a season. In fact, the most consistent Group of Five team in the nation has knocked of six of their last nine Power Five foes. Last season, though, was its first MWC title in three years and they won it behind an offense that slipped 67 YPG. SR QB Brett Rypien will have an array of wide receivers back (sans Cedrik Wilson) and the defense (which improved 57 YPG in 2017) is ridiculously talented and experienced. Tricky road tests at Troy and Oklahoma State in September should put them in better position to successfully defend their crown.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 67-2 SU in games vs. .500 or less foes with Bryan Harsin on the sidelines (as OC 2006-2010 and since 2014).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. New Mexico (11/17)

COLORADO STATE (Offense - 4/1, Defense - 6/1, 42 Lettermen)


Riding a 5-year bowl skein, including 3-for-3 under head coach Mike Bobo, the Rams must replace the 2nd most overall total starters (15) in the nation, including 7 from a potent offense that featured all MWC QB Nick Stevens as well as three all-conference offensive linemen. That’s because seniors accounted for a whopping 69.6% of all starts last season – tops in the nation. Together they’ve led an explosion in all three seasons under Bobo that has seen CSU’s offense rank in the Top 10 nationally in total yards, yards per game, yards per point, first downs, rushing yards, total points and points per game. Yeah, that was impressive. Losing four of their final 5 games, though, was not. This will be a pivotal year for the Rams with hopes lying heavily on new QB K.J. Carta-Samuels, a Washington Huskies transfer who spurned UCLA to come to Fort Collins.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-22 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Wyoming (10/17)

FRESNO STATE (Offense - *8/3, Defense - 7/0, 44 Lettermen)


After falling from 11 wins to 11 losses in three years, Fresno State brought former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford in to receive the fallen program last season. What he accomplished was nothing short of astonishing when the Bulldogs won 10 games and captured MWC championship. Unfortunately, the bar now rises to a new level. And with it appears a bulls-eye on their back now bigger than Target. The good news is QB Marcus McMaryion, and most of his cast, are back on offense including WR KeeSean Johnson (the loop’s top wideout). Losses on the DL are devastating, though, with the top three linemen gone (accounted for 32 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks). Hopefully a stacked cast of LB’s and DB’s can fill the void. Still, a huge step backward appears inevitable.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bulldogs suffered four losses last season by a TD or less.

PLAY ON: vs. UNLV (11/3)

HAWAII (Offense - 4/1 Defense - 5/1, 46 Lettermen)


After winning 7 games behind a ridiculous “around the world” schedule in 2016, it appeared the Warriors were ready for a breakthrough season last year behind an experienced team. Instead they were devastated by injuries. Only two linemen started all 12 games. Their best WR tore his ACL. A banged up secondary allowed 70% completions and 39 PPG the first half of the season. After a 2-0 start they went 1-9 out. Making matters worse, this season head coach Nick Rolovich must replace his starting QB, RB, three of his four top WRs, his top 3 DL, his top 3 safeties and both return men. Not to mention his DC. Talk about turnovers. This year’s practice facility has been renamed the Sara Lee Factory.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hawaii is 2-7 SU in Eastern Time zones since 1959, with losses by a combined margin of 286-30.

PLAY ON: vs. Wyoming (10/6)

NEVADA (Offense - *7/3 Defense - 9/2, 45 Lettermen)


At first glance it appears Jay Norvell’s first Wolf Pack team took two steps back last season. Upon closer examination those two steps were more little stutter steps given the fact they started 0-5 but finished 3-4. Three of the nine losses were by a field goal or less and they took solace in denying state rival UNLV a bowl bid the final game of the campaign. With OC Hal Mumme Jr. and QB coach Timmy Chang the offense figures to open up more in 2018. Returning QB Ty Gangi completed 64% of his PASSes with a 151.6 PASSer rating the last 7 games of the season. And he’s got five of his top 6 wide receivers back. Step two resumes this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Last season was the first time in the last 20 years that Nevada allowed 500 rushing yards in a game (Air Force).

PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (9/29)

NEW MEXICO (Offense - 7/2, Defense - 9/4, 47 Lettermen)


It’s a shame that sexual allegations are hovering over the New Mexico football program. Bob Davie has done a masterful job of putting this team back on the map. Nonetheless, he was suspended for 30 days this spring but managed to retain his job. It’s difficult letting someone go that has brought respectability back to a program. FYI: The Lobos have been outscored 2.7 PPG under Davie. They had been outscored 26.0 PPG the three seasons prior to his arrival. After falling to 3 wins in 2017, Davie hit the JUCO circuit hard to compliment a delicately young roster. He’ll need to replace his staring QB, three of his top four RBs, the top two DL and the top 2 safeties. Stay tuned.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos are 1-12 SU and 3-10 ATS in Game Eleven of the season since 2005.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah State (10/27)

SAN DIEGO STATE (Offense - *7/5, Defense - 7/2, 36 Lettermen)


Rocky Long’s secret to success is no secret at all. He loves to pound the ball down your throat and backs it up with a tough as nails defense. It’s resulted in 7 bowl trips in seven seasons (after the Aztecs had been bowlers just three times in 23 previous years). And on the heels of three consecutive double-digit winning seasons, Long is set to reap the reward of a youth movement last year. Consider: Freshmen and sophomores combined to make 46 offensive line starts. Underclassmen also made 39% of the tackles from last year’s 11th overall ranked defense. Sure, they lose 2,000-yard rusher Rashad Penny, but next-man-up Juwan Washington will likely be the program’s 3rd consecutive 2K running back. Because that’s what Rocky does.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Long SDSU is 20-15 SU and 12-16 ATS in the season’s first 5 games, and 41-10 SU and 32-15-2 ATS from Game 6 out.

PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (10/6)

SAN JOSE STATE (Offense - *8/2, Defense - 6/3, 44 Lettermen)


First the good news: the Spartans have signed a Top-6 recruiting class each year since 2014. The bad news: they have gone 15-35 since, and a lot of those recruits have bailed. Fortunately a continued youth movement is ongoing and with it things can only get better for second-year head coach Brent Brennan. They can’t get much worse. Not when Brennan’s troops were ranked dead last in the nation in Fumbles Lost, Turnover Margin, and Time of Possession – as well as second-to-last in Red Zone Offense and Rush Defense. The starting QB, RBs and five WRs are all 3-star prospects, and last year’s freshmen found plenty of playing time last season. They figure to make strides this year. The question is will it be enough?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The SU ‘In The Stats’ winner in Spartans games is 44-6 SU the last four seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Wyoming (11/3) - *KEY

UNLV (Offense - *7/3, Defense - 7/2, 52 Lettermen)


Safe to say head coach Tony Sanchez has the Rebels on the right path. His recruiting skills are surfacing and as a result, UNLV has improved one game per season in each of Sanchez’s three years with the school. He is on course to take his troops bowling for only the fifth time in the last four decades – if the ‘one step at a time’ pattern holds true this should be the year. And for naysayers, remember, John Robinson was only 28-42 here. QB Armani Rogers and mighty mite RBs Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas will operate behind a huge offensive line all with starting experience. If the defense can chip in behind new DC Tom Skipper, the Rebels could be partying in 2018.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season the last 17 years.


UTAH STATE (Offense - *9/5, Defense - 9/3, 52 Lettermen)


Since taking over the program in 2013, head coach David Wells has led the Aggies to four bowl games in his five year tenure. Two of those, however, were 6-win losing campaigns and with it the natives are growing restless. During that span, though, they have knocked off three Top 25 ranked opponents, one more than USU had overall prior to Wells’ arrival. In addition, the Aggies have rushed the ball for 2,000 yards nine straight seasons. (Prior to the streak they went 33 years without rushing for 2,000 yards.) And for what it’s worth, the 18 returning starters ties the 2007 squad for the most in school history. Rest assured, they will all be chomping at the bit in 2018.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies own a 25-15 SU record in conference games under Wells. They were 24-42 SU the previous nine seasons.

PLAY ON: at Wyoming (10/20)

WYOMING (Offense - 9/4, Defense - 8/4, 50 Lettermen)


How ironic is this? In 2016 the Cowboys won 8 games behind a squad that started the most underclassmen in the nation: 56.2%. Looking to capitalize on that youthful experience last year, Wyoming won 8 games behind a celebrated QB (Josh Allen) who completed 56.3% of his PASSes in 2017, and finished with a 56.2% career PASS completion rate. Looks as if Allen was a 56.2% QB if ever there was one. Fortunately, a defense that was among the most improved in the FBS last season (17 PPG and 118 YPG), one that masked an offense which backslid 13 PPG and 148 YPG, returns practically intact led by the best defensive player in the loop in S Andrew Wingard. Craig Bohl’s force-feeding of youngsters three seasons ago should pay dividends this season, even without 52.6 behind center.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wyoming led all FBS teams in Turnover Margin and Turnovers Gained last season.