2019 Mountain West Preview

Editor's Note: Don't miss out on 2019 College Football winners from Marc Lawrence on VegasInsider.com. Click to win!

AAC · ACC · Big Ten · Big 12 · C-USA · IND · MAC · MWC · Pac-12 · SEC · SUN

Can You Spell Defense?

Forget the ‘The Wall” that our self-proclaimed genius president is hell-bent on building at American taxpayer expense. 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 each of the last two years has been its defense. That’s’ confirmed by the fact that no less than three teams finished both the 2017 and 2018 football seasons ranked in the Top 25 in overall defense: #11 San Diego State (314.5), #22 Boise State (332.6) and #23 Wyoming (335.2) in 2018; and #17 Fresno State (321.6), #19 Wyoming (326.2), and #21 San Diego State (334.6) in 2019.

20 for 20

As the Mountain West Conference begins its 21st football season this year it’s worth noting that have more than held their own in games outside the conference. And a stellar 62-48-1 ATS mark as dogs of 20-plus points since its inception, including 17-7 ATS in season-opening games sets the table for the MWC this season.

Bowling For Dollars

Speaking of non-conference clashes, the MWC has more than held its own in bowl games, going 52-43 SU all-time.

More importantly, they stand 12-3 ATS all-time as bowl dogs of 6 or more points. Remember that.

The numbers following each 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. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.


AIR FORCE (Offense - *8/4, Defense - 7/2 RPR: 75/72/74)


Coming off consecutive 5-7 seasons, AFA head coach Troy Calhoun is like a calf in a rodeo... fit to be tied. While calf roping is a cruel sport, so are losing seasons in Colorado Springs. In fact, you need to go back to 1981 to find the last time the Flyboys posted three straight losing seasons. Remember, Calhoun has averaged 7.25 wins per season with Air Force while suffering consecutive losing seasons only ONCE (until the last two years), when he bounced back to go 10-3 in 2014. Meanwhile, it should be pointed out that the Falcons suffered five losses by 8 or fewer points last season. Look for a reversal of fortune in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 8-1 ATS as dogs of 20 or more points since 1996.

PLAY ON: vs. Army (11/2)

BOISE STATE (Offense - 6/5, Defense - 7/2, RPR: 88/120/22)


There is something to be said about being the biggest fish in a small pond. It’s the status Boise State has attained. The last time a Broncos football team failed to win 8 games in a season was 1998. The most consistent Group of Five team in the nation has knocked off six of their last ten Power Five foes. Helping matters this year, Boise featured 20 underclassmen that made starts last season. Sans QB Brett Rypien in 2019, BSU will take on only 4 foes that had winning records last season, practically guaranteeing them another double-digit win campaign in 2019. As we said, it’s better to swim in a lake with fishes than in an ocean with sharks.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 75-2 SU in games vs. .500 or fewer foes with Bryan Harsin on the sidelines (as OC 2006-2010 and since 2014).

PLAY AGAINST: at BYU (10/19)

COLORADO STATE (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 6/3 RPR: 125/126/96)


Mike Bobo’s neuropathy problems were nothing compared to what the Rams suffered through when they were forced to replace the 2nd most overall total starters (15) in the nation, including seniors that had made a whopping 69.6% of all starts. If Joe Jackson were their head coach, we’d have called them the Shoeless Rams. Last year’s results spoke for themselves as a 3-win season snapped a 6-year bowl skein, thus making them a bonafide “mission team” in 2019. This season you can expect them to benefit from a 2017 recruiting class that included 23 members, 19 of whom saw playing time last year – including six true freshmen that combined to make 30 starts.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-23 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: at Utah State (9/28)

NEW MEXICO (Offense - *8/4, Defense - 2/2, RPR: 115/80/117)


We’re as shocked as anyone that Bob Davie is still roaming the sidelines in Albuquerque these days. Coming off a pair of 3-9 seasons, and suspended 30 days over sexual allegations last season, we’re guessing this will be his make-or-break year with the Lobos. Last year Davie hit the JUCO circuit hard to replenish a delicately young roster and it failed to materialize. With it, even more JUCO transfers and two new coordinators are in place in this last gasp salvage attempt. To do so, he’ll need to capitalize on a soft early schedule. We do know that Davie is 45-25 against losing foes but only 17-45 against winning opponents in his career. And therein lies his future.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos are 1-13 SU and 3-11 ATS in Game Eleven of the season since 2005.

PLAY ON: vs. Liberty (9/28)

UTAH STATE (Offense - *2/1, Defense - 7/3, RPR: 104/110/68)


Rest assured, the Aggies will miss Matt Wells, now calling the shots at Texas Tech. The proof is in the pudding: Utah State was 32-16 SU in conference games under Wells. They were 24-42 SU the previous nine seasons. Returning to take over the reins is former USU head coach Gary Andersen, named WAC Coach of the year in his final season in Logan in 2012. He was also the first head coach at Utah State to notch a winning record since Phil Krueger (1973-75). While the offense was pillaged by graduation losses, QB Jordan Love returns after setting five school records in 2018, including 32 TD passes and 3,567 yards. Andersen will have his work cut out for him.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies were tied with New Mexico State with most Special Teams touchdowns last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wyoming (11/16)

WYOMING (Offense - *5/3, Defense - 6/1, RPR: 120/102/113)


Last year we maintained that head coach Craig Bohl’s force-feeding of youngsters three seasons ago would pay dividends. It did not pan out as expected in 2018, but we remain firm in our conviction that the Cowboys are closer to the 8-win seasons they enjoyed in 2016 and 2017 than the 6 wins they posted last year. For openers, last year’s unit closed out the season on a 4-game stampede. The chip they carry on their shoulder this season is that they were a 6-win bowl-eligible team that was bypassed by bowl committees, snapping a two-year bowl run under Bohl. Remember, they lost their top two RBs, best WR and starting guard to injuries before the season last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wyoming is 6-1 ATS as a bowl dog against sub .800 opponents.

PLAY AGAINST: at Air Force (11/30)


FRESNO STATE (Offense - 3/1, Defense - 6/4, RPR: 129/127/121)


Since joining the MWC in 2012, the Bulldogs have won three league championships and four division titles. It goes without saying that head coach Jeff Tedford has been instrumental in the program’s success as they finished last season nationally ranked for the first time since 2004. Now, however, the bar rises to a completely new level in 2019. Only three starters are back on offense and none of them is QB Marcus McMaryion, who was 21-4 as a starter. On top of it all, OC Kalen DeBoer left the program for Indiana. With the worst RPR in the FBS, fortunately, they will face losing teams in six of their first seven games. Beware.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fresno State is the first team in FBS history to secure back-to-back double-digit winning seasons following a double-digit loss season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Nevada (11/23)

HAWAII (Offense - *9/5, Defense - 9/3, RPR: 9/34/9)


Meet one of the most experienced squads in college football this season. With 9 starters back on each side of the ball, the Warriors also hold down a No. 9 overall RPR ranking. Led by gunslinger QB Cole McDonald – ranked 1st in passing yards in the MWC and 8th overall in the nation – and a front wall that brings back all five starters from 2018, the grass skirts represent the best talent Nick Rolovich has had in his three years in Honolulu. Our concern, though, is a defense that surrendered season-high yardage in half of their games last season, coughing up 24 or more points in 10 of its 11 FBS games. Fasten your seat belts as is could be a bumpy ride for Rolo’s boys this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hawaii is 0-9-1 ATS as a favorite under Nick Rolovich

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. San Jose State (11/9)

NEVADA (Offense - 6/2 , Defense - 4/2, RPR: 66/40/98


Jay Norvell’s offense has gone from Air Raid to Air Pistol, but no one in Reno is complaining after an 8-win season last year, the Wolf Packs best tally since 2010. While it’s nowhere near the Chris Ault and Colin Kaepernick attack from 10 years ago, Nevada’s offense has improved in each of Norvell’s two seasons in Nevada. But with OC Matt Mumme and QB coach Timmy Chang calling the shots, it still falls far short of expectations. Three-year starting QB Ty Gangi is gone, leaving a large hole, but Norvell hit the recruiting trail hard and managed to land a star-studded class of defensive recruits. Our guess is they’re bowl bound again this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Nevada is 0-8 SUATS away off a win in which the Pack were not an underdog under Norvell.

PLAY AGAINST: at San Diego State (11/9)

SAN DIEGO STATE (Offense - *7/3, Defense - 6/0, RPR: 42/57/51)


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 8 bowl trips in eight seasons (after SDSU had been bowling just three times in 23 previous years). However, after three consecutive double-digit win seasons, the Aztecs somehow slipped to 7 wins last season when they dropped their final four games of the campaign. Fear not, though, as an experienced offensive line, a healthy Juwan Washington, and a deep supporting cast of running backs, insure another powerful ground attack. Meanwhile, the Aztecs’ defensive back-eight looks to be the best in the conference. Don’t knock the Rock this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After previously going 41-10 SU and 32-15-2 ATS from Game 6 out with Long, the Aztecs went 1-7 ATS from Game 6 out last season.

PLAY ON: at Hawaii (11/23)

SAN JOSE STATE (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 6/1, RPR: 71/68/72)


There are misleading stats and then there are misleading stats. In San Jose State’s case, a pair of 1-7 efforts in conference play the past two seasons under Brent Brennan would look, on the surface, to be a telling tale. Yet the Spartans were 6-2 ATS in MWC play last year after covering only 3 of 8 conference games in 2017. Could that be a buy sign? Improvement in the passing attack, as well as the rush defense, lends promise for continued growth this year. And if that improvement comes, it will likely happen over the course of their first five games of the campaign, as the Spartans will tackle 6 bowlers over their final seven games of the season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The ‘In The Stats’ winner in Spartans games is 53-9 SU the last five seasons.

PLAY ON: at UNLV (11/23)

UNLV (Offense - *9/4, Defense - 5/1, RPR: 39/17/87)


Hometown hero head coach Tony Sanchez enters the final year of his contract with the Rebels riding on the hot seat. And it’s also a good bet that the flames will be lowered by season’s end. Finally playing with a full deck of scholarship players, this UNLV team has something they haven't had on the defensive side of the ball in a very long time... depth. In addition, the Rebels will be returning almost every key member on offense, led by a healthy Armani Rogers behind center. He’ll operate behind an offensive line that goes three-deep across the board with an electrifying cast of wide receivers. This is, hands down, the best team that Sanchez has had with UNLV.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season over the last 18 years.

PLAY AGAINST: at Nevada (11/30)