MWC Mountain West Preview
BOISE STATE STILL FAVORED TO WIN "MOUNTAIN" DIVISION OF MWC DESPITE LOSING POTENT WEAPONS
We begin our summer series of college football conference previews today with the Mountain West Conference. Momentarily we'll look at the Mountain Division featuring Boise State and Utah State. Tomorrow we head West to look at a wide-open division where San Diego State is the early favorite to lead the pack.
This is one of our favorite parts of the summer! Let's jump right in.
2014 Record: 12-2
2014 Rankings: 14 on offense, 48 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin
Notebook: Boise State returns more starters than anyone else in the league (both divisions). But, they lost their starting quarterback (Grand Hedrick) and workhorse tailback (Jay Ajayi). If they take a step backward at those positions, then we're talking about a program that could continue its slide back to normalcy. They bookended the regular season with a blowout loss at Ole Miss (35-13), and then an unimpressive pedestrian 28-14 win over shorthanded Fresno State as 22-point favorites in the conference title tilt (played on the fabled blue turf). A nice bowl win over Arizona did cap things off nicely for the departing seniors. But, you can see why 2015 is an important year! Either head coach Bryan Harsin is exposed for being in over his head (a concern at his last two jobs), or the Broncos surge back to national prominence because the new QB delivers the goods. They open the season hosting their former head coach and the Washington Huskies. Road games at BYU and Virginia later in September will provide litmus tests.
2014 Record: 10-4
2014 Rankings: 83 on offense, 30 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Matt Wells
Notebook: Chuckie Keaton is still the quarterback! If he can stay healthy for a full season, then Utah State is a legitimate threat to knock Boise State off the pedestal. He'll likely be the best QB in this division by a mile. There was a lot to like about this defense last year. The offense fell apart because of injuries (as you can see in the rankings). The Aggies still won eight of their last 10 games including a bowl victory over Wyoming. Big September road games at Utah and Washington will tell us a lot about the big things that might be attainable in December. A team to watch if Keaton can stay healthy.
2014 Record: 10-3
2014 Rankings: 18 on offense, 85 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Bobo (first year)
Notebook: Bobo was the offensive coordinator at Georgia before getting his shot to run a program here. You can see that he takes over an offense that was already very productive in 2014. Though, he'll have to break in a new starting quarterback (a lot of that going around this year)! Too many question marks to be truly confident about what's in store this season. A soft early schedule should help everyone get acquainted before league play begins. Very volatile potential here because this could be a top 50 team in a finger snap...or a 5-7 struggler troubled by transition.
2014 Record: 10-3
2014 Rankings: 52 on offense, 60 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Troy Calhoun
Notebook: Air Force was a pleasant surprise last year to say the least. They weren't supposed to get anywhere near 10 victories. And, they covered five of their last six board games with a great closing salvo. Obviously defense is going to be a concern with only four returning starters. But, the military programs often have a lot of turnover, and know how to deal with it. A mid-September visit to Michigan State will test starting quarterback Nate Romine (who saw limited action in '14 but did beat CSU). Biggest question for handicappers will be determining how much of last year was a fluke (they may have been the worst 10-win team ever!)...and how much was Coach Calhoun finally getting things figured out after a longer than expected learning curve.
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 81 on offense, 89 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Craig Bohl
Notebook: The Cowboys were 2-8 straight up over their last 10 games, and 2-7 against the spread over their last nine games...which wasn't at all what rookie head coach Craig Bohl had in mind. Now he has to break in a lot of new starters, including the vital quarterback position. Very hard to be optimistic about the program until on-field results suggest it's time to pay attention. An easy first half of the season will offer plenty of time to get things figured out before the most important league challenges. If things aren't clicking by early October, it could be a disastrous campaign on both sides of the ball.
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 64 on offense, 124 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Bob Davie
Notebook: The good news is that the Lobos covered five of their last six games in 2014. So, they at least became a value team even if the raw talent was still overmatched even by mid-major standards. It's so hard to recruit in states that don't have great high school talent! As always, this option-based team will be best positioned to get points on the board when facing soft rush defenses. Returning quarterback Lamar Jordan isn't much of a passer, but he did start in the final month of last season when the team was covering some spreads. Good early test at Arizona State. Look at opposing rush defenses when trying to ascertain line value.
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We'll look at San Diego State, Nevada, and the rest of the MWC in our Sunday report on the "West" Division. Here's what's on tap over the next several days...
Next weekend we'll study Conference USA for you football fans. Whether it's baseball or football, JIM HURLEY will always make sure you GET THE MONEY!
FADING "WEST" DIVISION OF MOUNTAIN WEST MAY HAVE NO TOP 60 TEAMS!
Things are looking bleak this year for what used to be a decent "darkhorse" division of a mid-major conference. The respected Athlon Preseason publication doesn't have any teams from the "West" Division of the Mountain West Conference in the top 60 nationally. Four of the six teams don't even crack the top 100!
ATHLON PRESEASON RANKINGS
San Diego State #68
Fresno State #101
San Jose State #110
The TV networks aren't going to publicize this much in early-season TV games. You'll keep hearing about how these programs have great histories of stepping up when playing big-name opponents. Well...Colin Kaepernick is long gone from Nevada...and there won't be a Carr at quarterback in Fresno, which spelled doom last year relative to their recent history.
Let's run through the numbers and see what's gone wrong...and whether San Diego State's "least worst" status really does have them in the driver's seat to win this half of the league.
San Diego State
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 71 on offense, 16 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Rocky Long
Notebook: The defense did grade out very well last season...and returns a lot of starters. Of course, all that got them was a 17-16 bowl loss on their home field to Navy! So, we're not talking about a pending juggernaut. But, in this league this season...having a great defense should be enough to get the job done. If transfer quarterback Maxwell Smith (by way of Kentucky) can make some plays...SDSU can crack the top 50. If not (which is a legitimate issue because Smith couldn't make much of an impact at a smaller program like Kentucky), then look for a bunch of 16-13 type games. Interesting tests at California and Penn State are on the September schedule.
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 68 on offense, 100 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Brian Polian
Notebook: Quarterback is a HUGE question mark entering the season. And, that's usually the position that does all the work for this schematic. You can see that the defense was awful last year and not likely to be too much better in 2015. How are you going to compete with Arizona and Texas A&M in September if you lost a bowl game 16-3 to Louisiana Lafayette?! And, this team is supposed to be SECOND-best in the division! Ugly.
2014 Record: 6-8
2014 Rankings: 59 on offense, 108 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter
Notebook: A lot of similarities to Nevada in that we have a horrible defense returning five starters...and an offense that will be breaking in a brand new quarterback for six returning starters. Well, we have a similar bowl debacle too with a 30-6 loss to Rice. That's 46-9 for Nevada and Fresno in bowl losses to Lafayette and Rice...after SDSU lost on its home field to Navy. How is Fresno State going to score on the road at Ole Miss in game two this season? Assume the worst until you see something positive happening.
San Jose State
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 70 on offense, 32 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Ron Carragher
Notebook: Last year's offense could score vs. lousy defenses, but was outclassed badly by opposing defenses who knew what they were doing. So, returning 8 starters isn't necessarily much of a positive. Defense was the strength of the program in 2014, but only four starters are back there. Early road trips to Oregon State and Air Force will offer some hints for whether or not the Spartans will matter in the divisional race.
2014 Record: 4-9
2014 Rankings: 98 on offense, 82 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Norm Chow
Notebook: We're at a loss as to why Norm Chow is still in the coaching business. Hiring him was a desperation heave-ho, and all he's done is making things worse. Which wasn't a surprising development given his track record as an assistant over the prior decade. At least there's some experience at quarterback amongst the starting contenders. But, that offense was pathetic last season...and sure isn't likely to build September confidence with visits to places like Ohio State and Wisconsin.
2014 Record: 2-11
2014 Rankings: 78 on offense, 123 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Tony Sanchez (first year)
Notebook: Sanchez was a successful high school coach. But, high school coaches haven't been transitioning well to the college level at all in recent seasons. The only saving grace is that this division is so horrible that Sanchez has a chance to tread water while he learns the ropes. The Rebels have fewer returning starters than any other MWC program...and are mostly starting from scratch. Blake Decker returns at quarterback, which seems like a godsend in comparison to the rest of their profile. It's not like he was much of a gamebreaker though. If Sanchez isn't ready, this could be the worst team in the nation when it's all said and done.
Well, that was bleak! Clearly the power of the Mountain West is in the "Mountain" Division with Boise State and Utah State. The rest of the conference seems to be drifting (or plummeting) in the wrong direction. Glad we got it out of the way early in our summer preview series!
We hope you spend the summer building bankroll with baseball. You can purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 early Sunday before the games begin...or during normal business hours Monday through Friday.
Back to baseball Monday in the Notebook. Some great series to look at this week...
Monday: MLB Series Preview...Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview...choosing from Washington/Atlanta, Cubs/Mets, NY Yankees/LA Angels, and Texas/Baltimore
Thursday: MLB Notes or a series preview of Kansas City/Minnesota (if the Twins continue to contend)
For you football fans, we move to Conference USA next weekend. Make plans to be with us every weekend through the summer for these college conference previews. Read helpful handicapping information in the NOTEBOOK...then get BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
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