Mountain West Football Predictions
In 2011, Boise State was expected to run away with the Mountain West, and perhaps compete for a national championship. Once again, their field goal kicker let them down late in a 35-36 home loss to TCU. That would prove to be their only loss of the season, allowing the Horned Frogs to win the Mountain West title with a perfect 7-0 record in conference play.
Despite the loss of several key players, the Broncos will be the favorites to win the MWC again in 2012. TCU has moved to the Big 12, which will make this conference weaker as a whole. Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada have all decided to join the conference, giving the Mountain West 10 teams. Here is a brief preview of each team, as well as my prediction on where they finish in the final MWC standings.
Mountain West Predictions
1. Boise State – The Broncos haven’t had this much inexperience on their roster since 2004. That year, they had just 10 returning starters, but went on to win the WAC with an 11-1 record. This year, Boise State brings back just seven starters. The losses are very heavy with the all-time winningest quarterback in college football history gone in Kellen Moore, along with many key players that led them to a 12-1 record last season. Head coach Chris Peterson doesn’t rebuild, he simply reloads. That’s why I have the Broncos coming out on top of what is a very weak Mountain West conference in 2012.
2. Nevada – The Wolf Pack are two years removed from upsetting Boise State to win the WAC with a 13-1 record. They are coming off just a 7-6 campaign in 2011, but Nevada is clearly the biggest threat to knock off the Broncos again. They have a respectable 12 returning starters, and should be explosive on offense once again. The schedule sets up well, too, as the Wolf Pack play three of the worst teams in the MWC on the road, and they get Boise State at home in their season-finale. That game may decide the conference title.
3. Fresno State – The Bulldogs lost a school most-tying nine games in 2011. That led to the firing of head coach Pat Hill, who took Fresno State to bowl games in 11 of his 15 seasons. New head man Tim DeRuyter is in a good position with 14 returning starters and a lot of talent. Quarterback Derek Carr is coming off a year in which he completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 3,544 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is the best returning QB in the league, and he’ll thrive in the new spread offense. What is going to hold the Bulldogs back from winning the MWC are road games at Boise State and Nevada; two teams I have picked ahead of them.
4. Wyoming – Many believe that Wyoming’s eight-win season last year was a fluke. I’m not buying it. Head coach Dave Christensen has now taken the Cowboys to bowl games in two of his first three seasons. He’ll be working with 12 returning starters this year, including sophomore QB Brett Smith. He threw for 2,622 yards and rushed for another 710 in 2011, finishing only behind Boise State’s Kellen Moore in total offense in the MWC. This team loses only 16 lettermen, which is the fewest in the conference. They host Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State, which are three teams I have finishing behind them. They also have easy road games at New Mexico and UNLV. Five conference wins is very doable, which would put the Cowboys in the top half of the Mountain West in 2012.
5. Colorado State – The Rams had high hopes last season after a 3-1 start, but they would lose their next eight games for a 3-9 finish. I believe Jim McElwain was the best hire in this conference, and one of the best in the country. He was the offensive coordinator at Alabama the last four years, helping lead the Crimson Tide to two national championships. The one concern is the fact that Colorado State had to expel three key defensive players in the spring, and it’s unclear whether any of them will win their appeals. Still, with 15 returning starters, the Rams are sure to be improved under McElwain. They don’t have to play Nevada, and they have four very winnable home games against Hawaii, UNLV, New Mexico and Fresno State. I foresee the Rams finishing 4-4 at worst in the conference.
6. San Diego State – The Aztecs went 8-5 last season, but benefited from being +12 in turnover differential. They lose arguably their five best players, including the Mountain West’s all-time leading passer in QB Ryan Lindley (12,690 career yards). RB Ronnie Hillman decided to leave early for the NFL, and he departs as the school’s third-leading rusher all-time (3,243 yards) despite playing just two seasons. Making matters worse for SDSU is the fact that they have the toughest road schedule in the league. The Aztecs will have to travel to face Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Wyoming, which is why I can’t see them finishing in the top half of the conference.
7. Air Force – The Falcons underachieved last season with a 7-6 record despite returning 14 starters and a lot of talent. Now, Air Force brings back only six starters in 2012, which is the lowest number of any team in the Mountain West. It’s their fewest since 2004, where they finished 5-6. The good news is that they avoid Boise State, and get Nevada at home. They still have a difficult road schedule with trips to Wyoming, Fresno State and San Diego State. The Falcons could surprise, but with such little talent and experience returning, I have them finishing in the bottom half of the MWC.
8. New Mexico – The Lobos have a combined 3-33 record over the last three years, finishing 1-11 each season. It was time for a change, and New Mexico went out and got a great hire in former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie. This team has a lot of experience coming back with 14 starters and 46 lettermen returning. Davie will also be working with some talented transfers from BCS schools. All of their toughest games are at home against Boise, Fresno, Wyoming and Nevada, and there could be an upset in there. I also believe they’ll find a victory at either Hawaii or UNLV. Two conference wins will get New Mexico out of the basement of the MWC for the first time in three years.
9. Hawaii – The Warriors were the media’s pick to win the WAC last season, but they stumbled to a 6-7 record, losing four of their final five games. They lose QB Bryant Moniz, the school’s third-leading passer (10,169 career yards) all-time. This team returns just 10 starters, which is the third-fewest in the MWC. Hawaii will also be undergoing a coaching change, and this will clearly be a rebuilding year in Norm Chow’s first season as a college head coach. The Warriors do have two winnable home games against New Mexico and UNLV, but even those aren’t a given.
10. UNLV – Head coach Bobby Hauck has managed to stay around for another year despite leading UNLV to a combined 4-21 record in his first two seasons. He still doesn’t know who his quarterback is going to be heading into the fall, and the Rebels lose their top three receivers from a year ago. They have just 12 returning starters, and their 25 lettermen lost are the most in the league. The only conference game they’ll be favored in is a Nov. 3 home meeting with New Mexico, but that win is not a given. I have the Rebels finishing in the basement of the Mountain West in 2012.
|More Team Previews|
|Boise State Broncos||Fresno State Bulldogs|
|Air Force Falcons||San Diego State Aztecs|
|Colorado State Rams||Wyoming Cowboys|
|UNLV Runnin Rebels||New Mexico Lobos|
|Nevada Wolf Pack||Hawaii Warriors|
|Big East||Big Ten|