2016-08-05 09:40

Let's move to the next conference.

Mountain West Conference

For me this conference is the most interesting one of all non-Power5-conferences, because they do have an interesting mix and can from time to time compete with the big guy.
It's clear that the Big 12 will take a close look at the schools in this conference for their expansion plans and rumors are, that Colorado State (Rams) and several other teams did pitch already interest.
Adding Colorado State team would be quite funny, since Colorado (Buffalos) did bolt the Big 12 some seasons ago for the PAC12 and is the major rival of Colorado State.
The Buffalos were always the more successful university regarding football in the state of Colorado (Colorado leads the rivalry called Rocky Mountain Showdown overall 63–22–2) but that move would eventually shift the power in favor of the Rams, at least long term.
Other teams are also possible, but because of traveling distances it's quite save to say they won't go for the west coast (San Diego State, Fresno State, San Jose State and Hawai’i would be those teams).

IF something happens, the most interesting thing will be which team (or teams) the Mountain West will recruit to stay on a healthy level.
As the CUSA TV contract did show, it can happen that the revenues decline, if the package is not the right one, so very likely will the MWC try to create such a package, once the teams for the Big12 left and the dust did settle.

Sometimes a scenario is discussed which is absolutely valid to happen. If the bigger conferences (power5 or maybe even 1 or 2 non power 5 conference in addition) do accumulate more and more money, the rest of the FBS teams will likely suffer from that and might need to adjust their status inside the NCAA.
Whether this will be some sort of level of power between the FBS and the FCS or whether those teams will be forced to go back to FCS level is anybody guess, personally I would not expect a massive downgrading of team and I think the transition to a level between FBS and FCS is more likely.
Still, this way would create many many open questions, which would need to be addressed early on.
For now the Mountain West will play under the given format and maybe we know more regarding leaving teams for likely 2018 in a few weeks.

The 12 teams this season are:

Mountain Division:
United States Air Force Academy (Air Force) Falcons
Boise State University Broncos
Colorado State University Rams
University of New Mexico Lobos
Utah State University Aggies
University of Wyoming Cowboys

West Division:
California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) Bulldogs
University of Hawai'i at Manoa (Hawai'i) Rainbow Warriors
University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack
San Diego State University Aztecs
San Jose State University Spartans
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels

My way-to-early-TIP for the conference is:

Mountain Division:
Boise State Broncos
Air Force Falcons
Colorado State Rams
Utah State Aggies
New Mexico Lobos
Wyoming Cowboys

West Division:

San Diego State Aztecs
Nevada Wolf Pack
San Jose State Spartans
Fresno State Bulldogs
UNLV Rebels
Hawai'i Warriors

Regarding the conference championship game I would pick under such conditions Boise State to win it all over San Diego State.

Here my clumsy explanation why:

Mountain Division

I can't figure out the Wyoming Cowboys.
They got Craig Bohl, former HC of North Dakota State, two seasons ago and so far he won 4 games in 2014 and 2 games in 2015.
Does this sound right?
I picked them winning 5 to 6 games last season but they did even drop the FCS game AND the Eastern Michigan game.
What will we get this season?
At least they can righten the ship against a FCS team and against Eastern Michigan as non-conference games.
The other 2 will be likely losses, but those 2 have to be wins.
If those games are lost, the season will be a long one and I'm not sure if Bohl will survive another bad season.
He was hired to make Wyoming competitive, not irrelevant.
The problem is, they have an unfavorable schedule.
San Diego State and Nevada from the West are quite tough, the other western team is UNLV, but that's a road game.
If you pick Colorado State, Utah State and New Mexico as the direct competitors for the spots 3rd to 5th inside the division, they play only Utah State at home, out of that group.
I can't see a turnaround coming, unless those Cowboys do suddenly play much better and stronger than the past few seasons.
I picked them 6th inside the division, with a possible coaching change coming.

The New Mexico Lobos did finish 2nd last season in a crazy 4 team 5-3 tie in conference record.
Overall they had a 7-6 record, including a bowl loss against Arizona.
Bob Davie is in his 5th season and last season was his best since taking over the team.
I think they will take a small step back this season and will eventually return for more next season.
Well, the non-conference games do look winnable beside the Rutgers game on the road.
Especially the Rio Grande Rivalry is not really an open game since some time.
They play San Jose State, Hawai'i and Nevada from the West, which is OK.
But they play Boise at home, Air Force on neutral site and Colorado State and Utah State on the road, which might cost them 4 games.
If they are lucky, they can win one of those, but I doubt it and that means they will have a hard time to match those 5 conference wins of last season.
I'm not saying they will suck, they will just have an a bit unlucky season regarding scheduling.
I picked them 5th this season for the division.

The sleeper of the Mountain West can be the Utah State Aggies.
Matt Wells is in his 4th season and will fight for his job.
A 6-7 record last season was the worst he had with the team so far and the worst the team had since 2010.
The team will play a mixed non-conference schedule and I think the USC and BYU games will be losses, on the road.
They play San Diego State, Nevada and Fresno State, which is as tough as it can get from the West.
They play also New Mexico and Air Force at home inside the division, so if they want to win big this season, they need to win on the road against some very good teams.
In my book they will have mixed results, but will at the same time be better than last season.
Enough to finish 4th in the division.
But there is a big question mark on the progress.
I think Wells will make progress into the right direction, but if that does not happen, then Utah State will fight for last place in the Mountain division and will look for a new coach.

The Colorado State Rams should be on the rise.
Mike Bobo was the Georgia OC for 8 seasons and the Bulldogs were not a bad team on offense in that period.
Now Bobo is in his 2nd season with the Rams and had so far a 7-6 season.
Not as good as the team he inherited, which had 10 wins in 2014.
Losing against the Buffalos last season was very likely not expected (at least not from me) and that game will be one of the main focuses this season.
Lucky them it's the season opener in Mile High stadium, a neutral site.
All other non-conference games will be easy, beside the Minnesota game on the road.
The Rams can win this if they made some progress, but I doubt a THAT big leap of strength.
They will play UNLV, Fresno State and San Diego State from the West, which is quite tough.
I think they will lose at least against SDSU.
Add now a road game against Boise and Air Force and you get a season of short comings.
Expectations are high this season, for sure, but I doubt that much progress under the new coach that they will finish as contender.
More likely is, they will battle 3rd or 4th place out against Utah State, which they meet at home mid-season.
So I pick them to finish 3rd on the division.

Poor Air Force Falcons!
Last season was a great and bad season for them, combined.
They did win the division, first time ever, but lost the conference title game against San Diego State.
They went to a Bowl, but lost it also.
Troy Calhoun is in his 10th season with the academy (but still 23 years short Fisher DeBerry, who he succeeded) and chances are good he can win another division title.
But for that the Falcons need to win the crucial games this season.
Beside the 2 other academies Navy and Army (for the Commander-In-Chief-Trophy, won by Navy last season) Air Force does play only weaker teams (FCS and a SBC team).
If they can win against Navy at home, they might sweep the non-conference games.
But of cause those won't help for the division title.
The crucial games are this season against Fresno State in the road, San Jose State also on the road (they play Hawai'i as 3rd West team), Utah State also on the road and at last and most important Boise State at home on season final.
At that point they will for sure know what the stakes are against Boise and chances are good that this game will decide the division title.
But honestly, I don't think they will survive the season without at least 1 lost game to that point and Boise will be tough.
Air Force will face a Broncos team which will be almost unstoppable and if they really win this, they can win the conference.
My pick is they will come up short and finish 2nd inside the division.

The clear favorite to win the division, if not the conference are the Boise State Broncos.
Last season was one of the worst of the Broncos in years, finishing 9-4, including a Bowl win. (2013 they finished 8-5, last season with former HC Petersen)
They fell short the division title and lost 3 MWC-games.
This team is used to have double digit win seasons and had won several conference titles in a row in the past.
For sure Bryan Harsin will try to make things right in his 3rd season with the Broncos.
It will not help that he had to hire again new coordinators on offense and defense this season, since his former staff members went for other schools after 1 or 2 seasons, which is unusual.
Nothing is known regarding the reasons, it can either be that Boise became a recruiting pool for other schools or that the chemistry inside the Broncos coaching family is not optimal at the moment.
As always do the Broncos have a quite tough no-conference schedule, but this time they are not THAT tough, playing only Wazzu (Washington State) and Oregon State from the PAC 12 as non-conference games and Louisiana-Lafayette and BYU on top of that.
The really tough games (Wazzu and BYU) are at home, which is more than a plus.
Will they win all games?
Could be.
I question the BYU Cougars game a bit, but played at home this looks wide open.
With San Jose State, Hawai'i and UNLV they do face some of the softest West teams of all, it might be even THE softest combination.
Add crucial games played at home (with the exception of the Air Force game) and you can maybe see why I think they will cruise this season.
The Air Force game will likely decide the division.
The Broncos are destined to reach the conference title game if all goes the right way and they might even be able to win it.

West Division

It a long time ago that the Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors did strike fear into the opponents hearts.
Greg McMackin came after June Jones and was fired after a 6-7 season, since the season before the results were 10-4 and a conference championship was won in the WAC. He lasted 4 seasons in total.
Norm Chow came in to bring the program back on track and managed 10 wins in 4 seasons!
He was fired during last season and the interims coach collected 1 more win in the remaining 4 games.
So we have a brand new coach this season, Nick Rolovich, the former OC and QB coach of Nevada.
I think the Warriors do have a great home advantage because of their geographical position and a quite hefty road malus, but if the program is coaches the right way, it can be a winner, as history has proven.
For this season I don't see a big improvement, but if the team can reach a certain level of gameplay, they can easily become a mid-level team in the West conference fast.
Again they have 13 games, with 5 non-conference games, 3 sure losses against good PAC 12 or Big 10 teams.
But that FCS game and the season final against UMass, both at home, should be wins.
Don't expect too many wins from the Mountain division games, playing Air Force, New Mexico and Boise State.
That Lobos games can become interesting, if the team did made progress, but I doubt such a jump in the first season.
The rest is heavily depended on the other teams and Hawai'i strength.
Closest games could be the game against UNLV at home.
If they win this one, chances are good that they can leave the bottom of the division.
I did still pick them last.

The UNLV Rebels will be coached by Tony Sanchez, a former High School coach.
He did manage to win 3 games last season which is more than I had expected for that year.
The big question is now, whether the team will improve on that or will it implode.
They face another FCS teams this season which the team should win.
The rematch against the Vandals (lost last season) might become a potential win, it's at home and assuming a small progress the teams might give us a close game.
The rest I see as losses.
From the Mountain Division they play Colorado State, Wyoming and Boise State, which makes the Wyoming game a must win game at home.
The 2 other ones should be losses.
As another 2 good chances for adding wins I see Nevada and Fresno State, both at home.
If this team really wants to go bowling, they better win 1 or 2 games on the road.
Hawai'i might become a great relevance in that, but maybe only as deciding factor for the last spot inside the division.
Overall I think this second season team should be able to win more games than the new managed Warriors, hence I pick them 5th.

It's burning hot under Tim DeRuyter seat, HC of the Fresno State Bulldogs.
He won 2 conference titles and 1 division title and from that time on the team went downhill.
Well it was already a bit downhill in the division champ season, but last season they won only 3 games.
The Bulldogs are not used to be a losing team, so if this continues, I see a coaching change happening fast.
The nation is split on the question whether the Bulldogs will come back this season or fall deeper.
Given the non-conference games, I think they will win the FCS game and will challenge Tulsa at home.
Toledo under new management might be also beatable or maybe not.
The last non-conference game is a sure loss.
From the Mountain division are to be played Utah State (road), Air Force (home) and Colorado State (road).
Very unfortunate road-home-rotation.
Can be all losses, I think they will win at least 1 game here, but far from being dominant.
Assuming a battle for a mid-level spot they do only play San Jose State at home, the rest of the mid-level team on the road.
That leads me to the conclusion that either we see a real Bulldogs comeback and my preview become irrelevant (The play SDSU at home, which would be great in that case), or they will see a Bulldogs teams at 3rd of 4th position in the division.
I see them winning enough for 4th, but not more.

Next up the San Jose State Spartans.
It was a lucky season for the Spartans, finishing only 5-7 during the regular season, but still playing and winning in a Bowl due the third highest eligible Academic Progress Rate (APR) of all teams in question for the 2 5-7-record bowl spots.
So at the end it was a 6 win season, thanks to the bowl win, which is still not that good.
Headcoach Ron Caragher is in his 4th season and will have to win.
If playing tough, they could win 2 of the 4 non-conference games, Tulsa at season opener and a FCS team.
That PAc12 team will be too tough, but Iowa State could fall under new management, if the Spartans are lucky.
I doubt it, but the chance is much better than against the PAC12 team.
From the Mountain division they got New Mexico, Air Force and Boise State, which is a big setback.
They can win against the Lobos, maybe, but the two others are way out of reach.
With Nevada and UNLV at home, those games are the favors to cash in some wins.
Everything over 6 wins in total will be a bonus I think.
I pick them 3rd because of a slightly better schedule, but honestly the midfield runs from 2nd place to 5th place and will be likely very close.

Some are high on the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Last season they finished 2nd, with 4-4 inside the conference and 7-6 overall, including a bowl win.
Good, but not enough to challenge the Aztecs.
This season, Brian Polians 5th as HC, they might win against an FCS team and a MAC team, but the two other will be close or sure losses for the non-conference games.
That Purdue game will be interesting, but I see Purdue in the lead.
The Wolf Pack will play Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah State from the Mountain division, which is as soft as it can get I think.
It will be a huge bonus, which they can cash in with eventually 3 wins.
Inside the own division the games are spread quite mixed, not in an optimal way, but good enough to get in sum more wins than last season.
If they aim for the top (which they should do) they will need to win the San Diego State game at home mid-November.
I doubt they will overcome the Aztecs, but if they win that game, they should finish 1st in the division.
Since I favor the Aztecs to win the division, I pick Nevada 2nd.

The San Diego State Aztecs won the conference last season and also a Bowl.
Their final record was 11-3.
They could have gone even better and will can try to do so this season.
Rocky Long is in his 6th season and he will aim for a repeat.
Non-conference games are more winnable than last season, with only Cal probably too strong.
The Mountain division offers Utah State, Wyoming and Colorado State, all winnable.
And inside the division?
The toughest game will be probably the Nevada game on the road.
Chances are good they will win all conference games (as last season) add 1 to 2 non-conference wins (last season just 1 win) and they can also challenge Boise State for the conference (which I pick them to lose).
A bowl is under such conditions also a must, win or lose is something else.
I pick them 1st inside the division.

Overall is the conference dominated by Boise State and San Diego State.
All other teams will have to play way better to challenge those two teams.
Only injuries or the changed staff members might change something and then we have a quite open competition, which would be great for the conference and also bad.
Great because of excitement, bad because of the national consequences.
The conference wants as many big paid bowls as possible and that will not happen if both strongest teams would fall too deep by losing against each other. The conference in total will try to get that juicy non-power5-bowl spot around New Year and for that the best team will need a perfect season (or at least almost).

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