BY KYLE MONTGOMERY
SAN JOSE STATE Last year, the Spartans finished with an 11-2 record and a No. 24 BCS ranking in the final season of the Western Athletic Conference. This year, they join the Mountain West Conference, and have a new head coach, Ron Caragher. He inherits gun-slinger David Fales, a Senior, who was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 TDs, with the nation’s third best Quarterback rating. Fales will sling balls to one of the best receiving trios in the nation, with Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones and Jabari Carr. Grigsby led the Spartans with 1,307 yards and with nine TDs last year, Jones added 691 yards and 11 TDs, and Carr had 62 receptions for 639 yards with four TDs. On defense, the Spartans return six starters from a rock solid unit that ranked 24th in the nation in points against at 21.3 PPG. Superstar Defensive Back Bene Benwikere will lead the defense where he snagged a nation-high seven interceptions in 2012.
MY PREDICTION – 11-1 I expect the Spartans to have a very strong season running to 10-1 heading into a huge game against Fresno State with the winner the likely division champion.
FRESNO STATE – The Bulldogs exceeded expectations in 2012 by going 9-4. Aside from getting blown out in the Hawaii bowl, the Bulldogs looked strong all season. They return 16 starters, with eight on both sides of the ball. They’ll be lead by QB Derek Carr who was last year’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. In his junior season he threw for more than 4,000 yards with 37 TDs. He’ll throw to two of the nation’s top returning receivers in Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse. Adams, the conference freshmen of the year last year, hauled in 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 TDs. Burse, managed to accumulate 851 yards and 6 TDs last season. On defense, the Bulldogs return eight starters to a defense that allowed 23.9 PPG last year, good enough for 37th in the country. Both safety Derron Smith and cornerback Sean Alston return. Smith pulled down six interceptions in 2012, good enough for fifth in the nation, while Alston picked off five more.
MY PREDICTION – 10-2 The Bulldogs open up by hosting Rutgers, and get Boise State at home. I expect Fresno State to be 10-1 going into their game at San Jose State on November 29th.
SAN DIEGO STATE – The Aztecs could be a better team this year, with a worse record than last year. Adam Muema is one of six offensive starters returning, rushing for 1,458 yards and 16 TDs last year. Adam Dingwell returns at quarterback, after starting the final five games of the 2012 season including the bowl game. showcasing his dual-threat ability. Receiver Colin Lockett will look to return to the form he displayed as a Freshmen when he had 970 yards receiving with eight TDs The Aztec defense returns nine of 11 starters from the 2012 unit that finished 42nd in points allowed at 24.4 PPG.
MY PREDICTION – 7-5 Even with 15 returning starters, I don’t expect the Aztecs to match last year’s total of nine wins. A brutal non-conference schedule includes Ohio State and Oregon State, and they’ll face conference favorites Fresno State, Boise State and San Jose State.
NEVADA The Wolf Pack welcome new head coach Brian Polian, son of NFL executive Bill Polian. He’ll try to build on the legacy left by long-time coach Chris Ault, and his 233 career wins. The Wolf Pack are led by one of the best dual-threat QBs in the nation back, Junior Cody Fajardo. Last year he had an impressive 3,907 all-purpose yards, and scored 32 touchdowns. He’ll be able to throw to star receivers Brandon Wimberly and Richy Turner. Wimberly returns after he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, and looks to be Fajardo’s go-to guy. Turner had 752 yards last year and is looking for more. On defense, the Wolf Pack will need to vastly improve they were 102nd in the nation giving up 33.8 PPG. It could be a struggle for the Pack as they only get five starters back.
MY PREDICTION – I expect a 5-7 season from the Wolf Pack because of a tough road schedule which include games at UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State, Boise State and Fresno State.
HAWAII Norm Chow took over as head coach last year, and the Warriors had a very depressing season, finishing 3-9l, after being 9-4 in 2011. This year, the Warriors receive a ray of hope in Ohio State transfer QB Taylor Graham. Graham, a 6-5, 235 junior, is the prototype QB for Chow’s offense. The Warriors return Joey Iosefa at running back, and at 6-0, 240, he is a bruiser. He rushed for 463 yards last year, but expects to get the bulk of the carries this year. At receiver, the Warriors return the speedy Scott Harding and proven star Billy Ray Stutzmann. On defense, the Warriors the return eight starters, but need to improve vastly after allowing 35.7 PPG last year, ranking 107th nationally.
MY PREDICTION – The Warriors start the season with a very rough stretch of games that could see them start 0-5, but I see the Chow and the Warriors begin to turn the program around, finishing 4-8
UNLV Head coach Bobby Hauck, entering his fourth year as head coach, welcomes back 18 starters. Though the Rebels finished 2-11, there were five games the Rebels were one possession away from winning. . The Rebels have a star RB in Senior Tim Cornett. Last season he ran for 1,268 yards and 7 TDs and earned 3rd team All-MWC honors. Nick Sherry returns at QB, and Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan return at receiver. Davis, a Junior, surprised everyone with 854 receiving yards and 4 TDs, good enough for 2nd team All-MWC honors, while Sulilvan had 659 yards and 4 TDs. On defensive, the Rebels allowed 32.6 PPG, good for 97th in the country. They get nine starters back who are hungry for improvement.
MY PREDICTION – The Rebels start the season at Minnesota who they lost to in triple-overtime last year, and then face the Arizona Wildcats. They end the season an extremely tough stretch that could see them lose their last six games. I see the Rebels going 3-9 with a huge win over Minnesota to start the year.
UTAH STATE The Aggies nearly busted the BCS, finishing with an 11-2 record, with losses by two and three to Wisconsin and BYU. Matt Wells takes over from Gary Andersen, and he’ll be looking for similar success. Wells gets an Aggies team that returns 14 starters, including star QB Chuckie Keeton. Last year, he threw for 3,373 yard with 27 TDs, and added 619 yards and eight TDs on the ground. Though this year the Aggies lose their starting running back and three top receivers, there are several players with some experience ready to step in. The Aggies defense had no problems containing teams allowing only 15.4 PPG, good for a No. 7 rank nationally. Seven starters are back from that defense, and they should be solid again.
MY PREDICTION – the Aggies play rival Utah at the start of the season, and USC in week four. I predict the Aggies will finish 10-2 with losses to USC and San Jose State and make it to the MWC Championship as the Mountain Division Champions.
BOISE STATE The Broncos have won 10 games or more five seasons in a row, finishing 11-2 last year, losing two games by a total of six points! Though Chris Petersen seems to have a solid team every year, this year he has more holes to fill as only nine starters return. On offense, QB Joe Southwick is back, after tossing 19 TDs with only 7 INTs. He proved to be a pretty good dual-threat QB towards the end of the season. The Broncos also get back their top two receivers, and running back Jay Ajayi, who averaged nearly seven yards-per-carry, while running for 548 On defense the Broncos were rock solid last year, allowing only 15.8 PPG, good for 8th in the country. Only four starters return on the defensive side, so I would expect the Broncos to give up more points. The good news is star defensive end Demarcus Lawrence returns after recording 9.5 sacks in last year.
MY PREDICTION – This year, the Broncos start out with a Las Vegas Bowl re-match against Washington in Seattle, and they also have Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State away from the blue turf. I predict that the Broncos have a down year by their standards and go 8-4 with losses to Washington, Fresno State, Utah State and BYU.
WYOMING For the Cowboys to get back to a bowl game as they have twice in the last four years, they will need star QB Brett Smith to stay healthy all year. Smith, a junior, made an impact his freshman year in the MWC, and was named MW Freshmen of the Year. Last year, he was derailed in by the injury bug, missing two games that the Cowboys lost by a total of three points. When he was healthy, he was a scoring machine, throwing for 2,837 yards with a 27-6 TD to INT ratio. He also gained 248 yards on the ground, and led the team in rushing TDs with six. The Cowboys return three of their top four WRs from last year presenting Smith with solid options. The trio is led by senior Robert Herron who was recorded 657 yards and 8 TDs last year He’s joined by juniors Jalen Claibourne and Domic Rufran, who combined for 1,019 yards and 10 TDs. The Cowboys defense must improve to take the heat off of the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys return seven starters from a defense that allowed 33.4 PPG in ’12 which was 99th in the country.
MY PREDICTION – The Cowboys start the season with a tough road game at Nebraska, but after that, things get a little bit easier. Overall, I predict a bowl eligible season for the Cowboys with a 7-5 mark.
AIR FORCE Coming off of a seven-win season, the Falcons have a new starting QB. Kale Pearson, a junior, seems a perfect fit for the triple option offense the Falcons run, and he has shown that he is capable of throwing the ball. The trademark Falcon running game will be led by junior Jon Lee, who rushed for 545 yards and eight TDs in 2012 while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. One of the most dynamic players in college football, wide receiver Ty MacArthur, is back for the Falcons. MacArthur, was a true triple-threat last year, catching 24 passes for 411 yards and two TDs, running for 467 yards and two more TDs, and averaging 7.6 yards per punt return. On defense, the Falcons return six starters from a unit that allowed 29 PPG. They have some holes to fill.
MY PREDICTION – The Falcons have made a bowl game six years in a row, and in spite of a schedule that includes Utah State, Boise State, Navy, San Diego State and Notre Dame, I predict the Falcons will go 6-6, return to a bowl, and get a big win against Navy for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy.
COLORADO STATE The Rams finished 4-8 last year and seem poised for a breakout season. They have 17 starters back on offense and defense, including two quarterbacks with starting experience, and the leading running backs from 2011 (Chris Nwoke) and 2012 (Donnell Alexander). At the ends, leading receiver Charles Lovett, and Crockett Gilmore and Kivon Cartwright, the two leading tight ends are back. On defense, the Rams return eight starters from a defense that allowed 30.3 PPG to opposing offenses. I would expect better performances from a veteran unit this season.
MY PREDICTION The Rams have non-conference games against Alabama, Tulsa and Colorado, and get Utah State on the road. I predict the Rams will go 6-7, and will miss a bowl game because of the 13 game schedule they play.
NEW MEXICO The Lobos finished 4-9 last season, including five losses by a touchdown or less. This year, sophomore Cole Gautsche takes over at QB. As a back-up last year, he rushed for 760 yards with seven TDs, and had two games where he rushed for over 100 yards. Gautsche won’t have to do all the ground work himself though — superstar RB Kasey Carrier returns after rushing for 1,469 yards and 15 TDs last year. He’ll be spelled by Jhurell Pressley who ran for 462 yards and 6 TDs. A t WR, the Lobos return no starters from last year, so they moved running backs Chase Clayton and Carlos Wiggins to wide out. On defense, the Lobos will look to improve from their defensive performance, after allowing 30.2 PPG to opposing teams.
MY PREDICTION – The Lobos running game should be outstanding, and if the defense steps up, the Lobos could be a surprise team. They don’t have an overwhelming schedule, but do play Pittsburgh, Fresno State and Boise State on the road. I predict a 5-7 record for the Lobos finishing just short of making it to a bowl.