Mountain West Football Preview

Big Questions

  • Can Boise State win another Mountain West Championship?
  • Can Air Force or Colorado State match their 10 win seasons from last year?
  • Will Chuckie Keeton manage to stay healthy for a full season for Utah State?
  • How will transfer QBs Coffman, Smith and Wittek affect their respective teams?
  • Which team will step up from the West division?

Big Games

  • 9/11 – Utah State at Utah
  • 9/12 – Boise State at BYU
  • 10/3 – Air Force at Navy
  • 10/16 – Boise State at Utah State (Could decide Mountain division champion)
  • 11/5 – Nevada at Fresno State
  • 11/28 – BYU at Utah State
  • 11/28 – Nevada at San Diego State (Could decide West division champion)

Big-Impact Newcomers

  • QB: Cameron Coffman – Wyoming (Transfers from Indiana, started 10 games in 2012)
  • RB: Dalyn Dawkins – Colorado State (Transfers from Purdue, great pass-catching back)
  • NT: Kevin McReynolds – Nevada (Transfers from UCLA, played in 26 games as Bruin)
  • QB: Maxwell Smith – San Diego State (Transfers from Kentucky, started 11 games in three years at UK)
  • QB: Chason Virgil – Fresno State (Comes in as true Freshman, could be starter week one for Bulldogs)
  • QB: Max Wittek – Hawaii (Transfers from USC, started two games in 2013)
  • RB: Kelsey Young – Boise State (Transfers from Stanford, started 3 games in 2014)

Team-by Team Previews

Mountain Division

Air Force – The Falcons were one of the biggest surprise teams in 2014 posting a 10-3 record (with a Idaho Potato Bowl victory) after going 2-10 just a year earlier.  The Falcons will now look to repeat last year’s success in 2015, even though they lose 11 total starters including QB Kale Pearson. They will turn to Junior QB Nate Romine to lead the offense, and he will start with plenty of experience. Romine started eight games in 2013 when Pearson went down with injury and he started and led the upset of No.21 Colorado State in his one start last year. Romine doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an option QB as he is a far better passer than runner, but his backfield should fix any concern the Falcons have in the rushing attack. Junior RB Jacobi Owens (1,054 yards and 5 TDs in 2014) and touchdown machines Shayne Davern and DJ Johnson (16 total TDs in 2014) all return to lead what should be one of the top rushing attacks in the nation. The Falcons will probably have trouble repeating last year’s 10 wins, but you should fully expect them to be bowling once again in 2015.

Boise State –  The Broncos enjoyed another excellent season in 2014 posting a 12-2 record, winning the Mountain West Championship and becoming the inaugural “Group of Five” team to go to a New Year’s Six bowl game where they upset No. 12 Arizona 38-30 in the Fiesta Bowl. The good news for the Broncos is that they return 17 total starters from that squad in 2015.  The bad news is they lose star RB Jay Ajayi and steady senior QB Grant Hedrick. This year, the Broncos will rely on Sophomore QB Ryan Finley (who just won the starting QB job over Brett Rypien) to replace Hedrick. Finley’s go-to guys in 2015 will be Junior Thomas Sperbeck (877 yards in 2014) and speedster Shane Williams-Rhodes (764 all-purpose yards last season) The running game will be lead by Stanford transfer RB Kelsey Young and Sophomore Jeremy McNichols, who should see split duties in the backfield this season. The Broncos will start the season at home against Washington before traveling to BYU in week two in what should be a great game, before hosting Idaho State and traveling to Virginia before entering conference play. Expect another great season from the Broncos as another New Year’s Six bowl game is not out of the question.

Colorado State – The Rams put together one of their best seasons in school history in 2014 going 10-3 and making it all the way to to No.21 in national rankings. The Rams lost head coach Jim McElwain to Florida and turn to Mike Bobo, a first-year head coach, to take over the team. They return 15 starters from a team that was one game away from the Mountain West championship, but lose their all-time leading passer in QB Garrett Grayson to graduation. Grayson will subsequently be replaced by Sophomore Nick Stevens who saw limited action last season in a backup role but showed enough promise for the Rams to name him their starting QB.   Dalyn Dawkins transferred in from Purdue and should be the starter week one at RB for the Rams and in what should be a balanced CSU offense. Star WR Rashard Higgins returns after a breakout 2014 campaign that saw him post 1,750 yards and 17 TDs.  He should again be one of (if not the) top receiver in the country! The Rams get a favorable non-conference schedule (Savannah State, Minnesota, Colorado, @ UTSA) and they should post another winning record this year, despite it being Bobo’s first year as a head coach.

New Mexico – The Lobos posted a 4-8 record in 2014 in Bob Davie’s third year as the head coach. In 2015, they return 14 starters (seven on both sides of the ball) including Sophomore QB Lamar Jordan who’s showed plenty of promise in four starts with the team. Jordan started the final four games for the Lobos in 2014 and showed he has the ability to be a special dual-threat QB as he threw for 895 yards throughout the season while rushing for 612 more yards on the ground. Jordan will have a great tandem of RB’s to hand the ball off too this season as both Jhurrell Pressley (1,083 yards and 12 TD’s) and Teriyon Gipson (809 yards and 8 TD’s) return after excellent 2014 campaigns. This offense should feature a run-heavy attack in 2015 and we could potentially see two or maybe three 1,000 yard rushers from this Lobo team. The defense will need to vastly improve from last season as the Lobos allowed 35.9 PPG in 2014, and if they can hold teams to a lower mark this season, the offense should be able to pick up any slack left by the defense. The Lobos see a favorable non conference schedule with only one tough game at Arizona State and home games against Mississippi Valley State, Tulsa and New Mexico State. I expect the Lobos to go bowling for the first time since 2007 this season!

Utah State – The Aggies had an excellent 2014, going 10-4 and winning their third straight bowl game.  This happened with four different starting QBs.  In 2015, the Aggies hope for some stability.  They are set to get Senior QB Chuckie Keeton back.  He is coming off of his second torn ACL in two years, but when healthy, Keeton is one of the top QBs in the nation.  He has accumulated 6,387 yards and 58 TDs in his three-year Aggie career.  Keeton will have the benefit of having Sophomore RB LaJuan Hunt in the backfield, as Hunt showed signs of a potential breakout star in 2014.  He ran for 540 yards and one score last season, but he flashed amazing abilities in the few starts he got and should benefit from being the main option at RB this year. The Aggies only offseason downer is that they lost Senior WR JoJo Natson as he was dismissed from the team in last June, and they lose over 1,000 total yards with Natson’s dismissal. The Aggies get a tough non-conference schedule that has them going travelling to Utah and Washington, and they also have to host BYU in their last game of the year. I expect the Aggies to have an excellent season nonetheless, and I could very well see them competing for the Mountain West Championship in December!

Wyoming – The Cowboys went 4-8 in 2014 under first year head coach Craig Bohl and failed to make a bowl game for the third straight year. In 2015, the Cowboys only return nine total starters on both sides of the ball, but do get transfer QB Cameron Coffman who comes over from Indiana. Coffman, a senior, started 10 games as a Sophomore in Indiana and threw for 2,734 yards and 15 scores. Coffman will bring a good style to a Wyoming team that features two good RB’s in Brian Hill (796 yards and 7 TDs in 2014) and Shaun Wick (753 yards and 6 TDs in 2014). Look for Junior WR Tanner Gentry to step up and play a big role in the receiving game this year for the Cowboys a he is the leading returning WR from last year’s team. On the defensive side of the ball, first-team MW defensive end Eddie Yarbrough anchors a defense that returns only four starters from last year and will need to improve upon the 32.8 PPG they allowed last season. The Cowboys get a decent non conference schedule opening with two winnable home games against North Dakota and Eastern Michigan and they should compete in every well in conference games, but it will be tough for this team to bowling this season.

West Division

Fresno State – The Bulldogs had an interesting year in 2014 posting a 6-8 record while winning the West division and losing in the Mountain West Championship game and losing their bowl game. The Bulldogs probably underwhelmed record wise, but being the West division champion back-to-back years was rather impressive. The Bulldogs return only 11 starters from last year and will turn to Sophomore QB Zack Greenlee to lead the offense in 2015, as he recently just beat out true Freshman Chason Virgil for the starting job. Greenlee will probably be on a short leash as he showed to be inconsistent in his minimal playing time last season where he proved to be a potential dual-threat style QB. Greenlee will benefit from having star senior RB Marteze Waller behind him, as Waller put up an impressive 2014 season running for 1,368 yards and 11 TDs. The Bulldogs will need to vastly improve on the defensive side of their game as they allowed 32.6 PPG (101st in the nation) and 455 YPG (111th in the nation) in 2014, and will only have five starters returning from last years defensive unit. The Bulldogs get three tough non-conference games in 2015 (@ Ole Miss, vs. Utah, @ BYU) which will make it tough for them to go to a fourth straight bowl game, but never count out Fresno State on making it to the post season.

Hawai’i – The Warriors posted their third straight losing season under Norm Chow in 2014 going 4-9, but did quadruple their win total from 2013. The Warriors return 14 starters from last year’s team, and get USC transfer QB Max Wittek, who could put up huge numbers if he’s allowed to air it out this season. Wittek, now a Senior, started two games at USC as a Freshman before losing the starting job in the spring as a Sophomore, and now he ends up at Hawaii, where he figures to help improve upon their 20.9 PPG they were held to offensively last season (110th in the nation). The running game for the Warriors figures to be headed by Junior Steven Lakalaka, who ran for 646 yards in only seven starts last year before getting injured and missing the final three games of the year. Witch’s go-to targets in 2015 figure to be Junior Marcus Kemp (797 yards and three TDs in 2014) and Senior Quentin Pedroza (674 yards and 3 TDs in 2014), who both figure to put up even better numbers this season. Hawaii once again has a 13-game schedule in 2015 and gets two brutal road matches early in the season against Ohio State and Wisconsin, but the Warriors should at least match, if not top last seasons win total of four.

Nevada – The Wolf Pack enjoyed a nice year in Brian Polian’s second season as head coach in 2014 going 7-6 and making it back to a bowl game (despite a loss). This year, the Wolf Pack only return eleven starters from last years team and will have to replace their star QB Cody Fajardo (third in school history in passing yards). The Wolf Pack will turn to Junior QB Tyler Stewart this season to lead the offense, as he recently won the QB job over redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick. Stewart started one game in 2013 for the Wolf Pack (a winning effort over Hawaii) and figures to see shared time with Fralick in the season opener. The Wolf Pack feature a strong running attack in Senior RB Don Jackson (957 yards and 7 TDs in 2014) and James Butler (635 yards and 5 TDs in 2014) which should help take pressure off whoever the QB is throughout the season. The Wolf Pack will feature a nasty defensive line in DE’s Ian Seau and Lenny Jones (13.5 combined sacks in 2014), and NT Kevin McReynolds who transfers from UCLA. The Wolf Pack get two tough test early in the season when they host Arizona in week two and travel to Texas A&M in week three, but look for the Pack to compete for the West division championship in 2015.

San Diego State – The Aztecs had another stellar season in 2014 going 7-6 while making their fifth straight bowl game. The Aztecs were a Fresno State loss away from competing in their first Mountain West Championship game, and will look to get their inaugural birth in the championship game in 2015. They return 14 starters from last years team and despite losing QB Quinn Kaehler, they get Kentucky transfer QB Maxwell Smith, who started 11 games at Kentucky in two years. Smith, a Senior, will inherit an offense that generally features a stud RB, and this year is no different. Junior RB Donnel Pumphrey ran for 1,867 yards and 20 TDs in 2014, earning 1st team all Mountain West honors. The biggest thing the Aztecs have going for them is a stellar defense that allowed just 19.8 PPG last year (14th in the nation), and they return eight starters from that unit that should see potentially even better numbers in 2015. The Aztecs have two tough early season road trips to California and Penn State, but they should still be considered as the favorite from the West Division.

San Jose State – The Spartans went 3-9 in 2014 in Ron Caragher’s second season as head coach, but will look to improve upon that record in 2015 when they return 16 total starters. Among the 16 returning starters is Senior QB Joe Gray, who started seven games last season and averaged 306.9 YPG passing in the games. Gray flashed great ability last season as a passer and will benefit from having star senior RB Tyler Ervin back in 2015 after he put up a decent campaign in 2014 (888 yards and 4 TDs in just eight starts). Gray will also benefit from having two very good wide outs in Junior Tyler Winston (78 receptions last season) and Tim Crawley who will be making the full transition from RB to WR this season. The Spartans do return six starters from a defense that was first in the nation in pass defense (117.8 YPG), but was also 119th in the nation in rush defense where they allowed 239.4 YPG on the ground. If the offense can step up in 2015 and the rush defense can drastically improve, the Spartans could be a team that could sneak into a bowl game.

UNLV – The Rebels were a disappointing 2-11 last season after going to a bowl game for the first time in 13 years the year before. Things don’t seem to be looking up for the Rebels as they will have to adjust to first-year head coach Tony Sanchez, and have only returning 10 starters from last year. Among those ten starters returning are Senior QB Blake Decker, who had a disappointing season after transferring from JUCO, throwing 18 INTs compared to only 15 TDs. Decker should put up better numbers this season, as he benefits from having Sophomore star and first-team Mountain West WR Devonte Boyd back after his excellent Freshman campaign (65 receptions, 980 yards and 4 TDs). The Rebels defense will need to improve vastly from last season where they allowed 38.5 PPG (116th in the nation), and their rush defense will need to step up mightily as they allowed 293.8 YPG (126th in the nation). With a brutal first-three game schedule for the Rebels (@ Northern Illinois, UCLA, @ Michigan), a first-year head coach, and a defense that ranks among the worst in the nation, Rebels fans shouldn’t have high expectations for the 2015 season, and topping last season’s two win total will be tough.

Predicted Standings

Mountain

  • Utah State 10-2 (8-0)
  • Boise State 10-2 (7-1)
  • Air Force; 7-5 (5-3)
  • Colorado State; 6-6 (4-4)
  • New Mexico; 6-6 (3-5)
  • Wyoming; 4-8 (2-6)

West

  • San Diego State; 8-4 (6-2)
  • Nevada; 7-5 (5-3)
  • Fresno State; 6-6 (4-4)
  • San Jose State; 4-8 (3-5)
  • Hawaii; 4-9 (1-7)
  • UNLV; 1-11 (0-8)

Projected Mountain West Championship Game: Utah State vs. San Diego State

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: