2015-08-28

FBS - Preview 2015 - Mountain West Conference

Let's move to the next conference. Teams from this conference had some success in the past and it will be interesting to see, how this will workout in the future.
Because I'm pretty sure there will be further changes in college football.
The anouncement of a BIG12-school-president, that it would be good for the BIG12 to expend to 12 teams (which is a no brainer, they should have done that years ago, when all the teams were on the move), the carusell of switching teams might start moving again.
The BIG12 will look for good team, with reputation and the needed facilities and money base and it's pretty sure, they will not be able to get teams from the other power 5 conferences.
So, this leave the options for smaller teams from smaller conferences.
One of these conference is of cause the

Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West had the status as jumping point to bigger conferences.
But so far, the team drain did stop and the conference got stable.
But because of the BIG12 talk, some teams got into the focus of potential targets.
Frontrunners are Boise State and Colorado State.
Boise State would be an unwise addition, then having basically teams from west coast to east coast and a nightmare in travaling miles.
Colorado State would be better, but they are at least at the moment not on the top 5 list of most of the analysts.
Weather this all will happen or not (I guess something will happen) and which teams will then be on the move again, we will see it in the future.

The 12 teams 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) Warriors
University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack
San Diego State University Aztecs
San Jose State University Spartans
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Mountain Division

Air Force Falcons
After a desastrious 2013 season, the Falcons had a comeback 2014 and finished with 10-3 and a Bowl win.
Air Force is still in my mind the best service academy fielding football in the last few years, having Navy right behind them.
But this is a very close race.
Troy Calhoun is the mind behind the Falcons success and he is here since ... 2007.
They will play Morgan State (FCS) and Michigan State in addition to the regular Navy and Army games and overall the team might be able to win 3 of those 4 games.
The Spartans are too good to hope for a win, but Army and Navy are possible to beat.
The only negative aspect here is, the Navy game is on the road.
Last season, Air Force won the Commander-In-Chief-Trophy, after 2 season in the row of Navy wins, and the Falcons won't let that monster trophy leave the base easily.
The conference schedule is tough, having Utah State at home, Boise State and Colorado State on the road and having Fresno State from the west won't help, even if it's at home.
The rest looks OK, especially because those games are at home against supposed to be equal teams or against weaker teams on the road.
The Falcons will need a good season to top those 10 wins from last season.
I think they will not get that.
My pick is, they will fall to mid field this season, with a bowl worth record.

Boise State Broncos
The Broncos do have a new head coach since last season and Bryan Harsin did do well in his 1st season with the team.
A 12-2 season, with a conference title and a Fiesta Bowl win is as good as it can get as Mountain West team.
If they want to get into the playoffs, they have to be perfect and they should better have a higher authority on their side, so last season is more or less the max.
This season will be challanging to get the same results.
It will start with a match against Washington, the team the former Boise State coach did go to in 2013 (that's why Harsin got the job) and it will be quite tough, even on the smurf turf at home.
Then they visit BYU, take on Idaho State (FCS) and will visit Virginia.
Believe it of not, the team could win all of those games, but likely will drop 1 or 2.
Being the top team in the MWC means you only play against contenders, so the schedule looks a bit easier, except you play the toughest teams on the road.
Colorado State and Utah State are both on the road.
Beside this 2 games, the others do look fine, they avoid the big shots of the west and might cruise though that schedule with a perfect conference record.
Chances are good, they will reach the conference final again and might even win the conference, again.
The soft schedule will let them left out of the playoffs, even if they would have a perfect season.

Colorado State Rams
This will be interesting. After a short period of the reigns of Jim McElwain (a former Alabama OC, now HC of Florida) another former SEC OC comes in.
Mike Bobo was the Georgia OC the last 8 seasons and the Bulldogs were not a bad team on offense in that period.
Now Bobo gets his first HC gig and he takes over the McElwain-Rams, which got from 4 wins in his 1st season, 8 wins in his 2nd season to 10 win in his 3rd and last season (which landed him the Flordia gig).
So there are not many excuses for a big drop in the record.
The start looks good.
Savannah State is a FCS team, Minnesota is quite good, but this is at home and the Rocky Mountain Showdown against rival Colorado was won last season and the Buffalos are not really expected to become very good this season.
As last non conference game the Rams added UTSA, which could be (or maybe should be) a walk in the park.
So a 2-2 to even 3-1 start is possible.
The next few games are a bit brutal, visiting Utah State, hosting Boise, visiting Air Force and then hosting San Diego State might drop the record fast.
The team also got as season final game a road trip to Fresno State.
Overall a quite challanging schedule which will defently not give them 10 wins.
If they really get 10 wins out of this, the team has a more than bright future and might lose their HC faster than the SEC can wave with money bags.
I think the team will get around 8 wins and a Bowl bid, which would be great for the 1st season under Bobo.

New Mexico Lobos
Head Coach of the Lobos is since 2012 Bob Davie.
He was the HC of Notre Dame in the late 90s (1997-2001) after Lou Holtz retired.
After several season as media guy he took over the Lobos and won so far 11 games in 3 season, never more than 4 win in a season.
All signs are pointing to another bad season.
From the non conference games Mississippi Valley State (FCS), Tulsa, Arizona State and New Mexico State only the FCS game looks like a sure win.
The Rio Grande Rivalry with New Mexico State was won the last 3 seasons and they might add another win this season.
But Arizona State and Tulsa are too good.
The conference schedule looks easier than for other teams, with Nevada, San Jose State and Hawai'i from the west.
Granted, Nevada will be probably to much on the road, but the other 2 teams are beatable.
I think the final standing inside their own division will be set by the wyoming game (already in September).
The winner will probably have an advantage to avoid the last place in the division.
Unfortunately the game is a road trip.
If I do add all prossible wins up I pick them to win 3 to 4 games.
If that's enough to keep the job, I'm not sure.

Utah State Aggies
The Aggies were quite bad in the older past. Then in 2009 did Utah State hire the former Utah Utes DC Gary Andersen.
He needed 3 seasons to turn the losing team into a winner and in his 4th season he won the conference (The team was at that time in the WAC), got a job offer from Wisconsin and was gone. (This season he moved already further and is the HC of Oregon State)
The administration selected Matt Wells as successor, a promotion from within the team.
He did win the division in his first season and even with a better record overall in last season, the team did finish second in the division, because of 2 losses inside the conference.
So expectations are quite high in Utah to get the team back on track (if you can call 10 wins, including a bowl win 'off-track')
But before the conference games will start, the Aggies will play 3 of the 4 non conference teams at season start, the last non conference game at season final.
Southern Utah (FCS) should be a win and the game against Utah (Battle of the Brothers rivalry) will be fun.
The problem for the Utah game will be, it's an away game.
Usually this is a Utes win, but upsets do happen.
The game against Washington on the road might bring the team back with a losing record.
On the last gameday will the team host BYU (The Old Wagon Wheel rivalry) which will also be fun to watch.
I'm expecting a close game but the Aggies might win this one.
Between those fun game will be the conference schedule.
From the west the team got some heavy hitters, road games to Fresno State and San Diego State will probably be tough, a home game against Nevada a bit easier, but never underestimate the Wolf Pack.
In their own division they will face some of the better teams at home. Colorado State and Boise State will be tough games and will decide the fate of the season.
Overall, the schedule looks tough and challanging.
The Aggies are a good football team and might pull some upsets here, but I doubt a perfect conference record.
That perfect record might not be needed to win the division, but I thing 2 losses might be too much and I expect the Aggies to drop at least 2.
My pick is, they will be one of the better teams of the conference, but not good enough to get into the championship game.

Wyoming Cowboys
The Cowboys did change the HC last season and brought in Craig Bohl, former HC of North Dakota State, winning the FCS national championship 3 time in a row in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Impressed?
Well, he was hired to righten the ship at Wyoming again, but the task will be a piece of work.
Last season he won 4 games, most notable the road win against Fresno State.
Will the team this season already switch to the winning teams?
Maybe, thanks to a quite easy schedule.
North Dakota (FCS), Eastern Michigan, Washington State and Appalachian State are all not sure losses.
In fact, chances are good the team will get out of this games with 3 to 4 wins.
Most challanging games will be Washington State and Appalachian State.
So far the non conference games.
Inside the conference they will face Nevada (at home), San Diego State (road trip) and UNLV (home game) from the west, which could have been worse.
In addition they get New Mexico at home.
All other games might be too much to ask for.
At the moment I see them winning 5 to 6 games this season, 3 from the non conference games.
If they pull some upsets like the Bulldogs upset last season, they will be the spoiling team this season.
My pick is, they need another season to click and they end up at the lower half of the division.

West Division

Fresno State Bulldogs
In the past 3 season did Tim DeRuyter win with the team 2 conference titles and 1 division title.
That means they were on top of their division the last 3 seasons.
Now in his 4th season, the coach will try to keep the streak alive.
There is not much the other teams can do to spoil his fun here.
The non conference games will not count against the conference record, which will be the Bulldogs luck this season, because this schedule is tough.
The start with an easy FCS game against Abilene Christian, but from that day on they will have to get much better.
Ole Miss was last season in the mix to win the SEC, so this will be very tough, Utah as PAC 12 team will also be challanging and BYU on the road will also be tough.
But the conference games will be fun.
They do avoid Boise State from the east and play Utah State at home. in addition they have Air Force on the road and Colorado State as home game from the east, so overall challanging, but under very nice conditions.
They will host Nevada and will travel to San Diego State, which will probably be the most challanging games from the west.
Bottom line is, they have a nice schedule to repeat and I pick them as division title contender.

Hawai'i Warriors
The Warriors didn't have an easy time the last few seasons.
June Jones did lift the program to its peak since a long time and then, when he accepted a bigger pay check from SMU, the program did crash.
The Warriors did pull the plug on Jones successor and did hire Norm Chow, former OC of the Titans, USC, UCLA and Utah.
Since Chow took over, the Warriors won 8 games in 3 season. 29 losses are on the other side of that equation.
That makes Chow one of the coaches on the hottest seat in the nation.
My guess is, another lossing season will probably cost him his job.
So winning will be the key for Chow in his 4th season as HC.
The non conference period will not help here.
Colorado is one of the weaker PAC 12 teams, but far from a pushover. It will help that they will come to Hawai'i, but I doubt a win here.
Then will the team travel to Columbus, Ohio and will get creamed by Ohio State.
The then visiting UC Davis (FCS) team should be the 1st win of the season, followed by another very likely loss against Wisconsin on the road.
Not a good start for Chow and his Warriors.
The team did add a 13th game as non conference game against Louisiana-Monroe, which can be won, depended on the spirit and status of the team at season final.
With Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico the team got a mix from the east, which might help them to get some wins.
The Broncos will be too much, but Air Force at home and New Mexico at home might be fair enough to get 2 wins here.
The western teams will be played in a bit unfortune lineup with the worst match for me is the Nevada game on the road after a home games against San Diego State.
If the Aztecs do win on the Island, a downed teams will have to travel to the most likely biggest threat for a jump in the standings.
Of cause, football season normally never do play out as expected, but I think with a bit different pairing plan, the Warriors might have been able to get a winning record.
With the games as they have it now, I see them fall short 1 or 2 wins, which might be not enough for Chow to stay the HC of Hawai'i.
I pick the team as bottom half team in the division.

Nevada Wolf Pack
The question this year will be, if Nevada will rise again to become a contender.
Brian Polian is in his 3rd season and so far he got the Wolf Pack from 4-8 to 7-6, including a Bowl loss.
Now, the team will have to get it done.
Starting with the non conference games, the Wolf Pack will have mixed results.
UC Davis (FCS) has to be a win, Arizona will probably score too many points to catch up and Texas A&M on the road will be a loss.
The Buffalo game on the road has to be the second win, which will give them a 2-2 record with the start of the conference games.
From the west they got Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah State, which makes this one of the softest inter division schedules.
Only unfortune thing here is, Wyoming and Air Force are away games.
But if the team did made progress, wins are possible.
Other than that they do play their east teams in a favorable way, the big shots on the road and the weaker teams at home, which should cash them some more wins.
I don't see Nevada as real contender for the division, but if they win on the road against the big teams, they will be ready.
If not, they do have at least 6+ wins, which should land them another Bowl bid.
of cause that's not the goal of the team, will want more here, but for that they have to win the challanging games on the road.
I pick them 3rd in the division.

San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs will probably be the contender to challenge Fresno State for the Division title.
Rocky Long is in his 5th season, was tied for 1st place in the division (but a loss to Fresno State left them out of the conference title game) and played bowls since his 1st season (but lost 3 out of 4).
The non conference games are a nice mix, San Diego (FCS) will be a nice warm-up, California is one of the weaker PAC12 teams and even if an upset is unlikely, the chances are there.
South Alabama is beatable, even more as it is a home game and Penn State will be a very high challange, they will not master, but maybe the team can get something else out of this.
So the record should be 2-2 here.
Fresno State at home is a gift and might land them a revenge from last season, but I have doubts here.
They also play at home Utah State, wyoming and Nevada, which is the right setup for a nice challanging season.
The road games are only clouded by the Colorado State game.
No Boise State from the east.
Overall they have the tools to win the division, fair and square.
I think the Fresno State game will be the defining game. A win in that game will boost them to the championship game, a loss will let the Bulldogs get there.
I pick the Aztecs falling short a title and finishing 2nd, again.

San Jose State Spartans
Headcoach Ron Caragher inherited a quite good team 2 seasons ago and so far managed to get 6-6 and 3-9 out of this.
Not the kind of success the administartion had in mind, when they hired him from a FCS team, winning 3 conference titles in 6 season.
Granted, the 11-2 team he got was a WAC team and the MWC is a quite tougher place, but going down never looks good.
The Spartans do have a bit of an unusual schedule for the MWC, mixing the non conference games between the other games.
Starting with New Hampshire (FCS) at season start, visiting Oregon State mid September, visiting Auburn beginning of October and hosting BYU beginning of November, the matchups do look a bit overwelming.
I'm expecting a 1-3 record out of this.
Oregon State might be beatable, but I doubt it.
From the east they got Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico. Unfortune for them the Air Force game is on the road, which means, out of this 3 games they might only win against the Lobos.
To have realistic goals, they should win the Hawai'i and UNLV games, but both are on the road, so a bit tougher than needed.
The next team to beat would be Nevada, which is (you will guess that) a road trip.
So bottom line is, they have a very unfortune schedule to make a turnaround.
I pick them fighting against the last spot.
The UNLV game might be the deciding match for that, which is ... a road game.

UNLV Rebels
This team won 2 games last season. One against a FCS team and as a surprise, one against Fresno State in OT.
That was not enough for the HC to keep his job.
The new one is Tony Sanchez, a High School coach so far.
I'm not sure this will be the right direction, but I'm always willing to give people the chance to show their talent.
The former HC, Bobby Hauck was a very successful FCS coach, but did not get the Rebels on track.
So maybe this task does not need a new coach, but something else.
Anyway, Sanchez has to field a team and I'm pretty sure the team will have growing pains.
For the start they will face 4 non conference teams.
Northern Illinois, UCLA, Michigan and Idaho State (FCS).
Idaho State might be a win, but the rest would even for a much better team be a heavy task.
The rest of the schedule is not good.
If they want a slightly chance to become not the bottom team, they have to win against San Jose State at home.
unfortune for the Rebels, they did not get any real weak team from the east, so it might happen the team will not even get the 2 wins from last season.

So my TIP is:

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

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

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