College Football Preview: Mountain West
|Brett Smith, Wyoming|
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
RB Tim Cornett, UNLV
RB Kasey Carrier, New Mexico
WR Davante Adams, Fresno State
WR Matt Miller, Boise State
OL Weston Richburg, Colorado State
OL Matt Paradis, Boise State
OL Charles Leno, Boise State
OL Tyler Larsen, Utah State
OL Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
DT Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, Boise State
DE Brock Hekking, Nevada
LB Jake Fely, San Diego State
LB Zach Vigil, Utah State
LB Tyler Gray, Boise State
CB Shaq Bell, Colorado State
CB Sean Alston, Fresno State
S Derron Smith, Fresno State
S Nat Berhe, San Diego State
Conference Realignment for Mountain West: After snagging long time WAC members Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii earlier, the Mountain West continued to pick up former members of the now defunct conference. This year they will add two rising programs in Utah State and San Jose State, both who won 11 games in 2012. With the addition of the Aggies and Spartans the league increases to a 12 team, two-division conference. Boise, Utah State, Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico will form the Mountain Division. Fresno, SDSU, San Jose State, Nevada, UNLV and Hawaii form the West Division.
1. Boise State Broncos National Rank: 12
Boise went 11-2 last season even when breaking in a new quarterback, some new receivers and replacing most of the defense. Joe Southwick returns at quarterback after a solid 2012 and forms a great combo with senior wide out Matt Miller. The return of some other great receivers include senior tight end Gabe Linehan and Kirby Moore. The defense is also great with the return of end Demarcus Lawrence, linebacker Tyler Gray and safety Jeremy Ioane. Even with some holes it is Boise, who has gone 84-8 in the Chris Petersen era, and they are in a weak conference meaning they could sneak into a BCS bowl.
2. Utah State Aggies National Rank: Unranked
Gary Andersen is off to Wisconsin but new head coach Matt Wells still has the talent to win even in a tougher conference. Junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton returns and is one of the most underrated players in the nation. The dual threat had a total of 35 touchdowns and completed 68 percent of his passes. The Aggies had a shutdown year on defense and junior linebacker Zach Vigil returns to that unit.
3. Wyoming Cowboys National Rank: Unranked
The Cowboys had a pretty disappoint 2012 as they went from a 8-5 mark in 2011 to a 4-8 record last season. Junior QB Brett Smith enters his third year as starter and has proven he can give opposing defenses issues. Senior back Brandon Miller is very versatile, as he can be a threat on the ground and also has great hands out of the backfield. If Wyoming wants to get back to a bowl the defense has to get pressure on opponents as they had just 14 sacks last year, the worst in the conference.
4. Air Force Falcons National Rank: Unranked
Head coach Troy Calhoun returns for his seventh year and brings back his tricky triple-option attack. He has the tools to have a domiant offense with the return of junior quarterback Kale Pearson who is ready to step into a bigger role. Senior back Anthony LaCoste and junior Broam Hart should make a lot of plays. The Falcons have proven that they can stop the pass thanks to safety Christian Spears and cornerback Steffon Batts but their rush defense was pretty weak throughout 2012. That is an issue with all the talented backs inside this conference (Adam Muema, Tim Cornett, Chris Nwoke, Kasey Carrier and more).
5. Colorado State Rams National Rank: Unranked
The Rams record only improved by one win in Jim McElwain's firt year in Fort Collins but they played a ton better than the 2011 season. 15 starters return along with the conference's best backfield and an improving defense. Sophomore Donnell Alexander and senior Chris Nwoke lead the ground attack and center Weston Richburg should also help. There is a quarterback competition as McElwain must decide between junior Garrett Grayson and Conner Smith both who have expansive skill sets. The defense is led by a fantastic coverage cornerback Shaq Bell and sophomore linebacker Cory James who had 7.5 sacks last season.
6. New Mexico Lobos National Rank: Unranked
The Lobos averaged one win the past three years before last year's 4-9 mark. Bob Davie's team even looked like they could challenge for a bowl as they started off 4-4 in 2012 before suffering five straight losses. The passing game should be an issue this year as the Lobos will be forced to rely on sophomore Cole Gautsche who had just 42 percent accuracy last season, and New Mexico also lost their top two receivers. The air attack won't be great but the ground game should be with the return of senior back Kasey Carrier who had 14 touchdowns last year and also averaged 128.2 yards per game.
1. Fresno State Bulldogs National Rank: 25
Fresno's first year in the Mountain West was a huge success as the Bulldogs went from a 4-9 record to a 9-4 one in 2012. Senior quarterback Derek Carr might sneak into the Heisman race after an amazing junior year in which he had 4,104 passing yards and 37 touchdowns and was named the MWC's Offensive Player of the Year. He has one of the nation's most explosive receivers in sophomore Davante Adams who can make plays down the field, to throw to. The Bulldogs can put up a lot of points (37.9 per game in 2012) but their defense isn't too bad either. Safety Derron Smith can change games and junior Sean Alston had five interceptions last season.
2. San Jose State Spartans National Rank: Unranked
It seems like it was a while ago that the Spartans were the embarrassment of the WAC. Last year San Jose State went 11-2, won a bowl, finished last year in the Top 25 and are picked by many to challenge for a Mountain West title. Coach Mike McIntyre is off to Colorado but enough talent remains for the Spartans to match last year's win total. Senior QB David Fales is a true talent and he has some fantastic receivers to throw to including senior Noel Grigsby and junior Jabari Carr. The defense also has talent with the return of linemen Travis Raciti and All-WAC cornerback Bene Benwikere.
3. San Diego State Aztecs National Rank: Unranked
After flirting with the Big East along with Boise State the Aztecs return to the Mountain West hoping to win their second straight conference crown. SDSU returns a solid core with the return of junior back Adam Muema and junior quarterback Adam Dingwell. Though it remains to be seen whether Dingwell can adjust to new offensive coordinator Bob Toledo's offense, which will be up-tempo and a pass first attack. Part of the Aztecs' success the past few years has been a great defense and that shouldn't change this year either thanks to the return of middle linebacker Jake Fely and strong safety Nat Berhe.
4. Nevada Wolfpack National Rank: Unranked
Long-time coach Chris Ault is now gone and will be replaced by Brian Polian who will still run Ault's infamous Pistol offense. Junior QB Cody Fajardo returns after rushing for 1,121 yards which should definitely help this ground game after the Wolfpack lose Stefphon Jefferson who led the Mountain West in 2012. Fajardo isn't just a runner; he also can make some great throws and has some great targets including Brandon Wimberly. If the Wolfpack want to reach another bowl they must fix a weak defense, one that allowed 211.8 yards on the ground a year ago. Junior end Brock Hekking had eight sacks last year and is a constant disruptive force.
5. Hawaii Warriors National Rank: Unranked
Last year's 3-9 mark made sense; the Warriors were joining a new, tougher conference, were breaking in a new QB, coach and offense and had little overall talent. Norm Chow enters his second season as head coach at Hawaii and has the talent to improve. Junior back Joey Iosefa returns to lead an evolving rush attack and senior wide out Billy Ray Stutzmann returns to help out whoever the quarterback will be. Junior Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham and Jeremy Higgins should battle for the job. The Warriors played 32 first time starters and six true freshman so more action will help the Warriors out.
6. UNLV Rebels National Rank: Unranked
The Rebels may have their best team in years so the fact I am still predicting them last in the West shows how bad they have been the past couple of years. This team should be much improved with the returns of sophomore Nick Sherry and senior Tim Cornett. Cornett is one of the Mountain West's best backs but it is unknown if he will be ready for the season opener against Minnesota due to shoulder issues. Along with Cornett in the backfield, UNLV has a dangerous threat in Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith. Cornett is a power back while Smith makes plays with his speed and agility. Senior linebacker Tani Maka had 70 tackles last season and all four defensive linemen return.