The 2016 Mountain West football preview, featuring the key games, players, pro prospects and coaches on the hot seat.
Of course every conference loves its members equally. The hope is for the most competitive season possible, filling out all the bowl slots – and more – and for the races to be a lot of fun.
And then there’s the Mountain West this season, who can be forgiven if it roots openly for the conference’s two superstar programs. The chance is there for one of them to become something truly amazing.
This might not be the best Boise State team in the program’s incredible run of success, but it’s going to be unstoppable offensively and the defensive back seven is going to be fantastic. With a schedule just favorable enough to get through the slate unscathed – or at least hope so – and with a few decent Power Five games against Washington State and Oregon State, 13-0 isn’t a crazy thought. But there’s one big problem.
Defending Mountain West champion San Diego State is going to be even better.
The defense that finished fifth in the nation and dominated everything in its path over the final 10 games of the year is going to be a brick wall, while running back Donnel Pumphrey returns behind a good enough line to keep the ground attack going. Amazing defense, grinding offense, and a schedule that should make the Aztecs the favorite in every game except for maybe California, and the game is in San Diego. If Boise State doesn’t go unbeaten, SDSU might.
If the Mountain West champion finishes 13-0, will it get into the College Football Playoff?
For a program like Boise State that’s proven itself on the big stage, and considering how good San Diego State really might be, it would make for an interesting debate.
And if the 12-0 Broncos are playing the 12-0 Aztecs for the Mountain West title, all the better.
Okay, so that’s probably not going to happen, but even if the two projected top teams are really that good, it’ll be a highly entertaining season and will give the rest of the league something big to shoot for.
Air Force ended up playing San Diego State for the Mountain West championship last season – not Boise State – and it returns with a team good enough to do it all again. There aren’t any Power Five programs on the schedule – not a plus in the playoff debate – but with Colorado State and Boise State traveling to Colorado Springs, the Falcons could be the ones who end up making an amazing run of their own.
Colorado State is in the second year under head coach Mike Bobo, and it has an interesting offense that’ll need to make up for a defense that’s all but starting from scratch.
New Mexico will be New Mexico running the ball, and with 10 starters back on defense, Bob Davie will get back to a bowl game.
Wyoming gets just about everyone back except for its starting quarterback and both ends, and it has a killer of a back in Brian Hill who’ll once again be a statistical superstar. Head coach Craig Bohl should finally have the Cowboys on track.
Utah State isn’t exactly a sleeper in the Mountain division, but no one will be predicting a big season with just three starters back on defense and with road trips to both Boise State and Colorado State. Even so, the offense should be entertaining and just effective enough to give the defense time to reload.
San Diego State is easily the star of the West, but Nevada could be interesting offensively with 10 starters returning to an offense that should be as good at running the ball as any in the conference. The defense, though, is another story with the entire front seven gone.
Tony Sanchez has UNLV on the rise with what should be the Mountain West’s breakthrough team, Fresno State fought through a youth movement, San Jose State might have its best team yet under head coach Ron Caragher, and Hawaii should jump-start the offense again with new head man Nick Rolovich coming in to crank up the passing game.
But in the end, if Boise State and San Diego State do what they have the talent and upside to do – and, okay, maybe throw Air Force into the equation – the Mountain West season will be special.
Mountain West Football Team That Will Surprise
UNLV – Tony Sanchez is one of the league’s rising young head coaches, and while it might take another year or two to get to the level he wants UNLV to be at, he’s got everything on the right track. This year’s team needs defensive help, but the offense has the weapons to hang around with just about everyone on the conference slate. There’s a shot at rising up and going bowling this year.
Mountain West Football Team That Will Disappoint
San Jose State – Ron Caragher’s team is full of experience and should be good enough to come up with an upset or two, but the schedule is just too much of a beat to hope for much of an improvement on last year’s 6-7 season, The Spartans have to take care of home and they’ll have to hope to pull off road wins at places like Fresno State, Tulsa and New Mexico, but getting back to a bowl game will be tough.
Mountain West Game Of The Year
Boise State at Air Force, Nov. 26 – San Diego State and Boise State don’t face each other in the regular season, but that might be the Mountain West championship if everything goes according to plan. However, Air Force could screw that all up. The Falcons should be even better than they were last season when they took the Mountain division title – not Boise State – and they get the Broncos in their own house to close out the regular season. This might be the equivalent of a Mountain West playoff game.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
Five players who have been a bit under the radar on a national level, but should rise up and be among the season’s best players – again.
1. RB Brian Hill, Wyoming
2. LB Calvin Munson, San Diego State
3. LB Christian Tago, San Jose State
4. WR Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
5. QB Lamar Jordan, New Mexico
5 Coaches on the Hot Seat
Five Mountain West football coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure might be on to produce up to expectations, and beyond.
1. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
2. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
3. Brian Polian, Nevada
4. Matt Wells, Utah State
5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
5 Non-Conference Games Mountain West Opponents Better Take Very, Very Seriously
The Mountain West has proven itself in non-conference games over the years. Here are five the Power Fivers have to show up for.
1. Washington State at Boise State, Sept. 10
2. Nevada at Notre Dame, Sept. 10
3. Utah State at USC, Sept. 10
4. California at San Diego State, Sept. 10
5. Colorado State at Minnesota, Sept. 24
5 Best Mountain West Pro Prospects
1. RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
2. DE Alex Barrett, San Diego State
3. OG Nico Siragusa, San Diego State
4. TE Billy Freeman, San Jose State
5. PK Tyler Rausa, Boise State
5 Biggest Mountain West Shoes To Fill
1. Utah State LB Brock Carmen for Nick Vigil
2. San Jose State RB Tyler Tucker for Tyler Ervin
3. Nevada DE Malik Reed for Ian Seau
4. Colorado State WR Jordon Vaden for Rashard Higgins
5. Fresno State LB James Bailey for Ejiro Ederaine