The Mountain West Conference has a rich history of big offense and big upsets. They bucked the trend in 2021 with 4 teams finishing among the elite for points allowed per game (all within top 21 spots). These were led by Boise State, Air Force, San Diego State and Fresno State, who played stellar defense last season. The current collection of institutions aren’t scared of the spotlight and put players in the NFL regularly. This is an exciting league and worth staying up late to catch these teams in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast.
Top to bottom, the campus landscapes are the best in the nation. The views range from the beautiful San Diego coast, to New Mexico, north thru the gorgeous views of Logan, Utah, Reno, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Laramie, west to Boise, and south through California stopping in San Jose and Fresno. In addition to these, we can’t forget about Las Vegas or the tropical Hawaiian Islands. I would recommend a Mountain West football roadtrip to anyone.
While the topic of conversation around the country is conference realignment, i have a feeling this league could be picked clean in the future. I would hate to see this league be impacted, but they do sit within the PAC 12 and BIG 12 footprints. If those two Power 5 conferences (as they stand today) look to strengthen their influence, there are viable options in the Mountain West. This league will be the best Group of 5 conference as a whole once UCF, Cincinnati and Houston leave the AAC and arguably already is. The league has experienced the shuffling of teams a few times in the past 15 years. In 2010, Utah and BYU departed the league and TCU followed them in 2012. On the bright side, Boise State joined the conference in 2011, followed by Hawaii, Fresno State, Nevada in 2012, then Utah State and San Jose State in 2013. When this occurred, it increased the conference to 12 teams and subsequently, they split into 2 divisions; the Mountain and West.
Now that the NCAA has permitted conferences to remove divisions and maintain a conference title game, it’s becoming a trend. The Mountain West has joined this trend, but they will not remove the divisional setup until the 2023 football season. The PAC 12 and Conference USA have removed divisions effective immediately. This will allow the top 2 teams based on conference winning percentage to meet for the title.
Boise State has an All Time winning percentage of .728 while in FBS, this is the 5th best in the country. The only schools with a better winning percentage are Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan. The Broncos have played even better since 2010, amassing a winning percentage of .783. In addition to the exceptional winning percentage, the Broncos have only lost 22 games since 2015. This is the 8th fewest amount of losses in the nation in the time frame. They aren’t the only Mountain West institution on the list, they are joined by San Diego State. The Aztecs have the 10th fewest losses in the country with 24 in the last 7 seasons. The Broncos have made their presence known and have played in the championship game 4 of the last 5 years, winning twice. The year they missed out on playing for a title was in 2021. That presents the question, was last year a changing of the guard or an aberration?
The schools in this conference have produced exciting quarterback play over the years. A few examples are Josh Allen (Wyoming), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Jordan Love (Utah State), Carson Strong (Nevada) and the Carr brothers from Fresno State; David and Derek. Is this the year that Jake Haener (Fresno State) and Logan Bonnor (Utah State) join them?
- Air Force Falcons
- Boise State Broncos
- Colorado State Rams
- Fresno State Bulldogs
- Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
- Nevada Wolfpack
- New Mexico Lobos
- San Diego State (SDSU) Aztecs
- San Jose State Spartans
- UNLV Rebels
- Utah State Aggies
- Wyoming Cowboys
2022 PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
- Fresno State QB Jake Haener: He threw for 4,096 yards in 2021, which is the 6th most passing yards in a single season in the Mountain West. He threw 33 Touchdowns last year and returns most of his supporting cast.
- Honorable Mention: Air Force RB Brad Roberts: He ran for 1,356 yards and 13 TD’s in 2021. Based on his 2021 campaign, he is the 7th highest returning rusher in the Nation coming into this season. He is the focal point of the Falcons ground assault.
- Honorable Mention: Utah State QB Logan Bonner: Logon threw for 3,628 yards and 36 TD’s in 2021. He has a chance to really explode this season and the 3 crossover schools the Aggies get this year are UNLV, San Jose State and Hawaii.
4 TEAMS WE’RE WATCHING IN 2022:
- Jeff Tedford returns as the Head Coach after a 2 year hiatus
- QB Jake Haener went into the transfer portal after the 2021 season, but returned to the Bulldogs just as fast. This season is about his legacy
- The Bulldogs had the best offense in the Mountain West with 463.8 Yards Per Game.
- They threw for 326 yards per game, which was the 2nd best in the league.
- The Dogs scored 33 Points Per Game, which was also 2nd in the MWC.
- The Top 2 Wide Receivers return and 4 of the top 6 pass catchers. Keep an eye on WR’s Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly, they both could hit 1,000 plus receiving yards in 2022.
- The defense also played at a high level last season, they allowed 20.3 points pervgame, which was 4th lowest in the conference and 21st in the Nation.
- Can this team stay focused every week in 2022……they beat UCLA, Wyoming, SDSU and almost got Oregon in Eugene.
- On the other hand, they lost at Hawaii and the offense disappeared against Boise State.
- The expectations are very high for the Bulldogs, can they live up to them and challenge for a New Years Six bid and Mountain West Championship?
- The Aggies are the defending Conference Champions and have star QB Logan Bonner returning to Logan, Utah
- They had the 2nd best offense in the conference based on Yards per Game last season with an average of 446 yards per game
- They scored 32.6 points per game, 3rd behind Nevada and Fresno State.
- Top targets Devin Thompkins (102 receptions, 1,704 yds, 10 TD’s) and Derek Wright (48 receptions, 789 yds, 11 TD’s) have moved onto the NFL.
- I expect WR’s Brandon Bowling (56 receptions, 835 yds, 10 TD’s), Justin McGriff, Kyle Van Leeuwen, Jordan Nathan and TE Carson Terrill to put up large numbers in 2022
- Utah State also has RB Calvin Tyler Jr returning and he’s looking to build off his 884 rushing yards and 7 TD’s last season
- The defense is led by Linebacker Justin Rice. He totaled 124 tackles , which was 3rd best in the league last season. He also finished tied for 3rd in Interceptions with 3.
- The team as a whole gave up 391 yards a game and 25 point per game. If they can improve on this side of the football and force more turnovers, they have a great chance to defend their title.
- Outside of their trip to Tuscaloosa and Provo, they should be favored in every game….Can they win back to back Mountain West crowns?
SAN DIEGO STATE (SDSU):
- The Aztecs had a great defense and an out of the world punter in 2021
- They won the West Division and beat PAC 12 Champion / Rose Bowl participant Utah last season
- Can their offense improve and provide this team balance in all facets of the game
- Who is the NEXT Great Aztec Running Back …. Marshall Faulk is obviously the standard, but the tradition is impressive. Looking through the MWC archives, San Diego State RB’s own 8 of the 25 highest single season rushing totals since 1999. In addition to 8 of the 25 best, they own the top 2 campaigns and 3 of the top 4. Rashaad Penny currently owns the best rushing season in Mountain West history with 2,248 yards in 2017. Donnell Pumphrey possesses 2nd and 4th with 2,133 yards in 2016 and 1,867 in 2014
- RB Greg Bell has moved onto the NFL and took his 1,091 yards with him. I expect the Aztecs to deploy a 3 headed monster of backfield veterans Chance Bell, Kaegun Williams and Jordan Byrd. They combined for 855 yards and 9 TD’s in 2021.
- Can they replace Cameron Thomas and his MWC leading 11.5 sacks from 2021. DT Jonah Tavai and his 8.5 sacks return this Fall and i believe the Aztecs will get additional production from Keshawn Banks, Caden McDonald, Garret Fountain and others.
- Patrick McMorris is looking to have another superb season anchoring the defense. He had 4 Interceptions and led the team in tackles with 90.
- The Aztecs allowed 19.5 points per game, which was 3rd best in the conference and 17th best in the Nation.
- They allowed 319.5 yards per game, which was 2nd best in the MWC and 14th in the country. They also totaled 38 sacks, which was 3rd in the league.
- There is a wide open QB battle, including Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister
- 4 QB’s threw a pass in 2021…..is the team set on Lucas Johnson? He threw for 1,424 and 12 Touchdowns, but only 1 regular season game over 200 yards
- They do return 4 wide receivers, highlighted by Jesse Matthews.
- San Diego State opens a brand new stadium in 2022. It is built on the same site as the previous stadium and called Snapdragon Stadium
- Can this program build off 2022 and return to the MWC Championship Game?
- All World TE Trey McBride has been drafted….. where will the offense come from
- When will this program return to the winning ways of the Sonny Lubick era. Coach Lubick is the standard for Rams football. Between 1993 and 2007, he guided them to a 108-74 record (.593 Winning %)…9 Bowl games (3-6 record) and had them ranked in the AP Top 25 for at least 1 week every year between 1997 and 2003. He even got them to 10th in the Nation in 1994.
- The Rams are hoping new HC and former Nevada HC Jay Norvell is the answer. He built a prolific offense in Reno and developed NFL Draft Picks QB Carson Strong (led league in passing), TE Cole Tucker and WR Romeo Doubs. This is what the Rams hope they see in the not so distant future
- The Rams did have the 5th best offense in yards per game at 415.8, but only scored 23.7 points per game (9th in the league)
- There is a wide open QB battle in Fall camp since 2021 starter Todd Centeio and backup Evan Olaes transferred
- The Rams do have leading rusher David Bailey returning. He ran for 752 ya4ds last season, but hopes to return to his 2018 form when he ran for 844 yards at Boston College
- Norvell’s offense is heavily focused on the passing game, so expect WR’s Dante Wright, Ty McCullouch, Eli Scott and others to factor significantly into the offensive output
- Also expect to see a lot of new players on campus in Ft. Collins this Fall. Their 2022 signing class included ESPN300 4 Star WR Mekhi Fox and two 3 Star Quarterbacks Brayden Fowler Nicolosi and Jackson Stratton. The class also summoned over 15 transfers, a larger number coming from other schools within the conference
- The defense had some issues, but they did record 39 sacks, which was 2nd in the conference. Can they replace Scott Patchan and his 10.5 sacks from last season?
- They gave up 377 yards per game (166 yards on the ground and 211 in the air) and 28.3 PPG
- This will be a reset season for the Rams, but I have a feeling this program will be back contending for a conference title in 3 years or so.
- Can Jay Norvell build this program into a force considering the resources he has been provided?
GAMES TO KEEP ON YOUR RADAR:
- Air Force at Wyoming (Week 3…Other Week 3 games of note, Nevada at Iowa, SDSU at Utah and Fresno State at USC)
- Nevada at Air Force (Week 4 FS1)
- SDSU at Boise State ( Week 5 FS1)
- San Jose State at Wyoming (Week 5 CBSSN)
- Fresno State at Boise State (Week 6)
- Colorado State at Nevada (Week 6 FS1)
- Utah State at Air Force (Week 6)
- San Jose State at Fresno State (Week 7)
- Boise State at Air Force (Week 8 7pm CBSSN)
- SDSU at Nevada (Week 8 10:30pm CBSSN)
- Utah State at Wyoming (Week 8)
- Wyoming at Hawaii (Week 9)
- SDSU at Fresno State (Week 9)
- BYU at Boise State (Week 10 not MWC Game, but huge in Group of 5 push for potential NY6 bid)
- New Mexico at Air Force (Week 11 – 3:30pm EST Kicks off MWC Triple-header on CBSSN)
- Boise State at Nevada (Week 11 – 10:30pm EST CBSSN)
- Boise State at Wyoming (Week 12 7pm EST CBSSN)
- Colorado State at Air Force (Week 12)
- Wyoming at Fresno State (Week 13 11/25 10pm EST FS1)
- Air Force at SDSU (Week 13 11/26 9pm EST CBSSN)
- Utah State at Boise State (Week 13)
BEST STADIUM IN THE CONFERENCE:
- Falcon Stadium on the campus of the Air Force Academy is parallel to the mountains, but the best stadium in the league is Canvas Stadium in Ft. Collins on the campus of Colorado State.
PRESEASON PICK TO WIN THE MOUNTAIN WEST:
- Fresno State will represent the West and Boise State will survive the 3 team battle royale in the Mountain division.
- I see the Fresno State Bulldogs capturing the conference title in an epic MWC Championship game.
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