Boise State Broncos 10-3 (8-1)
The consistency of the Boise State Broncos football program over the past 21 years has been remarkable. Since 1999, Boise State has compiled 16 seasons in which they’ve won at least 10 games, along with putting together a pair of undefeated seasons. Boise has done this in three different conferences, while being led by five different head coaches. And since the Broncos joined the Mountain West in 2012, they’ve been one of the teams to beat in the conference as they’ve won a pair of conference crowns, while being in the conference title game in each of the last two seasons. And as Bryan Harsin is set to embark on his sixth season with the Broncos, he once again has a team that is capable of being the top team in the Mountain West.
2019 will be tougher for the Broncos as Harsin needs to replace so much talent on offense as their top ball carrier and wide receiver went to the National Football League, while quarterback Brett Rypien was the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Chase Cord who saw very limited action last year as a redshirt freshman will now be the guy under center for Boise State. Cord is in the same mode of former Boise quarterbacks such as Rypien and Kellen Moore as he is smaller than average, but he knows how to use his smarts which should lead to victories on the “smurf turf”. But one thing that Cord will have going for him is that he’ll experience in front of him as the Broncos offensive line will have three seniors in the starting lineup, along with junior left tackle Ezra Cleveland who was a first-team All-Mountain West performer last year.
Traditionally you don’t think Boise State for their defensive prowess, but in recent years they have produced some quality players on that side of the football, and they have some on this year’s squad.
Junior defensive end Curtis Weaver has a motor like no other as he is not only the best edge rusher in the Mountain West, but he also ranks up there with the quality pass rushers in the nation. And if Bronco opponents want to pay too much attention to Weaver, it will open up his teammates to make impact plays. Another Bronco defender to keep an eye on will be junior cornerback Kekaula Kaniho who has a nose for the football which will keep him in the conversation in regards to being the top defensive back in the conference.
Even dating back to the tenure of Chris Peterson as Boise State’s head football coach, the Broncos have never been one to shy away from playing the blue bloods of college football, and they’ll have another shot when they travel to Jacksonville on August 31 to face the Florida State Seminoles of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And regardless of retooling this year, Boise State will once again be in contention to win the Mountain West as their November 23rd showdown with the Utah State Aggies will go a long way in deciding who gets to the conference title game.
Utah State Aggies 9-3 (6-2)
When the 2018 college football season began there weren’t too many people that expected the Utah State Aggies to contend for the Mountain West Title, but when it was all said and done they were right in the mix. The Aggies would go 11-2 as after only losing by a touchdown to begin versus the Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten Conference, they would reel off 10 consecutive wins with their loss to the Boise State Broncos being the only thing that prevented them from participating in the Mountain West Championship Game.
Utah State’s success would see them lose their head coach as Matt Wells left his alma mater to become the head football coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. However all was not lost for the Aggies as the school would bring back a familiar face to run their football program.
From 2009-2012, Gary Anderson was Utah State’s head football coach which included him leading them winning the last conference championship of the Western Athletic Conference. Anderson would leave Utah State to chase the almighty dollar of both the Wisconsin Badgers and Oregon State Beavers, but after struggling in Corvallis, he now has a chance to right the wrongs in Logan.
Anderson inherits a solid squad upon his return to Utah State which includes a player that will be in the mix to be the Mountain West’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Last year quarterback Jordan Love came into his own as he showed that he was not afraid to sling the football around the field. At 6’4″, 225 lbs., Love is a big quarterback that also has the pocket presence that the pro scouts like. And after Love passed for more than 3,600 yards last season as a junior, expect him to have another big year here in 2019.
The Aggies also have plenty of speed at the running back position in the form of senior Gerold Bright. Bright is a shifty runner that is difficult for defenders to stop in space. Last year Bright was not utilized that much as a receiver coming out of the backfield, but this is an attribute that I anticipate Anderson building on for this year.
The Aggies were a middle of the pack defense in the nation last year, but here in 2019, they have the makings to be the top defense in the Mountain West. Senior defensive end Tipa Galae’i and junior outside linebacker David Woodward will each be in the running to be the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year. Galae’i has good lean coming off of the edge, while Woodward is a sure tackler. And you can expect first-year Utah State defensive coordinator Justin Ena to use schemes that will put Woodward and Galae’i on the in order to confuse opposing offenses.
Utah State has an opportunity to make a statement for the Mountain West to begin the season as they’ll travel to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And although that Wake Forest more than likely will not be in the mix to win the ACC, it’s still important for the Mountain West to get wins over a Power Five school. Utah State will also have to deal with one of the best teams that the Southeastern Conference has to offer when they travel to meet the LSU Tigers on October 5. And if that was not enough, Utah State also has one of the toughest schedules in the Mountain West which includes road games against the San Diego State Aztecs and Fresno State Bulldogs, along with their showdown with Boise State on November 23.
And even though that the Aggies might have a better team than Boise, their difficult schedule could be what prevents them from reaching the conference title game.
Air Force Falcons 5-7 (3-5)
Quarterback Donald Hammond III did see some time last year as a freshman, but now he’ll get his opportunity to be “the guy” in regards to leading Calhoun’s triple-option rushing attack. The triple-option at Air Force is predicated on the quarterback and his ability to pitch, keep, and ultimately turn the corner for big gains when he decides to keep the football. And Hammond will be a big part of the Falcons offense in 2019.
Two players to keep an eye on defensively for Air Force will be junior middle linebacker Kyle Johnson who was the team’s second leading tackler last season, as well as junior free safety Jeremy Fejedelem who aside from their ability as impact players, are also leaders for this unit.
Nobody can accuse Air Force of playing a cupcake non-conference schedule which includes a road meeting with the Colorado Buffaloes on September 14, as well as their annual affairs with the Navy Midshipmen and Army Black Knights which will determine who takes the Commander-in-Chief Trophy home. And in Mountain West play, the Falcons will have their hands full with meetings with conference heavyweights such as the Boise State Broncos and Fresno State Bulldogs.
Wyoming Cowboys 5-7 (3-5)
The past several years have seen the Wyoming Cowboys be a thorn in the side of the top contenders in the Mountain West Conference. And even though that the Cowboys began 2018 by losing their first four games in the Mountain West, they would rebound to win their final four. And although that Wyoming didn’t participate in a bowl game last year in spite of finishing the season with a 6-6 mark, their head football coach Craig Bohl is hopeful that the momentum that they finished 2018 with will carry over to the new campaign.
Wyoming’s bread and butter in recent years on offense has been their rushing attack, but things will be a little different this year with so many new players in the starting lineup. Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay will get the lion’s share of the carries this season which he’ll be receiving from a redshirt freshman quarterback in Sean Chambers who’ll be protected by an offensive line that’ll have one freshman, three sophomores, and no seniors starting as this year will be a work in progress.
Defensively for Wyoming they will have a Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year candidate leading the way in senior middle linebacker Logan Wilson. Wilson led the Cowboys in tackles last year with 103, and he’ll be asked to anchor a unit that will have to carry the load early on as the offense gets its legs under it.
Right out of the chute the Cowboys will have their hands full as they host the Missouri Tigers of the Southeastern Conference, while road contests against the San Diego State Aztecs, Boise State Broncos, and Utah State Aggies will make it difficult for Wyoming to finish 2019 with a winning record.
Colorado State Rams 4-8 (2-6)
The Colorado State Rams entered the 2018 college football season expecting to contend to Mountain West Conference Title, but their campaign was over before it started. An illness to Colorado State head football coach Mike Bobo coincided with a 1-4 start by the Rams who never recovered from that as they limped to a 3-9 finish. And as the 2018 college football season was one to forget for the Rams, will they be able to rebound in order to contend in the Mountain West in 2019?
Last year Colin Hill split time at quarterback with KJ Carta-Samuels, but with Carta-Samuels no longer with the program, the starting job is Hill’s to lose. Hill was up and down in 2018 which included throwing 7 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. And aside from needing to do a better job in regards to taking care of the football, it will also be imperative of him to get his completion above 65% in order to give the Colorado State offense better flow.
The Rams should be able to pass the football consistently, but their issue will be on the ground as they possessed the 124th best rushing attack in the nation last season. The Rams top returning ball carrier is junior Marcus McElroy who only gained 219 yards, while as a team Colorado State was only able to average 3.2 yards per carry which must improve in 2019 in order to give this offense more balance.
Colorado State has never been known for their strong defensive play, and they must find a way to improve on that side of that ball after they were 111th in the nation last year in total defense. And without any true standout players on that side of the ball, it will be enough difficult year for the Rams in regards stopping opponents.
As Colorado State looks to put last year’s rough start behind them, they’ll travel to Denver for their annual showdown with the Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference, while their conference schedule won’t be easy with road games against the Utah State Aggies and Fresno State Bulldogs, while they’ll finish up at home versus the Boise State Broncos.
New Mexico Lobos 1-11 (0-8)
Bob Davie has seven years under his belt as the head football coach of the New Mexico Lobos, but the record is far from stellar. Davie is 33-54 at New Mexico which includes going 3-9 in each of the last two campaigns. Davie was suspended 30 days by the school last year due to misconduct on his part towards players, and he should be fortunate to still be employed. But if Davie’s Lobos cannot show some improvement here in 2019, his tenure there won’t be that much longer.
One look at the Lobos offense and you can understand why this squad was 3-9. Last year the Lobos were 121st in the nation in total offense which included failing to produce at least 20 points in six contests. Defensively it was not that much better for New Mexico as they were 119th in total defense, and with a lack of play makers on either side of the ball, this could be another long year in Albuquerque.
The Lobos don’t play an overly daunting non-conference schedule which should give them an opportunity to rack up some wins in order to get some confidence for themselves heading into the Mountain West Conference schedule.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 10-4 (6-3)
The 2018 college football season was an up and down one for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, but when it was all said and done they were able to secure their first winning season since 2010. Nick Rolovich was a former quarterback at Hawaii, and now he is building a reputation for himself in the 50th state in regards to being a solid head football coach of the Rainbow Warriors. An October swoon last fall is what prevented Hawaii from reaching the Mountain West Conference Title Game, but will 2019 see them build of last season in order to win the conference?
One big reason to be excited about Hawaii’s chances this year in the Mountain West is the ability of junior quarterback Cole McDonald. McDonald can sling the football all around the field as he threw 35 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions last season. McDonald has the big arm that is needed for Rolovich’s system, but he needs to work on his accuracy as he completed just a shade under 60% of his passes last year.
Hawaii is not a big running team as they rely on a passing attack that was ninth in the nation last season. And as McDonald will be slinging the football around, you can expect senior wide receivers Cedric Byrd II, JoJo Ward. Both Byrd and Ward are burners that will put stress on opposing defenses, and if they can get a step on opposing defensive backs, you might as well cue Hawaii’s fight song.
Hawaii has never been known a school that has been known for defensive football as they were 100th in the nation in total defense last year. And even though that the Rainbow Warriors did struggle at times on defense last season, their unit does have some talent returning. Senior outside linebacker Solomon Matautia is a solid tackler, while senior defensive end Kaimana Padello is one of the best edge rushers in the Mountain West. And it will be imperative for Matautia and Padello to each be forces for a Hawaii defense that does not need to be great, but they’ll need to make enough stops in order to take some pressure off of their offense.
The bulk of the Rainbow Warriors non-conference schedule will see them face-off against the Pac-12 Conference with games against the Arizona Wildcats, Oregon State Beavers, and Washington Huskies. And when Mountain West play begins, Hawaii will have consecutive road games versus the Nevada Wolfpack and Boise State Broncos to begin things, but their season will come down to a November 2nd home game versus the Fresno State Bulldogs as this could decide the winner of the Western Division of the conference.
San Diego State Aztecs 9-3 (6-2)
The San Diego State Aztecs football program might fly under the radar, but they’ve become one of the most consistent teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision. Under the watch of head football coach Rocky Long, each of the last nine years have seen the Aztecs finish with a winning record, while also claiming three Mountain West Conference Titles. But 2018 was not as smooth as previous years for San Diego State as after getting off to a 6-1 start, they would lose five of their final six games to limp to a 7-6 finish. And even though that 2018 didn’t finish on a high note for the Aztecs, hope springs eternal for them as they look to get back to contending for the Mountain West Title.
Under Long, San Diego State’s bread and butter on offense has been their rushing attack which is something that they got away from last year. In 2018, the Aztecs were 74th in the nation in rushing, while they also failed to produce a 1,000-yard ball carrier for the first time since 2009. Juwan Washington is set to begin his second year as San Diego State’s primary ball carrier and the senior will look to use his speed in order to finish his collegiate career with a bang.
San Diego State’s defense was stingy at times last season, and they have the talent in place to be one of the better units in the Mountain West. Senior middle linebacker Kyahva Tezino will be in the mix to be the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year due to his ability to tackle as well as rush the passer. And in the Aztecs secondary, sophomore cornerback Darren Hall and junior safety Tariq Thompson each have noses for the football.
San Diego State will be tested on September 7th when they travel to face what should be an improved UCLA Bruins team out of the Pac-12 Conference, while November home dates with the Nevada Wolfpack and Fresno State Bulldogs will go a long way in determining whether or not that the Aztecs will reach the Mountain West Championship Game for the first time in three years.
Fresno State Bulldogs 8-4 (6-2)
When Jeff Tedford was named as the head football coach of the Fresno State Bulldogs in 2017, there were some skeptics who thought that he could no longer get it done. In 11 years as the head football coach of the California Golden Bears, Tedford was 82-57, but when he put together two losing seasons in his last three years there, the school decided to move in a different direction. However Tedford knows football, and more importantly he knows how to coach it as his first two years at Fresno State have seen him compile a record of 22-6 which includes a Mountain West Championship, and a bowl victory over a Pac-12 Conference school. But even though that Tedford built his reputation on the offensive side of the football, his time at Fresno State has been highlighted by what his defense has been able to do. Last year the Bulldogs were ranked 17th nationally in total defense as they only allowed 14 points per game. And although that Tedford has to replace some key players on defense, this unit will still be a force to be reckoned with.
The Bulldogs lost their top two tacklers from last season, but they still have senior middle linebacker Mykal Walker. Walker is a solid tackler who won’t make the people at Fresno State forget about Jeff Allison, but it won’t take him that long add to his own reputation there in regards to being a sure tackler. Senior strong safety Juju Hughes can get physical in the run game, but he also has good hands as his 4 interceptions in 2018 were tied for the team lead, and he’ll once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Bulldogs secondary.
The past few years saw Marcus McMaryion be a calming influence at quarterback for Fresno State, but now that he has graduated, Tedford is relying on senior Jorge Reyna as his signal caller. Reyna saw a limited amount of playing time last season, but Tedford has always been known to get the most out of his quarterbacks, and Reyna should be able to have success this year in this system.
The Bulldogs will have some inexperience on their offensive line as a pair redshirt in center Tyrone Sampson Jr. and guard Jace Fuamatu will be expected to help open holes for junior running back Ronnie Rivers who will be an important part of this offense due to his shiftiness and elusiveness.
As Fresno State is looking to repeat as Mountain West Champions, their road showdown with the San Diego State Spartans on November 15th will go a very long way in decided the winner of the Western Division, and a berth in the conference title game.
Nevada Wolfpack 6-6 (5-3)
Jay Norvell paid his dues in the coaching ranks as it took him 31 years as an assistant coach before he finally got his crack to lead his own program, and he is making the most of that opportunity. In two years as the head football coach of the Nevada Wolfpack, Norvell has turned things around in Reno as after going 3-9 in 2017, he led the program to an 8-5 campaign n 2018 which included winning a bowl game for the first time in three years. Last year the Wolfpack would finish second win the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference as a few bad breaks were the difference in them not playing in the conference title game. However Norvell will look to build off of those positives that were achieved in 2018 as Nevada looks to make a push for the Mountain West Title in 2019.
Christian Solano spent last year as a backup quarterback, but now he will get his chance under center as a senior. And while Solano gets his feet wet under center, Norvell will be relying on sophomore running back Toa Taua to carry the offense. Last year as a true freshman, Taua averaged 5.2 yards per carry as he possesses a rare blend of speed and power which will be a problem for opposing defenses around the Mountain West.
The Wolfpack will have to replace a ton of talent from last year’s defense, but one player to keep an eye on in 2019 will be senior middle linebacker Gabe Sewell. Sewell led Nevada in tackles last season and his impact on the field will make him one of the better linebackers in the Mountain West.
Right out of the chute Nevada will have their hands full as their first game of the season will be against the Purdue Boilermakers of the Big Ten Conference which will be followed by a contest with the Oregon Ducks of the Pac-12 Conference. But when Mountain West begins, the Wolfpack should be able to put together some wins as their season will be defined by what they do in consecutive games in November versus the San Diego State Aztecs and Fresno State Bulldogs.
UNLV Rebels 4-8 (2-6)
You will never confuse the UNLV Rebels football program as a powerhouse which is evident by just one conference title in the team’s 41 years of existence. The Rebels have only produced two winning seasons since 2000 which includes current UNLV head football coach Tony Sanchez who has posted a 16-32 in his four years. Arguably Sanchez’s lowest point at UNLV came last year when their 50-37 loss to the San Jose State Spartans turned out to be the Spartans only victory on the season. The powers to be at UNLV have remained faithful to Sanchez due to the fact that he has brought in money in order to upgrade the school’s football facilities, but will he get enough wins in 2019 in order to save his job.
The first order of business for UNLV if they’re going to improve in 2019 is that they need to have a better effort on defense. Last year UNLV was 115h in the nation in total defense which included surrendering 40 points or more in six contests. And as Tim Skipper is set to begin his second year as UNLV’s defensive coordinator, he’ll rely on the play making ability of senior outside linebacker Javon White to be the base for a potentially improved defense.
But UNLV’s was almost equally as inept as the defense which is evident by the fact that they were ranked 78th nationally last year in total offense. And if you cannot score, you are not going to win.
The Rebels will have their hands full with one of the toughest schedules in the Mountain West as they’ll have to deal with the majority of the conference heavyweights which will make it difficult for them to qualify for a bowl game.
San Jose State Spartans 1-11 (0-8)
To say that San Jose Spartans football program has fallen on hard times is an understatement. Over the last three years the Spartans have only won 7 games which includes going 1-11 last season. And as 2018 was a struggle for San Jose State, they were near the bottom of most statistical categories in the nation on both sides of the football. Brent Brennan is set to begin his third season as San Jose State’s head football coach, and after struggling mightily in his first two seasons at the school, is there any reason to believe that 2019 will be any different?
The only bright spots for Brennan to build off of will be junior wide receiver Tre Walker who averaged 18.3 yards per catch last season, as well as senior inside linebacker Ethan Aguayo and junior inside linebacker Tysyn Parker who each have tremendous tackling prowess. However outside of this trio the talent pool is very tin for San Jose State which will make it difficult for them to show that much improvement.
Just like it was in 2018, the 2019 college football season could get away from the Spartans rather quickly as all signs point to them once again being the whipping boys of the Mountain West Conference.
Mountain West Championship Game: Hawaii vs. Boise State