2014 Mountain West Conference Football Preview

Posted: August 16, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Lots of changes await in the 2014 MWC.  Predicted order of finish is included.

Mountain Division

1.  Boise State.  A stunner, I know.  The only reason I choose Boise over Utah State is because of the Broncos defense.  16 of the 20 top tacklers from 2013 return including the #1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 guys.  As for Boise’s offense, Grant Hedrick returns as the starter, but he was statistically, let’s say, uneven in 2013.  His passing average per game was 140 yards.  Rather measly in comparison to other starting MWC qbs last year.  But, his 69% completion rate is impressive.  The return of Jay Ajayi and Charles Bertoli ensures a capable running game.  Shane Williams-Rhodes is one of the top five offensive players in the MW.  This guy does everything well:  Run the ball, catch the ball, return punts, return kicks and saves kittens.  He and Matt Miller provide ample opportunity for downfield action.  A wild card for Boise is their new head coach, Bryan Harsin.  Sure, he had mild success at Arkansas State (7-5) and he’s a former Boise offensive coordinator, but his system is new as is his offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford.  Thus, lots of new awaits Boise.  If Boise stumbles to second place this year, on behalf of Utah State, don’t be surprised.

2.  Utah State.  Chuckie Keeton returns as the starter of choice this year.  Last year’s carousel of Keeton (196 passing attempts), Garretson (209 passing attempts) and Harrison (74 passing attempts) is vowed not to be repeated.  Given Keeton’s completion rate of 69.4% and 231 passing yards per game, he is the one.  The good news for Aggie fans is if Keeton is injured, Garretson awaits.  The running game is average and will likely decline in 2014.  Last year’s 178.1 ypg will decrease, but the passing yardage per game should increase.  What could make Keeton’s year too interesting is, less than Ronald Butler, the receiving corps may prove a challenge.  As for the USU defense, they don’t return near the number of top twenty tacklers from 2013 as does Boise, thus my choice of the Broncos for first place in the Mountain division.

3.  Colorado State.  The only reason I’m choosing the Rams over Air Force is Garrett Grayson.  Grayson is the best qb in the Mountain division.  He has five returning receivers who averaged between 11.6 ypc and 16.4 ypc.  Lots of targets.  Unfortunately, the Rams have no returning running game with 2013 experience.  2013’s 202.7 rushing ypg should diminish substantially in 2014.  Defending the Rams, less the surprise development of a running game, will be centered on Grayson and his receivers.  If opposing teams cover well and knock down Grayson, beating CSU will be rather one-dimensional.  The Rams return eight of their top ten tacklers, thus should have a dependable defense.

4.  Air Force.  The Cadets endured a horrible 2013 MW record of 0-8.  Injury to seemingly anybody who did or could play quarterback was the monster problem.  Nate Romine returns.  Sure, Air Force’s idea of a successful passing play is to sucker the opposing safeties towards the line of scrimmage, then heave the ball to the streaking receiver . . . and occasionally this practice works.  Last year, not so much.  Two running backs return from last year with impressive yards per carry:  Jon Lee (6.5) and Sam Gagliano (7.3).  Karson Roberts, less an injury to Romine, will most likely operate with Lee and Gagliano, and contribute his 5.2 ypc.  Regarding the old heave-ho passing scheme, Air Force returns six receivers with double-digit yards per catch averages, but consider the strategy.  Defensively, these guys are tough as nails.  But, so is most of the Mountain division.  If the Cadets average 2013’s 367.7 total offense per game, be happy.

5.  New Mexico.  Bob Davies does a lot with a little.  The Lobos learned hiring the wrong guy (the gentleman who succeeded Rocky Long) takes a great deal of time to heal, thus patience with Davies is required.  Will 2014 feature the quarterback carousel of 2013?  A little Mitchem, a dash of Gautsche.  Both posted anemic numbers.  Thankfully, Gautsche can run (6.6 ypc).  Crusoe Gongbay, Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson are a formidable trio of running backs.  Jeric Magnant, Marcus Bundy and Carlos Wiggins will hope to see more footballs thrown in their general direction than last year (Magnant and Bundy had a team high of 19 receptions each.  Ouch).  Enough of the defense returns to perhaps flip a close game to the Lobos benefit.  Their final two games @ CSU and Wyoming at home could make the season.

6.  Wyoming.  Winters are brutal in Wyoming.  Football will be as well.  Consider new head coach Craig Bohl, no quarterback in waiting, less Shaun Wick, no running game and all the returning wide receivers wondering who will launch a ball in their general direction makes for a difficult 2014.  However, eight of their top ten tacklers return and sixteen of twenty overall.  They will be busy.  Oxygen, please.  Last year Wyoming averaged 472.8 total offense per game.  If 2014 offers 372.8, be surprised and happy.

West Division

1.  San Diego State.  At this point in my missive, you know I’m all about returning starting quarterbacks, thus my choice of the Aztecs over the Bulldogs.  Quinn Kaehler, less injury, will have a monster 2014.  Offensive coordinator, Bob Toledo will let the offense fly.  This is similar to Warren Buffett wanting to make more money.  Guaranteed.  Donnel Pumphrey will better last year’s numbers on the ground.   The wide receivers feature Ezell Ruffin (16.7 ypc) and Eric Judge (16.8ypc).  Those numbers are pre-Toledo “let the ball fly” in 2014.  Anticipate significant increases.  The defensive side of the ball provides the challenge in 2014.  Only 4 of the top 10 tacklers return.  If the defense holds, the Aztec kicking game can make 2 or 3 field goal attempts on a regular basis (2013’s pathetic results equated with attempting to land on Mars) and the team is ready to play at kickoff rather than post-half time, life is good.

2.  Fresno State.  Much like Boise State, defense rules the pound in Fresno.  8 of the top 10 tacklers return including the first 6.  On behalf of their opponents, be ready for contact.  However, 391 passing yards per game via Mr. Carr have left the field.  Thus, second place in 2014.  Brian Burrell is hardly heir apparent (7-12 for all of 2013).  Returning to Mr. Carr, 5,031 passing yards will no longer be seen in beloved Fresno.  The Bulldogs passing yardage per game sinks.  The running game increases.  Josh Quezada, Marteze Waller, and Malique Micenheimer will see a dramatic increase in carries.  Josh Harper (12.8 ypc), Greg Watson (13.6 ypc) and Aaron Peck (10.6 ypc) will miss Mr. Carr immensely.

3.  Nevada.  The Wolfpack chose the wrong guy to replace Chris Ault.  Brian Pollan’s 2013 effort and result went from bad to worse.   The good news?  Cody Fajardo returns.  Cody had a mere 3 picks in 358 attempts in 2013.  Wow-wee.  However, Cody should never, ever, never run the football.  141 rushing attempts resulted in 154 lost yards.  Throw the ball, Cody.  If he does, the 250 yards passing per game should significantly increase while the running game remains anemic.  Much like CSU, prepare for the pass and the let the run provide momentary entertainment to no effect.  Thankfully for the Pack faithful, the defense returns 17 of the top 20 tacklers.   However, the Pack will be in defensive pursuit far longer than desired.

4.  San Jose State.  Much like the Bulldogs, the Spartans will suffer former-qb-gone withdrawals.  And much like the Bulldogs, the running game will be much emphasized as contrasted to 2013.  David Fales threw for 349.1 yards per game last year.  Blake Jurich will be a tad shy in 2014.  Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker will enjoy significant increases from respective carries of 164 and 66 last year.  Be prepared to run and run and run.  On the other side of the ball, SJSU will return 16 of their top 20 tacklers.  Granted, they will be busy.

5.  UNLV.  Last year’s 411.4 yards of total offense will drop dramatically.  Nick Sherry is the likely starting quarterback.  Nick had 75 passing attempts in 2013.  He was intercepted 5 times.  Do the math.  If  Mr. Sherry throws 400 attempts in 2014 (Caleb Herring threw 405 in 2013), the result is 26 interceptions.  Gonna be a windy, dusty, dry 2014 in Las Vegas.  The top three receivers from 2013 return, but the football maybe out of reach.  Shaq Murray-Lawerence may well improve upon his stellar 8.9 yard per rush.  On the other side, one of their top five tacklers returns while a mere 11 of the top 20 return.

6.  Hawaii.  Wyoming’s sister.  I’m sorry.  Norm Chow is an awful coach.  He is the definition of ego-gone-wild.  Norm is never wrong.  Just ask him.  Rushing yards will give occasional false hope.  Joey Iosefa is a house on feet.  This guy is beyond large.  I wince while watching the opposition “tackle” him.  He is a two tackler minimum.  Maybe three.  Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste provide ample company on behalf of Mr. Iosefa.  And now, the qb’s.  I pity the three of you.  Norm screaming at you.  Norm demeaning you.  Norm being Norm.  Taylor Graham (46% completion rate), Ikaika Woolsey (37.9% completion rate) and Jeremy Higgins (okay, one game, he went 5-11) are the guys who will not get the ball downfield to the three K’s (Kirkwood, King and Kemp).  Scott Harding and Vasquez Haynes will join the three K’s in year-long frustration.  The defense will spend far too much time on the field.  Hydration will be the major theme.

 

 

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