2018 Mountain West Conference Football Preview

Posted: July 9, 2018 in MWC
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First place in the West division will be a season long contest between Fresno State and San Diego State.  Third goes to Nevada followed by UNLV, San Jose State and Hawaii.

The Mountain, seemingly forever, goes to Boise State.  Air Force finishes second.  My order of New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah State and Colorado State was one change after another until the order presented.

And now, the particulars.

West Division

Fresno State.  The Bulldogs surprised me last year.  I did not believe Jeff Tedford could/would create a quality football team given the shambles he was handed as a first year head coach.  But, he did.  Why the Bulldogs over the Aztecs?  Because Marcus McMaryion returns as the starting qb along with the their top 5 rushers (Mr. McMaryion was #4) from 2017 and for good measure 4 of their top 5 receivers (only losing the #2 receiver from last year.  By the way, when I use the word “receiver”, I am simply identifying the players with the most catches regardless of actual position).

Defensively the Bulldogs enjoy the return of the their top 7 tacklers from last year and 13 or their top 20.  Fresno allowed 321 (I round up from 320.6) yards per game last year.  This group of defenders know their defensive system and should improve even more in 2018.  Additionally, last year’s opposition average score of 18 points might be shaved by a point or two.

San Diego State.  While a returning starting qb, Christian Chapman is not Marcus McMaryion.  Mr. Chapman averaged a mere 144 passing yards per game (Mr. McMaryion was a considerable 51 yards per game better).  Granted, the Aztecs believe in pound and ground first, throw second.  Yet, improved passing yards will be required to beat the Bulldogs.  Juwan Washington will lead the rushing attack and has plenty of experience.  The wide receivers improved in 2017, yet still underachieved.  Only the #3 and #5 receivers from 2017 return.

On the other side, 13 of the top 20 tacklers return including 7 of the top 10.  The Aztec defense allowed 6 yards less per game than did the Bulldogs in 2017.  A smaller number at year’s end would not surprise.  Improving upon last year’s 22% of converted fourth downs by the opposition would be silly good.

University of Nevada.  As mentioned above, Ty Gangi is what separates the Wolf Pack from the remaining three teams in the West.  61% completion rate coupled with 275 yards passing per game for a 3-9/3-5 team is impressive.  As insurance, the #2 qb also returns for 2018.  The top 4 rushers return (Mr. Gangi was #3.  Lessening his exposure should be priority one for the Wolf Pack coaching staff in 2018).  They lose their #1 receiver from last year, but return the next 6 in line.

2017’s defense gave up 471 ypg.  Ouch.  But, if your team allowed third down conversions 44% of the time and fourth down conversions 55% of the time, 471 yards allowed would be expected.  With 14 of the top 20 tacklers including 7 of the top 10 returning, that ugly number should reduce significantly in 2018.

UNLV.  If the Wolf Pack stumbles, the Rebels will take the third spot in the West.  4 of their top 5 rushers return as do the #2, #3 and #4 receivers.  Armani Rogers returns as starting qb (Okay, fine.  He started 9 of 12 games.  75% is close to 100%).  Mr. Rogers is the definition of raw talent.  If he improves last year’s posting of 52% completion rate and paltry 147 passing ypg, the Rebels will be in the thick of every MWC game.  If not, Mr. Rogers may revert to starting 75% of the Rebels games.

Defensively, UNLV was as bad as their in-state brethren.  The second and fourth quarter scores had a cumulative difference of 57 points on behalf of the opposition.  Entering the locker room at halftime and end of game upside down must change in 2018.  14 of the top 20 tacklers return meaning the defensive coaching staff will suffer fewer I-can’t-believe-this moments in 2018.

San Jose State.  The good news: a lot of 2017 offense returns in 2018 meaning introducing fewer new ideas and more repition.  The bad news: a lot of 2017 offense returns.  These guys averaged 16 points a game last year.  Montel Aaron returns as the starting qb.  Much like Mr. Rogers at UNLV, Mr. Aaron has a wealth of potential.  Throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (8) must stop.  His back up, Josh Love, features the same upside down result (7 picks to 5 scores).  While returning 4 of their top 5 rushers, the #2 rusher, Zamore Zigler, is listed as a cornerback for the 2018 season.  Additional concern lies with last year’s average of only 120 rushing yards per game.  The top 6 receivers return as well.  Hardly a barren scenario for 2018, but the offense needs to improve quickly.

The defense returns 13 of the top 20 tacklers.  These 13 were part of a group that gave up 499 ypg, allowed 85% of fourth down conversions and 325 points in the first two quarters of the season.  The Spartans average half time score for 2017 was 27-8.  Yes, the Spartans had the 8.  Entering the locker room down 19 points on a regular basis is bad for the defensive soul.

University of Hawaii.  I know.  You are thinking, how can Hawaii be worse than San Jose State?  Read the following, then you will know.

The only running back with any 2017 experience while wearing a University of Hawaii uniform is Freddie Holly III.  He ran for 30 yards on 9 carries.  He is the guy.  Hawaii’s returning qb who wore the same jersey as Mr. Holly is Cole McDonald.  In 2017, Mr. McDonald had 9 attempts and completed 5.  On behalf of Rainbow fans who are pointing at the entrance of senior transfer Larry Tuileta, he has yet to play in a division one football game.  Either he or Mr. McDonald is the guy.  As if this could not get worse, sadly I report that one (#2) of last year’s top 5 receivers returns.  The Rainbow offense averaged 23 points a game last year.  Expect a significant reduction in 2018.

To compound matters, Hawaii returns the fewest of their top 20 tacklers in the West:  12.  Cold comfort is their top 2 tacklers return.  The 2017 defense allowed 34 points a game, 210 rushing yards pg and 249 passing yards pg.  2018 may well be worse.

14 juco transfers are currently on the roster.  All sorely needed.  Surfing and eating fish tacos will be much more pleasant than watching 2018 Hawaii football.

Mountain Division

Boise State.  As obvious as ketchup on a hamburger and mustard on a hot dog, Boise finishes first in the Mountain.  Brett Rypien returns for his senior year.  Last year’s 348 attempts could easily approach 400 during 2018.  Boise returns their #3, #4 and #5 receivers.  Mr. Rypien will keep them busy.  The #1 (Alex Mattison who ran for 1,100+ yards) and #4 rushers return.  Plenty of balance and choice awaits this season.

Defensively the Broncos return an impressive 16 of their top 20 tacklers.  Learning curves, if any, will be extremely short.  An outstanding bunch.

Air Force.  When speaking of running the ball, I always go past the top 5 with the Falcons.  So many guys get to run the ball during the course of their season.  7 of their top 10 return.  Sure, two are qbs and two are wide receivers, but we speak of Air Force.  Running the ball is democratic.  Everybody gets a turn.  Arion Worthman returns as the #1 qb and offensive guide.  In case he wants to throw the ball down field, the top 3 receivers from last year return (they had a total of 39 catches between them).

They lose half of their top 10 tacklers from last year, but return 8 of the second 10.  The less time the Air Force defense spends on the field, the better.  Have a seat and watch the running game.

University of New Mexico.  The starting and #3 qb return.  Both threw more interceptions than touchdowns.  Tyrone Owens returns as the #1 rusher.  After Mr. Owens there is little proven ability in the form a running back rather than a qb who runs.  The good news is the #1, #3 and #4 receivers return and can they stretch the field averaging 13.6, 20.7 and 20.2 yards per catch respectively.

2017 featured one bad defensive first half after another.  If the UNM defense began the game in the third quarter, the win was theirs.  68% of points allowed by the Lobos defense were scored during the first half.  Astounding for the wrong reason.  13 of the top 20 tacklers return, though they lose 4 of their top 6.  If the defense plays four quarters rather than half a game, the Lobos may surprise.  If not, gonna be a long year.

Note:  Regarding Bob Davie, I do not comment on innocence or guilt when publishing my MWC preview.  I’m strictly here for the football.  Mr. Davie went 9-4 in 2016 and recovered from an awful 2015 start to finish 7-6.  I’m betting well timed luck strikes again.

University of Wyoming.  See what happens when Josh Allen leaves.  Stumble, plummet, go boom.  Or maybe not.  The #2 qb returns.  Nick Smith will get all the snaps he can handle this year.  He will throw to the top 1 – 7 returning receivers.  Lots of experienced hands await.  3 of the top 4 rushers return including the top two, Trey Woods and Kellen Overstreet, but both must greatly improve upon their respective poor average ypg of 3.5 and 4.4.

Wyoming’s defense allowed a respectable 335 ypg in 2017.  16 of the top 20 return.  But, given the lack of a running game, the 2018 Cowboys defense may spend far too much time on the field.  Defending what may be a one dimensional Cowboy offense bodes ill for the other Cowboys.

Utah State.  A notable mix of offense returns.  Jordan Love should receive the majority of, if not all the snaps.  If Mr. Love remains healthy, the Aggies may do better than advertised, but if Mr. Love is injured, no proven back up is present.  The #3 and #4 rushers return.  The #1, #2 and #4 receivers from 2017 return as well.

The defense welcomes back 18 of the top 20 tacklers.  Yet, the Aggies defense gave away 399 ypg last year.  If they can hold well against lesser or equal opponents, perhaps they give Air Force a run for second place.  If not, ending with an ill-timed losing streak (last year’s result) will disappoint, again.

Colorado State.  Nick Stevens moves on.  5 newbies are competing for his job.  Of those 5, not a one took a game snap while wearing a CSU jersey in 2017.  They lose 4 of their top 5 receivers, but return the #2, #3 and #4 running backs.  A less than perfect mix of offense.

Their top 4 tacklers return and 13 of the top 20 overall.  Much like Utah State, repeating last year’s offense allowed of 432 ypg is a non-starter in 2018.  Success will be out of reach.  Winning winnable games will be key to the Rams success or failure in 2018.  Given the state of the offense, this task belongs to the defense.





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