Mountain West Conference 2019 Football Preview

Posted: July 18, 2019 in Uncategorized
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Boise remains the class of the Mountain division.  Who knew?  Utah State could easily slip into fourth place with the right amount of wrong.  Air Force has experience that Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico do not.  New Mexico.  Don’t get me started.

Mountain

Boise State:  With Brett Rypien gone, the quarterback position goes to Chase Cord.  Jaylon Henderson is the likely back up.  Andrew Van Buren (4.8 yards per rush) and Robert Mahone (4.0 ypr) will do the majority of the running.  Given Mr. Cord’s total of 9 passing attempts last year, the run game will be the primary feature leading into MWC play.  Speaking of passing, Boise loses their top two receivers from last year, but return #3 through #6.  C.T. Thomas (41 catches, 13.0 yards per catch) and John Hightower (31 and 16.3 ypc) lead a deep group of wide receivers and tight ends.  However, equaling last year’s impressive 35 points per game will be a tall order.

The Bronco defense returns last year’s #1 tackler, Kekoa Nawahine (71 tackles) and #3 tackler Riley Whimpey (55 tackles).  Overall, 15 of their top 20 return.  Boise gave up a mere 123 rushing yards per game last year and only 356 yards per game.  Not much changes this year.

Utah State:  Jordan Love takes the best-quarterback-in-the-MWC title by a wide margin.  However, equaling (or approaching) 2018’s grand total of 3,567 yards passing (294 passing yards per game) isn’t happening given the loss of 5 of his top 6 receivers (running backs included).  No matter the talent of Mr. Love, scores of newbies at the starting wide receiver and tight end slots, catching and running forward may take awhile to develop.  As the receiving corps took a graduation hit, so to did the running game.  3 of the top 4 are gone leaving Gerold Bright carrying the load until a #2 back is established.  Given the lack of proven talent around Mr. Bright, look for last year’s 203 rushing yards per game to dip.  Perhaps dramatically.  Intriguing, in a train wreck sense, is the fact that the Aggies have only two back up quarterbacks.  If Mr. Love goes down with an injury, Henry Colombi, last year’s #2 qb, stands between success and disaster.  The Aggies are truly a team dependent upon their starting quarterback.

The Aggie defense takes a sizable hit with the departure of 6 of their top 10 tacklers.  Granted, the return of their #1 tackler, David Woodward (134 tackles), offers a fine example of how to hit, wrap up and return an opposing player to a horizontal position.  As good as last year’s defense was, the opposition averaged 5 yards per play.  That number increases in 2019.

A note on the return of head coach Gary Andersen.  Rarely does lightning strike twice in the same spot.  Mr. Andersen had success his first run with Utah State.  But, he was absolutely awful with Oregon State (7 wins, 23 losses).  Coaching a team built around one player leads to anticipated success or surprising disappointment.

Air Force:  The Falcons averaged 30 points per game last year.  2019 returns Isaiah Sanders and D.J. Hammond III at the quarterback position.  This year, they score more points.   The Falcons also return 3 of their top 4 rushers.  Kadin Remsberg has the opportunity to improve last year’s eye-popping 5.8 ypr.  Air Force does lose their # 3 and #5 receiver from 2018, but catching footballs far down field is an unusual sight at Colorado Springs.  So, who cares.  Run, run, run.  When in doubt, run.

Defensively, they take a bit of a hit (pun intended) losing half of their top 10 tacklers, but retain Jeremy Fejedelem (#1 with 104 tackles), Kyle Johnson (#2, 70 tackles) and Jordan Jackson (#5, 54 tackles).  The challenge for the 2019 Air Force defense will be maintaining 2018’s defense average of 3.5 yards per rush and 14.6 yards per catch by the opposition.

Wyoming:  Choosing between the Cowboys and Colorado State is a coin toss.  I choose Wyoming because of their coaching staff.  Let the shouting begin.

Tyler Vander Waal had a dreadful 2018.  He completed 49% of his passes.  In 10 games, he threw for only 5 touchdowns and 1,310 yards.  He was as effective as a t-shirt during a snow storm.  When Mr. Vander Waal was seated on the bench, Sean Chambers threw 15/25 and 266 yards.  August practice will determine the starter between these two.  Xazavian Valladay is searching for a running partner in the back field or at least a fullback in a bad mood.  Austin Conway (32 catches) and Raghib Ismail Jr (24 catches) are the only returning receivers who had double digit receptions in 2018.

The 2018 Cowboy defense kept opponents to a more than respectable 326 yards per game.  7 of the top 10 tacklers return including Mr. #1 Wilson Logan (103 bring downs).  Wyoming’s defense will keep them in the game more often than not.  Will the offense score often enough to say “Thank you”?

Colorado State:  After sharing the starting quarterback role in 2018 Colin Hill may well do so again.  The Nebraska transfer, Patrick O’Brien, will serve as either plan A or plan B depending upon Mr. Hill’s August practice performance.  Since both players are redshirt juniors, they will also enjoy each other’s company in 2020.  Joy.  2018’s rushing game was anemic.  The Rams lose their top rusher from 2018.  Anemic becomes stagnant.  Marvin Kinsey Jr and Marcus McElroy are the primary running backs..  Adam Prenticeis is an actual fullback who not only blocks well, but can also run.  The running backs need a lot of work to improve.  If not, 106 rushing yards per game could sink to double digits.  Mr. Hill and Mr. O’Brien will throw primarily to Warren Jackson (32 catches) and Cameron Butler (29 catches) until the depth chart generates at least one more wide receiver who plays on Saturdays.

The Rams move their #5 tackler from 2018, Scott Brooks, to the offensive side of the ball in 2019.  This removes a total of 5 of their top 10 tacklers from last season.  Jamal Hicks (48 bring downs) is the top returner followed by Ellison Hubbard (22 tackles).  Neither total says much on behalf of the 2019 CSU defense.  They gave up a painful 452 yards per game last year.  This year may be worse.

New Mexico:  Why Bob Davie remains employed at UNM is beyond me.  The Lobos are painful to watch.  They have the emotional maturity of a 15 year old having a bad day on a high school freshmen football team.  Yeah.  They are that out of control and ego centered.

Either Sheriron Jones or Tevaka Tuioti start at quarterback.  Mr. Jones had 13 tds and an appalling 12 picks.  Mr. Tuioti offered 5 tds and 2 intercetptions.  When passes were completed, Elijah Lilly (21 catches, 17.9 ypc) and Anselem Umeh (16 catches, 19.8 ypc) proved they could motor downfield in a hurry.  The running game, which averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per rush in 2018, features Daevon Vigilant and Ahmari Davis in the backfield.  Much more is needed for an improved 2019.

Incredibly, as in I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening incredibly, the Lobos lose 9 (!) of their top 10 tacklers and 13 of their top 20.  A bad, disorderly UNM defensive squad gave up 473 yards per game last year and allowed opponents an average of better than 6 yards per play.  This year gets worse.

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West

The West division will be a three school race between Fresno State, Hawaii (that’s right, Hawaii) and San Diego State.  Nevada and UNLV battle for the fourth spot.  San Jose State, God bless them, takes another small step forward.

San Diego State:  Ryan Agnew is the full-time starter at qb.  Last year sharing the position with Christian Chapman did nothing on behalf of Mr. Agnew’s confidence.  I remain not completely sold on Mr. Agnew’s ability.  Time will quickly tell.  Once Juwan Washington was injured, the running game became entirely ineffective.  The proverbial fart in the wind.  A healthy Mr. Washington coupled with the Nebraska transfer Greg Bell does wonders for the running game.  The returning wide receivers feature a bevy of players who played a bit last year.  Three or four must emerge to assist Mr. Agnew in establishing an improved passing game.

Brady Hoke returns as the defensive line coach.  While I tsk-tsk the return of former head coaches as head coach, not so with former head coaches becoming assistants.  SDSU allowed a miserly 3 yards per rush last year.  Hard to improve upon.  Kyahva Tezino (#1, 127 tackles), Tariq Thompson (#3, 60 tackles) and Trenton Thompson (#4, 57 tackles) lead a group of only 12 of the top 20 tacklers returning for the 2019 season.

Hawaii:  In front of Fresno State?  True.

Cole McDonald returns from a total of 36 touchdowns in 2018 (with only 10 interceptions).  Will he improve upon his 3,875 total yards in 2019?  If so, 4,000 yards is seemingly possible.  Mr. McDonald keeps his receivers happy of which the #2 and #3 wide outs return.  What is striking about Hawaii’s offense is the return of their top 3 rushers.  Fred Holly III, Miles Reed and Dayton Fruta averaged 4.3, 4.3 and 4.9 ypr respectively last season.  They provide Hawaii with a balanced offense and lots of options.

On the defensive side, the top 3 tacklers return with 7 of the top 10.  8 of the next 10 return as well.  For the first time in a volcano’s age, the Rainbow Warriors may limit opposing teams to less than 400 yards per game.  What must improve is the run defense that gave away 4.9 yards per rush to non-Rainbow Warriors in 2018.

Fresno State:  The exit of Marcus McMaryion completely changes the face of the Bulldogs offense.  Averaging 35 points per game becomes a hey-remember-when moment.  So does averaging more than 420 yards of offense per game.  Jorge Reyna (8/12/111) takes the reins.  The four qb back-ups are freshmen or redshirt freshmen.  If Mr. Reyna suffers injury, the plug is pulled on the 2019 season.  Good news is found in the return of Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims as the featured running backs.  Saevion Johnson (6.2 ypr) will be ready for more carries in 2019.  Jared Rice (55 catches) and Derrion Grim (20 catches) offer Mr. Reyna downfield opportunities.  Given the departure of last year’s #1 and #3 receivers, look for Mr. Rivers and Mr. Mims to catch throws coming out of the backfield on a regular basis.

Fresno loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers and return 11 of the top 20.  Last year’s measly 14 points allowed per game will increase notably in 2019.  Opponents averaging only 322 yards per game will also head north.

Nevada:  In front of UNLV by a hair because they return more offense from 2018 than the Rebels.  Ty Gangi is gone, so  Christian Solano (23/45/200 with 4 picks) finally starts as a senior.  Football people make a lot of noise about Nevada landing Malik Henry of Last Chance U fame, but I do not share the excitement.  The top 3 rushers return.  3 of the top 4 receivers return.  Mr. Solano will have options.

The defense will be porous.  The Wolf Pack loses 7 of their top 10 tacklers.  They return 11 of the top 20.  Whereas Hawaii drops below 400 yards allowed per game, Nevada rises above 400 yards allowed per game in 2019.

UNLV:  Suddenly, Armani Rogers is a junior.  He has yet to come close to realizing his substantial talent.  Max Gilliam out-played him last year and may do so again this year.  Charles Williams is the only returning running back of note.  The top 4 receivers return.  However, in 177 attempts between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Gilliam, 12 picks were thrown.  Getting the ball downfield consistently will be a concern.

Half of the top 10 tacklers return along with 8 of the next 10.  Not bad.  What is bad is these returners were part of a group that gave up 454 yards per game and 37 points per game.

San Jose State:  If they win three games this year, rejoice and give to the poor.  Josh Love returns for the final season.  He played in only 8 games last year.  Playing the entire 2019 season for the Spartans would be helpful.  If he goes down, the Spartan coaching staff is looking at two freshmen back up qbs.  Please, no.  Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither are the top two returning receivers.  Tyler Nevens and DeJon Packer need support in the backfield or this year will drag like a broken bumper behind a twenty year old truck.

15 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Another year older and wiser.  This group includes 4 of the top 5.  Reason to hope for improved defense breathes in San Jose.  These guys were 5 yards shy of allowing 500 yards per game last year.  Can’t get any worse, right?

 

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