Posts Tagged ‘Wyoming’

Mountain Division

First:  Boise State

No kidding?  May as well predict heat during August.

Brett Rypien returns as the starting quarterback.  Mr. Rypien is talented beyond his years and experience.  Boise loses their top rusher from 2016, but return the next four.  Alexander Mattison looks to be the best of the lot.  Granted, Boise will throw, but the ground game is ready and deep.  Speaking of throwing, the Broncos lose their #1 and #3 receivers, but return four receivers with double-digit receptions.  Cedrick Wilson and Chaz Anderson should get most of the downfield looks from Mr. Rypien.  Boise’s offense averaged almost 475 yards per game.  Do not expect much change this year.

Defensively, an impressive 17 of the 20 top tacklers return.  Ben Weaver (#1 tackler) and Darren Lee (3# tackler) lead an experienced group.

Second:  Colorado State

The difference between the Rams, Wyoming and Air Force is thin.  Injury, last-minute mistakes and freaky weather (we are discussing the Mountain Division of the MWC.  After the first week in October, most anything can fall from the sky) may well fall to the wayward side of talent in deciding second place.

Nick Stevens improved tremendously last year.  19 touchdowns coupled with only 5 interceptions.  Well done.  CSU also returns their #2 quarterback as well which lends comfort to a worst case scenario.   The Rams return their top two rushers in the formidable duo of Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews.   2016’s top two receivers, Michael Gallup and Olabisi Johnson, will help Mr. Stevens stretch the field.  When clicking, Colorado State will put points galore on the board.  Opponents preparing for this offense will find plenty of challenge.

Can CSU’s defense keep a fourth quarter lead in 2017?  14 of the 20 top tacklers return that includes 8 of the top 10.  The Rams defense gave up 30.1 points per game last year.  If they do no worse in 2017, second place becomes more likely.

Third:  Wyoming

The Cowboys surprised everybody in 2016.  Josh Allen was the conference’s next best quarterback after Brett Rypien.  If Mr. Allen reduces last year’s 15 interceptions to at least 9 in 2017, he may post the best conference qb numbers.  Sadly, Wyoming loses their top three receivers from 2016.  C.J. Johnson is the only returning receiver with substantial experience.  This poses a potential early season problem for the Cowboys offense and Mr. Allen.  If the new group of receivers runs routes and catches the football, no problem.  If not, Wyoming fans may as well wear a parka on a seventy degree day to experience Mr. Allen’s discomfort.  Shaun Wick will lead the running game.  Much like the receivers, Mr. Wick’s colleagues need to be effective or what should be an explosive offense will fall far shy of last year’s 436 yards per game.

8 of the top 10 tacklers return (17 of the top 20 overall).  Yet, last year’s group gave up more yards (453) per game than their offense generated.  Ouch.

Fourth:  Air Force

A challenging year awaits the Falcons.  They begin the 2017 season losing 4 of their top 6 rushers, starting quarterback and top receiver from last year.  The good news is Arion Worthman brings 2016 experience to the quarterback position along with Tim McVey leading the usual endless running game (the top six rushers for Air Force had a combined 716 carries in 2016).  Air Force fans who might be quick to point out the #2, #3 and #4 receivers return will be reminded to examine their respective catches of 8, 8 and 6.  Regardless, Air Force runs the ball first and foremost.  Charge.

If you thought the offense faced a challenge, the defense will need to replenish the troops, so to speak, quickly.  Only 6 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Retaining last year’s stingy 26 points per game and measly 3.4 yards per rush is almost impossible.

Fifth:  New Mexico

Much of the 2016 offense returns.  Lamar Jordan should get the majority of qb reps this year.  The Lobos lose their #1 rusher from 2016, but return #2 through #5.  Tyrone Owens averaged a stunning 8 ypc last year while Diquon Woodhouse averaged 8.6 ypc on only 27 rushes.  Almost as much depth at the receiver spot returns with the #1 (Q Drennan and his eye-popping 25.8 ypc), #3 and #4 receivers returning.  At the very least, Mr. Jordan will have options.

The UNM defense faces a reality almost as difficult as Air Force.  Only 10 of the top 20 tacklers return.  This includes a loss of 8 of the first 10.  Will the Lobos defense hold onto single digit leads with two minutes remaining?  Will they keep the opposition under 400 yards per game as last year?  Lots of nail-biting awaits.

Sixth:  Utah State

Lackluster describes the 2016 USU season.  At times disinterest seemed to apply as well.  Yawn.  Damn, this is only the third quarter?

Kent Myers returns as the staring qb.  How a qb throws for almost 2,400 yards, yet no more than 10 touchdowns is a long explanation.  Tony Lindsey returns as last year’s #1 rusher.  Much like Mr. Myers, Mr. Lindsey averaged 5.2 ypc, but a paltry game average of 63.6 yards.  How?  Ron’quavion Tarver and Rayshad Lewis should repeat as the #1 and #2 receivers in 2017.

The defense loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers from 2016 and return only 11 of the top 20. Utah State offered the opposition almost 30 points per game last year.  This year will be close to 35.  I sense a coaching staff change.

West Division

First:  San Diego State

If the rest of the West was stronger, SDSU finishing first would be less likely especially given the new faces on defense, but the rest of the West offers little resistance.

Christian Chapman returns as the starting qb.  20 touchdowns and only 6 picks should generate more than 1,994 yards.  Maybe this year.  Donnel Pumphrey is now in Philly.  Rashaad Penny moves to the #1 back with Juwan Washington assuming the supporting role.  Returning receivers Mikah Holder and Quest Truxton along with tight end David Wells must improve on last year’s efforts or maintaining last year’s 35 points per game will be unlikely.

The defense loses 5 of the top 10 tacklers.  Only 11 of the top 20 return.  But, Rocky Long is not only one of the best head coaches in the NCAA, but also one of the best defensive coordinators, thus a brief learning curve awaits the newbies.

Second:  Hawaii

I’m not joking.  The Rainbow is shining bright.  Head coach Nick Rolovich and staff created much improvement during 2016.  Rainbow fans have a reason to once again watch football.

Dru Brown returns as the starting quarterback.  He threw for almost 2,500 yards last year.  While Hawaii loses their #1 (and #4) receiver from last  year, John Ursua and Dylan Collie return for more catches than last year.  Diocemy Saint Juste, last year’s #1 rusher, leads an otherwise inexperienced rushing crew.  But, whereas Air Force runs when in doubt, Hawaii will take to the air.  Points will be scored.

Points will also be scored against the Rainbow defense.  Opposing teams averaged 462 yards during 2016.  2017 features only 12 of the top 20 tacklers returning.  Losing 5 of the top 10 will pose a challenge.

Third:  San Jose State

New coaching staffs usually indicate a year of clumsy learning, disappointment and doubt.  Welcome to 2017, Spartans.

Enough returns on the offense to create the hope that points can be scored.  Josh Love, last year’s #2 qb, is most likely this year’s starting qb.  Malik Roberson and Zamore Zigler both averaged over 5 ypc last year.  Justin Holmes and Tre Hartley were 2016’s #2 and #3 receivers.  They provide Mr. Love with experienced targets.

13 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Last year the Spartans gave up 433 yards per game and 35 points.  The good news is, improvement is possible.

Fourth:  UNLV

If they had more returning defensive players, I would have placed the Rebels third.  Alas, not so.

Tony Sanchez has done a lot in little time as head coach.  A bad case of unrealistic expectations is ill-advised on behalf of alumni and administration.  Coach Sanchez is “the guy”.  Remain patient.

Johnny Stanton and Kurt Palandech shared the starting qb spot last year and may well do so again this year.  Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas return as a powerful running duo.  4 of their top 5 receivers return for 2017 including Devonte Boyd who averaged almost 75 ypg.

Last year UNLV’s defense gave up 430 ypg.  This year may they be so lucky.  They lose their top 6 tacklers (and 7 of the top 8) from 2016.  Ouch.  Only 8 of the top 20 return.  Good luck during the fourth quarter.

Fifth:  Nevada

Have I mentioned my aversion to new coaching staffs?

Ty Gangli gets the starting qb job in 2017.  James Butler and Jaxson Kincaide were last year’s top two rushers and should repeat as such this year.  Wyatt Demps leads an inexperienced receiving corps.  This group must improve as the season progresses or Mr. Gangli’s 8 td and 6 picks will not improve in 2017.

The good news for Wolfpack fans is 8 of the top 10 tacklers return and 15 of the top 20.  The 456 ypg allowed should lessen this year.  As should the 6.1 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per catch.

Sixth:  Fresno State

The usual caution about the new coaching staff and begin.

A lot returns from 2016.  The uncomfortable fact of not quite 18 points per game returns as well.  Chason Virgil barely averaged a 51% completion rate last year.  Much needs to improve.  Dontel James averaged less than 3.5 ypc last year.  Much needs to improve.  Mr. Virgil will have 3 of his top 4 receivers return as well.  Plainly speaking, if this group could not average 20 points per game last year, why this year?

The top 2 tacklers and 3 of the top 5 do not return.  But, 13 of the top 20 do return.  This group was part of last year’s 31 points allowed per game.  Tough times in Fresno.

 

The two game skid comes to a halt.

The key:  The Aztec offense has the ball for 10:24 in the fourth quarter.  As in, Wyoming no-touchy the football.  Very effective.

A deep bow on behalf of John Baron and his accurate foot.  His 20 yard field goal is the winning margin.  Speaking of feet, Tanner Blain blasts 6 punts for an average of 45.5 per punt while landing half of his effort inside the 20.  Nothing like a long field on behalf of the Aztec defense.

As for the Aztec defense, Kyle Kelley chose the perfect time to have the game of his life with 2 sacks and 14 yards lost.  The SDSU defense registered a total of 32 lost yards against the Pokes offense.  A complete reversal of two weeks ago which featured Josh Allen and company marching up and down the field with the help of one short third down after another.  Last night, not so much.  The Cowboys were a lousy 2/14 on third down and 0/3 on fourth down plus their offensive line yielded a total of 4 sacks and 25 lost yards.

Mr. Pumphrey and Mr. Penny had solid games with 110 and 117 yards respectively.  The three touchdowns were more important.  How many teams throw the ball for 85 yards and win?  The Aztecs and nobody.  How many teams lose 2 fumbles and win?  The Aztecs and nobody.  Ugly, effective football.

And we wait for the bowl assignment.

10-3/7-2 (I’m counting the conference championship win as a conference win.  So there).

 

 

The outcome was an old fashioned butt kicking.  Expose butt, please kick.  Repeat.  Repeat.

The Aztecs were ugly, uninspired and unsuccessful.

The Rams took the game from the beginning snap.  The Aztec defense was reminiscent of the pre-Rocky days (those were bad defensive teams).  Nick Stevens, an average qb, was 10/15/210 without a single interception.  Our front three peppered with the occasional linebacker or two could not reach Mr. Stevens.

Do you want more proof regarding Aztec lack of preparation?  Two CSU running backs ran for better than 100 yards each.  Mr. Gallup (well named) caught 7 balls for 139 yards and 3 touchdowns.  The Rams were 8/12 on third down conversions (that’s a stunning success rate of 66%).  Ram receivers averaged 19.6 yards per catch.  The Ram running game averaged 6.3 yards per carry.  507 total yards of offense swept by a bewildered Aztec defense.

Enough.

Consecutive MWC losses must not become three.  We have one week to prepare for Wyoming.  Will we make their qb look like a future first round pick or will we meet the challenge of arriving in a bad mood?  Will we contain Mr. Hill or allow him to look like Donnel Pumphrey once looked?

Stay tuned.

9-3/6-2.

 

 

 

Mountain Division

Boise State:  Lots to like about the Broncos.  Sophomore Brett Rypien will be a top-10 qb by his senior year.  Devan Demas and Ryan Wolpin will both enjoy a great many more rushing attempts in 2016.  3 of the top 5 receivers return (okay, one of the departed was a running back), thus Mr. Rypien will dutifully and effectively throw downfield to great effect.  Matching last year’s total of 508 points may not be a stretch for Boise in 2016.

Defensively, I anticipate slippage.  Boise will not maintain last year’s 318.3 ypg nor the impressive and mere 20.2 points per game.  Only 13 of the top 20 tacklers return.  True, while not a recipe for disaster, replacing the departed 7 may prove a challenge.

Air Force:  Nate Romine assumes the starting qb role.  Mr. Romine averaged a paltry 47.7 passing yards per game in 2015.  His completion rate was a pitiful 38.9%.  Air Force fans will choose to believe improvement awaits.  However, the ever present irony of Air Force’s seemingly perpetual inability to throw a football downfield is always balanced with their traditional above average running game.  This year they return four of 2015’s top five rushers.  Amazingly, last year’s rushing average of 319 yards per game could increase notably if Mr. Romine struggles with hurling the football in a forward manner.

The defense should improve upon last year’s 355 total yards per game.  16 of the top 20 tacklers return including 9 of their top 10.  Lots of ouch awaits opponents.

Utah State:  Kent Myers returns as the starting qb.  Since Chuckie Keeton is gone, Mr. Myers no longer needs to worry about sharing the position.  However, if Mr. Myers continues to run the football in 2016 as often as last year (85 carries, number three on the team), he may be subject to the injury riddled existence of Mr. Keeton.  Devante Mays and LaJuan Hunt return to run the football proper.  Mr. Mays (5.9 ypc) is the more effective of the two.  However, Mr. Hunt was tied for the number two spot on the receiving list in 2015.  Sadly, that was a total of only 27 catches.  Andrew Rodriguez and Wyatt Houston are the most productive returning receivers.

The defensive result of 2016 could be ugly enough to generate a contest for last place in the Mountain with Colorado State.  Only 2 of the top 10 tacklers return and only 9 of the top 20 overall return.  If the Aggies can’t tackle, last year’s 152 rushing yards per game and 180.5 passing yards per game will increase significantly on behalf of their competition.

New Mexico:  Lamar Jordan and Austin Apodaca return.  Who, oh who, will be the starting quarterback?  Too much time was shared last year.  Confusion reigned?  Only the Lobos know.  I am a Lamar Jordan fan (no offense to Mr. Apodaca).  He provides an element of surprise and is quick on his feet (perhaps too quick given his 147 rushing attempts compared to 118 passing attempts).  The running game features the return of last year’s number 2, 4 and 5 backs.  However, the returning receiving corps features only Dameon Gamblin (last year’s number one).  The rest are gone.  Stretching the field on behalf of Mr.Jordan and Mr. Apodaca will be a struggle.

The defense may be the difference between finishing behind Utah State or in front.  The Lobos return 15 of their top 20 tacklers.  Far more than the Aggies measly 9 of 20.  Included in the 15 of 20 is 8 of their top 10.  Last year New Mexico gave up 437.6 ypg.  Anticipate a significant drop in 2016.

Wyoming:  Gasp!  I’m not predicting a last place finish in the Mountain.  Take that, mavens.  Anyway,  the Cowboys challenge will be Nick Smith improving his numbers to resemble those of the departed Cameron Coffman.  Mr. Smith also needs to reduce his rushing attempts of 45 from 2015 by at least a third (I try to be realistic) and focus more on his receivers.  Speaking of which, his returning receiving corps feature the top four from last year.  If Mr. Smith can throw downfield with confidence, Wyoming will surprise.  Brian Hill and Shaun Wick return as the dasher and bruiser, but look for Kellen Overstreet to spend significant time in the backfield with Mr. Hill.

As New Mexico, 15 of the top 20 Cowboy tacklers return.  9 of the top 10 return.  If the offense offers a late lead, look for Wyoming to upset more than once . . . or twice.

Colorado State:  Why a last place finish in the Mountain division?  Because Nick Stevens throws too many interceptions.  Twelve interceptions dilutes twenty-one touchdowns.  3 of the top 5 receivers are gone (one of the two top returning “receivers” is the running back Dalyn Dawkins).  Speaking of Mr. Dawkins (5.1 ypc), he and Izzy Matthews (6.1 ypc) make for an impactful running game.  In addition to Mr. Stevens tendency to throw errant passes, only one true receiver, Xavier Williams, of the top five returns.  The Rams may run more than desired.

The defense suffers from losing half of last year’s top 20 tacklers.  CSU gave up 390.5 ypg last year.  This year, 400+ is the likely result.  Giving up 30+ points on average is an ugliness to consider as well.  Could be a long year in the Rams’ impressive new stadium.

West Division

San Diego State:  This year’s media darling.  Such a development makes me cautious and apprehensive knowing Aztec football history.  However, a great deal of talent returns on both sides of the ball.  Donnel Pumphrey is silly good.  If he stays healthy, he will annihilate Marshall Faulk’s rushing records at SDSU.  Rashaad Penny will spend more time in the backfield with Mr. Pumphrey.  He is also a considerable talent.  Christian Chapman will handle the quarterback duties.  As long as he sticks to the offensive script, all is well.  The number 1, 2 and 4 receivers from 2015 return.

16 of the top 20 tacklers return.  However, 2 of last year’s starting 3 defensive linemen must be replaced in Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 scheme.  The 5 of the 3-3-5 have years of experience and is a senior dominated group.  Opposing quarterbacks will find no joy staring into the face of chaos.

San Jose State:  The Spartans feature one of the two best returning qbs in the West.  Kenny Potter completed 67% of his passes last year and threw only 7 interceptions in 270 attempts.  The number 1, 3 and 5 receivers return from last year.  Mr. Potter will keep them busy.  However, Mr. Potter needs to drastically reduce his 114 rushing attempts or he may find an unpleasant, angry linebacker guiding him to the ground one too many times.  Tucker Thomas and Malik Roberson should see a sizable increase in rushing attempts in an effort to establish an actual running game.

The defense will be solid and should reduce last year’s 358.5 ypg especially the 200.8 rushing yards there within.  However, if the Spartan defense disappoints, then they slip to a third place finish in the West.

Nevada:  Nevada holds the other top returning quarterback in the West.  Tyler Stewart will determine the success of the Wolfpack.  If he can improve upon last year’s 164.5 passing yards per game, Nevada will give San Jose State a run for second place.  He has the top four receivers from 2015 returning along with the number one running back.  However, proven back up at the quarterback and running back positions is unavailable (or unknown.  Which ever you prefer).  A key injury will be painful.

The defense will likely be anemic.  A mere 11 or the top 20 tacklers return including only 4 of the top 10.  The 405.4 ypg will increase in 2016.  Good luck to the Wolfpack offense as they hope to keep their defense off the field.

Fresno State:  Could be a long year for the Bulldog faithful.  They lose a massive section of last year’s offense.  If they struggle to score, UNLV could finish in front of them.  If they struggle to score, coaching changes will occur.  Whomever wins the quarterback spot from the trio of Kilton Anderson (poor 2015 numbers under the proof of 157 passing attempts), Chason Virgil or Ford Childress will need to find the top 3 receivers returning from last year’s team on a regular basis if this squad wants to score.  Much like the qb spot, the running back position is full of doubt and the unknown.  If the qb position struggles and the running game is inconsistent, Fresno State fans will be in for a long year.

The defense should at least play near last year’s disappointing level.  The Fresno State defense gave up in excess of 200 yards in both rushing and passing each game.  14 of last year’s top 20 tacklers return, though they lost numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7 in the top 10.  Good luck.

UNLV:  I criticized the hiring of Tony Sanchez from the high school ranks to coach a division one football program, and was I wrong.  Mr. Sanchez did a fine job during his first year.  I look for improvement in year two.  If he had a better returning quarterback, I would choose the Rebels over the Bulldogs, but ’tis not the case.  Throwing the ball downfield to good effect will be a struggle.  Thankfully, UNLV returns last year’s number 2 and 3 rushers.  The number 4 rusher returns as well, but he’s the returning qb, Kurt Palandech.

Much like Fresno State, if their defense does no more harm than last year, be thankful.  Only 13 of their top 20 tacklers return.  Let’s say lots of opportunity awaits those who did not play much last year.

Hawaii:  So much is wrong, but at least they fired Norm Chow.  Now this team has a chance to get better.  Yet, nothing will be easy.  Ikaika Woolsey returns after a disappointing 2015. He completed a mere 49% of his passes and averaged not quite 70 yards passing per game. The good news is the top three running backs and receivers return for 2016.  If Mr. Woolsey improves or is replaced, hope lingers for the Hawaii offense.

The returning defense will be challenged all season long.  3 of the top 10 tacklers return and only 6 of the next 10 return.  Hawaii gave away 35.6 points per game last year.  Hope for the same this year and enjoy the relief.  Gonna be a long year in paradise in 2016.

 

Oy, the first half was ugly.  Or to paraphrase Redd Foxx, so ugly, we were hit with the ugly stick.  Why was Jeff Horton running the majority of plays to the Aztec right?  One stuff after another.  We could not block on our right side the entire half.  No momentum was developed less the opening drive (which was nice).  Malik Smith loses his mind during the second quarter.  Rocky should have removed him from the game.  Mr. Smith was completely out of control.  Shame.

Speaking of shame, 13-10 at the half.

We finally arrived to play in the second half.  Maxwell Smith produced his best game as an Aztec quarterback.  11/14/180 yards.  No interceptions.  Plus, he averaged just shy of 13 yards per completion.  Not bad.  Donny Hageman nailing a 54 yard field goal was a team boost.  Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny both averaged 6 yards a carry.  Mr. Penny looked especially impressive against the CSU defense.  Dakota Gordon rumbled (all fullbacks rumble) for 52 yards on 4 carries.  The offense provided the most  balanced performance of the season.

The Aztec defense started poorly, but ended well.  Three picks.  Damontae Kazee returning his interception for a touchdown was a spear to the Rams offensive heart.  The back seven allowed the Rams a paltry 7.3 yards per completion.  A solid second half effort.  During the first half, I’m wondering “who are these guys?”  Thankfully, they disappeared.

Next week is our off week.  Soak the bumps and bruises.  Enjoy next Saturday.  Grab some sand.  Three MWC games remain.  5-0 in conference play is stellar.  Wyoming rolls into the Q Saturday, November 14.  The Cowboys feature an above average running game.  However, as long as Rocky keeps the boys focused, I’m leaning towards a 6-0 Mountain West result.

Mountain

1.  Boise State.  Nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters return.  Sure, they lose their starting quarterback and top two rushers, but Boise has been reloading for years (as opposed to rebuilding).  Shane Williams-Rhodes is the best offensive player in the MW.  Boise has the best offensive line in conference.  Why?  Because all five starters return.  Scott Huff, the offensive line coach, sleeps well.  If any improvement is needed, see the defense, but by no means is that side of the ball a true weakness.  Similar to finding a bit of dust on a clean car.

2.  Utah State.  If Chuckie Keeton stays healthy, a good year for the people of Logan, Utah.  If Chuckie is dinged, a long year for the people of Logan, Utah.  Losing Jo Jo Natson hurts.  With Mr. Natson, the Aggies would have made Boise a tad nervous regarding first place in the Mountain division.  Now, not so much.  LaJuan Hunt should see his 111 rushing attempts increase greatly in 2015.  So, too, will his average of 4.9 yards.  The same improvement will be seen from Hunter Sharp at the wide receiver spot.  A quality football player.  USU’s main challenge will be the defensive line.  Look for their talented linebackers to help in front and help often.

3.  Air Force.  The Cadets return four of their top five rushers.  Sure, they lose their starting quarterback, but this is Air Force on the ground.  Forget the irony.  Your head will explode.  Only four defensive starters return (one lineman, two linebackers and one defensive back).  Granted, brains go a long way, but the inexperience on the defensive side of the ball may be painful.  Air Force gave up 103 fourth quarter points last year.  That number will increase in 2015.  During close games, if Air Force has the ball in the final minute, be glad.  If not, cringe.

4.  University of New Mexico.  Two words:  Lamar Jordan.  This kid has the soul of Doug Flutie and the nerves of a sniper (probably inappropriate, but the best I could do.  The sniper reference, not Flutie).  Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson are the best one-two running back punch in the entire MWC.  The Lobos will score and score often in 2015.  The Lobos need to provide a much improved defensive effort in the third quarter (a stunning 133 points were allowed during those fifteen minutes in 2014.  Evidently, understanding defensive adjustments during halftime is optional).  This is a squad returning seven defensive starters that were part of a defense that allowed well over 6,000 total offensive yards last year.  The Lobos defense gave up 58 points twice and 60 points once last year.  Enough said.

5.  Colorado State:  Anytime a head coach of Jim McElwain’s ability leaves the field, so does my confidence.  Include the departure of Garrett Grayson, and the Rams have a significant challenge in 2015.  The return of Treyous Jarrells at running back is a place to begin.  Rashard Higgins (96 catches, 1,750 yards) and the almost as talented Joe Hansley and Xavier Williams hope to benefit from an occasional pass or two tossed their way.  Who will get the ball to that trio?  Nick Stevens?  Coleman Key?  Stay tuned.  Thankfully for the Fort Collins faithful, eight defensive starters return.  If Lamar Jordan wasn’t the UNM qb, I would place the Rams fourth in the Mountain division.  But, that’s not the case.

6.  Wyoming.  Wyoming, where the wind blows and so, too, does hope.  Only five offensive and four (ouch) defensive starters return (including the loss of six of their top ten tacklers).  Losing their starting quarterback and top two receivers adds to the challenge.  However, Brian Hill and Shaun Wick will see plenty of action from the offensive backfield.  Last year, they combined for 271 rushing attempts.  Look for 300+ in 2015.  If the Cowboys can repeat last year’s home record of 3-3, rejoice Laramie, rejoice.  On behalf of Coach Craig Bohl and staff (most of whom followed Mr. Bohl from North Dakota State University), this group of coaches provide the best chance for the Cowboys to return to the heady days of Joe Tiller.

West

1.  San Diego State:  Last year’s finish of 7-6/5-3 including a bowl game loss was disappointing . . . which is evidence of just how far Aztec football has come.  Donnel Pumphrey is the best running back in the MW, bar none.  The other top two SDSU rushers, Chase Price and Dakota Gordon, also return.  The receiving corps in 2104 was a massive disappointment.  Given a new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, look for renewed spirit and result.  Eight defensive starters return from the best MW defensive squad in 2014.  Not a single defensive back from the 2014 team leaves.  Can an Aztec defense that allowed a paltry 192 passing yards per game yield even less in 2015?  Yep.

2.  San Jose State.  Call me crazy.  Call me nut job.  The Spartans have a fine coaching staff (though, I find suspect the hiring of Al Borges as offensive coordinator) in year two of a massive overhaul.  The under-the-radar-who-is-this-guy Joe Gray at the qb spot provides the Spartans with one of the better MWC quarterbacks.  Mr. Gray, in eleven games, threw for better than 2,300 yards and had a completion rate of 63.6%.  Fair warning on behalf of Spartan defensive foes, their top three receivers return.  Tyler Ervin (5.6 yards per rush) and Brandon Monroe (4.3 yards per rush) offer quality rushing options.  On the other side of the ball, San Jose State loses six of their top ten tacklers and return only six starters.  The 2015 Spartan defensive challenge is to rebuild their linebacking unit.  SJSU defensive backs had better fill gaps quickly and get to know the opposing running backs.

3.  Fresno State.  Along with Colorado State, the Bulldogs suffer the most notable slip in the MWC during 2015.  They lose both their number one and two quarterbacks from 2014, all significant rushers, less their number one back (Marteze Waller) as well as their top three receivers.  Only six offensive starters return along with a paltry five defensive starters including only five of their top ten tacklers from 2014.  Continuing with the defensive concerns, last year Fresno State gave up 32.4 points per game.  That number increases in 2015.  Granted, Boise reloads, but Fresno must rebuild.  Any significant defensive injury or prolonged struggle at the quarterback spot may lead to a finish of less than third in the West.

4.  Nevada.  Losing Cody Fajardo will have the same effect that Colorado State will experience with the loss of Mr. Grayson.  Mr. Fajardo was also the Wolfpack’s leading rusher.   A great deal of Nevada offense has left the field.  Granted, Don Jackson (4.4 yards per rush) and James Butler (4.5 yards per rush) will see their participation increase greatly during 2015.  If the ‘pack can find somebody to throw the ball to Jerico Richardson (56 catches) and Hasaan Henderson (45 catches), perhaps 2015 may not be bleak.  Speaking of bleak, on the other side of the ball, only five defensive starters return.   Not a single starting defensive back returns.  Opposing quarterbacks may have much to smile about during Nevada games.  If the Wolfpack defense allows less than 30 points per game, enjoy the surprise.

5.  Hawaii.  The only reason I choose a Norm Chow coached team not to finish last is because UNLV hired a high school coach as head coach.  True to Mr. Chow’s demeanor, he retains his starting quarterback, Ikaika Woolsey, then immediately curries favor to the USC transfer, Max Wittek.  The top two wide receivers return along with two of the top three rushers.  With eight offensive starters, including the shunned Mr. Woolsey, this is Hawaii’s best Chow version.  Unfortunately, seven of their top-ten tacklers leave.  Six defensive starters return.  Smart money says 2014’s 26.8 points per game (second best in the West division) increases to counter balance an improved offense because Hawaii seems to suffer from a lack of luck.

6.  UNLV.  As mentioned above, the Rebels hired Tony Sanchez, a high school coach, as head coach.  Mr. Sanchez, brave soul, has five returnees on each side of the ball.  Starting quarterback Blake Decker returns as do three of the top four rushers (including Mr. Decker).  Devonte Boyd (65 catches) and Kendal Keys (12.9 yards per reception) offer receiving experience.  Six of the top seven tacklers return (they will be busy, very busy) in 2015.  Last year, the Rebels defense allowed 513.5 yards per game.  Perhaps they can be south of 500 yards allowed per game in 2015.  Perhaps.  Final note, all but one of the UNLV coaching staff enter their respective first year as coach at UNLV.  Could be a long, hot football season on the Strip.