Boise St is the dominant team in this conference as this will be their final year in the conference before they head to The Big East. It looks like they are the team to beat but there are some up and coming teams this year. Who can knock them off?
1 – Boise St – It was a ‘disappointing’ year for the Broncos last year as they had BCS Title aspirations but they were upset by TCU at home in a wild game. Boise St still has alot of talent and they have put together a tremendous program. This is their final year being in the MWC as they head to The Big East next year. They only return 7 starters from last year but Coach Chris Petersen has depth and will fill in the pieces. We don’t look for the offense to have too much of a drop-off from their 44.2-ppg avg last year as they have some capable QB’s to replace Kellen Moore. Jr Joe Southwick will do a nice job as he has some good skill. The defense will still have a little bit of a drop-off with only 2 returning starters and they will be tested in game 1 at Michigan St. The Broncos are the elite team in th NWC and a 10 win season would be no surprise to us and a MWC Title.
2 – Fresno St – This is an improved Bulldog team with 14 returning starters back. They will give Boise all they can handle and would not surprise us if they upset Boise on Oct 13. However, the defense needs to get better and it should under new coach Tim DeRuyter. The offense is led by Jr Derek Carr who was 2nd team All-WAC last year and should improve from a great year he had last year. RB Robbie Rouse is explosive and will be even better this year. If the defense can come together this is a dangerous football team. We will call for 2nd place in the MWC this year because of the uncertainty of the defense.
3 – San Diego St – The Aztecs were an interesting team last year as both their offense and defense declined in performance from 2010 but still managed to win 8 games. They did benefit from a +12 TO margin as that was good for 9th in the nation. They were upset in the New Orleans Bowl by Louisiana and that left a bad taste in their mouth heading into spring ball. This is Rocky Long’s 2nd year and teams usually do better in year 2 in the new offensive and defensive systems. 12 returning starts are back (6 on both sides of the ball). The non-conference schedule looks manageable with a trip to Washington and home against Army, North Dakota and San Jose St at home. If they can go 3-1 early, they should get to a bowl game this year. The Aztecs are led on offense by TE Gavin Escobar, 1st team All-MWC, and C Alec Johnson, 2nd team All-MWC. We look for improvements on both sides of the ball and that does make this team dangerous. We will call for a 3rd place finish this year.
4 – Nevada – 12 returning starters are back from last year’s 7-6 team. The offense continues to be great under Chris Ault and the pistol offense. They did avg 31.2-ppg last year and every year is one of the top teams in the nation rushing. The defense is always the question as 6 starters return and should improve on their 25.2-ppg avg allowed. QB Cody Fajado was WAC Freshman Player of the Year. G Chris Barker returns to lead a very good offensive line. He was 1st Team All-WAC last year. This team has some serious potential to do some damage but they are not a consistent team. Look for them to get to a bowl game again this year as their road schedule is manageable with two tough games at California and Air Force.
5 – Wyoming – HC Dave Christensen is one more solid year away from going to a big-time school. Last year Wyoming flew under the radar and went from 3-9 in 2010 to 8-5. They did have a disappointing bowl performance against Temple. That was the Cowboys 2nd bowl game in 3 years. They return 12 starters including 5 on offense. QB Brett Smith returns as he was MWC Freshman of the Year. The Cowboys benefitted from a +12 TO margin last year. This was a team who took advantage of the opportunities. Will they get these opportunities again? Not likely. The quality of opponents they face this year are more difficult. Boise, Nevada and Fresno are top teams that come over from the WAC. On paper the Cowboys have the talent but the schedule includes road game at Texas, at Nevada, at Fresno. They do have a solid shot at getting back to a bowl game this year as they should beat Toledo, Cal Poly, Idaho, Air Force, Colorado St, New Mexico and UNLV. That would give them 7 wins and if they upset San Diego St, they will match last year’s win total heading into a bowl game.
6 – Air Force – This team only has 6 returning starters back from last year’s 7-6 team. Never count the Air Force Academy out because of their discipline and unique style of play. We rate both the offense and defense down from last year but HC Troy Calhoun will have team prepared as always and competitive. This is a potential 6-win team and that would mean another bowl game. Look for close games and as always a top rushing team this year as there are a lot of upperclassmen that will start.
7 – Colorado St – New HC Jim McElwain takes over as he was the OC at Alabama for 4 years. There is a sense of excitement in Fort Collins as they have a coach who is used to winning. Hopefully some of that Bama magic and carry over to CSU. The offense was horrible last year as they avg 21.4-ppg which ranked them 101st in the nation. The defense allowed 413-ypg and looks to improve on their 31.3-ppg allowed. McElwain will turn the program around and we expect the Rams to win 4 or 5 games this year. They could be an upset away from being bowl eligible and that would be a great accomplishment considering CSU has won 9 games the last three years.
8 – Hawaii – Norm Chow finally gets his opportunity to be a head coach. He has been a tremendous offensive coordinator for several years at many schools. Hawaii is used to the run and shoot offense and Chow will be implementing a pro-style offense. There will be some adjustment for the Rainbows as this is a rebuilding year for them. Only 10 returning starters are including only 4 on defense. Chow needs a couple of years of his recruits before Hawaii can get back to where they were in 2010. The schedule is brutal so we do don’t see this team getting to a bowl this year.
9 – UNLV – The Rebels have been atrocious the last two seasons as they have only had 4 wins total. HC Bobby Hauck is in his 3rd year and expects improvement this year. This is his best team he has had as they return 12 starters back. The offense ranked 113th in ppg last year and 117th in total offense. The defense was dreadful allowing 40.4-ppg. This will be an improved team and should pas the two win mark this year but they just don’t have enough talent to be highly competitive in the MWC.
10 – New Mexico – The good news is that New Mexico was able to get Bob Davie to come out of the announcers’ booth to coach this team. The bad news is that the Lobos are still dreadful. Three straight years of 1-11 and Davies will need to get quality juco players in here and preach hard work. Davie is really excited to be here as he is embracing the challenge. We will see if he feels the same way in a couple of years. They do have 14 returning starters back so that is a step in the right direction. This is a 2 or 3 win team in 2012 which is better than the last three years.