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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, June 26, 2015 at 7:00 PM

We begin our summer series of college football conference previews today with the Mountain West Conference. Momentarily we’ll look at the Mountain Division featuring Boise State and Utah State. Tomorrow we head West to look at a wide-open division where San Diego State is the early favorite to lead the pack.

This is one of our favorite parts of the summer! Let’s jump right in.

 

Boise State

2014 Record: 12-2

2014 Rankings: 14 on offense, 48 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Bryan Harsin

Notebook: Boise State returns more starters than anyone else in the league (both divisions). But, they lost their starting quarterback (Grand Hedrick) and workhorse tailback (Jay Ajayi). If they take a step backward at those positions, then we’re talking about a program that could continue its slide back to normalcy. They bookended the regular season with a blowout loss at Ole Miss (35-13), and then an unimpressive pedestrian 28-14 win over shorthanded Fresno State as 22-point favorites in the conference title tilt (played on the fabled blue turf). A nice bowl win over Arizona did cap things off nicely for the departing seniors. But, you can see why 2015 is an important year! Either head coach Bryan Harsin is exposed for being in over his head (a concern at his last two jobs), or the Broncos surge back to national prominence because the new QB delivers the goods. They open the season hosting their former head coach and the Washington Huskies. Road games at BYU and Virginia later in September will provide litmus tests.

 

Utah State

2014 Record: 10-4

2014 Rankings: 83 on offense, 30 on defense

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Matt Wells

Notebook: Chuckie Keaton is still the quarterback! If he can stay healthy for a full season, then Utah State is a legitimate threat to knock Boise State off the pedestal. He’ll likely be the best QB in this division by a mile. There was a lot to like about this defense last year. The offense fell apart because of injuries (as you can see in the rankings). The Aggies still won eight of their last 10 games including a bowl victory over Wyoming.  Big September road games at Utah and Washington will tell us a lot about the big things that might be attainable in December. A team to watch if Keaton can stay healthy.

 

Colorado State

2014 Record: 10-3

2014 Rankings: 18 on offense, 85 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Mike Bobo (first year)

Notebook: Bobo was the offensive coordinator at Georgia before getting his shot to run a program here. You can see that he takes over an offense that was already very productive in 2014. Though, he’ll have to break in a new starting quarterback (a lot of that going around this year)! Too many question marks to be truly confident about what’s in store this season. A soft early schedule should help everyone get acquainted before league play begins. Very volatile potential here because this could be a top 50 team in a finger snap…or a 5-7 struggler troubled by transition.

 

Air Force

2014 Record: 10-3

2014 Rankings: 52 on offense, 60 on defense

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 4 on defense

Head Coach: Troy Calhoun

Notebook: Air Force was a pleasant surprise last year to say the least. They weren’t supposed to get anywhere near 10 victories. And, they covered five of their last six board games with a great closing salvo. Obviously defense is going to be a concern with only four returning starters. But, the military programs often have a lot of turnover, and know how to deal with it. A mid-September visit to Michigan State will test starting quarterback Nate Romine (who saw limited action in ’14 but did beat CSU). Biggest question for handicappers will be determining how much of last year was a fluke (they may have been the worst 10-win team ever!)…and how much was Coach Calhoun finally getting things figured out after a longer than expected learning curve.

 

Wyoming

2014 Record: 4-8

2014 Rankings: 81 on offense, 89 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

Head Coach: Craig Bohl

Notebook: The Cowboys were 2-8 straight up over their last 10 games, and 2-7 against the spread over their last nine games…which wasn’t at all what rookie head coach Craig Bohl had in mind. Now he has to break in a lot of new starters, including the vital quarterback position. Very hard to be optimistic about the program until on-field results suggest it’s time to pay attention. An easy first half of the season will offer plenty of time to get things figured out before the most important league challenges. If things aren’t clicking by early October, it could be a disastrous campaign on both sides of the ball.

 

New Mexico

2014 Record: 4-8

2014 Rankings: 64 on offense, 124 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Bob Davie

Notebook: The good news is that the Lobos covered five of their last six games in 2014. So, they at least became a value team even if the raw talent was still overmatched even by mid-major standards. It’s so hard to recruit in states that don’t have great high school talent! As always, this option-based team will be best positioned to get points on the board when facing soft rush defenses. Returning quarterback Lamar Jordan isn’t much of a passer, but he did start in the final month of last season when the team was covering some spreads. Good early test at Arizona State. Look at opposing rush defenses when trying to ascertain line value.

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We’ll look at San Diego State, Nevada, and the rest of the MWC in our Sunday report on the “West” Division. Here’s what’s on tap over the next several days…

Sunday: College Football…Mountain West “West” Divisional Preview

Monday: MLB Series Preview…Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers

Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview…choosing from Washington/Atlanta, Cubs/Mets, NY Yankees/LA Angels, and Texas/Baltimore

Thursday: MLB Notes or a series preview of Kansas City/Minnesota (if the Twins continue to contend)

Next weekend we’ll study Conference USA for you football fans. Whether it’s baseball or football, JIM HURLEY will always make sure you GET THE MONEY!

 

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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

Vegas-Sports-Masters on twitter @vsmasters

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