Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 27, 2015 at 7:00 PM
Things are looking bleak this year for what used to be a decent “darkhorse” division of a mid-major conference. The respected Athlon Preseason publication doesn’t have any teams from the “West” Division of the Mountain West Conference in the top 60 nationally. Four of the six teams don’t even crack the top 100!
ATHLON PRESEASON RANKINGS
San Diego State #68
Fresno State #101
San Jose State #110
The TV networks aren’t going to publicize this much in early-season TV games. You’ll keep hearing about how these programs have great histories of stepping up when playing big-name opponents. Well…Colin Kaepernick is long gone from Nevada…and there won’t be a Carr at quarterback in Fresno, which spelled doom last year relative to their recent history.
Let’s run through the numbers and see what’s gone wrong…and whether San Diego State’s “least worst” status really does have them in the driver’s seat to win this half of the league.
San Diego State
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 71 on offense, 16 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Rocky Long
Notebook: The defense did grade out very well last season…and returns a lot of starters. Of course, all that got them was a 17-16 bowl loss on their home field to Navy! So, we’re not talking about a pending juggernaut. But, in this league this season…having a great defense should be enough to get the job done. If transfer quarterback Maxwell Smith (by way of Kentucky) can make some plays…SDSU can crack the top 50. If not (which is a legitimate issue because Smith couldn’t make much of an impact at a smaller program like Kentucky), then look for a bunch of 16-13 type games. Interesting tests at California and Penn State are on the September schedule.
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 68 on offense, 100 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Brian Polian
Notebook: Quarterback is a HUGE question mark entering the season. And, that’s usually the position that does all the work for this schematic. You can see that the defense was awful last year and not likely to be too much better in 2015. How are you going to compete with Arizona and Texas A&M in September if you lost a bowl game 16-3 to Louisiana Lafayette?! And, this team is supposed to be SECOND-best in the division! Ugly.
2014 Record: 6-8
2014 Rankings: 59 on offense, 108 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter
Notebook: A lot of similarities to Nevada in that we have a horrible defense returning five starters…and an offense that will be breaking in a brand new quarterback for six returning starters. Well, we have a similar bowl debacle too with a 30-6 loss to Rice. That’s 46-9 for Nevada and Fresno in bowl losses to Lafayette and Rice…after SDSU lost on its home field to Navy. How is Fresno State going to score on the road at Ole Miss in game two this season? Assume the worst until you see something positive happening.
San Jose State
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 70 on offense, 32 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Ron Carragher
Notebook: Last year’s offense could score vs. lousy defenses, but was outclassed badly by opposing defenses who knew what they were doing. So, returning 8 starters isn’t necessarily much of a positive. Defense was the strength of the program in 2014, but only four starters are back there. Early road trips to Oregon State and Air Force will offer some hints for whether or not the Spartans will matter in the divisional race.
2014 Record: 4-9
2014 Rankings: 98 on offense, 82 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Norm Chow
Notebook: We’re at a loss as to why Norm Chow is still in the coaching business. Hiring him was a desperation heave-ho, and all he’s done is making things worse. Which wasn’t a surprising development given his track record as an assistant over the prior decade. At least there’s some experience at quarterback amongst the starting contenders. But, that offense was pathetic last season…and sure isn’t likely to build September confidence with visits to places like Ohio State and Wisconsin.
2014 Record: 2-11
2014 Rankings: 78 on offense, 123 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Tony Sanchez (first year)
Notebook: Sanchez was a successful high school coach. But, high school coaches haven’t been transitioning well to the college level at all in recent seasons. The only saving grace is that this division is so horrible that Sanchez has a chance to tread water while he learns the ropes. The Rebels have fewer returning starters than any other MWC program…and are mostly starting from scratch. Blake Decker returns at quarterback, which seems like a godsend in comparison to the rest of their profile. It’s not like he was much of a gamebreaker though. If Sanchez isn’t ready, this could be the worst team in the nation when it’s all said and done.
Well, that was bleak! Clearly the power of the Mountain West is in the “Mountain” Division with Boise State and Utah State. The rest of the conference seems to be drifting (or plummeting) in the wrong direction. Glad we got it out of the way early in our summer preview series!
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Back to baseball Monday in the Notebook. Some great series to look at this week…
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)
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