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College football 2018: Mountain West Conference preview

Mountain West

Leading up to the kickoff of the 2018 college football season, The Game Haus has been previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As we continue today with the Mountain West Conference, we offer predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games within the league.

Here we go.

Predictions

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

1. Boise State
Still the gold standard in the Mountain West, the defending champion Broncos have posted double-digit victories in 15 of the last 19 seasons. Quarterback Brett Rypien will be a four-year starter and the defense should be a collectively sound unit without a superstar.

Mountain West
K.J. Carta-Samuels (Photo by coloradoan.com)

2. Colorado State
There are plenty of holes to fill from the departures of last season’s 7-6 team. However, Washington graduate transfer quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is an intriguing addition to help the Rams maintain their success.

3. Wyoming
Quarterback Josh Allen is gone, but stellar safety Andrew Wingard heads a defense that brings back eight starters after leading the nation with 38 forced turnovers. The Cowboys also get Boise State at home.

4. Utah State
The Aggies return 18 starters, meaning the expectations to better last year’s 6-6 regular-season mark are high. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love got his feet wet as a freshman but the defense can be more consistent.

5. Air Force
Following three seasons that produced 28 victories, the Falcons finished 5-7 a year ago. Air Force returns some experience on defense, which is the good news. The bad is that it ranked 101st allowing 32.4 points per contest.

6. New Mexico
The Lobos should be glad the season is upon them after everything that transpired with coach Bob Davie earlier this year. It will be interesting to see if his situation remains a distraction for a squad needing to rebound from a 3-9 2017.

WEST DIVISION

1. San Diego State
Is Juwan Washington the next in the line of productive Aztecs running backs? We’ll see after rushing for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns as a backup the last two seasons. All five lineman return and a defense that ranked 11th (304 yards per game) in ’17 has its top two tacklers back.

Mountain West
Juwan Washington (Photo by si.com)

2. Fresno State
The Bulldogs went from 1-11 in 2016 to 10-4, a remarkable turnaround under coach Jeff Tedford. There are 15 starters back from that squad, which should contend for another West Division title. The back seven, from a defense that ranked 10th allowing 17.9 points per game, returns.

3. UNLV
The progression at UNLV continues. The Rebels have increased their win total by one game in each of the last three seasons. If that trend continues it would leave them with six wins. Dual-threat quarterback Armani Rogers (1,471 passing, 780 rushing) was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year.

4. Nevada
The rebuilding process under second-year coach Jay Norvell will continue. Like last season, the Wolf Pack should be able to score (28.2 points per game in ’17). Whether they can stop anybody (33.9 points allowed) will be vital.

5. Hawaii
Last year’s 3-9 finish marked the program’s sixth losing season in the last seven. Making things more difficult, coach Nick Rolovich doesn’t return a lot of proven talent, leaving the potential for more of the same in 2018.

6. San Jose State
Since 1996, the Spartans have made only three bowl appearances. That number will probably stay the same. San Jose State has its share of experience, but both the offense and defense struggled last season, and the improvement could be minimal.

Players to watch

OFFENSE
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: There’s one more go-around for Rypien, who threw for 9,876 yards with 60 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, completed 62.8 percent of his passes and owned a passer rating of 146.8 the previous three years.

Mountain West
Andrew Wingard (Photo by draftblaster.com)

DEFENSE
Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming: It’s not a stretch to say Wingard is one of the top safeties in the country. In three seasons for the Cowboys, he’s totaled 228 tackles, eight interceptions and forced five fumbles.

 

 

Key Games

Aug. 31: San Diego State at Stanford. The Aztecs stunned the Cardinal at home last season, but likely will have a tougher time doing the same on the road.

Nov. 9: Fresno State at Boise State. A rematch of the 2017 Mountain West title game – won by Boise after losing to Fresno one week earlier. A possible preview of this year’s championship game.

Nov. 17: San Diego State at Fresno State. It’s very likely the West Division winner is determined by this contest. The Bulldogs won at SDSU in 2017 for their fourth win in six meetings.

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