Mountain West


#95 Wyoming Cowboys





HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

For the first time in five seasons, a Craig Bohl-coached team did not finish with a winning record. Now with a year under his belt at Wyoming and in FBS, Bohl will try to improve upon the four wins the Cowboys picked up in 2014. Familiarity with the coaching staff and playbook should help, but Wyoming returns just nine starters and is probably at least one more season away from earning bowl eligibility, let alone being a legitimate threat in the Mountain West.

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Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2015  

There should be more familiarity on offense as coach Craig Bohl enters his second season, but there will be a new quarterback. Senior Cameron Coffman was named the starter after the Cowboys’ first scrimmage of spring drills. The Indiana transfer completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore with the Hoosiers in 2012 but played in only three games as a junior.

Wyoming may have the top running back duo in the Mountain West in senior Shaun Wick and sophomore Brian Hill. Wick missed most of four games, but the pair combined for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The Cowboys also use fullbacks, and the top two are sophomore Drew Van Maanen and junior Jordan Ellis.

Juniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt are the Cowboys’ leading returning receivers. The duo combined for 53 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Wyoming needs more depth, and that will have to come from players who are new to the college game. Junior Jacob Hollister, a former quarterback, led all tight ends last season with 17 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

Three starting offensive linemen return, led by junior guard Chase Roullier, an honorable mention All-Mountain West pick last season.

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Previewing Wyoming’s Defense for 2015 

The front four looks to be the strength of a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 430.8 yards per game last season. Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-MW selection after leading the way with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Senior Siaosi Hala’api’api mans the other defensive end spot, and juniors Uso Olive and Chase Appleby figure to be the top two guys inside.

Bohl says Wyoming is “almost starting at ground zero” at linebacker. Junior Lucas Wacha is the only experienced player on the roster. The younger brother of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha has 140 tackles in the last two years. Wacha could play in the middle or outside but is undersized at about 220 pounds. Senior Malkaam Muhammad dislocated his elbow last season and missed most of spring with an injured shoulder. Others in the mix are playing the position for the first time. Former safeties Will Tutein and Tim Kamana both figure to play outside. Junior Eric Nzeocha was moved from tight end and could play in the middle, as could senior walk-on Devin McKenna.

The secondary also has plenty of uncertainty. Senior cornerback Tyran Finley led the team with only two interceptions, both in the same game. Sophomore Robert Priester likely will be the other starting corner despite undergoing offseason knee surgery. The two safety spots will be manned by new faces. Redshirt freshmen Chavez Pownell Jr. and Adam Pilapil (a walk-on) had good springs. Senior Chad Reese, who returned after a year away, and former running back D.J. May are also in the mix.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2015  

Junior punter Ethan Wood enters his third season on the job and averaged 41.4 yards last season. Who will handle the kicking duties is uncertain. Junior Justin Martin is in the mix, and true freshman walk-on Tristan Bailey should compete for the job in fall camp. Wick, Hill, May and Priester all will compete to be Wyoming’s kickoff and punt returners.

Final Analysis

Wyoming is still a work in progress after switching offensive and defensive philosophies when Bohl was hired. More development should occur this season with a more manageable schedule, but the Cowboys are still a couple of years away from being serious contenders in the Mountain West. 


#91 Nevada Wolf Pack





HEAD COACH: Brian Polian , 11-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Boone

Nevada returned to the postseason in Brian Polian's second season at the helm. Now the challenge for the Wolf Pack will be to maintain that same level of success with uncertainty at quarterback, along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Can the defense, which returns five starters in the front seven, carry Nevada back to a bowl game?

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Previewing Nevada’s Offense for 2015  

With three primary starters in 11 years, Nevada has had uncommon stability at quarterback. Who’s next? Well, that remains an open question.

Junior Tyler Stewart is the modest favorite in a three-way competition to start the season. Stewart is the only quarterback with college game experience on the Nevada roster, completing 21-of-37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns in his career. But Stewart lacks the mobility that has become the calling card of Nevada quarterbacks in the Pistol offense.

He could cede the position to either sophomore Danté Mayes, who has plenty of mobility and impressed during spring workouts, or redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick. Fralick was a prized local recruit last year, and the dual-threat might have the highest upside of the three.

Even with Cody Fajardo, the passing game struggled at times last year, averaging 99 yards per game during a 1–2 finish. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of Hasaan Henderson, a big-bodied receiver whose season ended with a scary head and spinal concussion. But the all-conference candidate is healthy and appears ready to lead a receiving unit that has just three upperclassmen.

Don Jackson, who amassed 957 yards and seven scores on 216 carries, and sophomore James Butler, who ran for 635 yards and five scores on 140 carries, should take pressure off the passing game. But they’ll need holes from a front that is a work in progress. Two starters return from an offensive line that was inconsistent last year, and questions remain at center and right tackle.

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Previewing Nevada’s Defense for 2015 

The front seven is a clear strength with five starters returning. The Pack essentially have four starting linebackers at three spots with Jordan Dobrich, Matthew Lyons and Bryan Lane all returning. Faigofie Faaituala steps in as the fourth backer, but Nevada will need to fill the leadership void from the departed starter Jon McNeal.

On the line, senior end Ian Seau (nephew of late NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau) had a breakout season in 2014, leading the team in sacks (8.5) and tackles for a loss (10.5). Lenny Jones will anchor the other end of the line, and fellow senior Rykeem Yates is among the best tackles in the league. The team is high on redshirt freshmen Malik Reed and Korey Rush, who will get some time along with emerging sophomore Patrick Choudja.

Nevada will need that front seven to produce a steady pass rush because the secondary is very young and inexperienced. All four starting spots will be up for grabs in fall camp. Kendall Johnson played at corner as a true freshman last year and has moved inside to safety this season, with redshirt freshman Asauni Rufus and sophomore Teré Calloway battling for time. Junior Randy Uzoma had a strong spring and appears ready to ascend to a starting spot at corner, and redshirt freshman Elijah Moody could lock down the other spot.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Nevada’s Specialists for 2015  

The kicking game should be stable with junior placekicker Brent Zuzo (14-of-18 field goals) and junior punter Alex Boy (44.3 yards per punt) returning. Junior Elijah Mitchell should be the primary kick returner after averaging 24.8 yards per return. The speedy Mitchell is one of the favorites to handle punt returns along with junior wideout Jerico Richardson.

Final Analysis

With questions at quarterback, offensive line and receiver, Nevada will rely on its improving defense. Still, there will be bumps.

San Diego State is the favorite in the West Division, but Nevada isn’t far behind. A favorable home conference slate should help Nevada land a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years.


#83 Air Force Falcons





HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 59-44 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ

Air Force soared to a somewhat surprising 10 wins last season, including a victory over Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Winning is nothing new for the Falcons under Troy Calhoun, and the offense should once again be productive thanks to one of the nation's top rushing attacks. The key to this season, however, is the other side of the ball, where just four starters return from a defense that was among the best in the Mountain West in 2014.

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Previewing Air Force’s Offense for 2015

For the first time since 2012, there’s no drama at quarterback. Nate Romine spent almost all of 2014 as a spectator after starting in 2013, but he delivered a huge splash in his one meaningful appearance, leading the Falcons to victory over nationally ranked Colorado State. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who’s a better passer than runner, but he understands how to operate the complex triple-option, run-first attack.

The Falcons are deep at fullback with D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern, both big, brutish and surprisingly elusive. Runs up the middle will be common, and coaches are trying to find ways to place both fullbacks on the field.

Jacobi Owens broke the 1,000-yard mark before suffering a season-ending injury to his right foot, but he often showed an unfortunate knack for turning an 8-yard gain into a 5-yard gain. He needs to show more imagination and daring this season. Owens will lead a deep, if underwhelming, set of tailbacks.

Romine’s set of receivers is so athletic it creates confusion. Why did wide receivers Jalen Robinette, Garrett Brown and tight end Garrett Griffin choose to play at Run University? Robinette, a high school quarterback, averaged 19 yards per catch last season while still learning his position. He’s a dominating blocker and could become the Mountain West’s most dangerous receiver.

The line was depleted by graduation, but expect superb and consistent blocking. Line coach Clay Hendrix is one of the nation’s top assistants, and he’s an expert at replacing lost parts. Tackle Matt Rochell and guard Andrew Ruechel will anchor the line.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Air Force’s Defense for 2015

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The Falcons vaulted from two wins in 2013 to 10 wins in 2014 largely because of hustling, surprisingly violent defenders. Air Force allowed 40 points per game in 2013 but cut the number to 24.2 in 2014. Seven starters are gone, including linebacker Jordan Pierce, a clutch, big-hit specialist.

Alex Hansen is an undersized yet ferocious defensive end who plays with the same wisdom and fire as Ben Garland, the former cadet who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Hansen will need all his experience to escape constant double teams.

The Healy brothers, Patrick and Connor, lead a depleted group of linebackers. Dexter Walker, a converted defensive back, will play outside linebacker at just over 200 pounds. He personifies the team’s profile. The Falcons are always undersized.

Strong safety Weston Steelhammer is fast, a ballhawk and capable of knockout hits, but he’s surrounded by question marks. The suspension of cornerback Gavin McHenry is a severe blow. He is expected to miss at least half the season.

Previewing Air Force’s Specialists for 2015

Placekicking was a catastrophe in spring practice. Drew Oehrle is the leading candidate to replace Will Conant, one of the nation’s most accurate kickers, but a freshman could emerge as the starter. Brett Dunn leads the field of punters.

Final Analysis

The Falcons averaged 31.5 points per game in 2014. That number could jump to near 40 this season. The fullbacks and receivers are at historical strength, and if opposing defensive coordinators stack against the run, Romine owns the arm power and accuracy to torch defensive backs.

But can the defense keep opposing offenses in check? The Falcons win, and win big, when their undersized defenders consistently keep opponents under 25 points per game.

Expect the Falcons to rush to a winning record, which would be the seventh in nine seasons under coach Troy Calhoun, but the youthful defense must quickly jell for the Falcons to again flirt with 10 wins.

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#71 Colorado State Rams



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Mike Bobo, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Will Friend | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tyson Summers

Colorado State is coming off its best season since 2002, a 10-3 season that saw the Rams challenge for a Mountain West title and propel coach Jim McElwain to the Florida job. After four seasons of improving its win total, Colorado State enters uncertain territory with new coach Mike Bobo, the former offensive coordinator at Georgia.

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Previewing Colorado State’s Offense for 2015  

Quarterback Garrett Grayson, who rewrote Colorado State’s passing record book, is gone, as is last year’s leading rusher, Dee Hart. There’s a new coach in Mike Bobo and a new offense he brought with him from Georgia to learn. But three starters on the offensive line are back, as is receiver Rashard Higgins. A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s outstanding receiver last year, Higgins led the nation in receiving yards (1,750) and touchdown catches (17).

Sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens, last year’s backup, picked up the new offense quickly during spring practices and seemed to have a pretty good grasp of what he’ll be expected to do this fall. The quarterbacks in Bobo’s pro-style offense have to make a number of reads at the line of scrimmage to get the offense into the right play based on what the defense is showing.

Fullbacks have returned to the CSU offense in an effort to build a powerful ground game that will wear opponents down. Sophomore Dalyn Dawkins, a transfer from Purdue, impressed coaches with his toughness this spring and could emerge as the primary running back over returnees Treyous Jarrells (87 carries for 450 yards and six touchdowns in 2014) and Jasen Oden (46 carries, 276 yards, two touchdowns), both seniors.

The Rams have two of the top tight ends in the Mountain West in seniors Steven Walker, a returning all-conference performer, and Kivon Cartwright.

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Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2015 

The Rams are moving from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 under new coordinator Tyson Summers, who directed one of the nation’s top defensive units last year at UCF. The biggest change, players say, is that defensive linemen are being asked to make plays themselves instead of filling gaps so the linebackers can come in and make the tackles.

The Rams return four starters in the secondary, where senior safeties Kevin Pierre-Louis (85 tackles) and Trent Matthews (54 tackles) and junior nickel back Preston Hodges (69 tackles) are the top returning tacklers on the defense. Junior cornerback Tyree Simmons had a strong spring.

The strength of the defense, though, is likely to be the linebackers, Bobo says. Juniors Kevin Davis and Deionte Clyburn played a lot as backups last fall, and sophomore Kiel Robinson was a top performer in spring drills. Senior Cory James returns on the outside, where he has 21 sacks over the past three seasons, including a team-leading 6.5 in 2014. 
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Colorado State’s Specialists for 2015  

Junior punter Hayden Hunt returns after averaging 43.8 yards a kick last season. But the Rams have to replace kicker Jared Roberts, who scored 270 points over the past four seasons and set a Mountain West record by making 111 consecutive PATs. Deointe Gaines is back to return kicks after averaging 24.9 yards as a true freshman, and senior Joe Hansley averaged 9.7 yards on six punt returns last season. Bobo retained three of former coach Jim McElwain’s assistants, including special teams coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt. So the Rams won’t be making the kind of wholesale changes in the kicking game that they’re making on offense and defense.

Final Analysis

It will be hard to match the success the Rams had last season, when they won nine games in a row and posted only the fifth 10-win season in school history. There’s bound to be a drop-off as they learn new schemes and replace key players. McElwain left the program in good shape, though, with solid depth at most positions and some talented players who are ready to step into starring roles. A third consecutive bowl appearance is well within reach.


#68 San Diego State Aztecs





HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 32-20 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Horton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

Under Brady Hoke and Rocky Long, San Diego State has become a regular winner, reaching five consecutive bowl games. The bar has been raised enough to where last season’s 7-6 season qualifies as a disappointment. The Aztecs should continue to contend in the Mountain West, but their ceiling may depend on the health of a transfer quarterback from Kentucky.

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Previewing San Diego State’s Offense for 2015

Transfer quarterback Maxwell Smith distanced himself from second-stringer Christian Chapman and Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues in spring drills and gives San Diego State an experienced leader. Smith is a former starter at Kentucky and is battled-tested after facing sturdy SEC defenses. He could excel in the Mountain West.

Running back Donnel Pumphrey rushed for a school-record 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore, and he is on pace to join Marshall Faulk (4,589), Larry Ned (3,562) and Ronnie Hillman (3,243) as the only rushers in school history to reach 3,000 career yards. The 5'9", 170-pound Pumphrey has proven he can carry a huge workload, and San Diego State plans to rely heavily on him again this season. 

The Aztecs are hoping that Eric Judge (24 receptions last season) will step up as a go-to receiver, and Lloyd Mills (22) should be the other starter after the dismissal of Larry Clark. The offensive line suffered a blow when starting center Lenicio Noble and backup guard Paul Rodriguez were booted from the squad, but the unit returns starting guards Nico Siragusa and Darrell Greene.

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Previewing San Diego State’s Defense for 2015

The Aztecs allowed just 19.8 points per game last season and received good news when cornerback J.J. Whittaker and middle linebacker Jake Fely were awarded an extra season of eligibility. Both players missed large parts or all of multiple seasons due to injuries, and the welcome development makes San Diego State’s defense even sturdier. 

Big-play outside linebacker Calvin Munson is the star of the unit after leading the team with four interceptions and with 10.5 tackles for a loss, including a team-high four sacks. Fely has started 30 career games but was healthy for just three contests last season. 

The return of Whittaker (two interceptions) means that all five secondary starters in the Aztecs’ 3-3-5 alignment are returning. Cornerback Damontae Kazee broke up 13 passes last season, and safeties Malik Smith (three interceptions), Na’im McGee and Trey Lomax all had solid campaigns in 2014 and should be even better this fall. 

Defensive end Alex Barrett had nine tackles for a loss before having his season cut short by a foot injury, and nose tackle Christian Heyward has the potential to mix it up in the interior.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists for 2015

Donny Hageman was an improvement over San Diego State’s 2013 kicking fiascos, but his 20-of-25 field-goal campaign didn’t come without a glitch. Hageman had a chance to be a hero in the Poinsettia Bowl but missed a 34-yarder with 20 seconds left to allow Navy to post a 17–16 victory. He has a solid leg on kickoffs, which often helps with field position. Junior college transfer Tanner Blain likely will be the punter to replace departed Joel Alesi. Mills is a solid punt returner who took one back for a score in 2014.

Final Analysis

San Diego State has gone to five consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and has been steady but not spectacular in four seasons under coach Rocky Long’s leadership. The seven victories in 2014 were the Aztecs’ fewest since 2009 (under Brady Hoke), and there is now an expectation of a winning season and bowl game appearance every year. 

If Smith can avoid the injuries that hindered him at Kentucky and can provide the downfield passing attack San Diego State lacked last season, the Aztecs will be a solid threat to reach the Mountain West title game. The defense is strong enough for San Diego State to win the division crown, and there is enough overall talent for the Aztecs to set winning the conference championship as a legitimate goal.


#51 Utah State Aggies



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Matt Wells, 19-9 (2 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Heupel, Luke Wells | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Clune

Matt Wells has done a terrific job following Gary Andersen at Utah State. He’s won 19 games in two years and gave Aggies fans their third consecutive bowl victory by beating UTEP last December. The Mountain West contender sustained multitudes of injuries last season and should be healthier this fall. If Wells can break in new coordinators this offseason, the Aggies could push for a league championship.

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Previewing Utah State’s Offense for 2015

Once again the Aggies return a wealth of experience on offense, especially at quarterback. While one signal-caller who had started 11 games over the past two seasons left the team during spring drills, two more are back who have won bowl games — Chuckie Keeton and Kent Myers. Add to the mix Oregon transfer Damion Hobbs, and that position looks loaded. “We are strong at quarterback,” Utah State head coach Matt Wells says. “We’ve got game-day experience. We’ve got guys that have won games. Our team believes in all those guys. It is a position of strength.”

Myers, who was the New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP in 2014 as a true freshman, spent half of spring at wide receiver. When Darrell Garretson left the team, Myers moved back to quarterback and into the battle to back up Keeton, a Heisman Trophy candidate two years ago.

Four linemen are back, and several key recruits were added to strengthen the position. Protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running game should be a strength.

As for who will be carrying the ball, it could turn into a committee. LaJuan Hunt led the team as a freshman a year ago.

Two of the top four wide receivers from 2014 are back in Devonte Robinson and Hunter Sharp, along with tight end Wyatt Houston. JoJo Natson was expected to be a key target for Keeton, but the senior was dismissed from the team in late June.

“You expect a lot out of guys that have started,” Wells says. “I expect them to play at a very high level pretty early in the season.”

Previewing Utah State’s Defense for 2015

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Despite resting a handful of players who have started during spring to heal from surgeries or lingering injuries, this side of the ball showed its depth in scrimmages. It would seem the defense, which finished last season among the national leaders in many statistical categories, could be even better in 2015.

Like the quarterbacks, the Aggies had a number of linebackers go down with injuries but just kept reloading. Now there is a group that will be fighting for playing time. Nick Vigil and Kyler Fackrell have earned all-league honors, while LT Filiaga and Torrey Green were able to step in and play significant time last year.

“I think we are talented at linebacker,” Wells says. “Linebacker should be the strength of our defense.”

The secondary lost two safeties to graduation but returns a group of athletes who saw lots of time in nickel and dime packages. Cornerbacks Jalen Davis and Daniel Gray, along with safety Devin Centers, give the team experience.

Jordan Nielsen is the most experienced player in the defensive trenches.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Utah State’s Specialists for 2015

The punter and kicker who handled most of the field goals are gone. Jake Thompson has kicked off and been used to attempt longer field goals. Long snapper Salanoa Galea’i is also back.

Final Analysis 

Not even a plethora of key injuries derailed the Aggies from going to their fourth straight bowl game and emerging victorious for the third consecutive year. One has to wonder how good they could have been had they stayed healthy. Most of those athletes are back, and a strong recruiting class has been added.

With the success Utah State has enjoyed, several key assistants left for bigger schools. The Aggies will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Josh Heupel (offense) and Kevin Clune (defense), who was a position coach at USU several years ago. Wells believes the new coordinators have added to the program and brought a new and different enthusiasm.

Extending the school record streak of bowl appearances is nearly a given.