Mountain West


#114 Wyoming Cowboys





HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

 took a step backwards in Craig Bohl's second year, winning just two games. The Cowboys have plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. Bohl oversaw the start of North Dakota State's dynasty (five straight FCS national titles), but he appears to be just getting started on turning around Wyoming.

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Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2016

Wyoming will have a different starting quarterback for the third time in Craig Bohl’s three seasons and the fourth in four years overall. Sophomore Josh Allen looked good in 13 plays in Week 2 last year before he broke his right collarbone in seven different places and missed the rest of the season. Allen, a former junior college transfer, will head into preseason camp as the favorite to start over sophomore Nick Smith.

The Cowboys return one of the most productive running backs in the nation in junior Brian Hill, who led the Mountain West and ranked eighth nationally with 135.9 yards per game in 2015. Hill’s 1,631 yards set a single-season Wyoming record, and he enters this season as the fifth-leading rusher in school history (2,427). Hill is joined in the backfield by senior Shaun Wick, who missed the final eight games last season due to a concussion. Wick is Wyoming’s ninth-leading career rusher with 2,179 yards.

Wyoming returns one of the best wide receiver duos in the MW in seniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt, who combined for 94 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 TDs last season. Senior tight end Jacob Hollister also is a reliable target. He caught 26 passes for 355 yards in 2015.

The Cowboys return five offensive linemen who started at least one game last season. The anchor is senior guard Chase Roullier, a second-team All-MW pick in 2015. Wyoming made a move with its two starting tackles, flipping junior Ryan Cummings to the right side and sophomore Zach Wallace to left tackle. Wallace started the last 10 games at right tackle last season as a 265-pound true freshman. He is now up to 295.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Wyoming’s Defense for 2016

Six starters return from a unit that allowed 34.0 points and 422.1 yards per game last season.

The secondary is the most experienced group, led by free safety Andrew Wingard. As a true freshman in 2015, Wingard earned second-team All-MW honors after leading the league with 6.9 solo tackles per game. Walk-on strong safety Marcus Epps led the team with two interceptions as a redshirt freshman. Junior Jalen Ortiz, a transfer from UCLA, is expected to push for playing time as a safety or a nickel back. Four cornerbacks who started games last season return. Junior Robert Priester is the most experienced of that group. 

Senior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha, a captain last season, recorded 96 tackles. Senior outside linebacker D.J. May had a productive 2015 after moving from running back. He had 69 tackles and broke up a team-best 10 passes.

Wyoming will be young and on the small side along the defensive line. This group’s progression is critical to the defense’s overall improvement. So is generating more turnovers — Wyoming forced only 10 last season.


Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2016

Ethan Wood returns for his fourth year as the Cowboys’ punter. He averaged a respectable 41.8 yards per punt as a junior. Wood also is expected to handle kickoffs. True freshman Cooper Rothe is expected to step in and handle field goal duties. The Cowboys’ coverage units were strong last season, finishing first in the league in opponent kickoff returns (21.3-yard average) and second in punt returns (4.6).

Final Analysis

Wyoming went from four wins in Bohl’s first season to just two last season — the fewest for the program since 2002. This team should be improved, especially on defense, but the Cowboys need to keep Allen healthy and establish some continuity at the quarterback position.

Bohl has described Wyoming as a developmental program. Sometime soon, he will need to find a way to develop some more wins.


#108 Fresno State Bulldogs



Mountain West PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Tim DeRuyter , 29-23 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Kiesau | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lorenzo Ward

 stumbled to a 3-9 finish last season, the worst in head coach Tim DeRuyter's four seasons. The offense ranked near the bottom of the nation in every major category, while the defense wasn't much better. The Bulldogs hope for better things, but significant coaching turnover and a relatively inexperienced roster could lead to even more growing pains in 2016.

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Previewing Fresno State’s Offense for 2016  

Coming off a season in which Fresno State ranked 122nd in the country in total offense and 107th in scoring, a housecleaning was in order. Coach Tim DeRuyter swept in a new coordinator (Eric Kiesau) and four new position coaches. All that change also brought a new philosophy. Instead of being an up-tempo spread team that picks run or pass based on how the defense lines up, the Bulldogs want to impose their will in certain situations. “If it’s third-and-1 and we decide to run, I don’t care if they put 11 guys in the box,” DeRuyter says. “We’re going to find a way to get it done.”

After starting four quarterbacks a year ago for all the usual reasons (injuries, ineffectiveness, suspension), Fresno State is desperate for some stability behind center. Chason Virgil, who sustained a broken clavicle in his first career start against Utah, will enter fall camp as the frontrunner. Still, the coaches want to see more from Ford Childress and a couple new arrivals, including freshman Quentin Davis.

Receiver is the deepest and most established position group with Jamire Jordan, KeeSean Johnson and Da’Mari Scott all back. There’s also the added hope that Aaron Peck can finally put everything together after missing last season with a foot injury. With seven career TD catches, tight end Chad Olsen needs to be utilized more outside the red zone.

Kiesau wants to run more, but the jury’s out on who’ll be doing the running — 220-pound Dontel James got most of the spring carries — or whether a revamped line with three new starters and not a ton of size will be up to the task.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Fresno State’s Defense for 2016

The Bulldogs finished 118th in points allowed and 102nd in total defense. But instead of making wholesale changes, DeRuyter brought in SEC veteran Lorenzo Ward to run his beloved 3-4, demoted longtime colleague Nick Toth to inside linebackers coach and kept everything else pretty much the same. Fresno State didn’t have to pay much to get Ward, who is still owed $750,000 by his former employer (South Carolina).

After years as a glaring weakness, cornerback is suddenly a strength. Tyquwan Glass recorded the most tackles of any Bulldogs corner in five years (62) to go with a team-high four interceptions. Glass and Daquawn Brown, a Washington State transfer who impressed at practice while sitting out, could emerge as one of the MW’s better duos. There’s also good depth with experience, both at corner and safety.

Things aren’t as rosy up front. Fresno State got blown off the ball by multiple MW opponents a year ago, a reason the coaches recruited two 310-pound junior college nose tackles (Malik Forrester and Patrick Belony). Their arrival also allows Nate Madsen to slide back to his more natural position of defensive end. With Jeff Camilli and Nela Otukolo, the Bulldogs are solid at inside linebacker. The graduation of leading tackler/sacker/personality Ejiro Ederaine leaves a big hole, though James Bailey, a hybrid outside backer/safety, looks like a budding star.


Previewing Fresno State’s Specialists for 2016

After four years of the same punter and long-snapper, first-year players will handle both roles. That’ll make first-year special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer a little nervous. Kody Kroening and Jimmy Camacho, who split the placekicking and kickoff roles, provide more stability.

Final Analysis

After a 20–6 record with two MW titles in Years 1 and 2, DeRuyter’s 9–17 combined record in Years 3 and 4 represents a significant decline. The revamped coaching staff is reason enough for Fresno State not to go 3–9 again. At the same time, the lack of talent and experience at QB sets 6–6 as a likely ceiling. The overriding question: Will that be good enough for DeRuyter to get Year 6?


#106 UNLV Rebels





HEAD COACH: Tony Sanchez, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Barney Cotton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer

While only won three games in former Las Vegas prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez' first season, it's possible that these Rebels take a major step forward in Year 2. The head coach and his players both have a year of experience working together and the roster has been bolstered thanks to one of the strongest recruiting classes in program history. But will the pieces all come together in a way that results in the Rebels winning enough games to become bowl eligible?

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Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2016 

Sanchez has plenty of talented options to replace Blake Decker, who started the majority of the past two seasons at quarterback. Junior Kurt Palandech returns after passing for nine touchdowns and running for 293 yards and four more scores as Decker’s backup. He will enter the fall in a stiff battle with Johnny Stanton, a first-team junior-college All-American who began his career at Nebraska, where he played for Rebel offensive coordinator Barney Cotton. And Sanchez says he will also give four-star recruit Armani Rogers, who switched to UNLV after initially committing to Cal prior to his senior year, a strong look in fall camp as well.

Whoever earns the starting nod at quarterback will have a solid group of skill players with which to work led by explosive sophomore running back Lexington Thomas. A deep group of wide receivers is led by juniors Devonte Boyd and 6'4" Kendal Keys, one of the stars of spring practice, along with redshirt freshman Darren Woods Jr. and sophomore Brandon Presley. And tight end, once a glaring weakness, now is a potential strength thanks to the development of senior Andrew Price and the addition of two junior-college standouts.

The offensive line, which allowed 33 sacks, returns three starters and is led by senior center Will Kreitler and junior left tackle Kyle Saxelid, who has added 25 much-needed pounds to his wiry 6'7" frame.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing UNLV’s Defense for 2016  

The line, led by senior end Jeremiah Valoaga and junior tackle Mike Hughes, appeared to be much-improved in spring practice but still must be considered a major question mark for the base 4-3 defense. Sanchez is hoping another year in the weight room combined with a solid recruiting class will improve a unit that was simply overpowered at times, allowing an astonishing 800 yards after first contact and an average of 5.7 yards per carry.

All three linebackers return, including seniors Tau Lotulelei and Ryan McAleenan, both of whom sparkled at times last season. And Sanchez expects Illinois transfer LaKeith Walls, a fifth-year senior who had 16 tackles in 11 games last season, and junior college transfer Brian Keyes to both become impact players.

The secondary has the potential to be the strength of the defense. Starting corners Torry McTyer and Tim Hough both return and will be joined by highly touted junior college transfer Robert Jackson. The Rebels must replace four-year starter Peni Vea at safety, but seniors Kenny Keys and Troy Hawthorne provide experience.


Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2016  

Senior Nicolai Bornand, who has twice earned Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week honors in his career and kicked a school-record-tying 54-yarder, returns to handle placekicking duties. The Rebels must replace steady three-year starter Logan Yunker at punter. Sophomore Evan Pantels averaged 39.3 yards last season at Georgia Military Academy. The former Georgia State signee will focus on punting duties in the fall and but can also handle placekicking and kickoff duties if needed.

Final Analysis

Sanchez brought some much-needed enthusiasm and discipline to the program in his first year after directing nearby Bishop Gorman High School to its first mythical national prep championship. A 3–9 finish might not seem like much to get excited about, but it marked just the fourth time in 12 seasons that UNLV topped the two-win mark in a season. Sanchez is hopeful that one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in school history, which included seven midyear juco signees and a program-record 10 recruits rated three stars or better, will be enough to get the team over the hump and back to a bowl game for just the second time since 2000. 


#36 San Diego State Aztecs





HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 43-23 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Horton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

The Aztecs took a huge step forward last season and look to keep that momentum going into 2016. Not only did San Diego State win the Mountain West in 2015, the 11 victories also tied for the best mark in program history. Coach Rocky Long will once again lean on dynamic running back Donnell Pumphrey and lockdown cornerback Damontae Kazee to win the conference in 2016. The Aztecs have some uncertainty at quarterback and in the receiving corps, but Long's team should be strong on defense and with the ground attack once again. 

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Previewing San Diego State’s Offense

Running back Donnel Pumphrey is back for an encore campaign after rushing for 1,653 yards and winning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year honors. Pumphrey considered leaving for the NFL but decided he wanted to take aim at Marshall Faulk’s school career rushing mark (4,589 yards from 1991-93). “I would like to break all of Faulk’s records,” says Pumphrey, who enters the campaign with 4,272 yards. “He’s an NFL Hall of Famer and had a terrific college career, and it would be a great accomplishment for our team if I was able to achieve that.”

Pumphrey’s return is also beneficial for quarterback Christian Chapman, who will need to prove he can be a downfield thrower after winning three consecutive starts to end last season after an injury to starter Maxwell Smith. The receiving group is a weakness, and that could affect Chapman’s growth. Pumphrey’s 28 receptions led the Aztecs last season, and Mikah Holder’s modest 24 catches were the best among the wideouts and tight ends.

First-team all-conference guard Nico Siragusa is the headliner of the offensive line, which returns three starters from a group that helped San Diego State rush for a school-record 3,266 yards.

Previewing San Diego State’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Cornerback Damontae Kazee was the MW Defensive Player of the Year last season after intercepting eight passes and forcing two fumbles. He originally announced he was leaving for the NFL, but a week later he stunningly changed his mind and said he was returning for his final college season. Kazee’s return allows San Diego State to keep its status as the top defense in the conference as he routinely quiets the receivers who line up on his side of the field.

Safety Malik Smith had 77 tackles and five interceptions and should take another step forward. Outside linebacker Calvin Munson is another standout on a defense that allowed 16.4 points per game; he totaled 98 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Defensive ends Alex Barrett (5.5 sacks) and Kyle Kelley (7.5) are strong performers up front. The Aztecs allowed 17 or fewer points in nine of their final 10 games last season and have the talent to be a stingy unit again this season.

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists

Not only do the Aztecs return the top offensive and defensive players in the conference, they also possess the reigning Special Teams Player of the Year in Rashaad Penny, a dynamic kickoff returner. Penny averaged 33.5 yards per return last season and scored TDs on three of his 24 opportunities. Punter Tanner Blain doesn’t kick for distance — only eight of his 77 efforts went for 50 or more yards — but he stifled the opponent’s return game with 25 placed inside the 20-yard line along with 24 fair catches. Kicker Donny Hageman is out of eligibility, so the field goal duties fall to John Baron II, a left-footer with a powerful leg.

Final Analysis

San Diego State matched the school’s major-college record for victories (11) last season — it was originally done in 11 games in 1969 under legendary Don Coryell — and will have an opportunity to reach those heights again this season. The Aztecs have developed a high level of toughness during Rocky Long’s five seasons as coach and also a resiliency to overcome obstacles that was seldom seen at the school for most of the previous two decades. The result has been six consecutive bowl games and last season’s conference title — the Aztecs’ first outright league title since claiming the Western Athletic Conference crown in 1986.

San Diego State will be favored to win the West Division, and the ultimate goal will be another MW title. Championship expectations are still a new thing for the Aztecs, but the 42–7 demolition of Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl showed that this crew is ripe to tack on more accomplishments.

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#34 Boise State Broncos



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, 21-6 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Zak Hill, Scott Huff | DEF. COORDINATOR: Andy Avalos

For only the second time in the past decade, the Broncos won less than 10 games last year. The disappointing season started off strong with Boise State opening 7-2 before November, but coach Bryan Harsin's team dropped two critical November conference games and fell short of the division title. Will they be rejuvenated in 2016? Star quarterback Brett Rypien looks to take more of a leadership role this year and lead the Broncos to another conference title.

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Previewing Boise State’s Offense

The Broncos return their offensive star power in sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, junior tailback Jeremy McNichols and senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck but lack proven depth. They also will have a new voice calling the plays — the fifth change in six years. Third-year coach Bryan Harsin, who was the offensive coordinator from 2006-10, will call the plays with help from new co-offensive coordinators Zak Hill (formerly of Eastern Washington) and Scott Huff, who also coaches the line.

Rypien, first-team All-Mountain West as a true freshman, will try to build on his early success. He tossed 20 touchdown passes in 11 games and averaged 304.8 passing yards per game. He battled inconsistency, though, which contributed to a pair of home losses late in the season.

McNichols was among the nation’s most productive players, amassing 1,337 rushing yards, 460 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. Sperbeck — the Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP in 2014 — chipped in with 88 catches for 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Broncos need to develop some depth around those playmakers — junior tight end Jake Roh and senior wide receiver Chaz Anderson are the only other major contributors returning — and re-assemble an offensive line that lost center Marcus Henry and left tackle Rees Odhiambo.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Broncos ended a disappointing 2015 on a historic high, holding Northern Illinois to 33 yards in a 55–7 win in the Poinsettia Bowl. The defense struggled mightily against option teams New Mexico and Air Force — teams Boise State must face every year — and has a new coordinator in linebackers coach Andy Avalos.

The No. 1 task for Avalos’ staff: Rebuild the defensive line. The Broncos return one defensive tackle with significant game experience and don’t have much more experience at end. They’ll need some newcomers to play immediately at tackle and hope that ends Jabril Frazier and Gabe Perez — who was injured last season — step up. Senior Sam McCaskill provides some needed versatility with the potential to start at end or tackle.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where leading tackler Ben Weaver, third-leading tackler Tanner Vallejo and Joe Martarano return. The secondary is inexperienced at cornerback — senior Jonathan Moxey will need to provide leadership — and deep at safety, led by senior Chanceller James.

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists

Placekicker Tyler Rausa and punter Sean Wale return for their senior seasons. Rausa was exceptional last year, hitting 25-of-30 field goal attempts. Three of his misses were from outside 50 yards. Wale hasn’t been able to boom his punts consistently, but he has improved his ability to pin opponents.

Final Analysis

The Broncos will enter the season as a bit of a mystery with new play callers on both sides of the ball and massive turnover on the defensive line. They’ll find out quickly what they have, though. Boise State has a challenging September — at Louisiana-Lafayette, vs. Washington State and at Oregon State to begin the season. October features three teams that beat the Broncos last season (Utah State, New Mexico and BYU). If Boise State can get to November in good shape, the schedule softens and perhaps sets up a marquee showdown at Air Force on Thanksgiving weekend. The Falcons have beaten the Broncos in consecutive seasons, including on Senior Night last year in Boise.

The development of Rypien and the young playmakers around him will play an instrumental role in the Broncos’ ability to bounce back from the 9–4 disappointment of 2015. So, too, will defensive line coach Steve Caldwell’s ability to turn an unproven bunch of linemen into a formidable presence.

The Debate

Will Boise State edge San Diego State for the Mountain West title in 2016?

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