Mountain West


#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

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

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.

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#25 Boise State Broncos



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, 12-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eliah Drinkwitz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

Boise State’s first season under coach Bryan Harsin was a success. The Broncos won 12 games, including a 38-30 victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Boise State is back among the nation’s top 25 teams in 2015 with 17 returning starters. Replacements must be found for quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, but the Broncos are loaded for another run at a double-digit win season.

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Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2015:

The Broncos return nine offensive starters but still will look dramatically different this year. The two lost starters — quarterback Grant Hedrick and tailback Jay Ajayi — accounted for 89.1 percent of the team’s yards and 92.4 percent of the offensive touchdowns. The program also changed offensive coordinators again. Tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz was promoted to become the fifth man in six years to orchestrate the Broncos’ offense. He replaces Mike Sanford, who left after one successful season at his alma mater to become the coordinator at Notre Dame. Drinkwitz previously called plays for coach Bryan Harsin in 2013 at Arkansas State.

The quarterback and tailback holes won’t be filled until August. Sophomore Ryan Finley, the backup last year, is the favorite to replace Hedrick. He tossed two touchdown passes in relief last year against Air Force. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols, who played a receiver/tailback combo role as a true freshman, is the front-runner for Ajayi’s job, but coaches expect to utilize a committee this season rather than the one-back approach of 2014.

The two new starters will be surrounded by talent, including standout offensive linemen Marcus Henry (center) and Rees Odhiambo (left tackle); emerging pass catchers Thomas Sperbeck, Chaz Anderson and Jake Roh (tight end); and veteran receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2015:

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Broncos return all but one defensive lineman, two outstanding linebackers and two all-conference defensive backs from a defense that lacked consistency but showed flashes of dominance last season.

The goal is to regain the conference’s top spot in defense, a perch the Broncos have occupied frequently during their run of 10 top-25 seasons in 13 years. They turned stingy for a four-and-a-half-game stretch from halftime of the San Diego State game to the end of the season. The biggest flaw last year was giving up the big play, an area that should improve with this group’s experience and the return of the nickel back. The Broncos were forced by injuries to move linebacker Tanner Vallejo to nickel, which limited their coverage options. Vallejo, who was the Defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship Game and Fiesta Bowl, returns to middle linebacker after recording 16.5 tackles for a loss.

Other defensive standouts include Mountain West sack leader Kamalei Correa (12.0), MW interception leader Darian Thompson (seven, with one TD) and cornerback Donte Deayon (six interceptions, two TDs).

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

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2015:

Junior Tyler Rausa replaces solid kicker Dan Goodale, while Sean Wale returns as the punter, coming off a career-best performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Long snapper Kevin Keane and holder Wale return, too. Williams-Rhodes and Deayon provide dynamic options as kick returners, though the Broncos did rank last in the league in kickoff returns in 2014 (18.8-yard average).

Final Analysis 

The Broncos’ 12–2 record and Fiesta Bowl championship were a surprise in 2014. This team is much better equipped for that type of season with its experience, depth and stable coaching staff. The Broncos might be unanimous favorites in the Mountain West and should start in the top 25. The key will be a loaded September schedule: The opener is against Washington and former coach Chris Petersen in Boise, and trips to BYU and Virginia follow. A 4–0 September would rekindle the buzz that surrounded the program’s Kellen Moore era as an outsider trying to crash the national championship party. But even with a difficult start, the schedule strength will allow the Broncos to contend for another New Year’s Six berth.