As we continue our conference-by-conference previews of college football win totals, our focus shifts to the Mountain West. Boise State is going to be fantastic once again, but there are some other contenders with Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State also in the mix. As I have done with the other conferences, I will look at each team and see if there's any value to the posted total.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of the South Point Casino sports book
(Over 5 +110...Under 5 -130)
Things could be mighty difficult on defense with just one returning starter and the rest being very young. Grant Ross had 67 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2016 and will be joined by R.J. Jackson at linebacker. On offense, Arion Worthman and Tim McVey represent the returning talent in the backfield. Trying to find someone to replace Jalen Robinette will be tough considering he was the rare service academy wide receiver talent. The schedule features games against VMI, Michigan, Navy and Army. The Falcons have four of five on the road at the end of September. I think the under is the right play, but the money move has taken some of the value away.
(Over 8 -120...Under 8 EVEN)
There are only four returning starters on each side of the ball, but QB Brett Rypien represents one of those so that's a good place to start on offense. Rypien had 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions last season. The Broncos’ all-time leading receiver (Thomas Sperbeck) and productive running back Jeremy McNichols are both gone, but Rypien still has Cedrick Wilson (1,129 yards, 11 TDs) to throw to. The offensive line figures to be okay despite losing three starters. On defense, Boise State needs to create more turnovers because nine last year doesn't cut it. Junior tackle David Moa had 8.5 sacks, which represented 30 percent of the team’s total (29). The schedule lines up nicely for a fast start with three of the first four at home. I don't mind the under here especially at the EVEN price tag.
(Over 7.5 EVEN...Under 7.5 -120)
The Rams finished out the season with four shootouts and hope to carry that over this season. Nick Stevens was named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list, which is given to the nation's best quarterback. Stevens was pretty good after taking over for Collin Hill, throwing for 1,859 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the final seven games. Dalyn Dawkins is back at running back while Michael Gallup is one of the top wide receivers in FBS. The biggest question mark is up front with just two returning starters. CSU's defense figures to be even better with eight starters back and a lot of them are seniors. The Rams have a three-game road swing that starts with Alabama in September. I think the under is worth a look here too.
(Over 5.5 -110...Under 5.5 -110)
New Mexico returns Lamar Jordan at quarterback and five of its top six running backs so the Lobos should keep the momentum going after leading the nation in rushing (350 ypg) last season. Running behind an offensive line with four returning starters probably doesn’t hurt either. There are several returning wideouts, but they aren't as crucial in head coach Bob Davie's run-heavy offense. Defensively is where the issues start with just three returning starters. There was immense improvement on this side of the ball in 2016, but I don't know if that will continue especially with a potentially leaky secondary. New Mexico alternates home and road games for the most part once it gets into conference play. Give me the over as I think there's a good shot for six wins or more.
(Over 4.5 EVEN...Under 4.5 -120)
It was a rough 2016 season for the Aggies as their streak of winning at least six games and playing in a bowl ended at six following a 3-9 finish. Unfortunately, that trend could continue with just four starters back on each side of the ball. The top three tacklers are gone on defense, putting more pressure on the most experienced returnees – linebackers Alex Huerta and Derek Larsen and safety Dallin Leavitt. On offense, QB Kent Myers is back and he's got Tonny Lindsey Jr. in the backfield. Myers managed just 10 touchdown passes with eight interceptions last season, but some of that can be attributed to a lack of protection. This will be a concern once again, however, with just one starter returning along the offensive line. The schedule is tough with three of the first four on the road. Playing at Wisconsin and Wake Forest won't help build early confidence. I think the under is worth a look here.
(Over 7.5 EVEN...Under 7.5 -120)
Josh Allen is getting a lot of love from draft analysts who say he could be one of the top quarterback prospects next year should be declare early. Allen threw 28 touchdown passes and added another seven scores on the ground last season. The weapons around him will need to be developed with the top three receivers gone as well as running back Brian Hill. The good thing is that the offensive line will give him some time. Nine starters are back on defense, including four in the secondary. If the defense continues to force turnovers (27, tied for 10th in FBS) like last year, then the Cowboys could be a sleeper team. Wyoming has four straight home games in September, including a visit from Oregon. I like the over here as I think Allen continues his improvement as a signal-caller.
(Over 4 EVEN...Under 4 -120)
Notice the trend in this conference? There's not a lot of confidence in almost any team in the Mountain West. Fresno State has nine starters back on offense and six on defense. New head coach Jeff Tedford is going to have to work his magic on QB Chason Virgil who had a decent season last year, but many called for his benching. Weapons are back so the offense should improve from the 17.7 points per game the Bulldogs scored last year. The new defensive coordinator is Orlondo Steinauer, who made a name for himself in the CFL. Can he make the transition to the college game though? For some reason the Bulldogs scheduled road games at Alabama and Washington in weeks two and three. Four is a pretty good number so no play here.
(Over 4.5 EVEN...Under 4.5 -120)
Nick Rolovich managed to get the Warriors to a bowl in his first year. He has Dru Brown and Diocemy Saint Juste back on offense. Brown provides some consistency to the quarterback position after he threw for 19 touchdowns in 2016. The left side of the offensive line should be strong. The defense was too generous last year, giving up more than 50 points on four different occasions. The defensive line has had issues with discipline off the field, as Ka'aumoana Gifford was suspended for all of 2017. I like the over for Hawaii if the right answers emerge up front.
(Over 3.5 -130...Under 3.5 +110)
The rare team in this conference that the public seems to like. The Wolf Pack have first-year head coach Jay Norvell and the veteran offensive coordinator is expected to put his stamp on the offense, making it more up-tempo and entertaining. James Butler's departure at running back is a concern with a lack or proven options stepping into major roles. David Cornwell and Ty Gangi are fighting for the starting quarterback job. Jeff Casteel will run the defense and change to a 3-3-5 from a traditional 4-3. The secondary is the team's strength so that could help the transition. What may not help, however, is the schedule which includes road games against Northwestern and Washington State in September. Nevada has very winnable home games so I agree with the public move on the over.
(Over 9.5 EVEN...Under 9.5 -120)
Donnell Pumphrey, the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, is gone, but the Aztecs ground game should be strong once again. Rashaad Penny put up more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns behind Pumphrey last season. Christian Chapman was very good as a game manager, taking care of the ball (just six interceptions) and making the most of his limited passing opportunities. He was out for spring practice because of a thumb injury. The offensive line has just one starter back so it may take time to get the ground game going. Head coach Rocky Long should field another good defense in 2017. Linebacker Ronley Lakalaka and cornerback Kameron Kelly are expected to take on bigger roles. San Diego State gets Stanford and Northern Illinois at home. Last year, the Aztecs knocked off Cal in San Diego. The under is a good play here as I think nine wins is a lot to ask for.
(Over 3.5 EVEN...Under 3.5 -120)
The offensive line will try to stop the trend of 88 sacks allowed the last two years. The quarterback position is a huge question mark for new head coach Brent Brennan. Running backs Malik Roberson and Zamore Zigler figure to get a lot of work early as the team tries to play ball control. The secondary is pretty much intact after ranking 19th nationally against the pass. Special teams also should be solid so all the pressure is on the offense. The Spartans play back-to-back road games three different times this season, including a brutal Texas-Utah double dip. The under is the side here with two wins being likely.
(Over 5.5 +110...Under 5.5 -130)
There are a lot of weapons surrounding quarterback Armani Rogers, arguably the best recruit that head coach Tony Sanchez has brought in his brief tenure. Rogers has size (6-5), a strong arm and decent mobility. Devonte Boyd should be his top target while Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams head up a deep running back group. The defense has just two returning starters – tackles Mike Hughes Jr. and Salanoa-Alo Wily. The secondary gave up too many big plays last season and that could be the case once again. A Sept. 23 road trip to Columbus to play Ohio State probably isn’t going to end well. Unfortunately, the public is on the right side of another win total as the under is a good play.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.