The Mountain West didn’t have any changes in membership or realignment talk this offseason, but it was a busy period for the conference’s top programs.
Boise State lost coach Chris Petersen to Washington, but former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired away from Arkansas State to keep the program at the top of the conference. Harsin inherits a team that returns 12 starters, but there are concerns for the Broncos on the offensive and defensive lines. Youth and injuries hurt Boise State’s overall depth last season, and a challenging schedule is on tap early in the year, including a neutral site game against Ole Miss.
Boise State is Athlon’s projected champion in the Mountain West, but the Broncos are ranked only No. 46 nationally. The Mountain West isn’t as strong as it was in 2013, largely due to the personnel losses at Utah State and Fresno State. The Aggies are a close No. 2 in the Mountain Division to Boise State, and quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back from a torn ACL suffered in early October. Keeton’s return is crucial for an offense that returns only three starters and must replace four key cogs on the line.
Even though Colorado State loses standout center Weston Richburg and running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams were a clear No. 3 in Athlon’s predictions for the Mountain Division. Quarterback Garrett Grayson leads an improving passing attack, and third-year coach Jim McElwain has the program trending in the right direction.
Rounding out the rest of the Mountain Division is Wyoming, Air Force and New Mexico. New Wyoming coach Craig Bohl was one of the top hires by any program this offseason, and the Cowboys could push for a bowl in 2014. Air Force and New Mexico will also show improvement, but both programs have to find answers on defense to push for a postseason appearance.
Fresno State is Athlon’s projected champion of the West Division, and the Bulldogs have a considerable edge over Nevada and San Diego State. Despite losing quarterback Derek Carr, Fresno State is still a Mountain West title contender, as receiver Josh Harper is one of the best in the conference, and eight starters return on an improving defense.
Mountain West Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014
Las Vegas: MW vs. Pac-12
New Orleans: MW vs. Sun Belt
Poinsettia: MW vs. Navy
Hawaii: MW vs. C-USA
Famous Idaho Potato: MW vs. MAC
New Mexico: MW vs. C-USA
It’s a tossup between Nevada and San Diego State for the No. 2 spot, but the Wolf Pack should be better in the second year under Brian Polian. Quarterback Cody Fajardo battled injuries last season, and new coordinator Scott Boone should help a defense that allowed over 500 yards per game in 2013. The Aztecs should be solid once again, but a tough road schedule could prevent this team from matching last year’s eight wins.
UNLV made considerable progress under Bobby Hauck last year, but the Rebels are banned from postseason play. Hauck will have to fight motivation concerns all year, and standout guard Cameron Jefferson transferred to Arkansas this summer.
San Jose State has to find a replacement for quarterback David Fales, and coach Ron Caragher hopes the addition of veteran coordinator Greg Robinson will improve a defense that allowed 35.1 points per game in 2013.
Hawaii is picked to finish No. 6 in the West, as the Warriors have a handful of question marks on both sides of the ball. A full season from running back Joey Iosefa will help, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback, and the defense allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors showed some improvement in Norm Chow’s second year and need to take another step forward to escape the bottom of the West Division in 2014.
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Five Key Conference Games to Watch in 2014
San Diego State at Fresno State (Oct. 3)
Aztecs lost by seven in overtime last year. Without Derek Carr and Davante Adams, can the Bulldogs hold off San Diego State once again?
Fresno State at Boise State (Oct. 17)
Rematch of last year’s entertaining 41-40 shootout at Fresno, and this game could be an early preview of the Mountain West title game in December.
San Diego State at Boise State (Nov. 15)
Aztecs have won two in a row over Boise State. Can San Diego State continue their success against the Broncos?
Fresno State at Nevada (Nov. 22)
If the Wolf Pack want to challenge for the West Division title, beating the Bulldogs on Nov. 22 is a must.
Utah State at Boise State (Nov. 29)
The Aggies have not won a game at Boise since 1996. A win over the Broncos on Nov. 29 could decide the Mountain Division.