One of the underrated winners of the recent wave of conference realignment has been the Mountain West. Not only did the league keep Boise State and San Diego State after both schools flirted with — and even temporarily joined — the Big East, but the Mountain West has also poached four programs from the WAC in the last two years (Fresno State and Nevada after the 2011 season and San Jose State and Utah State after the ’12 season). These additions helped mitigate the losses of TCU, Utah and BYU.
Boise State is the best team in the league and the overwhelming favorite in the Mountain Division, but the balance of power — at least in the short term — is in the West Division. Fresno State, which quietly went 7–1 in its first year in the league last fall, is the pick to win the division thanks to an explosive offense that features elite talent at quarterback (Derek Carr) and wide receiver (Davante Adams). The race for second figures to be tight between San Jose State, San Diego State and Nevada. Both the Spartans and Wolf Pack are under new leadership, with Ron Caragher taking over for Mike MacIntyre in San Jose and Brian Polian now in charge in Reno.
There is quite a bit of fall-off after the “Big Four” in the West as UNLV and Hawaii might be two of the worst FBS teams in the nation. Bobby Hauck needs to show significant progress at UNLV after winning exactly two games in each of his first three seasons. Norm Chow’s first season at Hawaii did not go well — the Warriors went 1–7 in the league — and the prognosis for 2013 isn’t much better.
After taking a small step back last season, Boise State should be back to its usual explosive ways on offense with the return of quarterback Joe Southwick and a veteran offensive line. The Broncos’ toughest league test will be a trip to Fresno State for a Friday night showdown in late September.
League newcomer Utah State could be Boise’s biggest challenger in the Mountain Division. The Aggies lost coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin but welcome back quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Air Force, as usual, is a bit of a mystery with so many new faces, but the Falcons will once again be a tough out in league play. Wyoming is poised to bounce back from a disappointing 4–8 season — if the Cowboys can keep talented junior quarterback Brett Smith healthy. Dave Christensen, entering his fifth year in Laramie, needs a strong season to stay off the hot seat.
Colorado State returns 15 starters from a team that won three of its last five games under first-year coach Jim McElwain. The Rams are getting better but are probably a year away from being a factor in the league race.
New Mexico won only one league game last year but showed marked improvement in the first year of the Bob Davie era. The Lobos, however, will have a tough time escaping the Mountain Division basement in 2013 unless they can find a way throw the ball with some success. Last season, UNM completed a total of 79 passes in 13 games.
2013 Mountain West Team Previews
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