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Mountain West Football 2017 Predictions

Complete Mountain West preview for 2017.

San Diego State has claimed back-to-back Mountain West titles, and coach Rocky Long’s team begins 2017 in great shape to repeat. The Aztecs should be solid on defense once again, with the offense expected to lean heavily on the one-two punch of Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington to replace Donnel Pumphrey at running back. San Diego State is a heavy favorite to return to the conference title game in Athlon’s 2017 Mountain West predictions, with a trio of teams battling at the top of the Mountain Division. Boise State is a slight favorite in Athlon’s picks to claim the Mountain title, with Colorado State and Wyoming also expected to be in the mix. Hawaii, UNLV and Air Force headline the league’s sleeper teams to watch this fall.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Mountain West predictions for 2017:

 

1. Boise State vs. Colorado State/Wyoming

Wyoming won the Mountain Division last year, and Colorado State is an intriguing sleeper pick, but the nod as the favorite still goes to Boise State. While the Broncos are Athlon’s projected pick to win the Mountain Division, the gap has narrowed just a bit over the last two seasons. Boise State has not ranked as a top 25 team at the end of the regular season in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01, but there’s no reason to panic under coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos return eight starters this fall, including quarterback Brett Rypien and big-play receiver Cedrick Wilson. Sophomore Alexander Mattison looks like a breakout candidate at running back to replace Jeremy McNichols. Scoring points won’t be a problem for Boise State. However, how fast can the defense reload after returning just four starters and suffering key losses at each level? Additionally, the Broncos will be tested in road trips to Colorado State and San Diego State – two games that could decide who wins the Mountain Division.

 

The Rams will be an interesting sleeper pick to win the division this fall, as coach Mike Bobo’s team returns 13 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad. Colorado State was a different team over the second half of 2016, winning four out of their last five regular season games, including a 63-31 victory at San Diego State. With quarterback Nick Stevens and receiver Michael Gallup anchoring the offense, the Rams could have the league’s best attack in 2017. Bobo will be looking for improvement from a defense that surrendered 30.4 points per game last fall and ranked eighth in the Mountain West against the run. If this unit improves, and Colorado State picks up where it left off on offense, the Nov. 11 showdown against Boise State in Fort Collins could decide the champion of the Mountain Division.

 

And we can’t discuss this division without mentioning the reigning Mountain Division champs – Wyoming. Led by quarterback Josh Allen, the Cowboys are positioned to make another run at the division title. Allen won’t have running back Brian Hill to lean on in 2017, but a revamped (but talented) receiving corps and solid offensive line provide a good foundation. Similar to Colorado State and Boise State, Wyoming enters the year with question marks on defense. Coach Craig Bohl’s group returns nine starters but struggled against the run and gave up too many big plays against the pass. 

 

This Boise State team may not be as good as some of its previous versions, but the guess here is Harsin and his staff find the right answers on defense and edge Colorado State and Wyoming for the division crown.

 

2. San Diego State the Clear Favorite in the West Division

San Diego State begins 2017 where it has ended each of the last two seasons – at the top of the West Division. The Aztecs have claimed back-to-back Mountain West championships and are 14-2 in regular season conference play during that span. Coach Rocky Long has helped the program raise its profile in recent years, and despite some significant personnel losses, San Diego State has the necessary personnel to win its third division title in a row. Donnel Pumphrey leaves big shoes to fill at running back, but Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington should form an effective one-two punch on the ground. Quarterback Christian Chapman was steady in his first full year as the starter and could take a step forward in 2017. But the Aztecs don’t have a deep collection of receivers, and the offensive line features four new starters. Even if the offense regresses on the stat sheet, the defense should remain one of the league’s best with six returning starters. However, replacing standout cornerback Damontae Kazee, linebacker Calvin Munson and linemen Alex Barrett and Kyle Kelley won’t be easy. While San Diego State has some roster turnover and personnel question marks to address, it’s hard to see Hawaii or UNLV improving enough to catch Long’s team in 2017. The Aztecs may not be as dominant as they were last fall. However, this is still the team to beat in the West Division and is a threat to win the league for the third year in a row.

 

3. Hawaii and UNLV on the Rise

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San Diego State is clearly entrenched at the top of the West Division, but Hawaii and UNLV are two teams to watch in the battle for second place. The Rainbow Warriors showed marked improvement in coach Nick Rolovich’s first year and played in the program’s first bowl since 2010. With a full year as the starter from quarterback Dru Brown, along with a seven other returning starters, the offense should easily improve off last season’s scoring total (28.3 ppg). A revamped secondary is Rolovich’s top concern on defense, while All-Mountain West selections in linebacker Jahlani Tavai and end Meffy Kolomatangi anchor the front seven. Another bowl bid is easily within reach for Hawaii, but unless the defense shows marked improvement – 37.3 points per game in 2016 – the Rainbow Warriors will be right in the seven/eight-win range once again. Third-year coach Tony Sanchez hasn’t quite delivered the breakout year that Hawaii experienced last season. However, the Rebels are on the right track. Leading the way for Sanchez in 2017 is a dynamic offense, headlined by standout receiver Devonte Boyd and redshirt freshman Armani Rogers at quarterback. UNLV also returns one of the Mountain West’s deepest backfields and top offensive lines this fall. But just like Hawaii, the defense has to improve for the Rebels to finish higher than third in the West Division. This unit gave up 36.8 points per game in 2016 and returns only two starters. Expect UNLV to take another step forward this fall. However, a bowl game is probably a year away.

 

Related: Mountain West 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. Air Force vs. New Mexico

The battle between Wyoming, Boise State and Colorado State will draw plenty of attention during the year, but New Mexico and Air Force also received plenty of discussion in Athlon’s Mountain West meeting. The Falcons have won 28 games over the last three seasons and face a huge rebuilding effort in 2017. Coach Troy Calhoun returns just one starter on defense, and the offense must replace standout receiver Jalen Robinette. Quarterback Arion Worthman is a rising star and could emerge as one of the league’s top signal-callers by the end of 2017. With running back Tim McVey and three starters up front returning, the ground game should still rank among the nation’s best. Air Force is one of the Mountain West’s most reliable programs under Calhoun, but 2017 has the look of a rebuilding year with significant losses on both sides of the ball. New Mexico is on stable ground under coach Bob Davie, and the program has improved significantly since the disastrous three-year stint under Mike Locksley. But similar to Air Force, New Mexico has its share of personnel concerns on defense to address. This unit allowed 31.5 points per game in 2016 and returns just three starters. The secondary is an area of great concern for coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, especially in non-conference matchups against Texas A&M and Tulsa. The Lobos led the Mountain West in scoring offense (36.7 ppg) and should be explosive once again with quarterback Lamar Jordan and running back Tyrone Owens leading the way. The passing attack needs to improve, and New Mexico regains the services of receiver Delane Hart-Johnson after he missed all of 2016 due to injury. The Lobos won’t be an easy out in conference play. But this team catches San Diego State in crossover action and plays at Boise State and Wyoming. It’s a tough path to improve on last year’s nine wins.

 

5. New Coaches Look for Improvement + Hot Seat Talk at Utah State

The Mountain West features three new coaches for 2017, as Brent Brennan (SJSU), Jeff Tedford (Fresno State) and Jay Norvell (Nevada) make their debut this fall. All three coaches face an uphill battle to find success in 2017, as Nevada, Fresno State and San Jose State are projected at the bottom of the conference. The Wolf Pack have the most upside out of this trio. Running back James Butler decided to transfer, but seven starters return on defense and Alabama transfer David Cornwell should be a good fit at quarterback for the new scheme. The Spartans won four games last year but are likely to struggle to reach that mark in 2017. Uncertainty remains under center for Brennan, and the offensive line allowed a whopping 50 sacks in 2016. Additionally, depth on defense – especially up front – remains a concern. Fresno State has watched its win total decline from 11 in 2013 to six in 2014, three in 2015 and just one in 2016. Tedford has a lot of work ahead in the next few seasons, and his task wasn’t made easier with a roster that features only four players selected to Athlon’s four All-Mountain West teams for 2017. The climb back to respectability in the Mountain West is going to take a few seasons.

 

On the flipside of the coaching spotlight, Utah State’s Matt Wells is looking to rebound after last year’s 3-9 campaign. The three-win season snapped a string of five consecutive bowl berths for the Aggies. However, this program lost four games by seven points or less, suggesting some quick improvement is there for the taking in 2017. The addition of new coordinator David Yost should help quarterback Kent Myers in his development, and the secondary is among the best in the Mountain West. The top concern for Wells rests at the line of scrimmage. Both sides of the ball are undergoing renovations in the trenches – how quickly will the right answers emerge? A tough schedule also limits Utah State’s hopes for improvement. The Aggies must play Wisconsin, Wake Forest and BYU in non-conference play, while catching swing games against UNLV, New Mexico and Air Force on the road.

 

Mountain West 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.   3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Mountain West Football 2017 Predictions

         
Mountain Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 Boise State 7-1 10-3
2 Colorado State 6-2 8-4
3 Wyoming 5-3 7-5
4 Air Force 4-4 6-6
5 New Mexico 4-4 6-6
6 Utah State 3-5 4-8
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 San Diego State 6-2 8-5
2 Hawaii 5-3 7-5
3 UNLV 3-5 4-8
4 Nevada 2-6 3-9
5 Fresno State 2-6 3-9
6 San Jose State 1-7 2-11
         
Mountain West Conference Championship Game
 Boise State over San Diego State 

 

 

Mountain West 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Brett Rypien

QB, Boise State

Josh Allen

QB, Wyoming

Josh Allen

QB, Wyoming

Defensive POY

David Moa

DL, Boise State

Andrew Wingard

S, Wyoming

Malik Reed

DL, Nevada

Coach of the Year

Mike Bobo

Colorado State

Mike Bobo

Colorado State

Bryan Harsin

Boise State

Coach on Hot Seat

Matt Wells

Utah State

Matt Wells

Utah State

Matt Wells

Utah State

Top Freshman

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Top Newcomer

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

Sleeper Team UNLV UNLV Nevada

Key Position

to Watch

SDSU OL SDSU OL Boise State OL
Best Coordinator Hire

David Yost

OC, Utah State

Jeff Casteel

DC, Nevada

Jeff Casteel

DC, Nevada

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Air Force Utah State Fresno State
Coach on the Rise

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Tony Sanchez

HC, UNLV

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Must-See Game

Boise State at

Colorado State

Boise State at

San Diego State

Boise State at

Washington State

Breakout Player

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Comeback Player

Carl Granderson

DE, Wyoming

Kendal Keys

WR, UNLV

Deonte Clyburn

LB, Colorado State

Event Date: 
Monday, June 5, 2017 - 17:10

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