Mountain West Football 2018 Predictions

Complete Mountain West preview for the 2018 season.

Boise State QB Brett Rypien

The Mountain West Conference heads into 2018 with familiar faces projected to be at the top of the league. Boise State claims the top spot in Athlon's Mountain West predictions, and coach Bryan Harsin's team should challenge for a New Year's Six bowl bid. In the West, San Diego State and Fresno State are the teams to beat once again. The Aztecs edge the Bulldogs in Athlon's projections, but it's a tossup for No. 1 in the West. Utah State and Wyoming are the biggest challengers to Boise State in the Mountain Division, with Colorado State also projected to reach bowl eligibility.

 

Boise State is Poised to be the Top Group of 5 Team in 2018

After finishing 13-0 in 2017, UCF is likely to begin the year as the top-ranked Group of 5 team. However, Athlon is projecting a different team – Boise State – to rank as the top Group of 5 program by the end of the 2018 season. The Broncos return 15 starters, including senior quarterback Brett Rypien and 1,000-yard rusher Alexander Mattison. Top receiver Cedrick Wilson must be replaced, but there's a promising group of receivers in place, headlined by A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster. Boise State's defense held opponents to 22.9 points a game last fall, and despite losing standout linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, this unit could be even better in 2018. The schedule also breaks in Boise State's favor. Coach Bryan Harsin's team catches San Diego State, Colorado State, Fresno State and Utah State at home. Non-conference road trips to Troy and Oklahoma State will be tough, but Boise State is Athlon's pick to finish 2018 as the Mountain West champion and the top Group of 5 team in the final rankings. 

 

San Diego State or Fresno State at No. 1 in the West Division?

This was the toughest debate of Athlon's Mountain West prediction meeting. The Bulldogs claimed the West Division over the Aztecs last season, largely due to their head-to-head victory on Oct. 21. And once again, there's very little separation between these two teams in 2018. Fresno State was one of college football's most-improved teams last fall. The Bulldogs improved their win total by nine games from 2016 to '17 under the direction of first-year coach Jeff Tedford. Much of the core from last season is back for Tedford in 2018, including quarterback Marcus McMaryion and the Mountain West's top receiving corps. Fresno State's defense ranked second in the Mountain West by holding opponents to just 17.9 points a game in 2017. However, coordinator Orlondo Steinauer returned to the CFL, prompting Tedford to promote Bert Watts to coordinator. Can Watts pick up where Steinauer left off? He's got plenty of talent to work with in the back seven but is breaking in four new starters up front. The formula for success at San Diego State is pretty simple. The Aztecs are going to lean on their power rushing attack and defense, while asking quarterback Christian Chapman to be efficient and limit the mistakes. Despite losing running back Rashaad Penny, the ground game won't miss a beat behind rising star Juwan Washington (759 yards last season). Additionally, San Diego State's line should be the best in the Mountain West, and the defense returns seven starters from a unit that limited opponents to 20.2 points a game last season. The West Division is likely to be decided on Nov. 17 when these two teams meet in Fresno. However, that game comes one week before a trip to Boise State for Tedford's team, marking a difficult two-game stretch that's likely to decide how high this team will climb in 2018.

 

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Which Team is the Biggest Challenger to Boise State in the Mountain Division?

Sorting out the No. 2 spot was the toughest decision to make in the Mountain Division. Wyoming and Colorado State tied at 5-3 last season, and both teams should be back in the mix for second once again. However, the nod behind Boise State went to Utah State. The Aggies improved their win total from three games in 2016 to six last fall and return 16 starters. Coach Matt Wells' team should easily improve on last year's six victories, especially if quarterback Jordan Love continues to develop, and the defense takes a step forward against the run. Utah State has a tough road slate with trips to Hawaii, Colorado State, Boise State and Wyoming. However, the Aggies are Athlon's pick to finish second, largely due to the volume of key returnees and the best quarterback (Love) out of the next tier of teams. Wyoming is poised to earn its third consecutive bowl bid but contending for the league title will hinge on the quarterback position. Freshman Tyler Vander Waal edged Nick Smith in the spring, but the battle to replace Josh Allen will continue into the fall. In addition to solidifying the quarterback spot, the Cowboys have to get more out of their ground attack, which suffered a setback this offseason following the loss of Trey Woods for the 2018 season. The unquestioned strength of coach Craig Bohl's team is a defense that returns eight starters. This unit limited opponents to 17.5 points a game last fall and is anchored by All-America candidate Andrew Wingard at safety. If Vander Waal settles in at quarterback, Wyoming could emerge as the biggest threat to Boise State, especially with the Broncos visiting Laramie on Sept. 29.

 

Reloading at Colorado State

Colorado State has finished 7-6 in each of the last three seasons under Mike Bobo but taking the next step in 2018 could be a challenge. The Rams are rebuilding with just nine returning starters and will be relying on a couple of transfers for immediate help. Collin Hill was expected to start at quarterback, but for the second year in a row, he's slated to miss the season due to a knee injury. Bobo landed Washington graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels to fill the void under center, and the Rams have a solid supporting cast to ease his transition into a starting role. Tennessee transfer Preston Williams and senior Olabisi Johnson are an intriguing pair of receivers on the outside, and there's three talented running backs in place with the return of Izzy Matthews, Marvin Kinsey and Rashaad Boddie. The defense is also in the midst of a transition, shifting to a 4-3 scheme after utilizing a 3-4. The strength of this unit is the linebacker corps, with Rice transfer V.J. Banks expected to contribute at cornerback. Colorado State's schedule features matchups against Arkansas, Florida and Colorado, but Bobo's team misses San Diego State and Fresno State in crossover play. With so many new faces taking over, Bobo's team may start slow and improve over the course of the season, allowing the Rams to reach a bowl game in 2018.

 

Improvement in Nevada

Looking for a potential surprise team in the Mountain West this year? Take a look in the state of Nevada. UNLV has improved its win total in back-to-back seasons after a 3-9 debut under coach Tony Sanchez in 2015. Additionally, the Rebels just missed out on a bowl last fall, dropping four games by 10 points or less. Quarterback Armani Rogers is a rising star, and UNLV's backfield tandem of Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas is the best in the conference. The biggest concern for Sanchez remains the defense. The Rebels gave up 31.8 points a game and struggled to stop the run last season. UNLV's in-state rival Nevada also showed improvement last fall in coach Jay Norvell's first year. The Wolf Pack started slow but was more competitive in the second half of 2017. With quarterback Ty Gangi and a standout group of receivers in place, Nevada is poised to challenge for a bowl in 2018. Similar to UNLV, the biggest concern for the Wolf Pack is on defense. Coordinator Jeff Casteel has shifted standout Malik Reed to linebacker from end but concerns remain at cornerback and in the trenches. If Nevada picks up where it left off last season, Norvell should go bowling in his second year in Reno.

 

Mountain West 2018 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 2018 Predictions
         
Mountain Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 Boise State 7-1 11-2
2 Utah State 5-3 8-4
3 Wyoming 5-3 7-5
4 Colorado State 5-3 6-6
5 Air Force 4-4 5-7
6 New Mexico 1-7 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 San Diego State 6-2 8-5
2 Fresno State 6-2 8-4
3 UNLV 4-4 6-6
4 Nevada 4-4 5-7
5 Hawaii 1-7 3-10
6 San Jose State 0-8 1-11
         
Mountain West Championship Game
 Boise State over San Diego State 

 

Mountain West 2018 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Brett Rypien

QB, Boise State

Brett Rypien
QB, Boise State
Brett Rypien
QB, Boise State
Defensive POY

Andrew Wingard

S, Wyoming

Andrew Wingard
S, Wyoming
Andrew Wingard
S, Wyoming
Coach of the Year

Bryan Harsin

HC, Boise State

Matt Wells
Utah State
Matt Wells
Utah State
Coach on Hot Seat

Bob Davie

New Mexico

Bob Davie
New Mexico
Bob Davie
New Mexico
Top Freshman

Tyler
Vander Waal

QB, Wyoming

Khalil Shakir
WR, Boise State
Khalil Shakir
WR, Boise State
Top Newcomer

K.J. Carta-Samuels

QB, Colo. State

K.J. Carta-Samuels
QB, Colo. State
K.J. Carta-Samuels
QB, Colo. State
Sleeper Team Nevada Utah State UNLV

Key Position

to Watch

Fresno State DL Fresno State DL Boise State
WRs/TEs
Best Coordinator Hire

Keith Patterson

Co-DC, USU

John Jancek
DC, Colo. State
John Jancek
DC, Colo. State

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Colorado State Wyoming Colorado State
Coach on the Rise

Bryan Harsin

HC, Boise State

Andy Avalos
DC, Boise State
Bryan Harsin
HC, Boise State
Must-See Game

SDSU at

Boise State

Fresno State at
Boise State
Fresno State at
Boise State
Breakout Player

Juwan Washington

RB, SDSU

Juwan Washington
RB, SDSU
Jordan Love
QB, Utah State
Comeback Player

John Ursua

WR, Hawaii

John Ursua

WR, Hawaii

John Ursua
WR, Hawaii

 

Podcast: Athlon's Editors Discuss 2018 Conference Predictions

 

(Juwan Washington photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson, SDSU Athletic Media Relations; Brett Rypien photo courtesy of Allison Corona, Boise State University)

Event Date: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 17:10

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