Mountain West Football 2019 Predictions

Complete Mountain West preview for the 2019 season

The 2019 Mountain West predictions are headlined by tight battles atop both divisions. Boise State and Utah State are the frontrunners in the Mountain Division, with coach Bryan Harsin’s team getting a slight edge in Athlon’s projections for this season. In the West, Fresno State and San Diego State are a step ahead of Hawaii for the top spot in the division. Thanks to a standout defense and an offense that should develop behind head coach Jeff Tedford, the Bulldogs are a slight favorite over the Aztecs in the West Division.

 

Boise State vs. Utah State for No. 1 in the Mountain Division

Boise State’s 33-24 win over Utah State on Nov. 24 clinched the Mountain Division title for coach Bryan Harsin’s team last season. The Broncos and Aggies are set to meet in 2019 on Nov. 23 in Logan, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this matchup decides which team represents the division in the conference title game. Athlon’s projections give Boise State a slight edge over Utah State, but the gap between these two teams is small. The Broncos must replace quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison, but the rest of the depth chart returns largely intact. Sophomore Chase Cord is the frontrunner to replace Rypien, with freshman Hank Bachmeier also in the mix. A backfield-by-committee approach could be utilized to replace Mattison, but Harsin’s offense has options at the position. Boise State’s defense brings back eight starters and should rank among the best in college football after limiting teams to 22.1 points a game last fall.  

 

Utah State’s offseason renovation is more significant than the one going on at Boise State. The Aggies return just two starters on offense, but one of those is junior quarterback Jordan Love – the Mountain West’s No. 1 signal-caller for 2019. There’s a good bit of turnover at the skill positions, but new coach Gary Andersen’s biggest concern has to be up front with just one returning starter along the offensive line. Utah State’s defense should be strong despite a couple of new starters in the secondary. Linebacker David Woodward should contend for All-America honors once again, and edge rusher Tipa Galeai could eclipse last year’s 10.5 sacks.

 

On paper, Boise State seems to have the edge in overall personnel. However, Utah State has a big advantage at quarterback and the game is in Logan. Which side wins out? We think the Broncos should be the pick, but this one is close.

 

Fresno State vs. San Diego State for No. 1 in the West Division

Uncertainty atop a division isn’t limited to the Mountain side of things in 2019. A good chunk of Athlon’s Mountain West prediction meeting was spent on deciding San Diego State or Fresno State for No. 1 in the West Division. The Bulldogs have claimed back-to-back division titles and ended up getting the edge in Athlon’s predictions.

 

The strength of Fresno State’s 2019 squad is once again on defense. The Bulldogs held teams to 14.1 points a game last fall and return six starters, including linebacker Mykal Walker, safety Juju Hughes and cornerback Jaron Bryant. However, linebacker Jeffrey Allison and safety Mike Bell declared early for the NFL Draft and left big shoes to fill this offseason. This unit should allow coach Jeff Tedford time to rebuild an offense that returns only two starters and has a new starting quarterback (Jorge Reyna). Until Reyna settles into the No. 1 role and the receiving corps is rebuilt, Tedford can lean on running back Ronnie Rivers (743 yards last season). Right tackle Syrus Tuitele is the only returning starter up front, but left tackle Netane Muti is back after missing most of 2018 due to injury.

 

San Diego State started 6-1 last season but slumped to a 1-5 finish over the team’s final six contests. Coach Rocky Long has hinted at a few tweaks to the offense are coming after this unit ranked last in the Mountain West in scoring (20.2 ppg). However, the Aztecs aren’t going to make drastic changes, as the strength of this group is still with the ground game and running back Juwan Washington. The development of the passing game behind quarterback Ryan Agnew and offensive line will be critical to the season. San Diego State’s defense will rank as one of the best in the Mountain West, but the line is a concern.

 

The crossover schedule for these two teams is comparable. San Diego State gets Utah State and Wyoming at home, along with a road date at Colorado State. Fresno State plays Air Force on the road but gets Utah State and Colorado State at Bulldog Stadium. However, the Nov. 16 matchup between the Bulldogs and Aztecs takes place in San Diego. The mid-November setting gives both teams plenty of address preseason question marks.

 

Watch Out for Air Force and Hawaii

Looking for sleeper teams that could surprise and win the division? In the Mountain Division, Air Force is worth a look. The Falcons have posted back-to-back 5-7 seasons, but coach Troy Calhoun’s team lost all seven games by 10 points or less last fall. Air Force’s offense is led by a solid stable of running backs and one of the league’s top lines, while quarterback Donald Hammond III could be primed for a breakout year. Calhoun’s defense was strong against the run in 2018, but this unit has to get tougher against the pass after ranking 11th in the league in pass efficiency defense.

 

Hawaii is coming off the program’s first winning season since 2010 and could take another step forward into contention for the West Division title in ’19. Coach Nick Rolovich’s squad returns eight starters from last year’s offense that averaged 30.8 points a game. Quarterback Cole McDonald earned second-team All-Mountain West honors by Athlon Sports for 2019, but the junior will be pushed by talented redshirt freshman Chevan Cordeiro. The optimism extends to a defense that allowed 35.1 points a game last fall but returns nine starters. With Fresno State and San Diego State coming to Honolulu in 2019, Hawaii has a good shot at knocking off both teams and contending for the West Division title. 

 

Is UNLV Primed for a Breakthrough Season?

The 2019 season is a critical one for UNLV coach Tony Sanchez. The Rebels are 16-32 over the last four years under Sanchez’s watch and not have earned a trip to a bowl game in that span. With UNLV set to move into a new stadium with the Raiders next fall, there’s plenty of pressure on this staff to deliver the program’s first bowl trip since 2013. Quarterback Armani Rogers is back after missing six games due to injury last fall. The junior has room to improve as a passer, but when healthy, is a dynamic playmaker for the UNLV offense. The Rebels have a solid offensive line and receiving corps in place, while Charles Williams should ensure the ground game doesn’t miss a beat after Lexington Thomas finished his eligibility. However, in order for UNLV to reach the postseason, improving a defense that allowed 37.3 points a game last fall is a must. Since 2009, the Rebels have not finished a season allowing less than 30 points a game. This unit returns only five starters and enters the year with question marks at every level. UNLV’s schedule is brutal. Sanchez’s team has Arkansas State, Northwestern and Vanderbilt in non-conference play and catches Boise State, Wyoming (road) and Colorado State (road) in crossover action. The Rebels also play rival Nevada in Reno.

 

 

QB Intrigue at Wyoming and Nevada

As mentioned above, the top two teams in each division seem set. Boise State and Utah State lead the way in the Mountain, with San Diego State and Fresno State atop the West. Air Force and Hawaii take the No. 3 spots, but a pair of teams – Nevada and Wyoming – aren’t far behind.

 

The Wolf Pack are coming off their best season (8-5) under coach Jay Norvell and return only eight starters. However, Norvell has a good foundation in place on both sides of the ball and a potential breakout quarterback in former Florida State signal-caller Malik Henry. Can he wrestle the job away from Cristian Solano and Carson Strong? Even if Henry doesn’t win the job, solid play under center from Solano or Strong should help Nevada reload and earn another bowl trip for the second consecutive season.

 

Wyoming’s offense slipped to 11th in scoring in the Mountain West last fall. Coach Craig Bohl’s team struggled to find the right answer under center after Josh Allen departed early for the NFL. However, there were signs of life late in the season. Sean Chambers rushed for 329 yards over four appearances, helping the Cowboys go 3-1 in that span. After suffering a season-ending injury versus Air Force, Chambers was able to utilize the four-game redshirt rule and saved a season of eligibility. With a full offseason to work as the starter, Chambers could deliver a breakout year and help Wyoming’s offense take a big step forward on the stat sheet. While the Cowboys have a few holes to fill from a standout defense, this unit should still rank near the top of the Mountain West. If the offense improves, Wyoming could go from 6-6 to 8-4.

 

Rounding Out the Rest of the League

Mike Bobo’s tenure at Colorado State started with three consecutive 7-6 campaigns. However, the Rams took a step back last fall, finishing 3-9 with just two Mountain West victories. Both sides of the ball will require attention this offseason. Quarterback Collin Hill is back to full strength after battling knee injuries since midway through the 2016 campaign. All-Mountain West receiver Preston Williams is gone, but Warren Jackson, Nate Craig-Myers and tight end Cameron Butler provide a good foundation on the outside. The Rams have to get better play up front and continue to improve a defense that surrendered 36.8 points a game and struggled to stop the run last fall. Bobo should quickly find out whether or not this team has improved since 2018. Colorado State plays Colorado, Arkansas, Toledo, Utah State and San Diego State before the midway point of the ’19 season.

 

Progress has been hard to find in San Jose State’s two seasons under coach Brent Brennan. The Spartans are just 3-22 in that span and once again enter a year with significant personnel issues on both sides of the ball. Just getting to three wins and generating statistical improvement on defense after giving up 36.6 points a game last fall would be a start in the right direction.

 

The 2019 season is likely a make-or-break year for coach Bob Davie at New Mexico. After a 9-4 mark in 2016, the Lobos are only 6-18 over the last two seasons. Davie is counting on new coordinators on both sides of the ball and an infusion of junior college players to provide an immediate fix. The return of linebacker Alex Hart from injury should help the defense, but New Mexico has to get better quarterback play to improve on last year’s three wins.

 

Mountain West 2019 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. 
6.  6.  6.  6.  6.  6. 

 

Mountain West Football 2019 Predictions
       
Mountain Division
Rank   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 Boise State 7-1 11-2
2 Utah State 7-1 8-4
3 Air Force 4-4 7-5
4 Wyoming 3-5 6-6
5 Colorado State 3-5 4-8
6 New Mexico 1-7 3-9
       
West Division
Rank   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 Fresno State 6-2 8-5
2 San Diego State 6-2 8-4
3 Hawaii 5-3 7-6
4 Nevada 3-5 5-7
5 UNLV 2-6 4-8
6 San Jose State 1-7 2-10
       
Mountain West Championship
Boise State over Fresno State

 

 

Mountain West 2019 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Jordan Love

QB, Utah State

Jordan Love

QB, Utah State

Jordan Love

QB, Utah State

Defensive POY

Curtis Weaver

LB/DL, Boise State

David Woodward

LB, Utah State

David Woodward

LB, Utah State

Coach of the Year

Bryan Harsin

Boise State

Gary Andersen

Utah State

Bryan Harsin

Boise State

Coach on Hot Seat

Bob Davie

New Mexico

Bob Davie

New Mexico

Bob Davie

New Mexico

Top Freshman

Sean Chambers

QB, Wyoming

Hank Bachmeier

QB, Boise State

Carson Strong

QB, Nevada

Top Newcomer

Malik Henry

QB, Nevada

Nate Craig-Myers

WR, Colorado State

Vic Viramontes

LB, UNLV

Sleeper Team Air Force Air Force Hawaii

Key Position

to Watch

Fresno State OL San Diego State DL Boise State QBs

Best Coordinator

Hire

Mike Sanford

OC, Utah State

Mike Sanford

OC, Utah State

Mike Sanford

OC, Utah State

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Nevada

Utah State Colorado State
Coach on the Rise

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Must-See Game

Boise State at

Utah State

Boise State at

Utah State

Fresno State at

San Diego State

Breakout Player

Warren Jackson

WR, Colorado State

Charles Williams

RB, UNLV

John Hightower

WR, Boise State

Comeback Player

DeAndre Pierce

S, Boise State

Netane Muti

OL, Fresno State

C.J. Johnson

WR, Wyoming

 

Top photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics

 

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