Welcome back to another fantastic edition of Dustin James’ 2013-14 college football season preview! This time around, we are taking a look at a conference that is both right on the cusp of being a decent college football conference and potentially taking a step back into mediocrity along with conferences like the MAC and the Sun Belt. It seems like every year we have a team coming out of the Mountain West that is a legitimate threat to become a “BCS buster” at the end of the year. Who is that team this year? Is it the Boise State Broncos? The Fresno State Bulldogs? The San Jose State Spartans? Read on to find out…….

MOUNTAIN WEST

West:
1. Fresno State Bulldogs- 11-3 (7-2)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Hawaii Bowl to SMU

Toughest Games: Boise State, @ San Diego State, Nevada, @ San Jose State

Key Players: Derek Carr (QB), Davante Adams (WR), Austin Wentworth (OT), Isaiah Burse (WR), Marcel Jensen (TE), Cody Wichmann (OG), Tyeler Davison (DL), L.J. Jones (CB), Derron Smith (S), Andy Jennings (DL), Sean Alston (CB), Donavon Lewis (LB)

Conference Championship: vs. Boise State (W)

Bowl Prediction: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon State (L)

Team Analysis: This could potentially be the most hyped up team in Fresno State history. The Bulldogs are coming off a 9-4 season that culminated in a disappointing loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl where it felt like Fresno State just had no interest in being there. This year should be different as Fresno State returns 8 starters on both sides of the ball and are fielding one of the more experienced teams in all of college football. Senior QB Derek Carr is one of the best QB’s in the country and if he has a really magical season, he could end up as one of the top drafted QB’s in the NFL draft next year. The schedule also sets up nicely for head coach Tim DeRuyter and his team. The Mountain West doesn’t have a lot of talent to begin with and it wouldn’t shock me to see the Bulldogs favored in every single game they play this year in conference play. The non-conference schedule isn’t any tougher as the Bulldogs play Rutgers, Cal Poly, Idaho, and Colorado. Fresno State should not only be favored to win the Mountain West this year, but they could potentially be a dark horse team to jump up and play in a BCS bowl game. I like the talent these guys have this year and it really wouldn’t shock me if Fresno State was this year’s “BCS bowl buster”. We have one every year and the Bulldogs are definitely it this year…….

2. San Jose State Spartans- 9-4 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Military Bowl against Bowling Green

Toughest Games: @ Stanford, @ Minnesota, @ Colorado State, San Diego State, @ Nevada, Fresno State

Key Players: Noel Grigsby (WR), Nicholas Kaspar (OG), David Fales (QB), Chandler Jones (WR), Jon Meyer (OT), Travis Raciti (DL), Keith Smith (LB), Vince Buhagiar (LB), Bene Benwikere (CB), Austin Lopez (K), Harrison Waid (P), Tyler Ervin (KR)

Bowl Prediction: Hawaii Bowl vs. East Carolina (W)

Team Analysis: It wasn’t too long ago that the San Jose Spartans were one of the worst programs in all of college football. As a matter of fact, it was 2010 when the Spartans put up a horrible 1-12 showing and forced their fan base to wear bags on their heads when they attended their school’s football games. That’s not a problem anymore. New head coach Ron Caragher inherits a team that is coming off an 11-2 season that ended with an impressive win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl. This team will likely struggle big-time on defense this year as they only return 5 starters on that side of the ball, but senior QB David Fales and the offense will be able to put up points with any other team in the country. The schedule is a little difficult as the Spartans have to travel to Stanford on September 7 and they also have to make trips to Minnesota, Colorado State, and Nevada. I have the Spartans finishing 9-4 and making an appearance in the Hawaii Bowl, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see this team finish in first place in the Mountain West either. If Fresno State slips up at all, the Spartans could be right there to capitalize on the Bulldogs’ misfortunes.

3. San Diego State Aztecs- 9-4 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Poinsetta Bowl against BYU

Toughest Games: @ Ohio State, Oregon State, Nevada, @ Air Force, Fresno State, @ San Jose State, Boise State

Key Players: Adam Muema (RB), Bryce Quigley (OT), Colin Lockett (WR/KR), Jake Fely (LB), Nat Berhe (S), Sam Meredith (DL), Nick Tenhaeff (LB), Derek Largent (LB), Eric Pinkins (S), Tim Vizzi (PR)

Bowl Prediction: New Mexico Bowl vs. Arizona (W)

Team Analysis: San Diego State is a talented team that will definitely finish near the top of the Mountain West conference this season. The only reason I don’t have them finishing higher than 9-4 is the difficulty of their schedule. The Aztecs have to travel to Ohio State on September 7 and follow that game up with a big game against Oregon State on September 21. There is a very good chance that the Aztecs start the season out 1-2, but things get a little easier for head coach Rocky Long and his players as the year progresses. The Aztecs will field one of the best defenses in all of the Mountain West, but they may struggle to put up points due to the inexperience of their offense. I have San Diego State making the New Mexico Bowl and upsetting the Arizona Wildcats for their first bowl win since 2010, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them finish better than that, especially if they can squeak out an upset or two.
4. Nevada Wolfpack- 5-7 (4-4)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the New Mexico Bowl against Arizona

Toughest Games: @ UCLA, @ Florida State, @ San Diego State, @ Boise State, @ Fresno State, @ Colorado State, San Jose State, BYU

Key Players: Brandon Wimberly (WR), Joel Bitonio (OT), Cody Fajardo (QB), Don Jackson (RB), Richy Turner (WR), Kolby Arendse (TE), Brock Hekking (DL), Lenny Jones (DL), Jordan Hanson (DL), Chase Tenpenny (P)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: The Nevada Wolfpack are a team that is going through a little bit of a rebuilding process this year. The Wolfpack lost their long time head coach Chris Ault (who is now working in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs as a consultant) and new head coach Brian Polian inherits a young team on both offense and defense. Not only that, but the schedule isn’t a very friendly one. The Wolfpack open things up by having to travel to UCLA on August 31, but there is no rest for the wicked as they then have a meeting with Florida State on September 14. Coach Polian and his team may be ready to hit the reset button on the season come the middle of September. I’d like to say it’s going to be an easy transition for Nevada to go from longtime coach Ault to first time head coach Polian, but it won’t. It’s going to be a long season in Reno.

5. Hawaii Warriors – 2-10 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 3-9

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: USC, @ Oregon State, @ Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State, @ Utah State, @ Navy, San Diego State

Key Players: Billy Ray Stutzmann (WR), Art Laurel (LB), John Hardy-Tuliau (S), Tavita Woodard (DL), Scott Harding (PR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: The state of Hawaii is beautiful. The state’s only major college football program is not. Hawaii hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006 and even though I’m a fan of head coach Norm Chow, the talent just isn’t there for this team to be successful yet. Maybe in due time Chow can build Hawaii into a nice little program, but they are never going to be one of college football’s elite teams. Why not? Because blue-chip recruits don’t want to go to the University of Hawaii as crazy as that sounds. Maybe if Hawaii wasn’t so far away and the players didn’t have to travel thousands of miles to play every single away game, the school would actually be able to keep their in-state talent (like QB Marcus Mariota for example) and be successful once again. It’s not going to happen anytime soon though.

6. UNLV Rebels- 2-10 (0-8)

Last Year’s Record: 2-11

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Minnesota, Arizona, @ Fresno State, @ Nevada, San Jose State, Utah State, @ Air Force, San Diego State

Key Players: Tim Cornett (RB), Devante Davis (WR), Robert Waterman (C), Brett Boyko (OT), Mark Garrick (DL), Sidney Hodge (S), Nolan Kohorst (K)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: UNLV has sucked for as long as I can remember. The last time they made a bowl game was in 2000 and this team isn’t going to be the one that breaks that streak. UNLV is a good basketball school with a shitty football team with almost no hope. You’d think it would be easy to attract young kids to come to Las Vegas, but it’s a lot harder than you think apparently. The Running Rebels are a dumpster fire and the fire will continue to burn in Vegas this year.

Mountain:
1. Boise State Broncos – 11-3 (7-2)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Las Vegas Bowl against Washington

Toughest Games: @ Washington, @ Fresno State, @ Utah State, Nevada, @ BYU, @ San Diego State

Key Players: Matt Miller (WR), Charles Leno (OT), Jay Ajayi (WR), Matt Paradis (C), Gabe Linehan (TE), Demarcus Lawrence (DL), Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe (DL), Corey Bell (DL), Jeremy Ioane (S), Blake Renaud (LB), Darian Thompson (S)

Conference Championship: vs. Fresno State (L)

Bowl Prediction: Poinsettia Bowl vs. Toledo (W)

Team Analysis: Remember when Boise State was a potential “BCS buster” every year? It seems like the hype train for head coach Chris Petersen and the Broncos has died down a little over the years. Fortunately for Broncos fans, they still play in a horrible conference and will still be able to contend for the conference championship. Unfortunately for Broncos fans, their hopes and dreams of being “BCS busters” once again won’t happen this year. Boise State is an extremely young team this year and they are still looking to get good QB play after Kellen Moore departed for the NFL. The team managed to finish with an 11-2 record last season, but they were atrocious at times at the QB position. Senior QB Joe Southwick isn’t that good and he doesn’t have that many playmakers to work with on offense. The good news is, Boise’s schedule is once again extremely winnable. Outside of away games against Washington and Fresno State, I could see the Broncos being favored to win every other game. It’s like this every year in Boise. Their fan base thinks they can play with anyone, while the rest of the country laughs at that notion. I’m sure Boise State fans think they are once again fielding a BCS National Championship caliber team, but they will have their bubbles busted come game time.

2. Utah State Aggies- 7-6 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Idaho Potato Bowl against Toledo

Toughest Games: @ Utah, @ USC, @ San Jose State, BYU, Boise State, Colorado State

Key Players: Tyler Larsen (C), Eric Schultz (OL), Chuckie Keeton (QB), Connor Williams (DL), Jordan Nielsen (DL), Kyler Fackrell (LB), Jake Doughty (LB), Nevin Lawson (CB), Zach Vigil (LB), Nick Diaz (K)

Bowl Prediction: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Bowling Green (L)

Team Analysis: First-year head coach Matt Wells inherits a Utah State team that is coming off an 11-2 season and are ready to contend once again in the Mountain West. Just one problem though. Utah State’s schedule is a tough one this season and this team should consider themselves lucky if they make it to a bowl game. The Aggies open things up with a huge game against in-state rival Utah on August 29. After that, the Aggies have a brutal four-week stretch that includes games against USC, San Jose State, BYU, and Boise State, which could see Utah State going 0-4 in those games. I have the Aggies going 7-6 and sneaking into a bowl game, but I could be selling them a bit short. All they need is to pull off an upset or two and this team could potentially be in the mix for the conference title. This team is hard to read, but it should be an interesting year in Logan, Utah this year.

3. Colorado State Rams – 9-5 (6-2)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Tulsa, @ Alabama, San Jose State, Boise State, Nevada, @ Utah State

Key Players: Crockett Gillmore (TE), Weston Richburg (OL), Chris Nwoke (RB), Jordan Gragert (OL), Shaquil Barrett (LB), Cory James (LB), Shaq Bell (CB), Trent Matthews (S), Jared Roberts (K), Joe Hansley (PR)

Bowl Prediction: Armed Forces Bowl vs. Navy (W)

Team Analysis: I could be overrating Colorado State a little bit this year, but there’s a lot to like about this team. They return 9 starters on offense and 8 starters on defense which gives them one of the most experienced teams on both sides of the ball in the Mountain West. The schedule is a little difficult as the Rams have to play at Alabama on September 21 and also have to travel to Tulsa. I got the Rams finishing 9-5 and heading off to the Armed Forces Bowl, but this team is a legit threat to Boise State to win the division and could end up in the conference championship come December. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see that happening.

4. Air Force Falcons – 6-7 (3-5)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Armed Forces Bowl to Rice

Toughest Games: Utah State, @ Boise State, @ Nevada, San Diego State, Notre Dame, @ Colorado State

Key Players: Jon Lee (RB), Ty MacArthur (WR), Drew Kerber (OL), Alex Hansen (DL), Steffon Batts (CB), Christian Spears (S), David Baska (P), Anthony LaCoste (KR)

Bowl Prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl vs. SMU (L)

Team Analysis: The Air Force Falcons have done an excellent job of being consistent over the last few seasons. It seems like every year the Falcons finish with around 6 wins and sneak into the Armed Forces bowl or a bowl similar to that one. This year should be no different. The Falcons field an extremely young team on offense, but they also have the benefit of playing a very easy schedule. Their toughest away games are at Boise State, Colorado State, and Nevada. The Falcons also welcome Notre Dame, and San Diego State into Falcon Stadium this year. If this team can manage to pull of an upset or two, they may end up bowling in a better bowl game than something like the Compass Bowl or the Miltary Bowl. However, if I was a betting man, that’s one bet I couldn’t lay down with confidence.

5. Wyoming Cowboys – 5-7 (2-6)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Nebraska, @ Air Force, Colorado State, @ San Jose State, Fresno State, @ Boise State, @ Utah State

Key Players: Robert Herron (WR), Brett Smith (RB), Tyler Strong (OL), Eddie Yarbrough (DL), Blair Burns (CB/PR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Wyoming is the one state in America that has more animals than people. That should tell you all you need to know about their football program. The Cowboys have only made 3 bowl games over the last 20 years and will likely come up short once again this season. That’s what happens when your team has no talent and you play in a shitty location. Good luck getting good players to come to Laramie, Wyoming. Some things just aren’t in the cards.

6. New Mexico Lobos – 4-8 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 4-9

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Pittsburgh, @ Wyoming, Utah State, @ San Diego State, Air Force, Colorado State, @ Fresno State, @ Boise State

Key Players: Kasey Carrier (RB), LaMar Bratton (OL), Dillon Farrell (C), Darryl Johnson (OL), Jacori Greer (DL), Dallas Bollema (LB), Javarie Johnson (LB), Ben Skaer (P), Chase Clayton (KR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: New Mexico sucks and they haven’t been good since 2007. Head coach Bob Davie is a good head coach and he may be able to turn the program around in due time, but it’s not happening this year. 4 wins is a good year for the Lobos, so they should count their blessings if that happens.

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