We are now less than a week away from the start of the Mountain West football season and one team already has played a game. In this Mountain West preview we’ll look at story lines to watch. The Hawaii Warriors started their season in Australia and were handed a loss by the Cal Bears. The Warriors are under first year head coach Nick Rolovich. The first game of the season started as an offensive fireworks display, but ultimately ended with the Bears putting their foot to the gas and coming out victorious.
If that game was any indication of what the 2016 Mountain West season will look like then prepare for touchdowns. Hawaii’s defense was noticeable absent for much of the game, but their offense did some good things. In the Mountain West this coming season there are plenty of good offenses out there, and plenty more that have potential to be good. The Mountain West is loaded with talent this coming season, which is an indicator that the race for the top spot is wide open to start the season.
Five Story Lines to Watch
As I alluded to in a previous blog, the Mountain West is loaded with very talented and capable running backs. Can this group live up to their expectation and be the best group of running back in the country? Two of them finished in the top 10 in rushing yards last year. Five of them are ranked in the top 50 in rushing yards. This is a very good group of backs, and a handful of them could end up in next year’s NFL draft. Donnell Pumphrey and Brian Hill are probably every bit as talented as guys like Leonard Fornette, Christian McCaffery, and Dalvin Cook. The Mountain West backs don’t get nearly the press, obviously, but they should certainly be in the conversation for the Doak Walker Award at season’s end.
Can San Diego State repeat as Mountain West champions? The Aztecs will be riding the legs of Donnell Pumphrey again this season, but the Aztecs have other horses in the stable to spell Pumphrey when he needs it. Quarterback Christian Chapman looks to keep the Aztec offense moving ahead once again this season. He was named the Mountain West title game MVP last season after going 9/14 and 203 yards and a touchdown. If the Aztecs are going to repeat they will have to get through Boise State to do so.
Can the Mountain West secure a spot in a New Years Day bowl game? Last season the Group of Five bowl spot went to Houston. The Cougars dominated their schedule and pounded Florida State in the Peach Bowl. No Mountain West team could have touched the Cougars last season. Can Houston and Tom Herman sustain that success? Boise State, San Diego State, and Air Force look like the most likely contenders to be the Mountain West team to get a New Years bowl.
Second year coach Tony Sanchez at UNLV is still making the transition from high school to FBS. Will Tony Sanchez be able to recruit the talent he needs to make the Rebels successful? Of all of the coaches in the world to attempt to make the Rebels successful it might be Sanchez. He has local connections to one of the most successful high school programs in the country. There is grumblings around Vegas that a domed stadium near campus could be in the works. Is UNLV trending upward?
Will any Mountain West team be poached by the Big 12 when/if they ever expand? Hard to tell right now. The Big 12 seems to be a wishy/washy unit as far as its plans to expand. As many as 18 teams have thrown their hat in the ring for conference expansion. The known Mountain West teams to contact the Big 12 are Colorado State, Boise State, New Mexico, UNLV, and San Diego State. There are a slough of many other teams that have submitted paperwork for admission to the league. Others include BYU, Houston, East Carolina, Cincinnati, among many others. There is a strong desire to have Houston be the next member of the Big 12 among several higher ranking officials in Texas.
From the Mountain West the most likely candidate would be Boise State. One thing that will inhibit Boise State is their academic standing, which is basically terrible (RIP my mentions). Colorado State is in the midst of a new stadium that they are using as leverage as entrance. UNLV could be onto something if the Oakland Raiders move to Vegas and build a new domed stadium. New Mexico and San Diego State? Well… I guess. The likely scenario here is I’ll be dating Emma Stone before any of this happens. My top candidates for the Big 12? Houston, Cincinnati, followed by BYU and East Carolina.
Mountain West MVP Candidates
Donnell Pumphrey, San Diego State
Brian Hill, Wyoming
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Jacobi Owens, Air Force
Nick Stevens, Colorado State
Mountain West Power Rankings
1. Boise State
2. San Diego State
3. Air Force
4. Colorado State
6. San Jose State
7. Utah State
8. New Mexico
9. Fresno State
Final Thoughts and Hot Takes
I don’t think there is a team in the Mountain West this year that will get to a New Years Day bowl game.
Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins will close after this season. An on-campus stadium in Fort Fun will be a good thing. The stadium also comes with a sponsorship from New Belgium!
I think Brian Hill will declare for the NFL draft after this season.
Donnell Pumphrey will be the Mountain West MVP.
Boise State will win the Mountain West.
Nick Rolovich amuses me a great deal on Twitter, he’s worth the follow. @NickRolovich. He’ll still never be Faux Pelini.
See you guys in Laramie on Saturday.