Preseason Power Rankings: Mountain West Conference

Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.

2022 Mountain West Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Boise State: This is not a no-brainer at #1 like some other conferences are but all things considered Boise State looks like the most complete team in the MW despite not winning the conference the last two seasons. QB Hank Bachmeier hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations he had coming out of high school, but he is still one of the better QB’s in the conference and for the first time in his career he will have the same offensive coordinator for a second season. They return 17 starters including RB Holani and many key defensive contributors. 20 of their Top 22 tacklers from last season are back and with a defensive minded HC in Avalos in his second season at the helm the defense should be strong. The Broncos will be strong in the trenches again with Phil Steele’s #4 ranked OLine & #1 ranked DLine in the Mountain West. They are probably the safest bet to win the Mountain West Conference this season.
  2. Air Force: Air Force has won 21 of their last 27 games and bring back a ton of experience this year. In the 2020 Covid season they offered a turnback option to their student-athletes which resulted in that year’s roster having 28 first time starters. Playing all those young guys then may have been a challenge, but the result is a very experienced roster in 2022. They return 15 starters this year which includes 3-year starter at QB Hazziq Daniels and about 2,700 combined rushing yards from the RB position. As a triple option team (who runs it really well) they are a really frustrating team to play against. They know their identity and it works for them. They return 3 of their 5 OL starters for a team that led the Nation in rushing in 2021. They are capable of winning every game on their schedule. The only thing I’m worried about is that there are some new rules changes on cut blows in 2022 and as a triple option team they teach cut blocking as part of their system. I’m not sure how much this will impact them in 2022, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
  3. Fresno State: It was kind of a crazy offseason for Fresno State as they lost HC Dalen DeBoer to Washington and then All-Conference QB Jake Haener appeared to follow him, until he changed his mind when the decision was made to bring back Jeff Tedford to coach the team. Tedford was the coach at Fresno before he stepped away a few years ago due to health concerns. Despite losing their HC, Fresno still looks like the strongest team in the West division as QB Haener is a stud (329-490, 4,096 yds, 33-9 TD-INT in 2021) and they return top WR Cropper (85-899-11). They are coming off a 10-3 season where their offense was first in yards and second in points in the conference. The offense really clicks in OC Kirby Moore’s motion heavy scheme. The question will be the defense. They return 7 starters and 4 of their 5 top tacklers from last season, but it’s still the side of the ball that appears to need the most work.
  4. San Diego State: Brady Hoke’s Aztec team has really built an identity of running the ball and playing really good defense and special teams. They had a great year last season starting 11-1, before losing to Utah State in the MW Championship game (where they had a lot of players out) and bouncing back to beat UTSA in their bowl game. This year it does look like they should fall back a little bit but still be solid. They have to insert 3 new offensive linemen which could slow down the running game a little bit and only return 12 starters (7 on defense). They won a ton of close games last year which is tough to repeat and as crazy as it sounds, will be impacted by the loss of their stud punter Matt Araiza. He was incredible for flipping the field and for a team that relied on their defense and played a lot of close games, that’s a huge loss. They are bringing in Virginia Tech transfer QB Braxton Burmeister at QB which should be an improvement from last year. He started all 12 games last year. The defense should be stacked again this year even with the loss of Cameron Thomas. It’s probably the deepest and strongest defensive unit in the conference. After playing in front of virtually no one the last few seasons they move into their new $310 million dollar stadium this year which could give them a nice shot in the arm.
  5. Utah State: Last year one of our favorite futures bets was Utah State over 3 wins. They cruised over this total on their way to a surprising Mountain West Championship. We knew that new head coach Blake Anderson would bring some energy to the program and the transfers he was bringing with him from Arkansas State (most notably QB Logan Bonner, WR Brandon Bowling, and LB Justin Rice) would make an impact. This year Bonner returns to a loaded QB room that also includes Wyoming transfer Levi Williams and Bowl Game MVP Cooper Legas (who played for an injured Bonner). But they lose their Top 3 pass catchers and 4 of their 5 top tacklers and only have 12 total returning starters. Last year they we’re able to surprise some teams, but this year they will go from the hunter to the hunted as they have that MW Champion target on their back. I think this team might take a step back this year, but not a giant leap as this is still a program in good shape. I love the stability within the program as they bring back their OC, DC, and Special Teams Coordinator for the first time in 5 years to go along with a returning head coach and starting QB.
  6. Colorado State: Last year they started 3-3, before the wheels fell off that they lost their last 6 games including a 52-10 loss to Nevada. So what did they do? Fire their head coach and convince Nevada’s HC Norvell to come to CSU. He brought a bunch of his players with him as transfers including QB Clay Millen who is in line to be the starter this year. They weren’t as bad as their record indicated last year, as they actually outgained opponents by 44 yards/game in MW play (#5 in conference). They return a strong RB in Bailey, 6 defensive starters, and add a bunch of transfers. With the addition of Norvell they will shift from a ground & pound offense to an air raid offense. They also bring in Montana State’s defensive coordinator, Freddie Banks, who will run a 4-2-5 defense that attacks with lots of stunts & blitzes. Both systems should be fun to watch and this team could surprise. The more I look at that over 5.5 wins line the more tempted I am to pull the trigger.
  7. San Jose State: SJSU surprised everyone during the weird 2020 Covid season by winning the MW Title despite having only 2 home games. They returned a lot of players in 2021 but fell to 5-7 resulting in many people to chalk up 2020 to a weird fluke year. They did have some bad injury luck in 2021 and we’re -12 in TO’s (a trend that points to some positive regression). I think they probably are somewhere between those 2 seasons as program… not champion caliber but bowl eligibility should be within reach. They should have one of the better defenses in the conference returning 8 of their 9 top tacklers and brought in Hawaii transfer QB Cordeiro (who should be a good fit in that system) and a couple of transfer WR from Nevada.
  8. Wyoming: I don’t like the way things are going for this Wyoming program. Things were lining up great for them in 2021 with 21 starters returning. They got off to a fast 4-0 start, before dropping their next 4 games and ending up 6-6. They beat Kent State 52-38 in their bowl game but still the season felt like one where they didn’t meet expectations. Then things got worse in the offseason where both Top QB’s (Chambers & Williams) transferred, Top RB Valladay transferred to Arizona State, and Top WR Neyor transferred to Texas along with several other transfers. The reports out of Austin are that Neyor looks great in Texas camp. It begs the question, with all this talent why did Wyoming struggle so much on offense especially through the air? I think HC Craig Bohl’s old school run the ball and play defense approach is not working with this team and all the transfers kind of speak to that. They brought in transfer QB Andrew Peasley (who was a backup at Utah State last year) and he figures to be the starter this year, but honestly would probably be #3 or #4 on the depth chart at Utah State if he was still there. Losing Williams and gaining Peasley seems like a loss. They always play pretty good defense in Laramie but they are going to have to figure something out on offense. I’m not sure I see it.
  9. UNLV: HC Marcus Arroyo took over in 2020 which was a terrible time for a new coach to try to implement his system. Spring practices were cancelled due to covid and the team ended up going 0-6 and being -152 in ypg. They took a baby step forward last year, after starting 0-8, they won back to back games and outplayed a good San Diego State team in a loss, ending up at 2-10 on the season. This year they return MW Freshman of the Year QB Cameron Friel and also add Tennessee transfer QB Harrison Bailey. Whoever wins out should be pretty solid. They also return 9 of their top 11 tacklers. I think Arroyo will continue to show some improvement and this team will end up in the 4-5 win range.
  10. Hawaii: Not many preview magazines have Hawaii over Nevada after all the drama with HC Todd Graham leaving, the parent complaints, and the mass exodus of players. But I think things are bad for Nevada too and brining in Timmy Chang as HC could bring some enthusiasm and it’s always kind of tough for visiting teams to play on the island, so I’ll rank Hawaii above Nevada. That being said, there isn’t a whole to be excited about with Hawaii either. They had tons of transfers including QB Cordeiro, RBs Hunter & Turner, and their top 3 WR. They return only 4 starters and lose 10 of their top 12 starters. It’s tough to write about the players they have because none of them have played much. I think brining in Hawaii legend Timmy Chang and new OC Ian Shoemaker (from Eastern Washington… red field, Cooper Kupp…) to run a run & shoot, air raid offense is a good move for the program. But it will take time.
  11. Nevada: I wrote about Nevada in detail when I placed my Under 6 season wins bet on them. Get that full writeup here.
  12. New Mexico: The Lobos went 3-9 last season and had the worst offense in all of FBS (not hyperbole). They have a strong DC in Rocky Long and return 7 starters on defense so I think they can be solid on that side of the ball. The issue is on the other side of the ball. HC Gonzales wants to run an offense similar to what Coastal Carolina runs. If they can make improvements and figure the system out, they can be competitive in games with their defense. But they have to show us something first. They have a long way to go.

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