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2015 College Football Preview: MWC West

Donnel Pumphrey is poised to have another monster year in 2015. Will it be enough to lead San Diego State to the Mountain West Title Game? (Lance King/Getty Images North America)
Donnel Pumphrey is poised to have another monster year in 2015. Will it be enough to lead San Diego State to the Mountain West Title Game? (Lance King/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: MWC West

Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview is up to part four and the Mountain West Conference’s West Division. The MWC’s Mountain Preview can be found here while the entire schedule for each conference or division preview is below.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Below is a look at the Mountain West Conference’s West Division and conference championship prediction.

1. San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State will be in their 5th year under head coach Rocky Long and he has been ultra consistent making a bowl game in each of his first four seasons. Year 5 will have added pressure as they will be one of the favorites to make the Mountain West Championship Game.

The offense will be led by Donnel Pumphrey at the running back position. All he did was run for 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014 with a 6.8 yards per carry average. Even his backup, Chase Price, ran for 674 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those two will be important as the Aztecs are breaking in a new quarterback in Maxwell Smith, who has transferred in from Kentucky. He should be able to be on par with last year’s starter Quinn Kaehler. Kaehler threw for 2,157 yards with 9 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and 55% completions. Smith will also have two of the top three receivers from 2014 as well as 3 starters from the offensive line returning. The offense should be just fine in 2015.

The strength of the San Diego State team in 2014 was the defense. They gave up only 19.8 points and 332 yards per game while bringing back only 4 starters. In 2015, the number of returning starters is eight including six of the top 7 tacklers. The losses are all in the front seven with one on the defensive line and two at linebacker. The secondary will be the focal point for the Aztecs defensively. They gave up only 179 passing yards per game and allowed only 55.8% on completions. All four starters return, which means opposing quarterbacks better watch out.

San Diego State opens the season against fellow city university San Diego before an in-state road trip to California and another home game against South Alabama. The wrap up their non-conference schedule at Penn State before another home game against Fresno State. The Aztecs have a fairly easy Mountain West schedule by not having to face Air Force or Boise State and get Utah State at home as well. Things are looking very good for San Diego State in 2015.

2. San José State Spartans

It is probably a bit surprising to see San José State here in the second spot of the West Division after a 3-9 season in 2014, but there are plenty of positives including 16 starters returning.

On offense, the Spartans return 10 starters with their lone loss at the center position. Joe Gray returns at quarterback after throwing for 2,305 yards with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His most impressive stat from 2014 is the fact he completed 63.6% of his passes. He will also have his top three receivers from 2014 back including Tyler Winston. Winston caught 78 passes for 694 yards and 5 touchdowns. Newcomer Kanya Bell is a prized recruit who is likely to see a big role in 2015. Tyler Ervin will be the starter at running back after 888 yards and 4 touchdowns with four of his offensive linemen back to pave the way. After averaging only 19.3 points and 395 yards per game in 2014, the offense should do far better this year.

San José State has 6 starters returning on defense including linebacker Christian Tago, who tied for the team lead in tackles with 96. He also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss. Both the defensive line and linebacking units lose two starters, but considering the fact they gave up an average of 259 rushing yards per game in 2014, it may not be the worst thing. The secondary only allowed 118 yards passing per game in 2014 and they return three starters as well as adding in a solid freshman (Tae’on Mason). The defense should be solid again in 2015.

San José State has a tough start to the season after an opening game against New Hampshire. They have back-to-back road games against Air Force and Oregon State before a home game against Fresno State. They draw New Mexico and Boise State from the Mountain Division in addition to Air Force. San José State could surprise many and they are right in the thick of the race for second in Mountain West Conference’s West Division.

3. Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno State has made the first two Mountain West Championship Games in 2013 and 2014, winning the first and losing the second. However, 2014 was a sub-standard season with a 6-8 record including losses in the MWC Title Game and bowl game.

In 2015, the offense will have some work to do with the top quarterback and wide receiver departing. Marteze Waller will have a heavier burden, but that should not be too much of an issue. Waller ran for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014. The quarterback battle will be down to freshman Chason Virgil and sophomore Zack Greenlee. Greenlee started against Wyoming, but had a very poor outing going 7 of 16 for 55 yards. Gone at wide receiver is Josh Harper (90 catches, 1,097 yards, and 7 touchdowns) while Aaron Peck will step in to fill his shoes. Peck caught 32 passes for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2014. There will be some growing pains for Fresno State on offense, but should be able to reach their 2014 numbers of 28.5 points and 406 yards per game.

The defense will have 5 starters back in 2015 from a defense that gave up 32.4 points and 456 yards per game a year ago. The defensive line has only 1 starter back in Todd Hunt, who recorded 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. There are two starters back at linebacker and in the secondary. The pass defense was poor in 2014 with 254 yards passing a game given up as well as 60.4% on completions. Like offense, there will be some growing pains.

Fresno State has an easy game against Abilene Christian to start the season before back-to-back toughies at Ole Miss and home to Utah. In conference, they have early road tests against San José State and San Diego State in back-to-back games before a home game against Utah State. They draw Air Force and Colorado State out of the Mountain Division as well. Fresno State could finish as high as second or as low as fourth in this division, but should be able to reach bowl eligibility.

4. Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada enters 2015 with Brian Polian in his third season at the helm. Polian led Nevada to a 4-8 record in 2013 before a 7-6 record and a bowl game in 2014.

2015 will bring back six starters on offense for the Wolf Pack, but one of them is not at quarterback. Cody Fajardo is gone after throwing for 2,498 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions as well as running for 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns. Replacing Fajardo will be redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick. He will have four of the top five receivers as well as the second and third leading rushers from 2014. Don Jackson ran for 957 yards and 7 touchdowns while James Butler contributed 635 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns. There are only two starters returning on offense and the losses give some worry about their performance, at least in the early part of the season.

On defense, there will be 5 starters returning from a unit that allowed 27.2 points and 447 yards per game in 2014. That unit also had 10 starters returning. Both the defensive line and secondary were hit hard by losses with two losses on the line and three in the secondary. The linebacker unit will be the strength with the #2 and #3 tacklers from 2014 comprising this group. Those two are Jordan Dobrich, who started only 6 games in 2014, but still managed to record 85 tackles. The other is Matthew Lyons who finished with 80 tackles. This defense will probably take a step back in 2015.

Nevada will open the season with back-to-back home games against UC Davis and Arizona before road trips to Texas A&M and Buffalo. In conference play, Nevada draws New Mexico (home), Wyoming (road), and Utah State (road) from the Mountain Division, but have a brutal four game stretch to finish the season. Those four games are Fresno State (road), San José State (home), Utah State (road), and San Diego State (road). Nevada could finish second or third if they do well in the final stretch and should also make a bowl game in 2015.

5. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Hawaii has hit hard times after their spectacular 12-1 season in 2007. Norm Chow has gone 3-9, 1-11, and 4-9 in his first three seasons and another losing record in 2015 could see the end of his time in Honolulu.

2015 should produce Hawaii’s best offense under Chow. They return 8 starters from 2014 including their quarterback, but he is likely to be usurped by new arrival Max Wittek, who was previously at USC. Also returning is the top rusher from a year ago in Steven Lakalaka, though he only ran for 646 yards and 2 touchdowns. Wittek will have he top two receivers from 2014 as well with Marcus Kemp (56 catches for 797 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Quinton Pedroza (59 catches for 674 yards and 3 touchdowns). The highest production under Chow was in 2013 when Hawaii put up 27.4 points and 416 yards per game. 2015 should produce those numbers again, if not higher.

On defense, the Warriors will have 6 starters back including their #2, #3, and #4 leading tacklers from 2014. Two starters have to be replaced on the defensive line and at linebacker. Kennedy Tulimasealii will anchor the line after recording 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. Simon Poti will be one of the top men at linebacker after putting up 64 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 tackle for loss. The secondary will return three starters and a former starter in Marrell Jackson at safety, who started 15 games in his first two seasons. The defense should put up similar numbers as it did in 2014 (26.8 points and 418 yards per game).

Hawaii does not have an easy non-conference schedule. They open with a home game against Colorado, travel to face Ohio State, come back home to face FCS UC Davis, and then travel to Wisconsin to close out September. Hawaii will also face Louisiana-Monroe on the final weekend in November to end the regular season. In conference, the Warriors draw Boise State (road), New Mexico (road), and Air Force (home) out of the Mountain Division. They do get San Diego State, Fresno State, and San José State at home, but it looks like another losing season for Hawaii.

6. UNLV Rebels

Bobby Hauck was given 5 years to turnaround UNLV and it looked like he would after a 7-6 season in 2013. However, the 2014 season produced a 2-11 record with both the offense and defense getting worse. Now, former high school head coach Tony Sanchez is the head coach and he has his work cut out.

The offense returns five starters from a unit that produced 21.9 points and 387 yards per game. They will be learning a new system, but do return quarterback Blake Decker. Decker threw for 2,886 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions while completing 57.6% of his passes. He also ran for 365 yards and 5 touchdowns as the third leading rusher in 2014. The running game was by committee and the leading rusher from last year is gone while the #2 rusher, Keith Whitely, is back after running for 504 yards and 2 touchdowns. The top receiver in Devonte Boyd is back as well after he put up 65 catches for 980 yards and 4 touchdowns. Things are not looking too bad for UNLV, but 2015 might be a learning experience with the new offense being put in place.

The defense also returns five starters as well as five of their top six tacklers from 2014. The defensive line was decimated by departures with only one starter returning, but that group gave up an average of 294 yards rushing per game last year. All three linebackers return including 2014’s leading tackler Tau Lotulelei. He had 99 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss. The secondary was also hit hard with three starters lost. The lone returning starter is Peni Vea who had 88 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interceptions last year. The defense could be in for a long season with the losses they have sustained.

The non-conference schedule will be tough for a new head coach. The Rebels open with a road trip to Northern Illinois, a home game against UCLA, another road trip to the Big House to face Michigan, and finish September with a home game against FCS Idaho State. The Rebels will be lucky to get a win from Mountain West play and could finish with double digit losses for the fifth time in six seasons.

Overview

The 2015 Mountain West Conference’s West Division looks to be pointing to San Diego State as the winner. However, if they stumble or have a lot of bad luck, then it will be between San José State, Fresno State, and Nevada to win. Hawaii is a cut below the top four while UNLV will be back in the basement for 2015. Below is predicted order of finish for the West Division.

1. San Diego State

2. San Jose State

3. Fresno State

4. Nevada

5. Hawaii

6. UNLV

2015 Mountain West Championship

Part three of the 2015 College Football Preview looked at the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division and took Boise State to win. With San Diego State predicted as the West Division winner, that means it will be between Boise State and San Diego State for the conference championship. Boise State looks like the superior team and they are predicted to win the 2015 Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

Check back on Tuesday, July 14 for an in-depth look at Conference USA’s East Division Preview.

2015 College Football Preview: MWC Mountain

Boise State looks to continue their dominance in the Mountain West during the 2015 season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)
Boise State looks to continue their dominance in the Mountain West during the 2015 season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: MWC Mountain

Part 3 of the 2015 College Football Preview dives into the Mountain West. Specifically, the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference will be previewed. Below is a look at the entire 2015 College Football Preview schedule:

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Now, let’s take a look at the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division preview.

1. Boise State Broncos

The first year for head coach Bryan Harsin was a major success for Boise State, as the Broncos went 12-2 and won the Mountain West’s inaugural Championship Game. Year 2 under Harsin will them poised to continue the success.

The offense will have 9 starters back from last year’s unit that put 39.7 points and 494 yards per game. The losses are at key positions, however. Quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi are both gone. Ajayi’s departure is offset by the addition of Kelsey Young as a transfer from Stanford. Quarterback will likely be played by Ryan Finley who saw action in five games in 2014. He will have his entire offensive line returning and some top targets in Thomas Sperbeck (51 catches for 877 yards and 3 touchdowns), Shane Williams-Rhodes (68 catches for 585 yards and 7 touchdowns, and tight end Jake Roh (35 catches for 408 yards and 2 touchdowns). The offense may not put up as many points, but it will still put up more than enough to outscore most opponents.

Boise State sees 8 starters return on defense including the top 5 tacklers from a season ago. The losses are spaced out evenly with one at each level. Middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo will be leading the defense again after recording 100 tackles, 3 sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss. On the defensive line, Kamalei Correa looks to have another double digit sack season after recording 12 sacks in 2014. The defense gave up 26.8 points and 375 yards per game in 2014 and similar numbers, or better, can be expected.

Boise State starts the season with a match up against former head coach Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies at home. They then have a road trip to BYU, are home against Idaho State, and travel again to face Virginia. Their Mountain West schedule sets them up nicely for a shot at an undefeated conference season. Their toughest games will be at Utah State and home to Air Force, but they draw Hawaii, UNLV, and San José State from the West. Those are three teams the Broncos should crush. The Broncos should have a relatively easy time winning their division and reaching another MWC Title Game.

2. Air Force Falcons

2014 was a major turnaround season for Air Force. In 2013, the Falcons went 2-10 with their only triumphs being against FCS Colgate and Army. In 2014, they went 10-3 with their three losses all coming in Mountain West play (Wyoming, Utah State, and San Diego State).

In 2015, Air Force has 7 starters returning on offense led by running back Jacobi Owens and wide receiver Jalen Robinette. Owens led the Falcons with 1,054 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing while Robinette had 43 catches for 806 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has to replace three starters, but as usual, it will be upperclassmen filling the vacancies. At quarterback, Nate Romine is expected to return to start. He started 5 games in 2013 and one game in 2014. The offense averaged 31.5 points per game a year ago and could come close to that in 2015.

The major area of concern for Air Force is on defense where only 4 starters return. The last time they had this few starters return was in 2012 with 2 and gave up an average of 29 points per game. Alex Hansen will anchor the defensive line after garnering 2nd Team All-Mountain West honors in 2014 with 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Connor Healy will be the star linebacker after finishing second in tackles in 2014 with 90. Weston Steelhammer is back at strong safety after he made the 1st Team All-Mountain West in 2014. He had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 6 interceptions. This unit lost a lot in the way of experience and will probably suffer a bit.

Air Force stars off with a game against FCS Morgan State before starting conference play at home against San José State. Next up is a road trip to Michigan State before a bye and another road trip to Navy. The reason they are put second on this list is due to the Mountain West schedule. They will have to face Fresno State at home, but get a road trip to Hawaii and have the aforementioned game against San José State. That is not the toughest West draw and with a win against Utah State on November 14 at home, the Falcons could be sitting behind Boise State when all is said and done.

3. Utah State Aggies

2014 produced a surprisingly good year for Utah State despite a few negatives. They entered 2014 with only 7 returning starters and lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton after 3 starts, but were able to finish 10-4. 2015 looks even better for the Aggies.

On offense, the Aggies return 9 starters including Chuckie Keeton. Keeton was given a 6th year of eligibility after being injured last season. He will have running back LaJuan Hunt back as well after he ran for 540 yards and a touchdown. Keeton will also have the top two receivers from last year (Hunter Sharp and JoJo Natson) as well as four starters back on the line. After averaging 26.9 points and 379 yards a game in 2014, the Aggies should have better output in 2015.

As previously mentioned, 2014 was a big year for Utah State and the defense was a massive part of the reason. Despite only having 4 starters back, the unit gave up 19.7 points and 356 yards per game. In 2015, they will have 6 starters returning. The strength of the defense will be at linebacker with three of the four starters returning including Nick Vigil, who recorded 134 tackles, 7 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and an interception a season ago. The defensive line has to replace two starters as does the secondary. The defensive line should do well while the pass defense may have some struggles this season.

Utah State has a rough out of conference schedule after their opener against Southern Utah. They face back-to-back Pac-12 foes on the road in Utah and Washington. Their last non-conference game is against BYU at home in the regular season finale. During Mountain West play they will have a rough time as well. They get Boise State at home and travel to Air Force, but the teams from the West Division is what really hurts. They face three of the top teams in Fresno State (road), San Diego State (road), and Nevada (home). Utah State will make another bowl game in 2015 and they could surprise with a winning record against the 5 aforementioned Mountain West foes.

4. Wyoming Cowboys

Craig Bohl‘s first season in the FBS in 2014 was not kind as Wyoming finished 4-8 with the offense averaging only 21.1 points per game and the defense surrendering 32.8 points per game. 2015 may a bit better for Wyoming despite only 9 starters returning.

The Cowboys will have 5 starters back on offense and one of them is not at quarterback. However, that may not be a problem as they have Cameron Coffman who transferred from Indiana. Coffman threw for 2,734 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 2012. The top two running backs also return in Brian Hill (796 yards and 7 touchdowns) and Shaun Wick (753 yards and 6 touchdowns). Wyoming does lose their top two receivers, but those two only combined for 86 catches, 1,172 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Despite the losses, the offense should perform better with a year of Bohl’s system under their belts.

The defense returns only 4 starters, but one of those is 1st Team-All Mountain West defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. He finished 2014 as the second leading tackler with 63 and also recorded 4 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. 2 other projected starters on the defensive line have experience starting as well. The linebacking unit has only 1 returning starter, but Lucas Wacha started 11 games in 2013 and returns to start at the weak side. The secondary only returns one starter from 2014, but strong safety Chad Reese was a constant starter between 2011 and 2013 before missing all of 2014. The defense does not have a lot of starters returning, but they are in the second year of Bohl’s system and have several starters from years prior to 2014.

Wyoming has a relatively easy non-conference schedule with back-to-back home games against North Dakota and Eastern Michigan. They then travel to Washington State before starting conference play at home against New Mexico. Their non-conference schedule wraps up on October 3 with a road game at Appalachian State, which could see them sitting at 4-1 in early October. They have a rough conference schedule with road games against Air Force, Boise State, Utah State, and San Diego State. They also have Nevada and UNLV from the West division. The Cowboys will probably need an upset or 2 to reach bowl eligibility, but that is not out of the question for Craig Bohl.

5. Colorado State Rams

Colorado State has been on the up and up since Jim McElwain took over in 2012. They went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-6 in 2013 to 10-3 in 2014. However, McElwain departed to take over at Florida and Mike Bobo was brought in from Georgia.

Bobo will have 7 starters back on offense including one of the best receivers in college football from 2014. Rashard Higgins caught 96 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns while making the 2014 1st Team All-American squad. He will not have his top quarterback, however, and that will probably hurt the output. Seth Grayson threw for 4,006 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Also missing is the leading rusher from last year, Dee Hart, who ran for 1,275 yards and 16 touchdowns. After putting up 33.9 points per game in 2014, the offense will probably see a drop off despite the return of Higgins.

Defensively, the Rams have 8 starters returning, but two of the losses are the top two tacklers in 2014. The defensive line will be moving to a 4-3 from a 3-4, but they do return 3 starters, which should see them improve on the 201 rushing yards per game they surrendered in 2014. Linebacker is where the losses hurt the most with the two leading tacklers gone and there will most likely be drop off there. The secondary returns all four starters including the #3, #4, and #5 leading tacklers in 2014. This will be the strength of the defense and they only gave up 224 passing yards per game in 2014.

The Rams open the season with back-to-back home games against Savannah State and Minnesota before facing arch-rival Colorado in Denver. The wrap up non-conference with their first road trip outside of Colorado to face Texas-San Antonio. In conference, the Rams will have home games against Boise State and Air Force while drawing San Diego State, UNLV, and Fresno State from the West.

It might be a little harsh to put Colorado State 5th in the Mountain Division after their excellent season a year ago. They lose their quarterback, top rusher, top two tacklers, and have a new coach with new systems to install. Still, the Rams have an excellent shot at topping 6 wins and making another bowl game.

6. New Mexico Lobos

2015 will be Bob Davie‘s fourth season in charge at New Mexico. He has yet to do better than 4 wins, but will 2015 be different? To start, he will have 7 starters returning on offense including his top 3 rushers from his run based offense. Quarterback Lamar Jordan threw for only 895 yards with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but was able to run for 612 yards and 3 touchdowns. Also in the backfield is Jhurell Pressley (1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Teriyon Gipson (809 yards and 8 touchdowns). They also have 3 starters returning on the offensive line to pave the way. With the amount of talent and experience returning in 2015, the Lobos should be able to average at least the 310 yards rushing per game they did in 2014.

On defense, Davie will also have 7 starters returning and that is the most since he started at New Mexico in 2012. Two of the three defensive linemen return including Nik D’Avanzo who recorded 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. Three of the four linebackers return with that unit led by the tackling machine of Dakota Cox. He finished 2014 with 116 tackles to lead the team en route to finishing on the 1st Team All-Mountain West squad despite only playing the first 9 games. The secondary returns two starters as well and should continue to improve. The defense will probably improve on their 35.9 points and 519 yards per game given up in 2014, but will need to do much better.

New Mexico kicks off the season with homes games against Mississippi Valley State and Tulsa before a road trip to Arizona State. They open their conference schedule at Wyoming before facing New Mexico State at home to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule. From the West Division, the Lobos will face Nevada and San José State on the road while getting Hawaii at home. The Lobos could possibly go 2-1 in those three games and combined with an expected 2-2 non-conference record, be just two wins away from bowl eligibility. The Lobos will come close to 6 wins, but may fall just a bit short in 2015.

Overview

The Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division is Boise State’s to lose. They have a solid offense and a strong defense that appears to be much better on paper than any of their conference opponents. With a few upsets, Utah State or Air Force could win the division, but that is unlikely with those two teams battling it out for second along with Wyoming and Colorado State. New Mexico will be close to getting back to a bowl game but probably needs another year. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Boise State

2. Air Force

3. Utah State

4. Wyoming

5. Colorado State

6. New Mexico

The Mountain West Conference West Division will be out on Friday, July 10 along with the Mountain West Title Game prediction.