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25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

Quinton Flowers (#9 above) and South Florida might run away with the AAC East Division. (Jason Behnken/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the second and we once again will focus on the mid-majors conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 20 Through 16

20. (MAC) Akron will win the MAC EastTerry Bowden will be in his 6th year at Akron and this team looks poised for a big season. 8 starters are back from an offense that put up 27.4 points and 387 yards per game. The 2016 offense had only 3 starters back and now the top quarterback and running backs return. The offense has to contend with the loss of the top 2 receivers, but do have talent to replace them.

The defense has 7 starters back from a group that allowed 33.6 points and 466 yards per game. The 2016 version had four starters back while 2017 will see much more experience and add in Miami (FL) transfer James King. The defense should be closer to 2014 numbers of 23.1 points and 371 yards per game allowed.

Akron has a potentially difficult conference schedule with all 8 games packed into 8 weeks. They start with Bowling Green (away) and Ball State (home) before back-to-back road games at MAC West contenders Western Michigan and Toledo. Even a split of those two games would be huge for the Zips. Akron ends the conference season Buffalo (home), Miami (away), Ohio (home), and Kent State (home). The run in is favorable for them to steal the MAC East from Miami and Ohio.

19. (MWC) Boise State will lose at least three games – This does not seem like much of a prediction, but let’s provide some historical context. Since the Broncos have moved from the FCS to FBS, they have only 1 stretch of three or more seasons when they lost at least three games: 1996-1999. That coincided with their move to the top level of collegiate football. Boise State has shown a great pattern of bouncing back when they have a multi-loss season.

The 2017 Boise State team has five starters back on offense and four on defense, which will hurt the Broncos. The duo of Jeremy McNichols (RB) and Thomas Sperbeck (WR) depart for veteran quarterback Brett Rypien, but Rypien still has a lot of talent around him. They will need to step up to help him and the team. The defense loses the top four tacklers and six of the top seven from 2016. Again, there is talent on both sides of the ball to help absorb some of the departures, but that lone does not mean success.

The schedule is difficult for Boise State. They take on Troy (home), Washington State (away), Virginia (home), and BYU (away) in the non-conference portion. In the Mountain West, they have to play San Diego State (away), Wyoming (home), Nevada (home), Colorado State (away), and pesky Air Force (home). The Falcons have beaten Boise State three straight seasons although they look weaker this season.

There is no doubt Boise State is talented enough to win double digit games and even the Mountain West, but it looks like they will see a third straight 3+ loss season for the first time in nearly two decades. That is still impressive given their relatively short history in the FBS.

18. (MWC) Air Force will reach a bowl game – In 10 seasons under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have only failed to reach a bowl game once. The non-bowl season was in 2013 when they went 2-10 going winless in conference play.

A 10th bowl game in 11 seasons is not a slam dunk for Air Force. They have six starters back on offense led by experienced quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Nate Romine. Top receiver Jalen Robinette has moved on, which may lead to more rushing plays. That will put extra pressure on Worthman and Romine as well as Tim McVey, who is the top returning running back by a wide margin. The pieces are there for Air Force to do well on offense.

The real worry on paper is the defense, which returns just one starter and loses 12 of the top 13 tacklers. Grant Ross is back at linebacker and he was the third leading tackler in 2016. The defense allowed 26.2 points and 365 yards per game in 2016 with 9 starters back so on paper it looks like they will take sizable a step back. The last time Air Force had only a few starters back on defense was in 2012 when they had 2. That group did well enough to allow only 29 points and 409 yards per game, which represented marginal increases of .6 points and 23 yards from the 2011 numbers.

Air Force will need a few upsets to reach 6 wins and a bowl game, but the path is there. Air Force takes on VMI (home), Michigan (away), Navy (away), and Army (home) in a non-conference schedule sprinkled throughout the first 9 weeks. From the West division they will play San Diego State (home), UNLV (home), and Nevada (away). Their best chances are the latter two though a porous defense will hurt their opportunity to reach 6 wins.

The Falcons have to deal with a contentious Mountain division of New Mexico (away), Colorado State (away), Wyoming (home), Boise State (away), and Utah State (home). The Falcons could win 3 of those games, which would give them a great chance to get to a bowl.

17. (AAC) 9 teams will make a bowl game – The American Athletic Conference has been on an upward swing since the start of the chaotic conference realignment that began 7 years ago. 2013 was the first season of AAC football and they sent 5 of their 10 members to a bowl game.

2014 saw 5 of 11 teams go to bowl game followed by their best season when 8 of 12 teams went to a bowl game. 2016 finished with 7 teams going to a bowl game and a lot of preseason hype around Houston.

This year looks like a great opportunity for the AAC to put 75% of its members into a bowl game. The AAC has 7 bowl tie ins and the oversupply of bowl games make it easier for teams to participate than ever before. (Side note: there is actually one less bowl game than 2016 with the cessation of the Poinsettia Bowl).

In 2017, South Florida is the clear favorite for the East division, but Temple (10-4 in 2016, but a new coach this year) and Central Florida (6-7 in 2016) also look likely to get back to a bowl game. The bottom half of the East looks like a conundrum between Cincinnati, Connecticut, and East Carolina. The Bearcats underachieved in 2016 and now have Luke Fickell in his first season. They could improve enough to get a bowl bid.

Connecticut welcomes Randy Edsall back to Storrs after a six year absence. Edsall made a bowl game in each of his last four seasons and has 7 starters on both offense and defense to work with. He could steal a bowl bid though the offense will need a lot more than 14.8 points per game. East Carolina is the weakest team in the East and they will be in year two of Scottie Montgomery’s reign. They have a tough schedule out of conference (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, BYU) and will probably struggle to top the 3 win total they put up in 2016.

The West looks very competitive between Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, and Navy. Any of those four could win the division and even SMU and Tulane look capable of getting a bowl bid.

SMU will be in year three with Chad Morris and he has 9 starters back on offense and 5 on defense. They should open 4-1 to give them great confidence to grab the last 2 needed wins. Tulane has a bit more work to do in the second season of Willie Fritz. He has 8 starters on both offense and defense, which looks like a good thing. The offense improved 4.4 points on offense and 8.6 on defense in his first season. Another improvement like that in 2017 and Tulane will be bowling.

To summarize, we like South Florida, Temple, Central Florida, and Cincinnati from the East division to make a bowl game. From the West, we like Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, Navy, and SMU to make a bowl game. Those are the 9 we like to make a bowl, but any 9 will do for this prediction.

16. (AAC) – South Florida and Memphis will play in the AAC Championship GameSouth Florida is in year one under Charlie Strong and has a great situation on his hands. He walks into 7 returning starters on offense and 9 on defense. Quinton Flowers will lead the offense that put up 43.8 points. Flowers led the team in both passing and rushing last year and could have an even better year.

The 2016 defense actually allowed quite a few points at 31.6 per game and 482 yards per game. Now 9 starters are back for Charlie Strong, which should mean a big improvement on that side of the ball. Their toughest games all come at home against Temple, Houston, and Tulsa.

The West division is wide open and we will go with Memphis to win it. All the pieces are back on offense for Mike Norvell between quarterback Riley Ferguson, running back Doroland Dorceus, and receivers Phil Mayhue and Anthony Miller. An offense that put up 38.8 points per game in 2016 now has 9 starters back and looks set to put up over 40 points per game.

The defense for Memphis has 6 starters back from a group that allowed 28.8 points and 455 yards per game. The top two tacklers, Jonathan Cook (88) and Genard Avery (81), are both back as are 5 of the front 7. The main concern is the secondary, but they do have 2 Oklahoma transfers in the mix.

Memphis will have tough road games at Central Florida, Houston, and Tulsa, but winning two of those games would put them in a great position to make their first AAC Championship Game.

That concludes the second set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 15 through 11.

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 7

Jamaal Williams had another big game against Michigan State. He and BYU face Mississippi State at home on Friday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)
Jamaal Williams had another big game against Michigan State. He and BYU face Mississippi State at home on Friday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 7

Week six has come and gone (along with nuisance of Hurricane Matthew we hope). Week seven has some big games including NC State at #3 Clemson, Kansas State at #19 Oklahoma, #20 West Virginia at Texas Tech, North Carolina at #16 Miami (FL), #12 Ole Miss at #22 Arkansas, and #2 Ohio State at #8 Wisconsin.

We will take a look at some of the games not listed above for week seven. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Mississippi State at BYU (10/14 at 10:15 PM) – The Bulldogs enter this game off a horrendous performance against Auburn at home. They were run off the field in the first half after giving up 35 points. They played better in the second half, but that is not a consolation after the first 30 minutes they played.

BYU comes in at the opposite end of the spectrum. The went into East Lansing and won 31-14. They were close with the Spartans through three quarters, but really wore them down in the final frame scoring 21 points to Michigan State’s 7. It was a familiar scene with Jamaal Williams toting the rock quite a bit in the final quarter.

In the Bulldogs’ last two losses to LSU and Auburn, they allowed 177 yards rushing and 228 yards rushing, respectively. Williams has put up four games of at least 160 yards rushing this year and BYU is 3-1 in those games. Mississippi State will need to stop Williams if they want to have a chance of winning. Even then, though, they will have to deal with Taysom Hill.

The Bulldogs will need their A+ game in this one, but will also need Nick Fitzgerald to play better. In their two wins, he has put up at least 110 yards (305 total) and 5 touchdowns against 1 interception. In their three losses, he has managed just 85 yards total on 32 carries and just 2 touchdowns against 1 interception. If the Bulldogs get Fitzgerald going, they can stay in striking distance.

BYU sits and 3-3 while Mississippi State is 2-3 so far in 2016. A win for either team will help their bowl chances, but more so for the Bulldogs.

2. Illinois at Rutgers (10/15 at 12 PM) – This game is way under the radar and has no impact on the rest of the season. So why is it on this list? Because both teams are trending in a bad direction under first year head coaches and this is the kind of game that give a team something to build on if they win. Plus, one of these teams can say they did not go winless in conference play at the end of the year.

Illinois (1-4) is on a four game losing streak and last week’s game against Purdue was there for the taking. They had a chance to defeat Purdue, but Chase McLaughlin’s 41 yard kick at the end of the game hit the right upright and Purdue won 34-31 in overtime.

Rutgers (2-4) is well known for their past two performances. They were crushed 58-0 on the road at Ohio State, but last week’s game put them on the map. They were drubbed 78-0 at home to Michigan, who basically ran the ball the final 20 minutes and still ended up with 481 yards on the ground and 9 rushing touchdowns. The duo of Chris Laviano and Zach Allen combined to go 2 for 18 for 5 yards passing for the Scarlet Knights in the passing game. Rutgers managed 34 yards rushing on 36 carries.

One of these teams has to win this game and while it may not get either one to a bowl game, at least they can build off of this game. Hopefully.

3. Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech (10/15 at 12:30 PM) – This is the battle of which Georgia Triple Option offense is better. Both teams have about 67% of their offense from the ground game while both enter on losing streaks with Georgia Southern at two and Georgia Tech at three.

Georgia Southern will have the benefit of an extra three days of preparation due to playing Arkansas State on Wednesday. The Eagles will spread the ball around to their backs. Five players have at least 200 yards and another one has over 100 yards: Matt Breida (279 yards and 1 touchdown), Wesley Fields (279 and 3 TDs), Favian Upshaw (254 and 2 TDs), Kevin Ellison (252 yards and 3 TDs), L.A. Ramsby (208 and 3 TDs), and Demarcus Godfrey (124 yards).

Georgia Tech has lost three in a row, but they have faced some tough opponents in Clemson, Miami (FL), and Pittsburgh with only Pittsburgh on the road. The ball will usually go into the hands of Dedrick Mills (82 carries for 357 yards and 7 TDs) or quarterback Justin Thomas (64 carries for 206 yards and 1 TD). Another one to watch out for is Clinton Lynch. He only has 19 carries, but has gone for 254 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He also has 6 catches for 134 yards and another touchdown. If he breaks one, it might be the difference.

This game will be old school triple option offense with a lot of running and sporadic amounts passing. Georgia Southern sits at 3-2 and while a loss here does not crush their bowl hopes, a win would give them a confidence boost going back into Sun Belt play. A win here would be bigger for Georgia Tech because their run in consists of Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia. There is no margin for error with a loss here.

4. New Mexico at Air Force (10/15 at 3:30 PM) – A Mountain West battle ensues as the Lobos will travel to face Air Force. New Mexico comes off a big loss to Boise State at home where the offense racked up a ton of yards on the ground, but not much on the scoreboard. They got crushed 49-21 with two late scores flattering the scoreline.

Air Force lost their first game of the season last week to Wyoming on the road 35-26. The Falcons were forced to rely on the passing attack, which ended badly as Nate Romine went 6 of 19 for 188 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. They may be facing a poor pass defense in New Mexico, but Air Force football is a triple option first with some passing sprinkled in.

This game should feature a lot of running. Air Force only managed 149 yards on 39 carries against Wyoming, but they like to pass the ball closer to 15 times a game instead of 20. New Mexico averages 354 rushing yards per game from their version of the triple option between Teriyon Gipson (399 yards and 5 TDs on 31 carries in only 3 games), Tyrone Owens (390 yards and 2 TDs on 63 carries), Lamar Jordan (287 yards and 1 TD on 50 carries in basically 3 games), and Richard McQuarley (242 yards and 7 TDs on 47 carries). Gipson missed the game versus Boise State due to hamstring. He is expected to be back for this game and it will be worth watching to see how effective he is against Air Force.

Both teams have a loss in conference play, but Air Force has not played Boise State yet this season. New Mexico could use a win going into the back half of their schedule while Air Force could use this game to get the run game back on track (last two games have seen the offense finish with more passing yards than rushing yards).

5. Northwestern at Michigan St (10/15 at 3:30 PM) – This game will feature both teams at 2-3, which was not expected before the season. Northwestern got a big win before their bye week with a 38-31 win on the road over Iowa. The offense easily looked the best they have all year against Iowa with Justin Jackson getting 171 yards on 26 carries and Austin Carr catching 3 touchdown passes (6 catches for 73 yards total) from Clayton Thorson (164 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions).

Michigan State has not looked anything like the Spartans of the past 5 years during their three game losing streak. Against Wisconsin and BYU they were physically dominated. BYU ran wild on the Spartans in the fourth quarter while Indiana put up 437 yards of offense on them.

The loser of this game drops to 2-4, which will be very difficult to navigate the final half of the year. Northwestern will face Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois. Michigan State plays Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Penn State. This is a big game for both teams.

6. Missouri at Florida (10/15 at 4 PM) – Missouri is 2-3 on the season alternating between losses and wins to start the campaign. They most recently lost to LSU 42-7 on the road and they were dominated in that game. Florida comes in off a win against Vanderbilt, but it was an ugly win. They also had to deal with the postponement of their contest against LSU due to Hurricane Matthew.

Florida’s defense has been very good against every team except Tennessee. They have given up a total of 20 points in their four wins and only 163.5 total yards per game in those four as well. Meanwhile, Missouri’s offense put up a lot yards prior to the LSU game and that will be an interesting matchup for them against the Florida defense. Drew Lock has thrown for 1,675 yards with 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He will find this group to be a big step up compared to some of his other opponents.

This game could help shape the SEC East. Florida has just one loss and can still win the division with some help. Missouri already has two losses in conference play and is now looking to make a bowl game. A win here would help and really put a dent in Florida’s SEC East hopes.

Check back next week for the week eight edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Five Predictions For The Mountain West Conference In 2016

Air Force reached the Mountain West title game in 2015. What will 2016 bring for Troy Calhoun and the Falcons? (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North America)
Air Force reached the Mountain West title game in 2015. What will 2016 bring for Troy Calhoun and the Falcons? (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The Mountain West Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is less than four weeks away and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Mountain West Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes for the Mountain West Conference as the twelve teams remain the same. The Mountain division is composed of Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State, and Wyoming. The West division is made up of Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State, and UNLV.

Here are five predictions for the Mountain West Conference in 2016:

1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and win 10 games – The first part only requires the Falcons to defeat the duo of Army and Navy. The chances are good to get back the CIC for the first time since 2014 (Navy has won the CIC three of the last four years). Navy was decimated on offense with only one returning starter and Air Force is better than Army on paper (that is why they play the games though).

Air Force will be returning five starters on offense including their leading rusher Jacobi Owens (1,092 yards and 7 touchdowns) and receiver Jalen Robinette. (26 catches for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns). Also back is quarterback Nate Romine who was the starter to begin 2015, but suffered a torn ACL early in the season. The offense should come close to their 2015 numbers of 33.8 points and 451 yards per game.

The defense has nine back from a unit that allowed 25.5 points and 355 yards per game. The entire secondary returns led by strong safety Weston Steelhammer (80 tackles and 5 interceptions) and they will be the anchor of what should be another solid team. The schedule opens with Abilene Christian and Georgia State at home and the Falcons should be poised to go 4-0 in non-conference this year. The Falcons do have five away games in conference, but they are winnable (Utah State, Wyoming, New Mexico, Fresno State, and San Jose State). Their toughest games come at home against Colorado State and Boise State. The Falcons have a great shot at 10 wins in 2016.

2. San Diego State will win the West Division – The Aztecs won the 2015 Mountain West Championship with a 27-24 victory over Air Force. 2016 appears to favor SDSU to get back to the title game again. They return seven starters on both offense and defense led by running back Donnel Pumphrey (1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns), but there are other reasons.

First, they avoid the Mountain Division duo of Air Force and Boise State, which makes the road much easier. The second reason is they do not face much in the way of competition in their own division with being Nevada their biggest threat. The Wolf Pack return 10 starters on offense and five on defense, but lost their offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich to Hawaii. Nevada does not have to face Air Force and Boise State from the Mountain as well. San Diego State does have to face Nevada on the road, but they look likely to win the West in a down year for the division.

3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – The Broncos were easily the best scoring offense in 2015 putting up 39.1 points per game while Air Force was second at 33.8 points per contest. Sperbeck also led the conference in receiving in 2015 with 1,412 yards on 88 catches. The next closest was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins with 75 catches for 1,062 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The offense should easily lead the conference again as they return the young and talented quarterback Brett Rypien (3,353 yards with 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) as well as running back Jeremy McNichols (1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns). Sperbeck will be accompanied by Chaz Anderson at receiver as he was the number two receiver with 42 catches for 578 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sperbeck will be the top target and let’s call for at least 1,500 yards in 2016 to lead the MWC.

4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – Finding an under the radar team from the West division to make a bowl game was tough. Fresno State and Hawaii have tough schedules while San Jose State is hardly under the radar after making the Cure Bowl last year. UNLV made some serious progress during 2015 in Tony Sanchez’s first season.

The offense went from 21.9 points and 387 yards per game in 2014 to 28.5 points and 405 yards in 2015 with only five starters back (as well as the new offense under Sanchez). This year six starters return including the talented Devonte Boyd at receiver (1st team all MWC in 2013 and 2nd team all MWC in 2015). The top three running backs return as well as three linemen. They will have a new quarterback, but he is likely to be former Nebraska Cornhusker Johnny Stanton. The offense should surpass the 2015 numbers they put up.

The defense went from 38.5 points and 513 yards allowed per game in 2014 down to 33.7 points and 457 yards per contest in 2015. Those numbers should improve again this year as eight starters return. The team was competitive last year and had three losses by a touchdown or less. UNLV will open up against Jackson State, UCLA (away), Central Michigan (away), and Idaho. They also face Fresno State, Hawaii (away), Colorado State, San Jose State (away), and Wyoming in conference, which makes a bowl in reach if they can go 3-1 or even 2-2 out of conference.

5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – The Lobos have not been to back-to-back bowl games since 2006 and 2007 when they played in the New Mexico Bowl both times. They played in the same bowl last year against Arizona where they lost 45-37.

The offense will have just five starters back from the group that put up 29.9 points and 388 yards per game. Quarterback Lamar Jordan returns after throwing for 1,045 yards with 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, but the focus of this offense is the triple option. Jordan ran for 807 yards and 9 touchdowns, but the leading rusher departs. He will be replaced by Teriyon Gipson who ran for 848 yards and 6 touchdowns. They also return the top two receivers from last year, which is a plus if they need to rely on the passing attack a bit more.

The defense looks like the strength of the team. In 2014, they allowed 35.9 points and 519 yards per game while 2015 saw an improvement to 28.4 points and 438 yards per game with seven starters back. For 2016, there are ten starters returning including middle linebacker Dakota Cox (97 tackles, 5 sacks, and one interception). There should be even more improvement this year.

The schedule opens up with South Dakota before winnable road games against New Mexico State and Rutgers. Their final non-conference game is in mid October against Louisiana Monroe, another winnable contest. In conference, they will have games versus San Jose State, Boise State, Air Force (in Dallas), Hawaii (away), Nevada, Utah State (away), Colorado State (away), and Wyoming. There are at least three wins in there in which they can become eligible for a bowl game (assuming a 3-1 non-conference record).

The Prediction Schedule

With the MWC predictions above, there are now predictions for six conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

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.