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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.

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Deshaun Watson and Clemson won the 2017 College Football Playoff versus Alabama. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Prior to the start of the 2016 College Football season, we made five predictions for each conference. Those can all be found here. Below we will list and then review how each prediction turned out.

FBS Independents

1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This was correct as Army defeated Navy 21-17. This was Army’s first win against Navy since 2001.

2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – Army reached the 6 win plateau and went beyond as they finished 8-5 overall with a win in Heart of Dallas Bowl versus North Texas.

3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Another one that proved correct. Massachusetts slumped to 2-10 in 2016, which was their first year as an Independent.

4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – We missed on this one. Going by Vegas Insider’s lines, the Cougars pulled only one outright upset. BYU did cover all five games in which they were underdogs, but lost four outright.

5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – Perhaps we were too kind. The Irish lost 8 games and reached our magic mark of three losses by the end of September.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct.

Sun Belt

1. Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida will lead the Sun Belt in rushing – This was a risky prediction and it did not come close at all. Breida finished with 646 yards on the season while Appalachian State’s Jalin Moore led the conference with 1,402 yards.

2. Arkansas State or Appalachian State will win the Conference – This was correctly predicted. This required a Troy loss on the final day of the regular season. Both Arkansas State and Appalachian State tied for the title.

3. Texas State will not win more than 3 games in 2016 – We called this correctly, but early in the season it looked iffy. Texas State started the season with a 2-2 record, but lost all their Sun Belt games to drop to 2-10 in Everett Withers’ first season.

4. New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 56 years – This seemed like an easy call and it was. The Aggies went 3-9 on the season though they did have some entertaining games throughout the season.

5. Idaho will make a bowl game –This was another correct prediction. Idaho started 2-3, but won 7 of their last 8 games including the bowl versus Colorado State. It is a shame Paul Petrino and Idaho will be in the FCS by 2018.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 8 correct out of 10.

Conference USA

1. Rice will win the West Division – This pick was not even close. The Owls started 0-6 and even though they went .500 the final six games, they never really had a chance to win the division.

2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – The Monarchs proved this one right. Old Dominion went 7-1 in C-USA and 10-3 overall. Their loss to Western Kentucky prevented them from competing for the C-USA Championship.

3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – This was correct, but barely as Charlotte scored 25.2 points per game. The 49ers had 6 games were they scored less than 25 points and went 4-8 overall.

4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – This was wrong and in a big way. The Mean Green went 5-8 overall this year and made an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Seth Littrell’s first season as coach.

5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – Another incorrect prediction. The Blue Raiders started the C-USA season well, but losses to Western Kentucky, UT-San Antonio, and Marshall saw them finish 3rd in the East Division.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 10 correct out of 15.

MAC

1. Northern Illinois will make it 7 straight MAC Title Game Appearances – This never came to fruition as the Huskies lost three MAC games and did not even reach a bowl game.

2. Western Michigan will defeat at least one Big Ten opponent in 2016 – This one was correct. They defeated Northwestern in the opening game 22-21 and then blew the doors off Illinois two weeks later in 34-10 win. They had a chance for the rare Big 10 trifecta in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin, but lost 24-16.

3. The East will be mayhem – This is a very hard prediction to quantify. Ohio ended up as the MAC East winner at 6-2 in conference play, but Miami (OH) came back from an 0-6 start to win out and reach a bowl game. Miami finished 6-2 in the conference as well. We will call this a draw and award half a point.

4. Kent State will reach six wins – This prediction was incorrect. The Flashes lost to North Carolina A&T in week two and then bounced back the next week to defeat FCS foe Monmouth. Kent State never threatened to get to 6 wins and finished at 3-9.

5. Eastern Michigan will end their four straight years of double digit losses (and not finish last in the West) – This was correct. The Eagles got off to a flying start at 4-1 and then sealed their winning season with two wins in the final three games. They finished 7-6 overall and fourth in the MAC West.

Final Result: 2.5 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 12.5 correct out of 20.

American Athletic

1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – This was correct. SMU could not get on a roll in a choppy season as they went 5-7 overall. They did upset Houston at home with a resounding 38-16 win.

2. South Florida will win the East Division – This one was close, but was incorrect. The Bulls had a great 11-2 season and went 7-1 in AAC play. Their lone conference loss was to Temple (7-1 AAC), the AAC Champions, thus preventing them from winning the East.

3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This one was incorrect. Houston started 5-0, but finished 4-4 and placed fourth in the AAC West.

4. Connecticut will have winning season –This one ended up as incorrect. The Huskies started 3-3, but lost their last six games to fall to 3-9. The lack of offense cost them and it also cost Bob Diaco his job.

5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – This was correct due to Tulsa and Temple. Temple went 10-4 overall (won the AAC Championship), Tulsa went 10-3 overall, and Tulane came in at 4-8 overall to make it 24 wins combined.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 14.5 correct out of 25.

Mountain West

1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and win 10 games – This prediction was correct on both accounts. The Falcons started 4-0, then lost 3 in a row, and finished the season on a 6 game winning streak. They also defeated Navy and Army.

2. San Diego State will win the West Division – An obvious call before the season, this one was correct. The Aztecs won the West Division going away and finished 11-3 as the only team in the West with a winning record.

3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. Boise State’s offense never reached the expected heights as they finished sixth in the conference at 33.8 points per game. Thomas Sperbeck ended up tied for second in the conference with 1,272 yards receiving behind Tanner Gentry of Wyoming (1,326 yards receiving).

4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – This was incorrect as the Rebels could never find a good flow. They finished 4-8 overall with wins against Jackson State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Wyoming.

5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – This prediction was correct. The Lobos started 2-3 with losses to New Mexico State, Rutgers, and Boise State, but finished with 7 wins in their last 8 games. They played, and won, in the New Mexico Bowl.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 17.5 correct out of 30.

Big 12

1. Kansas State will make a seventh straight bowl game – This was correct. The Wildcats had a sneaky good season going 9-4 overall and finished it off with a 33-28 win in the Texas Bowl over former conference foe Texas A&M.

2. Oklahoma will lose at least one game they are favored in – This prediction was correct after the first weekend of games. Oklahoma was favored by 13.5 against Houston, but lost 33-23. The Sooners finished 11-2 overall.

3. West Virginia will not win more than 7 games – This prediction was wrong. West Virginia started 6-0 to put this prediction to shame. They went on to finish 10-3 with losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Miami (FL) as they finished 3rd in the Big 12.

4. TCU and Baylor will win 20 games or less combined – This prediction was correct. TCU underachieved going 6-7 overall while Baylor went 7-6 with Jim Grobe at the helm.

5. Texas and Texas Tech will both make a bowl game – This prediction was doubly wrong. Neither Texas nor Texas Tech had a winning record, much less made to a bowl game. Both teams finished 5-7 overall.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 20.5 correct out of 35.

ACC

1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 overall on the season with losses to Clemson, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. Georgia Tech defeated Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This one was correct. Clemson won the ACC over Virginia Tech and then defeated Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal 31-0. They reached the National Championship game to face Alabama for a second straight seeason and won 35-31.

3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – This prediction was close, but incorrect. Pittsburgh went 8-5 with losses to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Northwestern. Only the game against Miami (51-28) was decided by more than a touchdown.

4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. In fact, if the numbers were flipped, this would have been on point. Boston College put up 20.4 points per game on offense and allowed 25 points per game on defense. They finished 7-6 overall.

5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This was correct. The schedule set up against Duke finishing with 6 wins and that is how it turned out. They defeated North Carolina Central, Notre Dame, Army, and North Carolina to finish 4-8.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 23.5 correct out of 40.

Pac-12

1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Surprisingly, neither of these teams finished last in the Pac-12 North as that distinction went to Oregon. California went 5-7 while Oregon State finished 4-8.

2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct and undersold. Colorado had a great season going 10-4 overall and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They unfortunately had to face some tough opponents in 2016 with losses to Michigan, USC, Washington, and Oklahoma State. Still, it was a superb season.

3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – This prediction was wrong and was not even close to being right. After stellar 2015 seasons, these two seemed big campaigns again. Christian McCaffrey finished with 1,603 yards rushing while Royce Freeman had 945 yards rushing in 2016 with both getting injured during the year.

4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – This one was way wrong. The Huskies were never really challenged in the Pac-12 North and they easily dispatched Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game. We probably will not make this prediction again any time soon.

5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs –Another one that was wrong. This prediction was predicated on the idea that Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, the Huskies DID win the Pac-12 and were a contender for the College Football Playoff all season long.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 25.5 correct out of 45.

Big 10

1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Hoosiers needed to beat Purdue in the season finale to reach 6 wins and they did in a close 26-24 contest. Head coach Kevin Wilson resigned before the bowl game, which they lost 26-24.

2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – This prediction was correct. Justin Jackson had a very good season leading the Big 10 with 1,524 yards on the ground. He beat out guys like Saquon Barkley, Corey Clement, Rodney Smith, Devine Redding, Mike Weber, and Akrum Wadley for the conference rushing title.

3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – This prediction was incorrect and happily so. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, this is one prediction we are more than happy to eat crow on. The Badgers had what looked like a daunting schedule in the pre-season, but some teams were not as good. However, the Badgers still had to navigate their schedule after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers finished 11-3 overall with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan.

4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This prediction was right on the money. Despite a mid-season loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoffs after defeating Michigan 30-27 in overtime despite not playing in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Buckeyes were crushed 31-0 in the Playoffs versus Clemson.

5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – This prediction was perfectly called. North Dakota State took their patented blueprint to Iowa City and defeated the Hawkeyes 23-21. Iowa finished 8-5 overall on the season.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 29.5 correct out of 50.

SEC

1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – This was close, but incorrect. 6 of the 7 teams made it to a bowl game with only Ole Miss not participating in the post-season. That is interesting because most had Ole Miss as a team contending for the top of the SEC West, not the bottom.

2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – This prediction was wrong. Kentucky started 5-3 and had Austin Peay near the end of regular season to make it 6 wins. They did one better as they upset Louisville 41-38 on the road to reach 7-5 and the TaxSlayer Bowl. They lost that game 33-18 to Georgia Tech.

3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Vanderbilt needed two late season upsets to reach six wins. They defeated both Ole Miss and Tennessee at home to reach the Independence Bowl, but were thrashed by NC State 41-17.

4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – Another one that was close, but ultimately incorrect. Arkansas and Mississippi State played a 58-42 thriller in Starkville late in the season, but it was the Egg Bowl a week later that determined the final team in the SEC West. Ole Miss lost that day 55-20 to finish in the basement after a season of high expectations.

5. Missouri will win the SEC East – It is fitting we round this article out with the worst prediction. Before the season, we thought Missouri’s defense would carry the team, but it ended up being the offense that was key. The Tigers started 2-2 with a 26-11 loss at West Virginia and a 28-27 loss at home to Georgia. It was all downhill from there as they lost five in a row. They won 2 of their final 3 games (Vanderbilt and Arkansas) to finish 4-8 overall. Perhaps this prediction is better suited for 2018 or later.

Final Result: 1 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total finishes at 30.5 correct out of 55 (55.5%).

Hopefully we can do better in 2017 with our predictions.

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

Boise State Holds Off Stubborn Fresno State 37-27

This article originally appeared on VAVEL USA.

Jay Ajayi

Jay Ajayi (#27) had 158 yards and 2 touchdowns (AP Photo)

 

 

Jay Ajayi‘s 30 carries for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns was enough Boise State to fend off the stubborn Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday night by a score of 37-27.

Ajayi got the scoring started on the Broncos’ second possession with a 9 yard touchdown run. His run was setup a play earlier when Shane Williams-Rhodes sprinted for 49 yards to gash the Bulldogs defense. Fresno State came back with a 34 yard field goal from Kody Kroening to cut the lead to only 7-3. However, the Broncos responded with their own field goal from 34 yards out to restore the lead at 7 points.

It did not take long for Fresno State to tie the game when Marteze Waller broke a tackle and outran the Broncos to the end zone. Another field goal from the Broncos would cap a high scoring first quarter with the Broncos leading 13-10 over Fresno State.

Outside of Jay Ajayi’s 3 yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter, there was not much action. Both teams saw their defenses tighten up and force punts. Outside of the Ajayi touchdown drive, the Broncos managed to only reach the Fresno State 47 yard line while the Bulldogs did not run a single play beyond their own 35 yard line in the second quarter. At halftime, Boise State led 20-10.

Fresno State’s sluggish second quarter offense did not return in the third quarter. The second play of the quarter was Waller’s 38 yard run down to the Boise State 32 yard line. On the next play, Brian Burrell hit Josh Harper for the 32 yard touchdown to make it 20-17 in favor of the Broncos.

Boise State’s offense had the perfect response by going 62 yards in 12 plays. Grant Hedrick‘s 21 yard pass to Williams-Rhodes re-established the lead at 10 points for the Broncos.

Fresno State came back with a long, methodical drive of their own. They went 56 yards in 16 plays while taking 6:32 off the clock. They settled for a 44 yard field goal from Kroening and trailed only 27-20. That deficit would be erased in matter of three plays.

On the ensuing kickoff, Dallas Burroughs took the return from his own goal line and got to the 17 yard line where he was hit by T.J. Thomas. Burroughs lost the ball on a hit that was not very jarring and Stratton Brown recovered for the Bulldogs. Two plays later, Waller pounded his way into the end zone to make it a 20-20 game at the end of the third quarter.

Another draining series by Boise State would prove to be the difference. The Broncos embarked on a 17 play drive that covered 75 yards and wiped 7:46 off the clock. The Broncos converted two fourth downs and the scoring play was Thomas Sperbeck finding a wide open Grant Hedrick on the trick play to make it 34-27.

Fresno State failed to move the ball in the final 9 minutes as the Broncos added a third field goal from Dan Goodale to reach the final score of 37-27. Donte Deayon intercepted Burrell’s pass in the final 90 seconds to end the little hope the Bulldogs had of making a spectacular comeback.

Brian Burrell went 13 of 25 for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was helped out immensely by the play of Marteze Waller who had 164 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. Josh Harper caught 4 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown while Delvon Hardaway had 2 receptions for 44 yards.

Grant Hedrick went 21 of 30 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Hedrick also ran for 45 yards on 15 carries. Jay Ajay’s workhorse performance went for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries. He was clearly laboring by the end of the game, but he had an excellent performance. The Broncos ran for 264 yards on 51 carries as a team.

The leading receiver for Boise State was Troy Ware with 3 catches for 43 yards. Shane Williams-Rhodes had 4 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 49 yards on just one carry. Ajayi contributed with 37 yards on 4 receptions.

Fresno State (3-5, 2-2) are on a two game losing streak, but they will have two weeks to prepare for Wyoming. They face the Cowboys on November 1 at home.

Boise State (5-2, 3-1) have bounced back nicely from their upset loss to Air Force three weeks ago with two wins. They have a big game next Saturday against BYU, but they will be back on their patented blue turf.