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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.


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.