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What SP+ projections tell us about the MW and Nevada's golden opportunity

Carson Strong
Carson Strong and Nevada is one of the most experienced returning teams in the Mountain West in 2020. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

There are a few prominent ranking systems in college football, and SP+ is one of the most popular. The metric, which was created at Football Outsiders in 2008, moved from SB Nation to ESPN in the middle of the 2019 season. SP+ creator Bill Connelly released his preseason 2020 rankings this week, which sheds light on how each Mountain West team looks heading into spring camp. Here is where all 12 MW teams ranked in the 2020 projections out of 130 FBS teams (I also included the team's final SP+ rank from 2019 in parenthesis).

Mountain West teams in 2020

38. Boise State (30th, down 8)

65. Air Force (21st, down 44)

74. San Diego State (57th, down 17)

79. Colorado State (93rd, up 14)

90. Wyoming (60th, down 30)

94. Fresno State (84th, down 10)

99. Hawaii (66th, down 33)

100. Utah State (89th, down 11)

108. San Jose State (96th, down 12)

110. Nevada (114th, up 4)

121. UNLV (116th, down 5)

122. New Mexico (121st, down 1)

SP+ is not bullish on the conference. The MW's average SP+ went from 78.9 last year to a projected 91.7 in 2020. Only two teams are projected to be better in 2020 than 2019, those being Colorado State and Nevada, but both of those teams still rank in the lower third of the nation. A lot of the forecast has to do with returning experience. Connelly had a recent article on returning production. The MW didn't fare well those in those metrics. The MW was the only conference that didn't have a team in the top 40. It had just three in the top 75. Leading the way was Colorado State at 45 and Nevada at 46, so it makes sense those were the only MW teams expected to improve in 2020.

Let's take a deeper look at Nevada's 2020 schedule, which is projected to be one of the easiest the Wolf Pack has played since moving to the FBS. Here is where Nevada's 11 FBS opponents in 2020 landed in the SP+ rankings (the 12th team on the schedule is UC Davis, an FCS team).

Nevada's 2020 schedule

74. San Diego State

76. Arkansas

83. USF

90. Wyoming

94. Fresno State

99. Hawaii

100. Utah State

108. San Jose State

121. UNLV

122. New Mexico

130. UTEP

Nevada doesn't play a single team in the top 70 of the projections. The average rank of Nevada's opponents next season is 99.7 (that rank last year was 81.5). Of the Wolf Pack's 11 FBS opponents in 2020, seven will have a first-year head coach. So the MW is getting softer, Nevada's overall schedule is getting softer and the Wolf Pack ranks in the top 50 in the nation in returning experience. SP+ still isn't very high on Nevada, ranking the Wolf Pack 110th in the nation, but things seem set on a silver platter for Nevada to have a strong 2020 season.

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