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Spring Mountain West football rankings: Will Boise State, Fresno State three-peat?

Bryan Harsin
Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin has a talent edge on the rest of the Mountain West yet again. (AP file)

Every Mountain West football team has wrapped up spring camp, so it's time to take a look at the conference as a whole heading into the 2019 season. With Boise State and Fresno State winning back-to-back division titles, those programs are both looking for three-peats. Boise State seems to have a smoother path to that goal than Fresno State, but both lose some major talents. Here are my preseason post-spring camp MW rankings.

1. Boise State

2018 season: 10-3, 7-1 MW

In short: Per usual, Boise State has the most talent in the league. The offensive line and the defense should be excellent, but the Broncos did lose their starting quarterback, top running back and top two receivers, so there’s star power to replace. Boise State will win double-digit games again and is the heavy favorite to take the Mountain Division and overall conference championship. Just as it does every year, the Broncos have a talent edge and are the team to beat in the MW.

2. Fresno State

2018 season: 12-2, 7-1 MW

In short: After finishing third in the nation in points allowed per game (14.1 ppg), Fresno State’s defense should remain elite. But the Bulldogs lost their starting quarterback, top two receivers, four offensive line starters and three All-MW defenders, so lots of key pieces have departed for coach Jeff Tedford, who turned a 1-11 team into a 12-2 team in just two seasons. Fresno State, though, is still a solid favorite to win the West Division.

3. Utah State

2018 season: 11-2, 7-1 MW

In short: Star QB Jordan Love (3,567 yards, 32 TDs) returns and Utah State’s defense is loaded and should be great. Love lost almost all of his supporting cast, which could neuter an offense that ranked second in the nation in points per game (47.5 ppg). Gary Andersen also replaces Matt Wells, who bolted for Texas Tech. The non-league schedule is more challenging, so don't expect another 11-win season. This is a bowl team but there's probably not enough here to dethrone Boise State.

4. Nevada

2018 season: 8-5, 5-3 MW

In short: Nevada is strong at the skill positions on offense and its front seven defensively is full of talented and proven producers. But the Wolf Pack has to break in a new starting quarterback and has basically no experience at safety. Nevada jumped from three wins in 2017 to eight win in 2018 and while a bowl berth is likely, getting back to eight wins isn’t given a tough road schedule (Oregon, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, Wyoming, UTEP).

5. San Diego State

2018 season: 7-6, 4-4 MW

In short: SDSU’s running back corps is loaded and the offensive line should remain strong. The back eight on defense are elite. But SDSU slipped to fourth in the West Division last year and lost five of its last six after a strong start. After that collapse, the Aztecs are tinkering with the offense to add spread concepts with QB Ryan Agnew, who had accuracy issues last year. SDSU’s defense-and-run-game template will be enough to reach a bowl, but are Rocky Long’s best teams behind him?

6. Wyoming

2018 season: 6-6, 4-4 MW

In short: Wyoming has one of the MW’s most physical teams and should have an excellent defense and rushing attack. But the Cowboys are still young and must decide whether to go with run-first QB Sean Chambers or passing QB Tyler Vander Waal. Wyoming’s offense was poor last season (20.7 ppg, second worst in the MW ahead of only SDSU) and must improve, but a bowl berth is likely.

7. Hawaii

2018 season: 8-6, 5-3 MW

In short: QB Cole McDonald (3,875 yards, 36 TDs) returns with two high-end receivers (Cedric Byrd and JoJo Ward), and the defense has a lot of play-makers. But that defense wasn’t very good last season and Hawaii feasted on a soft schedule that stiffens in 2019. The Rainbow Warriors play three Pac-12 schools as well as Boise State, so it will have to earn a bowl berth. This looks like a six- or seven-win team.

8. Air Force

2018 season: 5-7, 3-5 MW

In short: Air Force returns two quarterbacks who have started, five of its top six running backs and an experienced offensive line, so the Falcons should be able to score. The depth on defense is an issue, although there are some good returning play-makers in the group. After back-to-back years without a bowl appearance for the first time since 2005-06, expect the Falcons to return to the postseason if it can do better in the close games.

9. UNLV

2018 season: 4-8, 2-6 MW

In short: UNLV should have a stellar run game with QB Armani Rogers, RB Charles Williams and a big offensive line, but Rogers struggles throwing the ball (49.3 percent passing in his career), and Tony Sanchez has yet to build a good defense. In his fifth season at UNLV, the mandate for Sanchez (16-32 overall, 11-21 MW) is to reach a bowl if he's to keep his job. The schedule will make that difficult as the Rebels play nine teams that were bowl eligible last year.

10. Colorado State

2018 season: 3-9, 2-6 MW

In short: QB Collin Hill is back and Colorado State usually has a good receiving corps despite losing two studs there. The Rams couldn’t run the ball last season (3.23 yards per carry, seventh worst in the nation) and its defense bottomed out. The defense should be healthier, but will it better? Much improvement is needed on that side of the ball. After three straight 7-6 seasons under Mike Bobo, Colorado State went 3-9 last year. Returning to a bowl will be a challenge.

11. New Mexico

2018 season: 3-9, 1-7 MW

In short: New offensive coordinator Joe Dailey has some talent to work with and good pedigree, although quarterback is a question mark. New Mexico’s defense has been really bad in recent seasons and lost its best pass rusher and much of the secondary. Bob Davie is coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons and likely needs a bowl berth to retain his job. That seems unlikely. Somehow, San Jose State might actually be better.

12. San Jose State

2018 season: 1-11, 1-7 MW

In short: SJSU is 3-22 overall and 2-14 in the MW under third-year coach Brent Brennan, so it can’t get any worse. The Spartans lost four key defenders and could take a step back with its run defense, but improving the run offense is a bigger concern. That was putrid in 2018, ranking last in the nation in rushing yards per game (61.5) and rushing yards per carry (2.07). There aren’t many wins on the schedule, which is tough, but the roster is in better shape. A four-win season looks like the ceiling.

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