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Mountain West predictions: Picking who will win the West and Mountain divisions

San Jose State
San Jose State will look to defend its Mountain West championship this season. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Mountain West football media days will be held Wednesday and Thursday in Las Vegas with the league's coaches speaking on the first day of action and selected players taking the mics on day two. The conference will announce its predicted order of finish and all-conference honors Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Nevada Sports Net received a ballot for this year's poll and filed the following votes.

Predicted order of finish

West Division

1. Nevada: The Wolf Pack was one half away from reaching its first MW title game last season but let a 13-point halftime lead over SJSU in the regular-season finale turn into a 10-point loss. The Wolf Pack returns nine All-MW players, including the conference's reigning offensive player of the year (Carson Strong), the league's top receiver (Romeo Doubs) and the league's top tight end (Cole Turner). The defense should start 10 seniors, with the secondary being upgraded. The schedule is difficult with five tough road games, but if Nevada doesn't make it to the MW title game this season, it's fair to question when it will ever happen.

2. San Jose State: SJSU was one of the best stories in the country last season as the Spartans went undefeated in the regular season and won the MW title (the bowl game was a different story). Coach Brent Brennan has turned around SJSU's culture, and many of the pieces from last year's title team return, including QB Nick Starkel, although his two best receivers (Bailey Gaither, Tre Walker) are gone. Key S Tre Webb just entered the transfer portal, too. SJSU has the chance to repeat as long as it can replace the explosiveness of Gaither and Walker.

3. Fresno State: Few MW teams can match Fresno State’s talent at quarterback (Jake Haener), running back (Ronnie Rivers) and wide receiver (Jalen Cropper, Keric Wheatfall, Josh Kelly), so the offense should be dynamic under second-year coach Kalen DeBoer, whose team dealt with COVID-19 issues entering and in the middle of the 2020 season. Fresno State allowed way too many big plays on defense last year, so that must improve, as must the special teams. The schedule is tough – two Pac-12 teams – but the Bulldogs should reach a bowl.

4. San Diego State: SDSU's defense is always wicked, although it will be interesting to see if there's anything slippage in the second season post-Rocky Long. The defensive front and linebackers should be great, but the Aztecs lost some top-flight players in the secondary. RB Greg Bell was really good when healthy last season, so expect SDSU's run game to remain potent. The big question is quarterback, where there always seems to be a hole at SDSU. Unless there's vast improvement at that position, there's a ceiling on the Aztecs' potential.

5. Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors return veteran quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who is capable of beating teams with his arm or legs. The Rainbow Warriors' have the MW's top returning secondary, which should help make up for a D-line that's below average. Todd Graham squeezed out a bowl berth in year one on the job, although repeating that won't be easy as Hawaii plays in a makeshift on-campus stadium with Aloha Stadium condemned.

6. UNLV: After going 0-6 in his first season, things probably won't be much better for Marcus Arroyo's crew in year two. The former Oregon offensive coordinator has upgraded the Rebels' recruiting, and the run game has the potential to be among the MW's best behind RB Charles Williams. But UNLV didn't find any answers at quarterback last season and allowed 34 or more points in every game in 2020, continuing a trend of non-existent defense from the Tony Sanchez era. The good news: The MW schedule is very favorable.

Mountain Division

1. Boise State: Boise State remains very talented, but the 2020 season was underwhelming and the Broncos will be breaking in a first-time, first-year head coach in Andy Avalos, so there are some potential vulnerabilities within the program that typically sits atop the Mountain Division. Boise State should be excellent again with six All-MW players returning, but big plays — on offense and defense — were an issue last season. Boise State is still a good bet for double-digit wins, but it's not head and shoulders above the MW's other top teams.

2. Wyoming: You can usually count on two things from Wyoming — a good run game and an excellent defense. With RB Xazavian Valladay back, that rushing offense should run smoothly, and Wyoming could have the MW's top defensive unit. The big question is whether QB Sean Chambers can get through a season. A dynamic runner, Chambers has had three straight season-ending injuries, including the last two against Nevada (the 2020 injury came on the first series of the season). The pieces are there to fight for a divisional crown.

3. Air Force: Air Force returns almost all of its offensive skill players and should have a veteran defense. The biggest question mark is the offensive line, which must be completely rebuilt. That's a big concern, as you might imagine for a team that runs the option. Air Force is always a good bet to go bowling, although it's done that only four of the last eight years under Troy Calhoun after six straight bowl berths to begin his tenure. It can be hard to predict Air Force given its year-over-year roster turnover, but a postseason berth is realistic.

4. Colorado State: We didn't learn a ton about Colorado State in Steve Addazio's debut season because the team only scratched together four games (double-digit losses in three of them). The Rams' offensive skill position players — outside of quarterback — are good. QB Patrick O'Brien transferred to Washington this offseason, so that position remains in limbo. CSU's pass rush, led by Miami transfer Scott Patchan, should be elite, but the secondary has major questions. Plus, the schedule will make it tough for CSU to reach its first bowl game since 2017.

5. New Mexico: New Mexico showed some improvement under first-year coach Danny Gonzales last year despite playing its season in Las Vegas due to state COVID-19 restrictions, but there's still a long way to go. New Mexico's run game should be strong and there's some experience at quarterback even if it's not paired with great success. Defensive coordinator Rocky Long is one of the best in the business, but talent is lacking on that side of the ball (32.6 ppg allowed last season), and the Lobos' pass game has been non-existence for several years.

6. Utah State: Gary Andersen’s second tenure at Utah State was a massive mistake, and he was ousted after just 16 games. He's replaced by Arkansas State import Blake Anderson, who did a good job at his previous stop, reaching six straight bowls before last year's 4-7 campaign. Anderson is looking for a quick turnaround after adding six Power 5 transfers, and that doesn't include LB Justin Rice, a former Fresno State star who played for Anderson at Arkansas State last year. The defensive back seven should be strong, but this isn't a one-year rebuild.

All-Mountain West honors

Players of the year

Offensive player of the year: Carson Strong, Nevada

Defensive player of the year: Cade Hall, San Jose State

Special teams player of the year: Savon Scarver, Utah State

Offense

Quarterback: Carson Strong, Nevada

Running backs: Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State; Xazavian Valladay, Wyoming

Wide receivers: Romeo Doubs, Nevada; Khalil Shakir, Boise State; Calvin Turner, Hawaii

Tight end: Cole Turner, Nevada

Offensive line: Keegan Cryder, Wyoming; Jack Snyder, San Jose State; John Ojukwu, Boise State; Jake Stetz, Boise State; Zachary Thomas, San Diego State

Defense

Defensive line: Cade Hall, San Jose State; Scott Patchan, Colorado State; Cameron Thomas, San Diego State; Dom Peterson, Nevada

Linebacker: Justin Rice, Utah State; Riley Whimpey, Boise State; Kyle Harmon, San Jose State; Darius Muasau, Hawaii

Defensive back: Cortez Davis, Hawaii; Tre Jenkins, San Jose State; Jerrick Reed II, New Mexico; Kekaula Kaniho, Boise State

Special teams

Kicker: Brandon Talton, Nevada

Punter: Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State

Punt returner: Calvin Turner, Hawaii

Kickoff returner: Savon Scarver, Utah State

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