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Mountain West rankings: Three teams vie for the title of 'team to beat' in 2021

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Quarterback Hank Bachmeier of the Boise State Broncos throws under pressure from defensive end Viliami Fehoko of the San Jose State Spartans. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Each week, Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray will rank the Mountain West football teams. Here are this week’s rankings, with each team’s overall record, its next opponent and a brief comment.

1. Nevada

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: at Cal

Comment: I put Nevada at No. 25 in my preseason Top 25 poll, so the Wolf Pack will start at No. 1 in my MW rankings to begin the season. Nevada returns the conference’s most All-MW players (nine) and lost just two starters from last season’s 7-2 squad. The schedule is significantly more difficult this year, but Nevada will grow season over season and should compete for its first MW championship game berth.

2. San Jose State

Record: 1-0, 0-0 MW

This week: at USC

Comment: SJSU hasn’t received as much buzz entering this year as you’d expect considering it returned the bulk of its roster from last season when the Spartans won the MW and went undefeated in the regular season. SJSU can send notice last season was no fluke with this week’s game at No. 15 USC. The Spartans have already played one game – a 45-14 win over Southern Utah – and should be in good form.

3. Boise State

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: at UCF (on Thursday)

Comment: I can’t recall a time I put Boise State at No. 3 (or lower) in my preseason rankings, which I’ve been doing since 2010 when the Broncos (and Wolf Pack) were in the WAC. Honestly, the top three in these rankings are equal. It’s a flip-a-coin situation. The Broncos’ offense should be excellent given the returning players, and first-year coach Andy Avalos is a defensive guy who should improve that unit.

4. Fresno State

Record: 1-0, 0-0 MW

This week: at Oregon

Comment: Fresno State is my dark horse to win the MW, but the Bulldogs’ schedule is brutal. After whipping UConn, 45-0, in its opener, Fresno State faces No. 11 Oregon. It also plays at UCLA, SJSU and SDSU as well as Hawaii and Wyoming, which aren’t easy places to win. The Bulldogs draw Boise State, too. Given the tough schedule, Fresno State also could miss a bowl. Lots of potential outcomes here.

5. San Diego State

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. New Mexico State

Comment: SDSU enters its second season under coach Brady Hoke, and it’s the same story as it was under Rocky Long. The Aztecs’ defense should be elite, but improvement is required on offense after SDSU tallied just 24.6 points per game last season, including 15.5 points per game in its four losses. A healthy Greg Bell will be big for SDSU, but the quarterback position remains a huge question mark.

6. Wyoming

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. Montana State

Comment: Wyoming DE Garrett Crall said this is the best team Craig Bohl has assembled in his eight seasons as the team’s head coach, which is saying a lot considering the Cowboys reached the MW title game in 2016 and has reached the eight-win mark in three of the team’s last four full seasons. Wyoming is the Boise State’s chief challenger in the Mountain Division, but the gap between the two seems large.

7. Air Force

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. Lafayette

Comment: Air Force has reached a bowl game 10 times under Troy Calhoun, but it’s done so in just four of the last eight seasons, although that includes last year when bowl options were limited. The Falcons should be solid yet again this season. Calhoun passed the 100-win mark last season, with his 101 victories as a MW head coach ranking second in conference history behind Rocky Long’s 143 wins.

8. Hawaii

Record: 0-1, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. Portland State

Comment: Hawaii didn’t look good at UCLA in its season opener, especially up front where the Rainbow Warriors ran for just 26 yards on 21 carries while allowing 244 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 43 UCLA carries. The play in the trenches must improve for Hawaii to make a run at a West Division title. Things should perk up this week when Hawaii hosts Portland State.

9. Colorado State

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. South Dakota State (on Friday)

Comment: It’s not often an FBS school is a home underdog against an FCS foe, but that’s the case this week for the Rams, who are getting 3.5 points against South Dakota State, runners-up in the FCS spring season. The veteran Jackrabbits have an excellent defense and a strong running game and will provide a stiff test to Colorado State, which played just four games in Steve Addazio’s debut season in 2020.

10. New Mexico

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. Houston Baptist (on Thursday)

Comment: Crazy stat: New Mexico hasn’t had a player pass for 1,500 yards since 2009. 1,500! We’re talking about throwing for 125 yards per game over a full season. It’s hard to win with quarterback play like that. Next up to try and solve the Lobos’ quarterback issues is Terry Wilson, a Kentucky transfer who won the starting job in fall camp. Wilson threw for 1,889 yards in his best season with the Wildcats.

11. Utah State

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: at Washington State

Comment: New head coach Blake Anderson went for a quick infusion of talent with FBS transfers, including probable starting quarterback Logan Bonner and MW defensive player of the year candidate Justin Rice, both of whom came with Anderson from Arkansas State. The cupboard was left pretty barren, though, so I’d be surprised if the Aggies challenged for a bowl berth in Anderson’s first year.

12. UNLV

Record: 0-0, 0-0 MW

This week: vs. Eastern Washington (on Thursday)

Comment: Entering his second year at the helm of the Rebels, UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo is still looking for his first win, and he should be able to get that in this year’s season opener against Eastern Washington, an FCS school (albeit a top 15 one). UNLV hasn’t named a starting quarterback for its season opener and will likely play a couple of quarterbacks in non-league play before settling on one.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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