By Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com who has 2016 Mountain West Conference Betting Preview
For the ninth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent at least five teams into postseason bowl games when eight participants hit the alleys last season. The MWC has earned 77 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 42-35 (.546) all-time record in those contests.
However, its been five seasons since the Mountain West finished ending the bowls with a winning campaign as they stand just 13-18 in that span.
With a 3-4 mark in postseason play last season, marking the fourth year in a row the league failed to post a winning bowl record (9-14 last four seasons).
The Mountain West has welcomed 26 new head coaches over the last 17 seasons, eleven of which played in a bowl game in their rookie year.
Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton in 2001, and Boise State boss Bryan Harsin in 2014, posted the most wins with 12 victories in their inaugural year.
Harsin also joined Utah State’s Matt Wells when he became the second coach to conclude his inaugural season by leading his team to the Mountain West Championship Game and a bowl appearance.
Two new head coaches debut this season: Nick Rolovich at Hawaii, and Tim Cramsey at Nevada.
Way Up There
The Mountain West Conference is appropriately named with no less than 8 of the twelve schools located more than 2,000 feet above sea level, including all 6 in the MWC Mountain Division.
Wyoming’s War Memorial stadium scales the highest at 7,215 feet, with Air Force’s Falcon Stadium also better than a mile high at 6,621 feet.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, on sale now at newsstands nationwide. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2016 MWC MOUNTAIN PREVIEW
AIR FORCE Off – *5/2 Def – 8/2 65 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SUNNY SKIES
With 18 wins the last two seasons – including a Mountain Division title – after posting just 2 wins in 2013, it’s safe to say the skies have brightened for the Flyboys. Despite the loss of QB Nate Romine in the 2nd game of the season last year, AFA still managed to improve 32 YPG on offense and 41 YPG on defense. The good news is Romine is back in 2016 with a unit that allowed the fewest sacks last season. Even better, an aggressive defense returns 8 starters from a vastly improved unit. And for comparison sake: the Falcons faced Michigan State in their primary FBS non-con game in 2015. They will face Georgia State this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 2-10 ATS in games after facing Army and Navy since 2010.
PLAY AGAINST: at Wyoming (10/8)
BOISE STATE Off – *8/4 Def – 5/0 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ZIG ZAG
ESPN’s Darren Rovell probably put it best when he stated, “Boise State is college football’s Gonzaga. Their name says they’re the little guys. They can play with the best.” The Broncos proved it’s practically impossible to improve on a 12-win season when they limped home with 9 wins last year despite improving their stats on both sides of the ball, marking only the 4th time in the last 17 years they failed to wins 10 games or more. FYI: in the 4 seasons following a non-10 win campaign, Boise went 47-6. The good news, though, is blue-chip SO QB Brett Rypien, the MWC Freshman of the Year and Poinsettia Bowl MVP with 3,350 yards and 20 TDs), returns along with five of last year’s top seven wide receivers. Go Zags… err Broncos.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 19-2 SU and 13-6 ATS In games where they outyard opponents under head coach Bryan Harsin.
PLAY ON: at New Mexico (10/7)
COLORADO STATE Off – *6/4 Def – 4/2 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: PRO BOBO
It was mission accomplished last season for new head coach Mike Bobo when he led his Rams to a 3rd straight bowl game. Bobo’s no-huddle, hurry-up attack preaches balance with a heavy emphasis on running the ball. ”We want to run our offense and still be pro-style, not being in the shotgun all the time,” insists Bobo. And well balanced they were, with nearly 50% of their yards last year coming on the ground. This will mark the final season at Hughes Stadium for CSU, the Rams’ home since 1968, as they move into a new $220M complex next year. Bobo’s mission this season, should he decide to accept it: a Mountain West Conference championship for the first time since 2002.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-18 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.
PLAY ON: vs. Colorado (9/2)
NEW MEXICO Off – *5/2 Def – 10/4 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HOUND DOGS
The free fall appears over. As we proclaimed on this page last year, the Lobos’ 8-year bowl drought came to an end when Bob Davie’s troops won 7 games thanks largely in part to a defense that improved 8 points and 80 yards per game in 2015. It seems like yesterday that New Mexico was mired in a drought when they won just 3 games over a three-year span (2009-11). The good news is the same defense returns 10 starters, making them bowl fodder once again this season. With both starting QBs and star RB Teriyon Gipson back, if the defense holds serve, the Lobos could be party hounds once again during the holidays this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos have been outscored 4.8 PPG under Davie. They had been outscored 26.0 PPG the three seasons prior to his arrival.
PLAY AGAINST: at Utah State (11/12)
UTAH STATE Off – *10/4 Def – 3/1 40 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MISSION BOUND
It’s safe to say that for a team that averaged 10 wins per season from 2012-2014, and then slumped to 6 victories last year, the Aggies will be a team on a mission in 2016. They field one of the most even breakdowns of players by class on the roster with 27 seniors, 25 juniors, 21 sophomores and 28 freshmen. Believe it or not, QB Chuckie Keeton is not listed among the breakdown as he has finally departed. Is it us, or does it seem like Chuckie was here during the entire Obama administration? Utah State is also tasked with having to replace both offensive and defensive coordinators for the 2nd straight year. So what else is new?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies are 43-24 since 2011, with only 9 losses by more than 7 points.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. San Diego State (10/28)
WYOMING Off – 9/4 Def – 8/1 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BAPTIZED BY FIRE
The makeup of the 2016 Cowboy roster, while still relatively young, is much different than the Cowboy team from a year ago that returned only 10 starters and 33 letter winners. The 2016 Cowboy roster will feature 20 seniors, half of who have been regular starters during their careers. “We have a lot of returning players,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “I think we are going to have a more seasoned, more mature football team this coming season than what we had last year when we played a high number (26) of freshmen.” Of those 26 freshmen that played, 15 started at least one game and 11 started multiple games in 2015. Color the Cowboys dangerous in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last time the Cowboys suffered four losing seasons in a row was in 2003. They won the Las Vegas Bowl the following season.
PLAY ON: at New Mexico (11/26) – *Key
2016 MWC WEST PREVIEW
FRESNO STATE Off – *7/2 Def – 5/1 36 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: DERUYTER ON DE HOT SEAT
On the heels of a disappointing 3-win effort last season, Fresno has now tasted back-to-back losing campaigns. And with it, the natives are growing restless. That’s because after a 19-4 start under head coach Tim DeRuyter, the Bulldogs are just 10-19 since. In an effort to shake things up, DeRuyter brings in new offensive and defensive coordinators. Cycling through 4 QB’s last year (you know the saying: when you have 4 QB’s, you have none), including a freshman signal caller and two freshmen wide receivers – along with a defense ravaged by injuries – means the benefits should be plenty this season after Fresno was force-fed rebuilding in 2015. Let’s hope it helps gets the Bulldogs back to where they were, sooner than later.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bulldogs were the worst team in the nation in tackles allowed for a loss last season.
PLAY ON: at Colorado State (11/5)
HAWAII Off – *9/4 Def – 6/2 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN
After 11 wins in four seasons, the Norm Chow era is over in Hawaii. Just when it appeared improvement was in the making under Chow – the Warriors’ losses in 2013-14 were by 11.4 PPG, as opposed to 31.1 PPG in his first year – UH went postal with 10 defeats coming by 26.4 PPG last season. Enter new head coach Nick Rolovich, a former UH quarterback. Three games in the first four weeks versus Power 5 foes in Australia, Michigan and Arizona will certainly put an experienced OL to the test, one that featured 11 different combinations last year due to injuries. Thus, its no wonder Hawaii was the worst team in the land in time of possession last year. With the offense in good hands with nine starters returning, the defense will rely heavily on DE Kennedy Tulimasealii – the MWC leader in tackles for a loss last year (18.5) – provided he’s on the roster. Tulimasealii was arrested two times in two weeks in April and is facing six criminal charges at press time. He is expected to miss UH’s season-opener on Aug. 27 in Australia. The Warriors depart on Aug. 20, four days ahead of his sentencing hearing. Stay tuned.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rainbow Warriors will have flown 10,000 miles before playing their first home game this season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. New Mexico (10/29)
NEVADA Off – *9/5 Def – 5/1 39 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CRAM SESSION
After coping with an offense in decline during each of his three years with the program, Nevada head coach Brian Polian decided a shakeup was in order. New OC Tim Cramsey arrives in Reno after a wildly successful run at Montana State, where he engineered a juggernaut offense that scored 41.9 points per game and ranked third in FCS, averaging nearly 520 yards of total offense. Cramsey, who played and coached under Chip Kelly at New Hampshire, will welcome Penn State transfer RB Akeel Lynch, who teams with James Butler (1,346 yards on 6.4 YPR) to form a powerful tandem. With the top 4 wide receivers returning for QB Skyler Stewart, the Wolf Pack attack should be on the improve.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolf Pack face only three opponents that owned a winning record last season.
PLAY ON: at UNLV (11/26)
SAN DIEGO STATE Off – 7/3 Def – 7/1 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BLUE SKIES IN SAN DIEGO
The Aztecs captured the MWC championship when they outscored and outyarded conference foes, +22.4 and +176 YPG, respectively last season. In the process, the defense allowed the 2nd fewest plays per game (61.7), and led the nation in turnover margin (+1.57) last year. The formula for success is simple, according to assistant and former UNLV coach Bobby Hauck. “You’ve got to come and go to work here to play on this team. You have to have a bit of a blue-collar mentality.” With 6 first-team All-Mountain West selections back from the only group in the nation that won every regular season conference game by double-digits in 2015, including RB Donnel Pumphrey – the reigning MWC Offensive Player of the Year – sights are set on a New Year’s Six bowl berth this season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Long, the Aztecs are 9-11 SU and 5-10 ATS in their first 4 games of the season, and 17-3 SU and 13-5-2 ATS in their final 4 games.
PLAY AGAINST: at Northern Illinois (9/17)
SAN JOSE STATE Off – *8/4 Def – 7/3 37 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CONCRETE BLOCKS
The building blocks continue to grow under head coach Ron Caragher as another solid recruiting class yielded 11 more 3-star recruits. That comes on the heels of a Top 60 class in 2015 that landed a whopping 22 3-star recruits, 11 of which are DBs. Back this year is starting QB Kenny Potter, along with his top two WRs, leading RB and four OL who have made 74 starts. In addition, star TE Billy Freeman, a four-year starter who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015, makes everyone’s job on offense a lot easier. Meanwhile, new DC Ron English, former Eastern Michigan mentor, replaces Al Borges. English is in charge of patching a defense that has allowed more than 5 yards per rush each of the last three seasons. If he does, another bowl game could be in the offing.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Spartans are 8-1 ATS versus opponents off a SU underdog win, including 5-0 SUATS the last 5.
PLAY ON: vs. Nevada (10/15)
UNLVOff – 6/3 Def – 7/2 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WHAT HAPPENS HERE STAYS HERE
After a tumultuous 29-81 run from 2005-2014, much welcomed second-year coach Tony Sanchez has UNLV trending in the right direction. The Rebels, who showed on-field progress while improving their stats on both sides of the ball, inked former Nebraska quarterback Johnny Stanton, who tossed for 3,471 yards and 27 TDs as a JUCO last season. With former Nebraska assistant coach Barney Cotton now UNLV’s OC, Stanton should fit like a glove. And so should a bevy of returning talent. Don’t tell anyone but 5 OL with starting experience, the top 3 RBs, 3 of the top four WRs, 4 of the top five DL, 3 of the top four LBs, and 5 of the top seven DBs are back.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season the last 15 years.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Hawaii (10/15)
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 PAC 12 Football Preview!