Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com has 2017 Mountain West Conference Football Betting Preview
We’re Back, Again
For the tenth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent at least five teams into postseason bowl games when seven participants hit the alleys last season. The MWC has earned 84 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 46-38 (.548) all-time record in those contests.
More important, for the first time in six years the Mountain West finished the bowls with a winning campaign last season.
The Mountain West has welcomed 29 new head coaches over the last 18 seasons, twelve of which played in a bowl game in their rookie year.
Three new head coaches debut this season: Brent Brennan (San Jose State), Jay Norvell (Nevada), and oldie but goodie Jeff Tedford (Fresno State). The bad news is all three of the new coaches will face uphill battles with squads that all figure to battle to stay out of the cellar in their respective divisions.
Way Up There
The Mountain West Conference is appropriately named with all 6 teams in the MWC Mountain Division more than 2,000 feet above sea level.
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 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2017 MWC MOUNTAIN PREVIEW
AIR FORCE Off – *5/2 Def – 1/0 80 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: PARTLY CLOUDY SKIES
It’s a good thing the Air Force Academy is always heavy on upper classmen. That’s because this year’s squadron has plenty of holes to fill as AFA seniors accounted for the 2nd highest percentage of starts of all FBS teams last season (69.0%). The good news is former starting QB Nate Romine returns, along with his heir apparent Arion Worthman, who is undefeated (6-0) as a starter for the Falcons. Lost however are six of seven defensive linemen, four of five linebackers and six of seven defensive backs. Furthermore, the Flyboys will most likely need to win out at home as five of six road games are slated against bowl teams.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 2-12 ATS in games after facing Army and Navy since 2010.
PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado State (10/28)
BOISE STATE Off – *5/2 Def – 4/2 38 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: 12 AND COUNTING
You have to go back to 1998 to find the last time a Boise State football team failed to win 8 games in a season. And were it not for the fact that the Broncos finished the 2016 season with the 2nd fewest amount of turnovers gained (9), they likely would have topped the 10 wins they recorded last season. In fact, the most consistent mid-major in the nation has knocked off five of their last six Power Five foes. We’re not certain what happened in their bowl loss to Baylor, but the last four times the Broncos lost a bowl game, they bounced back to go 51-3 combined the following season. Thought you’d like to know.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 61-2 SU in games against .500 or less foes with Bryan Harsin on the sidelines (as OC 2006-2010 and since 2014).
PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (11/18)
COLORADO STATE Off – *6/2 Def – 8/3 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: RAMMING IT UP
Starting QB Nick Stevens leads a stacked backfield speared by the three-headed attack of Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey, Jr., who combined for 2,199 rushing yards last season. (Note: the Rams were 6-0 SU in game in which they rushed for 200 yards last season; 0-6 when they did not). After being demoted, and then reclaiming his starting position October 22nd, Stevens posted the nation’s best pass efficiency from that point forward when the Rams finished as the No. 4 team in the nation in red zone offense in 2016. Defensively, nine starters return, most of who were thrown into the fire due to a lack of proficiency. Meanwhile, Mike Bobo is one of only two Group of Five coaches hired in 2015 to post winning records each of the last two years. Color them dangerous.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-20 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.
PLAY ON: at Wyoming (11/4)
NEW MEXICO Off – *7/3 Def – 2/1 41 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BORN TO RUN
The Lobos won their first NCAA rushing title last season (after finishing second in 1970 and 1971) when they tallied 4,550 yards, edging Army by 86 yards. The question is was New Mexico good last season, or were they good and lucky? Five of its wins were by a TD or less in 2016 (only Clemson owned more). With over 50% of the starts made for the Lobos last season coming by seniors, we’ll see what Bob Davie has left in his recruit war chest. We do know this: the Lobos committed just 14 giveaways last season. In four of Davie’s five seasons at the helm, the Lobos have ranked in the top five in fewest giveaways.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos have been outscored by 2.8 PPG under Davie, after being outscored by 26 PPG in the 3 years prior to his arrival.
PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico State (9/9)
UTAH STATE Off – *7/2 Def – 8/1 40 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SHOW ME YOUR SIGN
It’s not a good sign when your team wins 3 games in a season in which over 50% of the starts were made by seniors – especially when six players that earned various MWC honors are gone this year. Granted, four losses last season by a TD or less were discouraging but signs of progress are evident in 2017 with the return of starting QB Kent Myers (2,389 passing yards and 10 TDs), RB Tonny Lindsey, Jr. (763 rushing yards and 6 TDs), and WR Ron’quavion Tarver (46 receptions for 602 yards) from last season. Also good news is the fact that 20 players made their first start last season. Collectively, they can only get better.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies own a 19-13 SU record in conference games under Wells. They were 24-42 SU the previous nine seasons.
PLAY ON: at Air Force (11/25)
WYOMING Off – *6/4 Def – 8/3 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: COWBOY UP
Meet the FBS team that started the most underclassmen in the nation in 2016 (56.2%). And for the first time in four seasons at Wyoming, head coach Craig Bohl will have a returning starter quarterback in JT Josh Allen – a mighty damn good one at that. Allen burst onto the college football scene in 2016, leading the MWC, and ranking 20th in the nation in passing touchdowns (28). Some thought he might enter the NFL Draft early this year but he didn’t. As a result, Allen should be one of the top returning QBs in the nation. Bohl’s force-feeding of youngsters two seasons ago paid major dividends last year. Could he hit the jackpot in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Last year’s win over Boise State was the first over a ranked opponent for the Cowboys since 2002.
PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico (10/28)
2017 MWC WEST PREVIEW
FRESNO STATE Off – *10/5 Def – 6/3 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: RECYCLING RETREADS
What is the last thing a team that ranked dead last in in the nation in first down defense – and also ranked in the bottom 10 in the land in rush offense – would want to face during the first month of a new season with a new coach this year? If you said consecutive road trips to Alabama and to Washington, you’re spot on. The new coach is actually an old one recycled, former California boss Jeff Tedford. He was brought in after the Bulldogs fell from 11 wins to 11 losses in three years under Tim DeRuyter, who ironically moves to Cal as it new defensive coordinator. Remember this team suffered four losses by a touchdown or less last season. The only direction this program can go is up.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After a 19-4 start with the Bulldogs, former Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter went 11-30 in his final 41 games.
PLAY ON: at Hawaii (11/11)
HAWAII Off – *8/3 Def – 6/2 54 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FASTEN YOU SEAT BELTS – AGAIN
If you thought the 10,000 miles Hawaii flew before playing its first home game last season was dizzying, wait until you get a load of this year’s passenger manifest. By the end of September 2017, the Warriors will have journeyed to Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and Wyoming. Troubling? No way. Not after 1st year coach and former Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich used last season’s 10,000-mile journey to discover an exciting QB in Dru Brown and an explosive RB in Diocemy Saint Juste, pairing them to form one of the MWC’s more frightening backfields. With most of last year’s starting cast back, plus 9 of the top 11 receivers, another bowl looks likely.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hawaii is 1-7 SU in Eastern Time zones since 1959, with losses by a combined margin of 286-30.
PLAY AGAINST: at Massachusetts (8/26)
NEVADA Off – *5/2 Def – 9/3 40 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MUMMIFIED
Though it seems like eons ago now, three stints of Chris Ault and his altered shotgun offense are a faded memory following four non-descript seasons under Brian Polian. Replacing Polian is offense-maker Jay Norvell, a wide receivers coach at Arizona State last season, and a former OC with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and UCLA. To help kick-start the offense, Norvell hired Matt Mumme (Hal’s son), a former HC at Division III LaGrange as his OC. With air raid in Mumme’s blood, expect the pig to fly in Reno in 2017. Norvell’s DC is Jeff Casteel who brings almost 25 years of coordinator experience, including stints at West Virginia and Arizona. The rebuild is in place.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolf Pack were the 4th best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (11).
PLAY AGAINST: at Fresno State (9/30)
SAN DIEGO STATE Off – *5/1 Def – 6/1 34 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CLOUDY SKIES IN SAN DIEGO
A monster in the Mountain West has emerged. Over the past two seasons Rocky Long’s Aztecs have won two MWC titles while outscoring conference foes by 24 PPG, while going 16-2 SU in conference games in the process. The problem now facing Long’s troops is that over 50% of the starts made for the Aztecs in 2016 were by seniors. Obviously, they will need to be replaced. The good news is super-pest South Alabama is no longer on the schedule. The Aztecs went 0-2 SUATS versus the Jaguars in 2015-16, and 22-4 against everyone else! Last year SDSU started the same OL in all 14 games, a group that combined for 114 starts. Now 130 of those starts are gone – along with record-setting RB Donnel Pumphrey.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After bowling twice in 22 years between 1987 and 2009, the Aztecs have bowled six straight years under Rocky Long.
SAN JOSE STATE Off – 7/5 Def – 8/2 35 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BAD NEWS… GOOD NEWS
First the bad news: The Spartans were the worst team in the land in sacks allowed (50) last year. They were also the 2nd worst team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage defense. Throughout it all, after collaring Top 60 recruiting classes each of his last three years, promising young head coach Ron Caragher was canned. The good news is his replacement is Brent Brennan, a 44-year old former UCLA wide receiver, known for his infectious personality. He inherits major experience on the OL with six linemen owning 125 combined career starts. Even better news: Brennan also inherits a deeply experienced defense that could be the backbone of the team.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The SU winner in Spartans’ games is 33-4 the last three seasons, including 12-0 in 2016.
UNLV Off – *9/4 Def – 2/2 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MAXIMUM VEGAS
Bit by the injury bug last year, HC Tony Sanchez’s troops fell short of .500 – but still improved their record, point production, and overall defense. The Rebels return two starting QBs and four WRs, plus a high upside of youthful experience is back as Sanchez’s recruiting skills are beginning to surface. For it to happen, though, veteran DC Kent Baer (45th year of coaching) needs his troops to show continued improvement. This is a program that’s been to only four bowl games in four decades and, as a result, head coaches have struggled in Vegas (USC’s John Robinson was 28-42 here). Sanchez is determined to set a new norm. Don’t discount his chances as UNLV returns one of the Mountain West’s best backfields and top offensive lines this season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season over the last 16 years.
PLAY ON: at Idaho (9/9) – *KEY