Boise State: I am absolutely going to cheat on this answer - deal with it. Boise State, like all football teams has many places that it could use some improvement in, but I am going to focus on a spot that they did exceptionally well in last year. Linebacker.
Boise State is losing one of the greatest players in program history to the NFL draft in Leighton Vander Esch. Let me repeat - one of the greatest players in program history. You just don’t lose a player the caliber of LVE and just keep plugging along. Unless, you have a fantastic defensive coordinator who happens to also have been a superstar linebacker (preferably an alumnus as well), luckily - Boise has that in Andy Avalos.
Boise is going to need multiple players to take the step to the next level to replicate the playmaking ability of LVE. He basically accounted for a bazillion tackles and umteen game changing plays last season. Expecting one person alone to fill this void is naive.
Like I said - I cheated. You could argue Boise is going to need to improve at Wide Receiver as much if not more than they will at linebacker. This is my section of the article, however, and I wielded the power bestowed upon me as I saw fit.
Colorado State:The defense is the biggest area of improvement, they were the primary reason for three of the six total losses last season. They were a unit that couldn’t get any pressure from its pass rush unless it brought the blitz. A big reason why Mike Bobo decided to clean house of the side of the ball, bringing in a new defensive coordinator along with all new coaches on that side of the ball. Early word is new DC John Jancek has changed the culture around the defense and they’ve dominated spring ball. However the offense lost a lot of talent including an off the field injury to Colin Hill before spring ball started.
Another thing is that this team lost a ton of leadership from last season. With Nick Stevens, Michael Gallup, Jake Bennett, Zack Golditch and others graduating. Intangibles will be an important area to see who will step up become the vocal leaders of this team. This team being a bit younger this year, it’s going to be interesting to see how this season folds for the Rams.
Fresno State: Biggest issue for the Dogs is going to be Special Teams, and namely, kicker. I covered this in my article, but we have no kicking experience to start this year. Both Camacho and Kroening graduated last year, and no one else has kicked in an FBS game. We have two walk-ons in Asa Fuller and Mateo Thompson, and there’s rumors of a 3rd walking on over the summer. Thompson has been injured this spring, and Fuller has been wildly inconsistent. All 3 prospects will be competing for 1 scholarship coming into Fall camp, but there will need to be a lot of improvement for them to earn it.
The only area on Special Teams where we actually retain experience is at punter, since Blake Cusick returns for his 3rd year. His average was 40yds last year, so hopefully that’ll improve a bit this year. He was tested for kick-offs during 2016, and it wasn’t a great trial run. So, look for him to only handle punting duties, especially with the new touchback rules going into effect.
The other questionable Special Teams area will be returner. With Ronnie Rivers hurt and out for the year, someone else will need to step up. Keesean Johnson handled a few last year, but had the big fumble in the UNLV game that turned the tide there. They tested out a few different options during Spring, but we will probably still have a platoon at KR and PR this season. This could be a good chance for Deonte Perry or Saevion Johnson to shine, since playing time may be a bit thin on the ground for both.
Hawaii: Highlighting one area of concern is difficult, because frankly Hawaii is hurting everywhere. The losses of Dru Brown, Diocemy Saint Juste, Dylan Collie, and Dejon Allen have resulted in a complete overhaul of personnel and scheme on offense. It would be easy to pick offense as the area to improve with all the newness. To improve this problem, Hawaii is reverting back to the run-and-shoot offense in the hopes that letting the pigskin fly will mitigate issues on and off the field.
That said, the defense was terrible again last season. Run defense, pass defense, it didn’t matter. Hawaii was easy to score on. To improve this, new defensive coordinator Corey Batoon and new assistant head coach Mark Banker hope to bring experience that will turn around this unit.
Will any of this work? I don’t know. Hawaii figures to rank close to dead last nationally in returning starters. Add in new coaches, new offensive system and they’re a true wildcard. They’re young and have nothing to lose. Expect fireworks of some kind.
New Mexico: The Lobos biggest areas of improvement that need to be addressed are re-establishing their dominant running game and finding a bona-fide dual-threat quarterback to pilot the new offensive scheme. UNM fell from among the nation’s elite in rushing two seasons ago to become a mediocre unit that struggled to move the football on the ground or through the air in its Pistol formation that had served it so well for many years.
As a result, UNM Coach Bob Davie brought in a new offensive coordinator, Calvin Magee, from the University of Arizona and beefed up on the offensive line through recruiting in hopes of regaining its status as one of the nation’s top rushing attacks.
Under Magee, Arizona was third nationally in rushing at 309.3 yards per game, and finished 12th in total offense in 2017.
Also, quarterbacks seem to thrive in Magee’s spread offense whether he was at the controls at Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Michigan or Arizona under head coach Rich Rodriguez, known for his offensive innovation. In 2017 with the Wildcats, Magee guided QB Khalil Tate, who placed seventh in rushing yards per game and totaled 1,411 rushing yards.
Magee’s track record of successful offenses bodes well for the Lobos as they try to revive their ball-control ground game while also adding some passing punch to their arsenal. Who will guide the new offense won’t be decided until the fall but redshirt sophomore Tevaka Tuioti likely will get first crack at earning the starting nod.
San Diego State:Their biggest issue last year seemed to be their better players being shut down against dominant defenses (see Fresno State, Boise State last year). It was no coincidence that in their back to back conference losses, Penny had low yard totals and they struggled to move the ball.
The Aztecs will always be a run-first team under Rocky Long, and with the way they can develop their RBs, who can blame them. So first and foremost, they need to develop the next great Aztec RB. But secondly, and perhaps just as important, they need to figure out a consistent passing attack to give themselves balance. Even if it’s a short play-action scheme, they need something to go to keep teams from loading the box and making them one-dimensional. For many MWC teams, they can get away with it through superior talent and scheme. However, for the upper-level of the conference, it causes them some trouble and last year cost them a spot in the conference championship.
As for if this will happen, the jury is still out. It’s very possible they make some minimal improvements in their passing offense, but maybe almost out of necessity as their rushing attack figures to take a step back.
San Jose State: The Spartans obviously have the most to prove to themselves, the conference, their unfound fans and everyday critics.
Coaching: The second year of the Brent Brennan era will have expectations and pressure to at least bring the program closer to par. Brennan and the staff will be the X-factors to success, because they certainly do have the manpower and talent to assemble and create something. They’ll be called into question at season’s end if they can’t unify and generate enough wins with a “workable” roster.
Defense: overall, this was the big failing last season. Teams came in knowing they were going to grind and run. By in large, nearly all teams ran roughshod on the Spartan defense; mainly because of a weaker defensive line. Some could call into question the scheming in cases that had an overmatched 3-man front vs. bigger, athletic O-lines and didn’t change up, which is probably a small example of where some scheming and creativity will be needed. This season there are some linebackers who track very well and DT’s and ends who look like they can really play the part.
Offense: It looks like there may be another QB competition like last year, but this year it should not have to drag out. At the least, there are two QBs that float up, Montel Aaron and Terrell Carter. The inside receiving corp is strong. The outside receivers could be strong. The QB will be the clear through-thread for the offense, as will be the offensive scheming...obviously. The running game can be there and it looks like they can go big or slice and dice with the running backs at hand.
Special teams: This area may not be as strong as last season. The kicking game during the spring session did not resemble what they put out last season, but the jury is still out. And with the new kickoff fair-catch rule, it should only help equalize the return game somewhat for every team.
Wyoming: Wyoming will have some work to do on offense and there are a ton of question marks around the quarterback position, but in my mind, the biggest area of concern is the running back position.
Last year, the Cowboys offense was pretty one dimensional with the lack of a solid running game. The Cowboys ranked 115th in the country in 2017 after ranking 40th in 2016. Sure, they lost the best running back in school history and played most of the season with a young offensive line, but the rushing attack has to step up if Wyoming wants to have more offensive success this season.
Your turn: Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts above? Fans of Air Force, Nevada, UNLV, and Utah State what areas do you think your team needs to improve on next year? Let us know in the comment section below.