This week the MWCConnection team tackles the topic of which football team will be the most improved in the conference in the 2019 season. Two years ago Fresno State came out of nowhere after a 1-win campaign the season before (and they haven’t gone away since). Last year Hawaii was pretty surprising while Utah State looked great start to finish. Who will it be this year? State your reasons for choosing which team.
Alex: I expect many to say Nevada or Wyoming here. There’s no reason not to, as both programs have been looking to take that next step and contend for a conference title and, for all intents and purposes, this could be the year. My choice, however, is Air Force.
AFA suffered multiple close losses last year. They finished at 5-7, losing by a one score or less deficit in five of those losses. If the Falcons would have found the endzone on a few of those games, they go from 5-7 to potentially 10-2. If they find a way to get over that sloe game hump and come out victorious, they can hit double digit wins this year.
Air Force’s 2019 schedule has many ups and downs. They start the year against FCS Colgate, who had an insanely good defense last year. They certainly aren’t a cupcake, but it’s probably a win. After a bye, they travel to Colorado and Boise State. That’s a tough road trip. They also travel to Hawaii later in the year. They host Utah State, Fresno State, and Army at home, so they could give them an advantage.
Overall, Air Force has experience on both sides of the ball and a gritty schedule. If they can win those close games, which seem to be inevitable, looking at the talent levels between AFA and most of their opponents, they can get back to a bowl and with a little luck possibly contend for the Mountain division title.
Matt: Not Wyoming as a whole, since their defense is a known commodity at this point, but the Cowboy offense as a surprise. Sean Chambers now has a full off-season to get into QB1 mode, and I think he’ll be able to really spark an offense in Laramie. They’ve had to rely on their running game recently because the QB position has waffled between mediocre and bad, but Chambers seems to have the right mix of athleticism and arm strength to really propel them forward.
Jeremy: I’ll be boring and pile on with Wyoming. The offense should be fixed under quarterback Sean Chambers and the defense performed admirably late in the season despite missing key starters. More than anything, the schedule doesn’t present the difficult road other Mountain Division teams face. Missouri aside, the out-of-conference schedule is mostly a cake walk. Air Force, Boise State, San Diego State, and Utah State aren’t easy road tasks, but even if all four of those contests are losses (I don’t think they will be) in addition to Missouri, hold serve at home (which Craig Bohl has done well with) and that’s 7-5. The 2018 Utah State type surprise is Wyoming, and I think there is 8-4/9-3 type potential for the regular season.
(Apologies in advance for jinxing Wyoming)
Jacob: ALL HAIL THE BOWL-ELIGIBLE UNLV REBELS! Yes, I’m serious. Please stop laughing.
The Rebs were on track for a .500 season last year before they lost Armani Rogers, and I think that Tony Sanchez is doing all the right things to get that program past the first major milestone. Home games against Southern Utah, Arkansas State, Hawaii, and San Jose State are all quite winnable if Rogers is healthy, and I think they can find two road wins between Colorado State, Wyoming, and Nevada. They won’t be killers, but I can see six wins and a giant step forward for a team that should be a de facto Southern California program in the conference. While this may only be an improvement of two wins over last year, I think from a cultural standpoint it is a huge leap for UNLV.
Enjoy the New Mexico Bowl (and I promise that’s not an insult or a threat), Rebels!
Zach: Last year Utah State was the obvious candidate because of a manageable schedule. This year, that distinction goes to the Wyoming Cowboys. We all know that Craig Bohl will have his defense ready to go, but the Cowboys have plenty of questions on the offensive side of the ball. It seemed like they started to figure things out with Sean Chambers at quarterback and I expect much of the same in 2019. Keep an eye on that Wyoming-Boise State matchup, it might be for the Mountain West championship.
Mike: The popular pick is also the pick that makes the most sense. Wyoming looks primed to have a great season. They have momentum from their strong finish to last year. They lose a bit on defense from 2018 but the Cowboy offense should make a few strides. For one, they found their QB of the future in redshirt freshman Sean Chambers (using the new redshirt rule wonderfully I might add). The wide receivers have more experience and there’s no way the o-line will suffer as many injuries as they did last year. Plus, their schedule is pretty favorable. Seven wins definitely seems within reach and eight wouldn’t surprise me. Look for them to be one of the stronger teams in the conference in 2019.
Toby: While I think Wyoming is probably the best choice, to be different, I’m going to say San Diego State. The defense was good last year, Running back JuWan Washington and quarterback Ryan Agnew played enough last year to be comfortable running the offense, and the schedule is manageable New Mexico and San Jose State are away while Utah State, Wyoming, Nevada, Fresno State, and BYU are all home. I could see them winning nine games this season, after losing four in a row to end last season.
Alex Wright: Make room for me on the Wyoming bandwagon. Eight or nine wins are a very achievable mark for the Cowboys this year. Look for Wyoming’s offense to take significant steps forward, led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Vander Waal. Last season Wyoming went 6-6 and did not make a bowl game due to there being more bowl eligible teams than there were bowl game slots. All six of their loses came to teams with eight or more wins. I expect Wyoming to use last years snub from a bowl game as motivation throughout the season. Wyoming opens up at home against Missouri, after that the home schedule seems fairly favorable to the Cowboys. It is very difficult to play in Laramie no matter what the sport is. Do not be too surprised if the Cowboys go undefeated at home.
Austin: While Wyoming is the team that comes to mind, I’ll go the other way and say Nevada.
The Wolf Pack have been on a solid track the last couple of years and bring back a great offense that averaged 31 ppg. Not to mention, Nevada is bringing back the conference’s Freshman of the Year Toa Taua, who averaged over five yards per carry last season. I’m expecting him to come back even stronger this year and put on a show for the Pack.
Adam: Call me a homer, but I really do like the prospects of the New Mexico Lobos to be a team that will win seven or eight games this season.
The Lobos do have an interesting non-conference slate, headlined by a trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Aside from that Sam Houston State and New Mexico State visit Albuquerque, and the Lobos do have to go on the road to Liberty. They should be 3-1, or at worse 2-2, after those contests. As for the Mountain West schedule; they always play Colorado State tough; they visit San Jose State, who has won just three games in the last two seasons combined; and get home games against Hawai’i, Air Force, and Utah State, all teams that Bob Davie has gotten his team up for in the past.
Terrance: My pick is Air Force, rarely do you have a streak of losing seasons under Troy Calhoun. Last season all of their losses were by 10 points or less. Including several heartbreaking losses. One of those losses coming to fellow military academy Army 17-14. Close losses can help or hurt a team but in this case I will take the former. Their schedule this season is manageable, they get Army at home along with early road trips to Boulder and Boise. Three out of their last five games are at home and to me that’s their toughest stretch. Finishing the stretch at Colorado State then at home against Wyoming could go either way. I believe the Falcons will finish with an 8-4 record with each loss being by a touchdown or less.
Alex Valle: I’m going out on a limb and I will pick San Diego State to make a leap in leading the Mountain West for the 2019 season. The Aztecs finished the season 7-6 and 4-4 in conference play. The last three games SDSU played came against conference opponents and they lost by an average of only about four points. San Diego State then played in the Frisco Bowl only to get dominated by 27 points to a 9-4 Ohio team. The Aztecs have a bulk of their team returning for their senior season with most of them playing in skill positions. These seniors will be fighting to finish out their career strong and I believe they will shock a lot of people.