Last week we talked about who will be the biggest surprise in the coming season. This week, we flip the script and share our thoughts on which team will take the biggest step back from their 2018 success?
Alex: I’m going with Fresno State here. Their 2018 success, a Mountain West title and a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State, would be hard to repeat even if they did retain stars like QB Marcus McMaryion or LB Jeff Allison. There will be new faces in many key places on the field for the Bulldogs, and getting those new pieces to fit (and fit well) will be the difference as to whether Fresno can repeat as West division Champs.
Their 2019 schedule does not do them many favors, as they start the season in LA against USC. They then host Minnesota, who may very well be contending for the Big Ten West this year. In-conference, they travel to the always tricky Air Force along with trips to Hawaii and Utah State. Luckily, they do avoid Boise State and Wyoming from the Mountain division.
Mike: Unfortunately, I think a few teams are in for some regression this season. Boise State loses many of their playmakers, but that also gets balanced out by an easier schedule so who knows. Utah State has a whole new coaching staff and lost quite a few offensive weapons. Fresno State lost the core of their defensive and their offensive playmakers. Nevada won’t be a surprise anymore and Hawaii’s schedule looks more difficult than last season.
All of that being said, I’ll go with the Aggies for my official answer. Love and Woodward will carry them a to a bowl game probably, but hard to see them having the same 10-win success as 2018.
Jeremy: I’ll go with Utah State. Sure, Fresno State loses a boat load of talent, but their stellar coaching staff remains largely intact. Continuity is important in college football. My Street & Smith’s College Football Magazine shows Utah State having returning 8 starters total for 2019, a crazy low number. Thankfully, one of those players is Jordan Love. That said, the combination of rampant attrition (especially on the offensive line), a brand new staff (and one with some serious questions), and a schedule that is the polar opposite of last season’s cake walk, I think the Aggies will fall short of the sky-high expectations being placed on them and finish 3rd in the Mountain Division.
Isaiah: I have to agree with Alex on this one, I don’t see Fresno State clinching another Mountain West Conference title without quarterback Marcus McMaryion or linebacker Jeff Allison. There’s too many holes on both sides of the ball and some new faces and underclassman have big cleats to fill. I doubted Fresno State last season and paid the price, but I am increasingly confident that the expectations are just too high for the Bulldogs heading into the new year.
Zach: I’m with Jeremy and Mike on this one. Utah State went from having the easiest schedule in the Mountain West in 2018, to arguably the toughest in 2019. The Aggies do bring back Jordan Love and he will be the preseason offensive player of the year, but he lost his entire offensive line and nearly all of his playmakers. Last year, the Aggies avoided San Diego State and Fresno State, that is not the case this year. They have six games where they may not be considered favorites. It would not shock me if they went 7-5 this year.
Toby : Unfortunately, multiple schools are going to take a step back, Nevada will fall a little, Fresno State isn’t going 12-2 again, and New Mexico could go winless or 1-11. I think Utah State though will be the biggest regression in terms of wins and losses, which really is the only thing which matters. I think Gary Anderson is a great coach and the defense will be solid, like it was the first time he coached at Utah State, and if you can only bring back one offensive player a quarterback like Jordan Love would be every coach’s first choice. However, it’s the schedule. The game at Wake Forest is a winnable game, and if my son’s marching band isn’t playing at home that night, we live in North Carolina and will be making the trip, but then it’s away at San Diego State, at LSU, a visit from BYU (love Capt. Craig F. Smith’s tweet about how is BYU going to get to Logan when their wagon is missing a wheel), then at Fresno, before home against Boise. I think if the Aggies go 4-2 or even 3-3 in those games they will be happy, but that would give them no wiggle room in the rest of the schedule to lose a game if they want to match what they did last season. And 3-3 in those games probably won’t get then to the conference title game. Strange to think that a 8-4 season at Utah State could be call a regression, but I guess that is a testament to the job that Coach Wells did last season.
Jacob: Regression is a tricky concept. Are we talking about the overall quality of the team, or is this more of a wins and losses sort of thing? In my mind, a team could theoretically get better but lose more if the schedule becomes significantly tougher.
If we are talking about the biggest drop in talent from 2018, Fresno State is probably the team. Losing Marcus McMaryion is a big enough deal by itself, and I’m not convinced that Jeff Tedford has anyone that can even do a good impression of him for this coming year. The Bulldog offense also lost KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan, which will only make the new QB’s job harder. The defense will likely be nasty again this year, but Fresno will almost certainly see a significant drop-off offensively.
If we are looking at wins and losses, I don’t see anyone more at risk to drop than Utah State (DISCLAIMER: I graduated from USU, twice). Very original, I know. Their non-conference opponents this year (LSU, BYU, Wake Forest, and Stony Brook) are clearly more difficult than last year (Michigan State, BYU, NMSU, and Tenn Tech), and they get a tougher slate of West Division opponents, with road games at SDSU and Fresno. The Aggies could potentially be an improved team and lose three or four more games than last year.
Other candidates: SDSU, Boise, and New Mexico (Lobos floor is 1-11 for me, which might actually get Bob Davies fired if such a thing is possible).
Matt: I think it will be Hawaii this year. They rode an incredibly easy early season schedule to 6 wins off the bat, then only needed to steal one more on the back half to scrape a bowl game. Now they face a much tougher schedule, anchored by 3 PAC-12 teams to start the year. Plus, they have to go to Boise, and face Army the last game of the season. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them miss a bowl game this year.
The other obvious answers are Utah State and Fresno State. The Bulldogs lost a lot of talent, but have recruited well and still have Jeff Tedford in charge. The Aggies on the other hand lose their whole coaching staff, plus a lot of players. Not sure if their high-powered offense will be enough to offset that for another 11 win season. This could be one of those wacky years where someone sneaks into the championship game from both divisions.
Austin: It’s makes sense to say that Utah State will probably not have the same success it had last season. And that is not an indictment on the program. When you have your best year in program history, your coaching staff is going to get poached.
With Matt Wells going to Texas Tech, I’m not sure that Gary Andersen will be able to take the Aggies any further than Wells did last season. And after losing a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, getting back to that 10-win plateau is a lot to ask for a new coaching staff.
The Aggies will however have the best quarterback in the conference, Jordan Love, suiting up for them next year, and he should be able to get them back to a bowl game with ease. Just don’t expect the Aggies to repeat last year’s magical run.