It’s getting real. We are in August, and in a few weeks, we will be watching Hawaii take on Arizona. Is it just me, or was this offseason longer than usual? Last year, the Mountain West had one of its best years since TCU, BYU, and Utah departed the conference. Three ten-win teams and seven teams reaching bowl eligibility. Can the Mountain West replicate that success in 2019? Here are some things to watch for the next few weeks.
The Broncos look to reload at the skill positions
One of the biggest questions entering the 2019 season has been the quarterback race at Boise State. I will say this, with the rise in transferring, there is some concern that the Broncos could lose a really good football player. However, there is a ton of talent in the quarterback room, and the Broncos haven’t had this kind of depth at running back since the three-headed monster of Doug Martin, Jeremy Avery, and DJ Harper terrorized opposing defenses.
Jeff Tedford and Fresno State hit the reset button
Fresno State has been a different football team since Jeff Tedford took over as head coach. The Bulldogs have plenty of questions entering the 2019 season, including replacing Marcus McMaryion and KeeSean Johnson. I’m confident that Jeff Tedford will have his new quarterback ready to go, but USC will be an interesting first test for their new gunslinger.
Can Coach Bohl and the Cowboys compete for a conference title?
I’ve been saying it for a while now; the Cowboys are my sleeper pick. I said the same thing about the Aggies last year. While I do think the Cowboys have a slightly improved roster, their success has more to do with the schedule than it does the team itself. The Cowboys and the Broncos have two of the most manageable schedules in the conference, and that early season showdown could end up determining the division champion.
Can the Aggies get it done in the trenches?
Jordan Love is the real deal, but every quarterback needs a capable offensive line. The Aggies received a handful of first place votes at media days and have high expectations entering the season, but replacing your entire offensive line is a major task. The week three bye might be a blessing in disguise for the Aggies; it will allow them to make some adjustments before they play their first conference game against San Diego State.
Were the Warriors a flash in the pan?
A few weeks into the 2018 season, they were a national darling that was playing an exciting brand of football that lit up the scoreboard. Then Hawaii hit a wall, the offense struggled, and they limped into a bowl game where they were dominated by a mediocre Louisiana Tech squad. But, there are a lot of Hawaii believers out there, and McDonald is expected to challenge Jordan Love for Conference Player of the Year. But I have to be honest, I expect Warrior fans to be disappointed by the end of the season.
Is Rocky Long’s mystique wearing off?
The Aztecs were an interesting team last year. They overcame some significant injuries early in the season and were able to defeat the Broncos on “The Blue.” But then the wheels started to fall off. They were shown up in their bowl game, and they looked like a team that was completely deflated. They did not fit the mold of a Rocky Long team. Will the Aztecs return to form in 2019? I think they will.
Will we see the Air Force of old?
The Falcons have not been the team we were accustomed to seeing the past few seasons. They play an old school brand of football and have high expectations for their athletes and the kids they recruit. I think the Falcons will be a better squad this year. I don’t see them competing for the title this year, but a bowl game is on the horizon.
Can Tony Sanchez do enough to keep his job?
There is no question that the Rebels have had a disappointing run under Tony Sanchez. The former high school football coach has a lot of pressure on him this season. The Raiders will be coming to town soon, and he needs a strong showing so the school does not fade into the background. It should be bowl or bust for Tony Sanchez and the Rebels.
Are the Wolf Pack a team on the rise?
Last year, the Wolf Pack rode a senior quarterback and a surprising defense to a bowl victory. Wolf Pack fans should be keeping a close eye on the quarterback race. Nevada has a tradition of developing some great quarterbacks. Can they do it again? Or are they back to rebuilding? I fear they will take a step back this year.
Boise State searches for a punter and a kicker...again
Has any program dealt with the kicking issues Boise State has? Blocked punts cost them a chance in the Oklahoma State game, and a blocked PAT cost them the Mountain West Championship Game. The Broncos stripped Kent Riddle of his special teams duties and passed them on to Lee Marks and Jeff Schmedding. Joel Velazquez and true freshman Gavin Wale are expected to compete for both kicking and punting duties, but Bronco fans should be skeptical until proven wrong.
The Spartans and Lobos look to prove they’re worthy
This is a huge year for both programs. Can they dig themselves out of the cellar? The conference doesn’t need these teams to be annual bowl teams, but they need to take steps in the right direction. Week one will be important for both squads; neither can afford a loss to an FCS foe.
Can the Rams play defense?
Colorado State was awful on defense last year. The Rams have an offense that can overcome some defensive issues. If the Rams can field an average defense this year, they will surprise some conference foes. However, I am not sure that they have the personnel needed to field a top notch defense.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Stay tuned for next week’s edition where I will be previewing the best and the worst of Mountain West offenses.