Let’s pretend Covid-19 doesn’t exist. For some of us, it may be hard to remember what life before all of this even looks like. But part of it did have something to do with college football. Say the season does start and is able to be completed, even if non-conference games aren’t a thing this season. If you were able to make all of these jumps into the realm of the hypothetical, then let’s ask the question: What will be the biggest (non-covid) storyline in the Mountain West this season?
For me, there are two significant stories. The first is Boise State going for their fourth consecutive division title, something that has not been done since the Mountain West adopted the championship game. The other major storyline is all of the new coaches. Which coaches are a good fit? Which coaches already look like a bad hire? I hated the Addazio hire for Colorado State, but he probably has the best talent of any new coach and the same can be said for Graham and Hawaii. I think Arroyo and Sanchez were great hires, but it is going to take a few years of great recruiting for them to bridge the gap.
As Zach mentioned before me, one of the major storylines to watch in 2020 is how all the new MWC coaches will fare in their first seasons. Another storyline I am most excited for entering next season is who will take the West division crown? Hawaii will have a new coach and quarterback duo, Nevada has a plethora of talent and newly acquired high expectations, UNLV is returning one of the best offenses in the conference, and as many questions as San Diego State’s offense has, their defense can more than makeup for it. No matter who the champion of the West is by the end of the season, it will be fun to watch these team’s battle it out.
This is tough. In conference it will be whether, or not, anyone can slow down Boise State. My second one is can the Mountain West produce a team that will go to the New Year’s Six. Since the start of the playoff-era the conference has yet to have a team breakthrough that barrier and make it. We’ve seen American Athletic teams and a Mid-American Conference team, but none from the conference that was known for sending teams to big bowl games. There’s a lot of new faces in new places this season, and for that reason I am pulling for either Boise State, or Air Force to run the table and try to convince the committee to put them in over the other Group of Five conferences.
What I’m most interested in this season is to see if the core of star players can carry Colorado State to a 6-7 win season and a bowl game. It would be nice to see a coaching change give this team some life for a year and send their talent out in style. Warren Jackson, Trey McBride, and even to a lesser extent Pat O’Brien are too good to not be in contention for a bowl.
That being said, I think the biggest storyline is who will emerge in the wild West division. Hawaii was a surprise last year but it’s hard to see them repeating that success with their losses and a scheme change that they haven’t even had an off-season to implement. Nevada is the trendy pick and has improved each year under Norvell, but it would take a big jump to win the division. San Diego State is the safe pick but they don’t appear dominant on paper. Fresno State was a powerhouse in the two years prior to last year, but they are perhaps the biggest wildcard. UNLV is likely a year or two away from actually contending but maybe they will surprise. I’d count out SJSU at this point, but in a year that the division is so wide open, nothing can truly be ruled out.
Can Air Force keep up their momentum from 2019 to win the MWC? Last season, Air Force went 11-2. Their only losses were to a 11-2 Navy team at Annapolis & to a 12-2 Boise State team on the smurf turf. In finishing 11-2, the Falcons beat two PAC-12 teams (Colorado in Boulder & Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl). The Falcons return Donald Hammond and Kadin Remsburg who are expected to play behind a senior offensive line. The Falcons have a very manageable schedule in 2020, including getting to host Boise State in Week 2. The most difficult road game will be a trip to Fresno to play the Bulldogs since the Week 3 game at Purdue is now cancelled. Also, Air Force was able to benefit from an early spring ball in 2020 as the Falcons were able to have a full spring of practice (unlike most FBS schools). Whether all of this will translate into a special season for Air Force in 2020 is my biggest storyline should the MWC football season actually be played this fall.
For UNLV, the biggest storyline revolves around its new coach. Can Marcus Arroyo be the guy who turns around UNLV football? The pandemic has thrown a wrench into the momentum that was around this season, but there is still a lot of anticipation around Arroyo and the future of UNLV. Much of the excitement comes from the recruiting class he has brought in to UNLV. There are a lot of three-star players, highly touted transfers, and players who had offers from other power five programs. Arroyo was going to have a tough first year as is, with two PAC-12 opponents, and games against Louisiana Tech and at Iowa State. However, with it likely it could be conference only schedules, Arroyo’s record in his first year might not be as bad as it could have been if he faced the full schedule. Regardless, Arroyo will have a lot of challeneges ahead of him as he tries to turn around the program at UNLV.