With the season inching closer (hopefully), it is time that we start breaking down the contenders and pretenders. In this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,” we will be previewing which Mountain Division teams have the best chances at success.
The Broncos are coming off their third consecutive division championship. They do have some questions that will need to be answered in the trenches, but the Broncos have the best skill position players in the conference, and I’m not sure it is even up for debate. Boise State has a favorable non-conference schedule with BYU and Florida State both coming to Boise. But the Broncos do have to travel to Laramie and Colorado Springs for their two toughest conference games. Even if the Broncos split those two games, they should be able to finish 7-1 in conference play and finish the year 10-2. I think a fourth division title is in the cards.
Revised: I still feel pretty good about this initial prediction. The offensive line is going to be a major question mark. I think the Broncos will drop a game early in the season but will finish the season 7-1 and represent the Mountain in the conference championship.
I know this will come as a surprise to some, but I think that Wyoming is the biggest threat to Boise State this year. Wyoming will have their best offense since Josh Allen left campus and should be able to impose their will in the run game. There are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, but Craig Bohl has proved that he can get the most our of his players. I think the Cowboys go 6-2 in league play and finish the regular season 9-3.
Revised: Wyoming is the biggest threat to Boise State. You know they will be really good on defense; they always are. But will they be improved enough on offense to challenge the Broncos? I think they will give Boise State a run for their money but fall just short. I’m going to stick with my 6-2 prediction.
The Falcons have a manageable out-of-conference schedule where they could easily go 4-0. They host Boise State in a week two matchup that could decide the Mountain Division. Air Force loses a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but they have the ability to have another really solid season. The Falcons will also finish 6-2 in league play and 9-3 overall.
Revised: My initial prediction came out before the news on Donald Hammond III broke; we will learn more about what type of team the Falcons have this weekend. We know Air Force is missing close to 30 players. They will take a major step back. I have Air Force finishing 3-4 in league play and would move them to the “Bad” category.
The Rams are my candidate for most improved team this year. O’Brien could very well be the third best quarterback in the Mountain West and has a special receiving corps at his disposal. The biggest question for Colorado State will be their ability to run the ball and stop the run on the other side. I think Colorado State is going bowling even though they have a brutal schedule. The Rams will finish 4-4 in the conference and 6-6 overall. But I wouldn’t be shocked if they somehow managed seven or eight wins.
Revised: Losing a player like Warren Jackson cost the Rams some wins. I think this team has gone through enough turmoil this past year, and Addazio is not a good fit. The Rams will finish 3-5 in league play.
Sorry Aggies fans, but Jordan Love is not coming back through that door, and those first six weeks are brutal. It is hard to see any scenario where the Aggies are better than 2-4 (I think they go 1-5). The skill talent just isn’t there for a team that will need to compete with a very deep Mountain Division. The Aggies will need to be far ahead of schedule to go bowling. Utah State finishes Mountain West play 3-5 and 4-8 overall.
Revised: Nothing has happened the last few months to change my mind on the Aggies. Maybe they pick up an extra win or two with Air Force and Colorado State potentially taking a step back, but I still wouldn’t put the Aggies ahead of those teams. I’m going to stick with my 3-5 prediction.
After breaking down the Lobos schedule, it is hard not to feel bad for that fan base. They did everything right in the offseason. They made a dynamite coaching hire and had a successful recruiting class. But this program needs time. The schedule is tough with out-of-conference games against Mississippi State and USC. The Lobos will manage one conference win and finish the season 3-10.
Revised: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. The Gonzalez hire was a home run, and somehow convincing Rocky Long to be the defensive coordinator was a coup. But they are a few years away from making any noise. The Lobos will be prepared and give a few teams more than they bargained for. The Lobos will go 2-6 but show steps that they are heading in the right direction.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week, I will be reviewing the Air Force-Navy game, and the following week I will revisit my West Division predictions.