Spring football has already started for some Mountain West teams, and the rest will start hitting the field in the next few weeks. We are going to spend the next few months previewing each position group and where each team stands. So far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and linebackers. This week we are going to take a look at the secondaries.
The Falcons had the top rated pass defense last season. That stat is a bit misleading because they played two triple option teams (Navy and Army) and two teams that really struggled to throw the ball (New Mexico and Utah State). More than half the yards given up came against Boise State and San Jose State, but it is hard to ignore the number one ranking. I’m giving Air Force the benefit of the doubt, and I expect this unit to be solid this fall.
San Diego State
The Aztecs lose a lot of production in the secondary, but this unit is always solid and was really deep last year. A solid prediction is that they will have the best secondary in the Mountain West, like most years.
Teams didn’t throw the ball much against Hawaii because their run defense was atrocious. However, the pass defense was really solid. They ranked third in pass yards allowed and were first in interceptions by a large margin. This unit should be really good this fall.
The Cowboys secondary was not quite as productive as they usually are, but they were still really solid. That should be the case again this fall. The Cowboys are known for limiting the deep ball and being great open field tacklers. They have nice size in the secondary, and this unit should complement their front seven nicely.
The Broncos return three of their five starters in the secondary. They lose both starting cornerbacks, but I think that might be a good thing. This will be one of the biggest, strongest secondaries Boise State has ever put on the field.
Fresno State struggled against good quarterbacks, and their schedule won’t be any easier this season. This unit was decent this past season, but they have strides they need to make to land in the “Good” category, that includes being more opportunistic when it comes to generating turnovers.
San Jose State
This was the weakest unit of the Spartan defense and I anticipate the same issues this fall. The secondary managed only three interceptions in nine games. If San Jose State is going to repeat, this unit will need to improve.
This was arguably the strongest unit on UNLV’s defense and that is a bit worrisome if we are being honest. The Rebels allowed 8.4 yards per passing attempt and only managed two interceptions. This young unit will have a rough start to the season, but should improve as the season progresses.
The Wolf Pack defense was better than expected this past season. But it wasn’t because of the secondary. Opposing quarterbacks completed more than 60% of their passes, and the secondary intercepted only six passes in nine games. Good quarterbacks had a field day against this defense. It is hard to see much improvement from this unit.
It is hard to judge this unit with the small sample size we had, but they really struggled in their four games. They managed only one interception and allowed over eight yards per pass attempt. As solid as the defensive line was, the secondary really struggled.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 67.7% of their passes against the Aggies. That is really bad. This unit needs to improve a lot if the Aggies are going to make any strides this fall.
Surprisingly, this was the worst unit in the Mountain West. Rocky Long didn’t have much to work with in his first season as defensive coordinator. The Lobos allowed 283 yards per game and 18 touchdowns through the air. I expect this unit to make strides, but they have a ways to go to get out of this category.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Be sure to stay tuned next week, when we preview the top returning special teams units in the Mountain West.