ESPN has released its Football Power Index (FPI) rankings, which means that the start of the season is near as fall camps begin next month. Every college football team is ranked, so where do the Mountain West teams stand?
The index predicts that Air Force is going to win 7 games and lose 5 games. The Falcons rank 94th out of all college football teams and have a 84.6% chance of getting six wins or more, a 15.5% chance to win the division, and a 7.9% chance to win the conference. In 2019, Air Force went 11-2 but in 2018 and 2017, they went 7-5. The seven games the Falcons are predicted to win are vs Lafayette (98.6%), at Navy (59.1%), vs Utah State (77.4%), vs Florida Atlantic (56.9%), at New Mexico (64.4%), vs Wyoming (52.2%), vs San Diego State (51.3%), at Colorado State (54.3%), and vs UNLV (84.1%). They are predicted to lose games to Boise State, Army, and Nevada.
Considering the Falcons do have to play San Diego State and they have to play Boise State, Colorado State, and Nevada on the road. Out of conference, the Falcons play Lafayette, Navy, and Army. There are a few tossup games against Florida Atlantic, Wyoming, San Diego State, and Colorado State so Air Force could reasonably win two of those games and lose one or two. I think Air Force has a good chance at getting to 7 wins so the index isn’t actually too far off.
Boise State is predicted to have 7 wins and 5 losses. The Broncos (according to the index) have a 80.1% chance of getting six wins, a 34.4% chance of winning the division, and a 21.9% chance of winning the conference. They also have no chance of wining out. The games Boise State is expected to win are vs UTEP (92%), at Utah State (73.5%), vs Nevada (64.2%), vs Air Force (69.7%), at Colorado State (66.7%), vs Wyoming (67.6%), and vs New Mexico (85.8%). The Broncos are not projected to get wins against UCF (17.8%), Oklahoma State (27.1%), BYU (21.3%), Fresno State (46.4%) or San Diego State (43.8%).
I think the prediction is way off. Boise State hasn’t had less than eight wins (not including the pandemic shortened season) since 1998. Yes they bring in a new head coach and new offensive and defensive coordinators but the Broncos bring back a lot of talent. Some names include Hank Bachmeier, George Holani, Khalil Shakir, Demetri Washington, Scott Matlock, Stefan Cobbs, Markel Reed, and Riley Whimpey. Those are just a few names. Andy Avalos may not have experience as a head coach but he is a very proven defensive coordinator and understands the Bronco culture. Boise State will once again pass the eight win mark this season.
Colorado State’s FPI ranking is 105th. The Rams are projected to win 5 games and lose 7 and have a 36.5% chance of getting to six wins, a 5.4% chance of winning the division, and a 1.9% chance of winning the conference. Colorado State is projected to have their wins over South Dakota State (62.7%), Vanderbilt (60.6%), San Jose State (57.8%), New Mexico (52.3%), and Utah State. Their losses (according to the index) are going to be to Toledo (16.8%), Iowa (6.8%), Boise State (33.3%), Wyoming (29.3%), Air Force (45.7%), Hawaii (69.8%), and Nevada (45.8%).
Colorado State has struggled in the Mountain West ever since their meltdown against Boise State when the Broncos made a major comeback down 25 points. The past three seasons, the Rams have gone 2-6, 3-5, and 1-3 in conference play. The Rams are probably projected right where they should be as out of conference games against Toledo and Iowa will present big challenges and things aren’t going to get easier in conference play. Colorado State will probably get five wins but there is a chance for six.
The Bulldogs are projected to win 7 games and to lose 5, with a 84.2% chance of getting six wins, a 22% chance of winning the west, and a 12.6% chance of winning the conference. The Bulldogs are favored to get wins over UConn (95.1%), Cal Poly (95.6%), UNLV (86.2%), Nevada (62.2%), Boise State (53.6%), New Mexico (82.5%), San Jose State (53.8%). The games that Fresno State is not favored in are against Oregon (6.8%), UCLA (21.6%), Hawaii (49.6%), Wyoming (47.4%), and San Diego State (39.8%).
The games against Boise State, San Jose State, Hawaii, Wyoming, and even potentially San Diego State could go either way. Fresno State went 3-3 during the shortened 2020 season and 4-8 (2-6) in 2019 after winning the Mountain West title in 2018. The tough thing is that the games against Hawaii, Wyoming, San Diego State, and San Jose State are all key games on the road. Winning at Wyoming and San Diego State might be the toughest of those games but if the Bulldogs can beat the Aztecs and Warriors, they will be in shape to move to the Mountain West title. I project 8 wins for Fresno State and a split between Hawaii and San Diego State.
The Warriors are expected to win get 6 wins and 6 losses and they have a 81.5% chance of getting to the 6 win mark, a 13.7% chance of winning the division, and a 4.3% chance of winning the conference. The six wins that Hawaii is expected to have based on the rankings are against Portland State (94.4%), San Jose State (57.9%), Fresno State (50.4%) New Mexico State (83.3%), UNLV (56.6%), and Hawaii (69.8%). The six losses are expected to be to UCLA (11.7%), Oregon State (23.1%), Nevada (29.1%), Utah State (46.1%), San Diego State (48.3%), and Wyoming (23.9%).
There are a few games that could really be toss ups against San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, Utah State, and San Diego State which means winning those toss up games is going to be very important for Hawaii to have a successful season. The Warriors would probably need to win three or four of those games in order to stay in competition in the west division. UNLV and Utah State might be winnable but games against San Jose State, Fresno State, and San Diego State are going to pose significant challenges. I would expect Hawaii to get to 7 maybe 8 wins so the FPI rankings seem relatively close.
Nevada, like Fresno State is projected to go 7-5 and has a 84.5% chance of getting six wins, and 25.2% chance of winning the west division, and an 11.2% chance of winning the conference. The projections are predicting Wolfpack victories over Idaho State (96.6%), New Mexico State (95.8%), Hawaii (70.9%), UNLV (84.2%), San Jose State (65.5%), Air Force (61.2%), and Colorado State (54.2%). The Wolfpack are predicted to lose games against California (34%), Kansas State (27.4%), Boise State (35.8%), Fresno State (37.8%), and San Diego State (35.2%).
The hardest game on the schedule might be against Boise State is it is against one of the best teams in the conference on the road. Games against California and Kansas also present significant challenges in addition to games against Fresno State, San Diego State, Colorado State, and others. Nevada brings back talent this year so I would project the Wolfpack to get to 8 or 9 wins, a little higher than what the rankings would suggest.
The Lobos rank 118th in the FPI rankings and are projected to finish at 5-7. New Mexico has a 39.6% chance of getting six wins, a 2.2% chance to win the division, and a 0.5% chance to win the conference. The Lobos are projected to win games against Houston Baptist (95.8%), New Mexico (89.2%), UTEP (52.5%), UNLV (69.7%), and Utah State (58.5%). The losses are expected to be to Texas A&M (1.5%), Air Force (35.6%), San Diego State (14.5%), Colorado State (47.7%), Wyoming (20.3%), Fresno State (17.5%), and Boise State (14.2%).
New Mexico hasn’t had a winning season since 2016, when the Lobos went 9-4 (6-2). They have been sitting at the bottom of the conference since 2017 and things are going to turn around in one year. 5-7 would actually be an improvement on the past couple seasons so it is believable that there could be a little improvement but most likely not a winning season. This means that rankings could be pretty spot on with the Lobos.
San Diego State
San Diego State ranks 77th in the FPI rankings and they are projected to go 8-4 with a 93.2% chance of getting six wins, a 41.3% chance of winning the division, and a 22.1% chance of winning the conference. The Aztecs are favored in games against New Mexico (97.3%), Arizona (55.8%), Towson (92.5%), New Mexico (85.5%), San Jose State (55.3%), Fresno State (60.2%), Hawaii (51.7%), Nevada (64.8%), UNLV (78%), and Boise State (56.2%). The only game that the Aztecs aren’t favored in is against Utah, where they have a 29.7% chance of winning.
Quite a few of these games could go either way. The game against Arizona will be challenging as will the game against the Spartans. The games against Fresno State and Hawaii could be tricky because we don’t know exactly how good the Bulldogs are going to be and Hawaii should continue to improve. Nevada should be really good this year so that game poses an obvious threat and the game against Boise State, even if the Aztecs are favored, is going to be one of the most challenging of the year. 8-4 is very reasonable but it also isn’t impossible to believe that San Diego State goes 9-3. In order to make it to the conference title this year, the Aztecs will need to avoid losses to Hawaii and Fresno State.
San Jose State
The Spartans rank 97th in the FPI rankings and are predicted to have six wins and five losses. The rankings suggest that San Jose State has a 69.2% chance to get to six wins, a 16.2% to win the division, a 6% chance to win the conference, and no chance of winning out. San Jose State is favored in games against Southern Utah (95%), New Mexico State (94.5%), UNLV (67%), Wyoming (52.3%), and Utah State (74%). The Spartans are projected to lose games to USC (6.9%), Hawaii (42.1%), Western Michigan (25.4%), Colorado State (42.2%), San Diego State (44.7%), Nevada (34.5%), and Fresno State (46.2%).
The main thing to keep in mind about San Jose State this season is don’t count them out. San Jose State has had success over the past two seasons and they return a lot of talent, including quarterback Nick Starkel. The Spartans weren’t expected to win the division last season but they surprised San Diego State and had a comeback victory against Nevada. The games against San Diego State and Fresno State are truly tossups because they are at home and winning those two games would put San Jose State in great position. If San Jose State can play like they did last season, they are certainly getting over six wins but only the start of the upcoming season will tell us how good the Spartans are.
The Rebels haven’t been competitive in the Mountain West since 2013, when the Mountain West first introduced the two divisions and conference title game. This year the rankings project another lowly season for UNLV. The Rebels rank among the last in the nation in their FPI ranking of 122 and are projected to finish 3-9 with a 4.4% chance of getting six wins, 1 1.5% chance to win the division, and a 0.2 percent chance of winning the conference. The Rebels are favored in one game against Eastern Washington (61.4%) and are not favored in games against Arizona State (4%), Iowa State (3.4%), Fresno State (13.8%), UTSA (15.2%), Utah State (49.1%), San Jose State (33%), Nevada (15.8%), New Mexico (30.3%), Hawaii (43.4%), San Diego State (22%), and Air Force (15.9%).
Looking at the games UNLV will be playing this season, 3-9 actually seems like the right range. There is a toss up game against Utah State and a chance for victory against Hawaii but games against Arizona State, Iowa State, San Jose State, Nevada, San Diego State, and Air Force aren’t going to be easy. UNLV hasn’t been competitive in the west division since they had a winning season in 2013 and unfortunately this isn’t a situation that is going to be completely turned around in one season.
Utah State’s FPI ranking, like New Mexico’s, is near the bottom of the nation. Their ranking is 117th in the nation and the FPI predicts Utah State will have a record of 5-7, with a 35.1% chance of getting six wins, a 2.6% chance to win the division, and a 0.7% chance of wining the conference. The Aggies are favored in games against North Dakota (85.5%), UNLV (50.9%), Hawaii (53.9%),and New Mexico State (77.3%). They are not favored in games against Washington State (15.7%), Air Force (22.6%), Boise State (26.5%), BYU (12.1), Colorado State (48.2%), (77.3%), New Mexico (77.3%).
Utah State is an interesting team. They haven’t been consistently at the bottom of the conference but have struggled to get over the hump at the top. In 2018, the Aggies came that close to playing for their first Mountain West title since 2013 and the same was true in 2014. Utah State finally got a win against Boise State in 2015, which was a step in the right direction, but they haven’t beaten the Broncos since. Utah State was clearly not very good last season but this season could be different under a new head coach that is bringing a lot of energy. The prediction may be right however because there is a brutal three game stretch against Air Force, Boise State and BYU.
Wyoming is preparing for what some are speculating could be a special season with the return of quarterback Sean Chambers. The Cowboys rank 88th in the FPI rankings, which predicts Wyoming will finish the season with a 7-5 record, a 90.6% chance of getting six wins, a 20.1% chance of winning the division, and a 10.7% chance of winning the conference. The Cowboys are favored to win games against Montana State (85.8%), Northern Illinois (55.1%), Ball State (56.5%), UConn (84.6%), Fresno State (52.6%), New Mexico (79.7%), Colorado State (70.7%), Utah State (66.1%), and Hawaii (76.1%) but are not favored against Boise State (32.4%).
Looking at the conference games that Wyoming will be playing, there is a toss up game against Fresno State and a decent chance of beating Utah State with stronger chances of beating New Mexico, Colorado State, and Hawaii. The problem for Wyoming if they want to win the division is that Boise State looms large in November. To have a shot at the title, the Cowboys need to take down Air Force because having to beat Boise State, especially if the Broncos are in the hunt for the New Years Six, is going to be a significant challenge. There’s a good possibility that Wyoming exceeds the rankings expectations and gets to eight wins.