This week’s question is similar to last week’s only now focusing on the opposite. Instead of discussing the most improved team, the question is: which team will take a step back in the 2022 season?
Rudy: I’m chiming in this week. I think Utah State will find out what San Jose State found out last year….it’s harder to stay on top of the mountain (no pun intended) than to get there! Don’t expect a freefall, but a definite step back.
Mike: I think Utah State may be the team that comes to mind first, Nevada may be obvious, and while I don’t disagree with either of those selections, I’m going to go in a different direction. San Diego State is a team that may be in for some regression that is not on people’s radar. They only return 55% of their production from last season. Their offense wasn’t great last season and needs to replace their RB1, TE1, and two starters on the offensive line. The defense will be without MWC DPOY Cameron Thomas, as well as a few players in their secondary. And arguably their biggest loss with Ray Guy award winner and punter Matt Araiza. His ability to flip the field and dominate field position was a big reason their defense was so great and their offense was able to hide some flaws. The road could get tougher for the Aztecs this year.
Matt Hanifan: To me, it’s Nevada. There’s less win variance with them only winning eight games a year ago, as opposed to Utah State winning 11, SDSU winning 12 — two other good candidates — and Air Force and Fresno State winning 10 apiece. But the Wolf Pack retained only 27 percent of their production from a year ago, the lowest figure in the nation (and the only team below 30 percent). They lost the reigning back-to-back offensive player of the year in quarterback Carson Strong, as well as his two most coveted targets in Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner; their up-and-coming head coach, Jay Norvell, fled to Colorado State plus their entire coaching staff (minus Vai Taua) and plenty of other transfers — most of whom followed Norvell to Fort Collins. With essentially an entirely new team in place with a first-year head coach Ken Wilson — who’s admittedly done a good job getting community backing, given his previous ties to Reno — it’s tough to predict another bowl run. The optics aren’t there. They should win at least half their non-conference games and possess a semi-tough conference slate, but I almost see the year one of the Wilson era lining up with Norvell’s opening season in 2017, when they went 3-9.
NittanyFalcon: I have to agree with Matt on this one. Nevada has experienced too much turmoil in the offseason. They also have to play the projected top four teams in the Mountain West this year; Fresno State, Boise, Air Force, and San Diego State. The out-of-conference schedule is manageable, but wins will be tough to come by in conference. Even against the lesser conference teams, the task will be hard because many of those games are on the road: Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV are all road games.