As we set our sights on the upcoming football season, one of the questions that come to mind is: which team will be the most improved in 2023? A few different teams have the potential to take a step forward, who do you think it will be?
Mike: For quite a few Mountain West teams, they can only go up after their disappointing 2022 seasons. For some, the path to improvement is tough, and it isn’t a given that they progress in 2023. But for a team like Colorado State, there appears to be potential. The air-raid offense usually takes a year to find its rhythm and although the plug-and-play transfers didn’t work out, the young talent now has a year in the system. The offensive line should be better and the skill positions have lots of potential, even if they aren’t quite firing on all cylinders yet. The other thing the Rams have going for them was an above-average defense last year. I would not be surprised at all to see Colorado State make a bowl game in 2023.
Matt: There really aren’t many candidates in the MWC for a program to make a jump, so the CSU Rams really are it. Norvell took his game to Fort Collins, along with a ton of Nevada players, but had to deal with a complete system and roster overhaul when he got there. Now he’s had a full season and off-season to install his system and get the roster more in line for the air raid, so they have the potential to be much improved. I’m definitely not calling for them to make a run at the title game, but they should very much be in the bowl conversation and not get blown out by any FCS programs this year. Their defense had moments last year, so it’s up to the offense to take that leap to join them.
Jack: For Danny Gonzales’ sake, let’s hope New Mexico can be the conference’s most improved team. They’ve only won 7 games in his first 3 years in Albuquerque, and lost their final 9 games of the year, thanks to the second worst offense in the country. That being said, the Lobos are on the upswing. UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins should be their best QB in years, and new OC Bryan Vincent will make him feel at home. The schedule is manageable, aside from the opener in College Station, and the Lobos had one of the conferences’ best secondaries statistically, and with the addition of several Big 12 transfers, could be even better in 2023. If the football gods send some luck New Mexico’s way, they could be making their first bowl game since 2016.
Jeremy: The recent DraftKings o/u win totals for the Mountain West this fall had Hawaii at 3.5. Ouch. Nobody wants to hear that in May. I will throw Hawaii a bone here and pick them as the most improved team. I won’t pretend like the roster is in contending shape. It’s not. Hawaii is however moving back to ole reliable: the run-and-shoot offense. A high-powered passing attack designed to thrive with players that might not exactly be pro bound if you catch me drift. I’ll predict Hawaii beats the projections and qualifies for a bowl game, thus making them the conference’s most-improved team after a dreadful 2022 season.
Adam: I’m going to die on this hill, my pick is the New Mexico Lobos. A brand new, up-tempo offense is coming to The Duke City, one that averaged over 35 points per game at UAB. Dylan Hopkins has a couple of seasons in that offense, so no learning curve for him. If Nathaniel Jones can live up to expectations, he will be a breakout star for them in the offense this season. The questions will be on the other side of the ball. A new defensive coordinator and only five returning starters entering this season. Crazy to say, but the wins will hinge on the defense this season for UNM.