We are back at it. Football games will be played this Saturday for Week 0, so it’s time to rank the teams to enter the year. Take a look at this week’s MWCConnection Power Rankings, and let us know what you like and what you don’t. Feel free to drop your own rankings in the comments section.
Because there have not been any games yet, the rankings are admittedly pretty subjective. Due to that, there are a few different ways this post can go. Below are some options:
The “fair” rankings.
For those of you who say pre-season rankings are meaningless, this ranking is for you. You’re right by the way, rankings are pointless before the season and have too small of a sample size until the end of the first month anyway. With that being said, it’s still worth discussing and noticing how teams emerge or disappoint, so we will roll them out every week.
The biased rankings
1. The team you love
2-11. Every other team
12. The team you hate
This is for the fans who go into every season believing their team can win it all if they get a few breaks and everything goes the right way. They are convinced their team is the best based on the preseason hype and praise and can’t be convinced otherwise until games start. Also, that “other” team is all propaganda and the media loves them and they won’t be nearly as good as everyone says they are.
The “how last season ended” rankings
1) Fresno State
2) Boise State
3) Air Force
5) San Diego State
6) San Jose State
7) Utah State
9) Colorado State
11) New Mexico
This is for those who say everything from the end of last season until games are played this year are just words. That the defending champ should be the top team entering the year no matter what, regardless of players gained and lost over the offseason. For others, this is a reminder of where things stood back in December.
This is how I voted back in July for our preseason awards and predictions, with a few changes, so this is how I am starting the year for preseason rankings. Since they are not games to go off over, I’ll instead highlight reasons why they could be successful and reasons why things go in an unwanted direction.
1) Boise State
The Broncos are usually the preseason favorite and make the championship game most years, even if they don’t always win it. They have some of the best offensive players in the conference, especially in the running game, and the wide receiver group is deep even if no star has emerged yet. They have to replace a lot of production on defense, but there is still a lot of talent on that side of the ball. Their talent should carry them to the top of the conference once again, but how high depends on players stepping up on defense and their new OC putting players in positions to succeed. Also, it’s worth noting their early OOC schedule will likely have them drop a few places in September before climbing back up once conference play gets going.
2) Air Force
They lose all their best players from last year’s offense, but their defense should be one of the best in the entire country. We know their systems on both sides of the ball will help them compete in every game and win many of them too. How good they will be comes down to one’s belief in their offensive system, enabling them to reload. I am a believer in it, so I have them ranked in the second spot.
3) Fresno State
I’m not as high on the Bulldogs as most others, and I will acknowledge many people have them at #2. Like the Falcons, they lost a lot of players from their 2022 championship run. I don’t think they can reload as easily as AFA can, with 2019 being an example of that. The Bulldogs should still be a strong team in large part because of their defense and 2020/2021 recruiting classes. How successful they will be comes down to the junior college and other transfer players and how well the coaching staff can develop them.
The Cowboys were one of the Mountain West’s most pleasant surprises last year. They were one of the youngest teams in the country and kept winning in the middle of the season before injuries and inexperience had them lose a few games at the end. However, now they have experience and a wealth of talent on defense, especially on the defensive line and at linebacker. Their running backs have already hit some injuries, but the o-line should provide holes for whoever lines up back there. As always, their offense, specifically the passing game, is the biggest question mark and keeps them from ranking any higher to begin the season.
5) San Diego State
The Aztecs were a pretty good team, but like many in the Mountain West, they had to make some mid-season changes in hopes of getting better. The offense has fewer questions than usual, but it is still a bit of an unknown how high their ceiling is on that side of the ball. Likewise, there are more questions on defense than usual, resulting in a bit of a tradeoff and, in many ways, leaves the team about where they usually are: a bowl team who probably isn’t quite good enough to play in the conference championship.
6) San Jose State
Like many other teams, the Spartans will likely be good on one side of the ball and struggle more on the other in 2023. For them, the offense should be one of the best in the conference. There are talented veterans all throughout the starting lineup on that side of the ball and it will be interesting to watch just how dynamic they can be. The defense should not be bad, but it does have to replace a number of key players from last year, especially at defensive end and linebacker. This was a hard team to pin down in the preseason rankings.
7) Colorado State
The Rams are poised to be one of the most improved teams in 2023, but first, they need to score more than twenty points in a game. They should be much more effective in the air, with a great wide receiver unit combined with another year of development for Clay Millen. Their defense was solid last year and figures to be the same this year. If the passing game can be a positive rather than a hindrance, Colorado State should be in the top half of the league with ease.
8) Utah State
The Aggies were another team who got better as the season went on last year, and they hope to use that momentum to spring them into 2023. They lost a number of players on both sides of the ball, plus some coaches, but also feel great about their depth at pretty much every position. While Utah State may end up lacking star power this year, it’s very possible they are a better team from top to bottom. It’s worth watching how it all plays out.
The Rebels are almost a complete unknown heading into 2023. New coaches, new schemes, and many new players make it difficult to predict at this point in the year. There are many reasons why they could take the conference by storm and be one of the better teams if their new offense is effective behind Doug Brumfield and Ricky White III while the transfers fill immediate holes. However, it seems just as likely they struggle out of the gate as players attempt to learn the playbook against real competition while trying to gel as a group. It would not be surprising to see them in a bowl game or right in this spot for much of the season.
The Rainbow Warriors are transitioning back to the run-and-shoot, which is usually good for an extra win or two over the course of the season. But unfortunately, they still look like a team who don’t have many guaranteed wins on the schedule. They will definitely be fun to watch, and it’s worth seeing how well the players fit the offensive scheme, which is always a question one year into a new system. The defense really struggled last year but should be better, especially in the secondary and at linebacker.
11) New Mexico
The Lobos did everything they could this offseason to improve, but there has been a lot working against them. Their stout defense lost nearly all of its best players, plus their terrific DC. The offense injected a new coordinator with a hand-picked quarterback and wide receiver who have played in the system. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not all of their work will make a difference in the win column this season, but New Mexico deserves credit at this point for doing everything within their control.
It’s a coin flip for the last two spots, but the Wolf Pack brings up the rear to begin the year. They lose their best two offensive players from last season and had to use a mulligan at quarterback. In many ways, they are starting from scratch once again. To their credit, Coach Wilson has brought in a ton of transfers who should make the team better on paper, specifically at the quarterback and running back positions. Overall, they should be a better team in 2023, but their record may not indicate it.