Mountain West Football Preview: Mountain Division

Keegan Pope

As Colorado State kicks off Mountain West play this weekend at Utah State, it’s time to take a look at how the Rams’ side of the league breaks down. 

Boise State (3-1) – No one in the Mountain West has been as impressive through non-conference play as the
Broncos have. Boise State’s defense is led by two ball-hawking defensive backs in Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson. They lost two of the best offensive players in the league (Jay Ajayi and Grant Hedrick) to graduation, but have replaced them with a talented freshman quarterback in Brett Rypien and speedster Jeremy McNichols. To put it simply, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the Mountain West.

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Air Force (2-1) – The Falcons are a bit of an unknown heading into conference play, and they still have a non-conference game against Navy before the start their MW slate. The Falcons crushed a weak Morgan State team, then handled San Jose State before holding their own against No. 2 Michigan State. The Falcons’ triple-option offense gives defenses fits, but their own undersized defense struggles against teams who employ a physical rushing attack. They are still one of the top four teams in the league though, and they’ll have a chance to be in every game because of their ability to run the ball and control the clock.

Colorado State (2-2) – If there’s one word to describe the Rams through four games it is inconsistent. Realistically, CSU should be 4-0 with two wins over Power 5 teams heading into conference play. CSU was a couple plays – and missed field goals – away from knocking off Minnesota and Colorado. They crushed a hapless Savannah State team and barely squeaked by Texas-San Antonio last week. CSU’s offense is loaded with playmakers, including All-American wide receiver Rashard Higgins, but they’ve struggled to get the ball to them at times. CSU has enough talent to compete with anyone in the league, but they face a brutal three-game stretch to open MW play by traveling to Utah State, and then hosting Boise State and Air Force.

Utah State (1-2)- Chuckie Keeton was back – for a little while. Keeton, who is possibly the best quarterback in the league, was ruled out of the majority of conference play with a knee injury, just a year after missing the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. The Aggies’ offense has been among the worst in the country through four weeks, but as always, their defense is stout. Led by linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil, USU’s defense will keep them in a lot of games even when their offense sputters.

New Mexico (2-2) – The Lobos finished last season near the bottom of the league, but gave last year’s league champion, Boise State, a run for their money in a 60-49 loss. Their triple-option rushing attack is yet another one that defenses struggle with, but their own defense has been very inconsistent. So far this season, they were handled by Arizona State and Tulsa, but crushed FCS Mississippi Valley State. The Lobos opened conference play with a win over Wyoming, who fell to 0-4 with the loss.

Wyoming (0-4) – The first four games of the season haven’t gone worse for anyone in the Mountain West than the Cowboys. Wyoming opened the season with a loss to FCS North Dakota, then a blowout loss at the hands of Eastern Michigan, which won two games in 2014. They followed that up with consecutive losses against Washington State and New Mexico, and could very well be looking at a winless 2015 season.

The skinny: As it has been for the past few years, the Mountain Division will be the class of the Mountain West again. In 2014, four teams (Colorado State, Utah State, Air Force and Boise State) won at least 10 games. It’s unlikely we’ll see that again, as CSU would need to go undefeated in conference play to reach 10 wins. The Rams are talented, but this is Boise State’s league to lose. Utah State has the best defense in the Mountain West, but their offense struggles mightily to score, and eventually that will catch up to them against better teams. The Broncos are the most balanced team in the league, and have impressive wins over Washington and Virginia. Expect to see them back in a New Year’s Bowl game for the second year in a row. 

Predicted order of finish:

 1. Boise State –  11-1 (7-1)

2. Colorado State – 8-4 (6-2)

3. Utah State – 7-5 (6-2)

4. Air Force – 7-5 (5-3)

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5. New Mexico – 5-7 (3-5)

6. Wyoming – 1-11 (1-7)

Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.