The Mountain West Conference is full of strong teams heading into the 2022 season. Utah State is the reigning champion but lost five key defensive players and their three best receivers so if they can replicate the success they had last season will be a huge question. Fresno State and Boise State seemed primed to be the top two teams but will a surprise team overtake them? College football analysts Marissa Myers and Michael Daly predict each Mountain West team’s record. Marissa analyzes the Mountain teams and Michael analyzes the West teams.
Boise State: 9-3
Utah State: 8-4
Air Force: 8-4
Colorado State: 5-7
New Mexico: 3-9
Boise State’s quarterback Hank Bachmeier had an okay season in 2021 throwing for 3,097 yards and 20 touchdowns. Bachmeier still has potential to be unlocked and it could happen this year if the offensive line improves, and the line will get a huge boost with Washington State transfer Cade Beresford. Khalil Shakir may be off to the NFL, but Stefan Cobbs has the potential to step up and help the receiving group. The defense will still be a top group as they return nine starters that helped the unit allow only an average of 19 points per game.
It was a surprising season for the Utah State Aggies as they went 9-3 in the regular season before beating San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game. Their offense took a leap in production from scoring only 15.5 points per game in 2020 to 32.6 in 2021. The quarterback Logan Bonner is back, but so is only one starting receiver that helped in this offensive leap. While they won’t take a major step back, early games against Alabama and BYU could hinder the Aggies from making it back to the championship.
Air Force will have a dominant rushing attack once again with Dane Kinamon and Brad Roberts returning. Surprisingly it’s the defense that was the fourth-best in the nation that will decide how the Falcons perform. With John Rudzinski now at Virginia, they have a new defensive coordinator in Brian Knorr, and with that comes a staff overhaul. The big question is if Knorr can keep the defensive success consistent in his first year.
With quarterback Levi Williams, running back Xazavian Valladay, and wide receiver Isaiah Neyor transferring, Wyoming’s offense will look a bit different this year. Transferring in was former Utah State quarterback, Andrew Peasley. Peasley will be tasked with forming the chemistry with projected new starting wide receiver Wyatt Wieland and running back Titus Swen along with returning starters Joshua Cobbs and Treyton Welch. This will all have to be done behind an offensive line that lost four seniors with three of them being starters. The defense also only returns three starters, and games early on against Illinois, Air Force, and BYU will test the chemistry of this unit quickly.
After going 3-9 in 2021, the Colorado State Rams should gradually improve in the first year under new head coach Jay Norvell. With him, Norvell brought most of his offensive coaching staff which includes offensive coordinator Matt Mumme. Following Norvell and transferring from Nevada also is quarterback Clay Millen, wide receivers Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall, and even offensive linemen Dontae Keys and Jacob Gardner. The defense brings back plenty of experience, but the players will have to learn a new system under new defensive coordinator, Freddie Banks. The defense will be aggressive when it comes to blitzing and it helps to have Devin Phillips, Cam’Ron Carter, and Dequan Jackson on the front six to do so in the 4-2-5 scheme Banks runs. Norvell is in a good situation, but asking the players who were on the Rams last year to learn new systems on both sides of the ball could cause them to lose games to teams with more continuity.
The opening stretch of the season for New Mexico with Maine, Boise State, and LSU all being in September is not a good way to start with the team that features new starters on the offensive line. The offense will need to show major improvement from their 130th-ranked unit a season ago.
Fresno State: 10-2
San Diego State: 11-1
San Jose State: 4-8
With Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford returning to the program following a two-year hiatus, the Bulldogs will be looking to compete for a Mountain West Championship. Former head coach Kalen DeBoer left for Washington and nearly brought Jake Haener back to Washington with him. Haener decided to return for one final season at Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2021 and finished the season with a win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. Fresno State could find itself on the cusp of a New Year’s Six bowl, if they can win the conference.
Nevada’s most important task as a program will be moving on from former quarterback Carson Strong. Nevada finished 8-5 last season and if the Wolfpack can find similar quarterback play, they will qualify for a bowl game.
San Jose State had a difficult 2021 season when they finished with a 5-7 overall record and a 3-5 record in the Mountain West. Quarterback Nick Nash will have heavy lifting to do in 2022. The Spartans have a difficult out-of-conference schedule with two games against Auburn and Western Michigan in September. San Jose State will likely take a step back in 2022, even with Nash under center.
Hawaii had several key players like Dae Dae Hunter leave at the end of the 2021 season. Former Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang assumed the role of head coach in January and he will have to stamp his own identity on this program. It will be challenging for Hawaii to win the division, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for Hawaii to finish around .500 at the end of the season.
San Diego State reached the Mountain West Championship Game in 2021, but the Aztecs suffered a 27-point loss to Utah State in the championship game. Head coach Brady Hoke enters his third season with San Diego State in his second stint with the program. The Aztecs have a loaded roster and will have the skills to dominate the Mountain West competition.
For UNLV, there is not much hope for the program to improve upon its 2-10 record from 2021. Expect another difficult season in Las Vegas.
Championship Prediction: Boise State vs San Diego State