2013 NCAA Football Preview: Mountain West Conference

August 27, 2013

Two and a half days away, and only three conference previews left. I’ve got this.

Here is the Mountain West Conference preview.


The Mountain West Conference may not be one of the “Big Six” of the current BCS era, and it won’t be one of the five power conferences once the playoff format is instituted after this season. But in both cases, the Mountain West is without a doubt the “best of the rest”. With Boise State leading the charge, San Diego State making a name for itself as one of the more consistent teams out West each year and the addition of Utah State and San Jose State to the conference this season, Commissioner Craig Thompson should be commended for keeping his product relevant during a time of such uncertainty.

In the last year of the BCS, the Mountain West will have a chance to make a splash one last time before the term “BCS buster” becomes old news. Boise State returns some key pieces that should give them a chance to run the table this year and once again crash the party. However, there will be some fierce competition from the rest of the conference, most notably from teams such as San Diego State and Utah State, which combined to win a total of 20 games last season.

Even if the Broncos don’t manage to make it to one of the premier bowls this season, fans should still expect to see some very good football coming from this conference. There are several early season matchups between MWC teams and Pac-12 teams, which serve as bragging rights to whoever wins those games. The Mountain West teams will not be totally overmatched in the majority of those games, which is a testament to the strength of the conference as a whole.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid


This might come as a surprise to some that believe that if Boise State runs the table and wins the Mountain West Conference title game that they may have a shot at competing for the national championship. Unfortunately for the Broncos, a BCS bowl, but not the most important one, is the best that they will earn by finishing the season at 13-0.

Despite being ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP Poll, the Broncos will not advance in the polls very rapidly without help from teams above them. While the rematch against Washington in Seattle is a nice way for any team to begin the season, a victory wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as, say, a victory over a ranked Oregon Ducks team (which the Broncos did at home in 2009).

In order to receive some love from the voters in control, Boise State would have to hope that a couple of other teams from the Mountain West manage to crack the Top 25 before playing the Broncos in order to create some buzz about the game. This isn’t something anyone should hold their breath for even though it has happened in prior years. As a Boise State fan myself, I hate to say this, but the Broncos’ best shot at the national title game was back in 2010.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


People assuming that Nevada may take a step back with the departure of longtime coach Chris Ault are mistaken. Ault did popularize the Pistol offense, but he also recruited players specifically to run it, and many of those players from the 2012 squad are still around. Junior quarterback Cody Fajardo was one of the more difficult quarterbacks in the nation to prepare for last season, and he should be again. New head coach Brian Polian made an extremely smart move in keeping around offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who deserves a lot of the credit for an offense that ranked seventh in the nation in rushing.

The defense will be the biggest issue for the Wolf Pack, but if Polian can find a way to improve the rush defense, then there is no reason to suggest that Fajardo can’t create enough scoring opportunities to give Nevada a chance in every game this season. The schedule is tough (with games against UCLA, Florida State, Boise State, San Diego State and Utah State), but the expectations for this team don’t seem to be particularly high. Making a bowl game might qualify as a surprise for Nevada, which sounds crazy.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

David Fales (Sr.), San Jose State quarterback

A lot of people were high on Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr last season, but bowl season proved to me that there is a clear No. 1 in the conference at the position. Spoiler: it’s not Carr. Instead, it’s San Jose State senior David Fales, the FBS leader in completion percentage in 2012 and the rare gem that didn’t throw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns just because he played in the wide open WAC.

Fales has the chance to better his 2012 marks thanks to a core of receivers that are the best in the conference. Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones were first and second team All-WAC selections last season, and they will be favorites to earn those accolades in the Mountain West this season thanks to Fales. If the four returning starters on the line can better protect the signal-caller this season, then Fales could end up becoming one of the top rated prospects in next year’s NFL Draft.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

San Jose State vs. Stanford (September 7th)

Just how good is Stanford’s defense this year? We’ll have a pretty decent idea after this game, as the Spartans are one of the better offenses that the Cardinal will face in the early part of the year (imagine that!). With David Fales throwing to Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones, the Stanford secondary is going to get all they can handle containing the passing game. It will be up to the Cardinal defensive front to put pressure on Fales and not allow him too much time to pick apart the defense.

Stanford struggled mightily against San Jose State last season, needing a clutch 46-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson to put away the Spartans by a score of 20-17. Kevin Hogan was not the quarterback at the time for the Cardinal, and that will likely play a big difference in the outcome this season. But Stanford will know better than to sleep on the Spartans, who have the offensive firepower to shock the No. 4 team in the nation if they’re not careful.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Boise State vs. Utah State (October 12th)

These are arguably the two best teams in the conference, so this is the most anticipated conference showdown of the season. The two teams will be renewing what was once an annual matchup in the WAC, although the stakes were never as high as they may be this season. Both teams will be vying for the chance to be a part of the first Mountain West title game, and only one of them will earn the right to play in it. This game will have a major impact in deciding which team that will be.

When the Broncos used to play the Aggies, Utah State did not have a quarterback as dynamic as junior Chuckie Keeton. Keeton is the best dual threat quarterback in the league and in the conversation for best in the nation. Boise State’s defense will need to be on its toes in order to stop Keeton, who torched some of the best defenses in the WAC last season in route to an 11-2 overall record. Despite a strong offense, Boise State will win this game if they can contain Keeton. If Utah State is able to do what they want to offensively, they are one of the few teams that have the firepower to outscore the Broncos.

Conference Predictions

Mountain Division

1. Boise State (11-1, [7-1])

2. Utah State (9-3, [6-2])

3. Colorado State (6-6, [4-4])

4. Air Force (6-6, [4-4])

5. Wyoming (6-6, [3-5])

6. New Mexico (2-10, [1-7])

West Division

1. San Jose State (10-2, [8-0])

2. Fresno State (9-3, [5-3])

3. San Diego State (8-4, [5-3])

4. Nevada (5-7, [3-5])

5. UNLV (3-9, [1-7])

6. Hawaii (1-11, [0-8])

Championship Game (Boise State vs. San Jose State)

Winner: Boise State

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the Mountain West or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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