2015 NCAA Football Preview: Mountain West Conference

September 2, 2015

Writing about this next conference takes me back to the days where I was very nearly achieving my childhood dream of becoming a professional sportswriter.

I believe the definition of “professional” is that you must be paid for your work, which I was not. Otherwise, it was pretty damn close. My articles actually had pictures!

But I digress. Let’s dive into the preview of the Mountain West Conference.


With all due respect to the American Athletic Conference, which may very well steal this title in the coming years, no Group of Five conference has made more of a dent on the seemingly impenetrable wall that the Power 5 commissioners put on the New Year’s Six bowl games (and formerly BCS bowls). While not all of its successful programs still call themselves a conference member for football (TCU, BYU), the tradition has been carried on by the new members as well. Just last year, Boise State shocked Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, which really shouldn’t have been such a surprise considering the number of times the Broncos have gone into Glendale and come away winners.

But it doesn’t end with Boise State. Other teams have risen to the occasion as well, producing dark horse candidates for the Heisman Trophy and serving as a mill for the next big hire for a struggling SEC or Big Ten school. In short, the Mountain West is the closest thing you can get to a power conference that isn’t actually part of the Power 5. This season should be no different and we could even see a legitimate playoff contender come from this league. As a former media contributor for this conference, I’m excited to see what 2015 has in store for the Mountain West.

College Football Playoff Contenders


Slightly contradicting the statement that was made near the end of the previous segment, the Mountain West is unlikely to have a legitimate threat to crash the playoff party in 2015. While there are some analysts that believe Boise State could be an option if the Broncos were to run the table, it would likely take more than that to convince the selection committee. The teams on Boise State’s schedule would also need to perform, especially the big names like Washington, Utah State and BYU. The chance of all three having exceptional seasons as well as the Broncos making a clean sweep of them seems slim.

This being said, the Mountain West is absolutely a candidate to receive one of the New Year’s Six bowl slots allotted to the top ranked Group of Five conference champion. In fact, it isn’t ridiculous to suggest that the MWC is favored to grab that bid. It wouldn’t have to be the Broncos, either. There are a few teams other than the Blue and Orange that are capable of winning at least 10 games and finishing the regular season in the Top 25 including San Diego State and Utah State.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Air Force

The Falcons rebounded nicely in 2014 after a disappointing 2013 campaign, finishing the year with a convincing victory over a solid Western Michigan team in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Air Force should be able to ride that success right into the 2015 season and has a chance to start the season off well. The schedule sets up so that Air Force doesn’t have to play its most difficult division rivals (Boise State and Utah State) until late November, giving the Falcons time to gel with quarterback Nate Romine,

Romine isn’t completely green, however, having made six career starts previously. If the senior can consistently deliver in the way he did in an upset over Colorado State last season, Air Force is poised to have one of the top rushing attacks in the nation once again.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State junior running back

San Diego State has become somewhat of a running back mill as of late, and Pumphrey is just the latest addition. Built in the mold of former Aztec back Adam Muema, Pumphrey is undersized but lightning quick and difficult to bring down in open space. His superior cutback ability paid dividends, as he was the fourth leading rusher in the country and had 20 rushing touchdowns.

Without a proven gunslinger at quarterback, the Aztecs will rely heavily on Pumphrey’s skills to lead them in their pro-style offensive attack. Although he is not large, Pumphrey does not appear to be at major risk for injury because of his shiftiness around the line of scrimmage. If San Diego State is to compete for a league title this season, this is the guy who will be at the center of the action.

Shane Williams-Rhodes, Boise State senior wide receiver

I had the pleasure of covering Williams-Rhodes when he was still an underclassman, and even then he was showing flashes of brilliance. Now a senior, the 5’6″ 168 pound speedster is an integral part of Bryan Harsin’s up-tempo attack. The slot receiver is fifth on Boise State’s all-time receptions list with 170 and it would not be surprising if he came close to the record held by former teammate Matt Miller (who had 244).

With a guy like Williams-Rhodes streaking across the middle and running in patterns up the sideline, Boise State has a superb target that will help break in new quarterback Ryan Finley. None of Boise State’s starting wideouts have a lot of size, but with a speedster like Williams-Rhodes the Broncos still have one of the best receivers in the conference.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Washington at Boise State (September 4)

Expect to here plenty of cheers for Chris Petersen when he returns to the blue turf. The Boise State faithful is well aware of all that he did for the program during his eight years there. But once the game begins the gloves will be off and Petersen will try to find a way to shut down many of the players he once recruited.

Washington will have a tough time in this game if quarterback Jeff Lindquist isn’t the real deal. The Huskies were able to get away with being sub-par offensively in 2014 thanks to a stifling defense, but Boise State will be able to score more than enough to win if Washington cannot move the football.

Utah State at Washington (September 19)

It would go unnoticed to most, but Chris Petersen must play the two best Mountain West teams over the past five years in 2015. Don’t think that this was merely a coincidence.

The Aggies will be a difficult test for the Huskies at home if quarterback Chuckie Keeton returns to form after a second knee injury last season. At one time, Keeton was considered a dark horse in last year’s Heisman Trophy race.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Fresno State at San Diego State (October 3)

The Bulldogs are the three-time defending champions of the West Division, but a young quarterback and issues in the secondary could derail the chance at a four peat in 2015. Likely to play spoiler is San Diego State, which looks poised to have a strong season led by running back Donnel Pumphrey.

Fresno State may very well approach this game the same way as San Diego State, employing a heavy dose of the run game with Marteze Waller. But San Diego State will have an easier time throwing the ball when needed, which could end up being the deciding factor in this one.

Boise State at Utah State (October 17)

Almost surely the de facto Mountain Division title game, Utah State has been the most consistent and difficult competition for Boise State in its two years as a Mountain West Conference member. Let’s hope that Chuckie Keeton is back to full health this season, because if he is this will be an extremely entertaining game.

Utah State may be the only team in the conference that can shut down Boise State’s high-powered offense. Assuming that is true, it will be up to the Broncos defense to find a way to contain Keeton. Otherwise, he is fully capable of playing spoiler to a potential return trip to a New Year’s Six bowl.


Mountain Division

1. Boise State (11-1, [8-0])

2. Utah State (8-4, [6-2])

3. Air Force (7-5, [5-3])

4. Wyoming (6-6, [4-4])

5. Colorado State (8-4, [4-4])

6. New Mexico (4-8, [2-6])

West Division

1. San Diego State (9-3, [7-1])

2. Fresno State (6-6, [5-3])

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

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

5. UNLV (3-9, [2-6])

6. Hawaiʻi (3-10, [0-8])

Championship Game (Boise State vs. San Diego State)

Winner: Boise State

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