2019 NCAAF Preview: Mountain West Conference

August 24, 2019

Like the Pac-12, the Mountain West is unfairly penalized in terms of national recognition due to its proximity to the West Coast, thus its marquee games often start when a lot of people on the East Coast may be getting ready for bed.

But for all of the negative opinions about Millennials (or really, anyone who stays up past 10 PM ET on Saturday nights), there’s an opportunity they have to serve as champions for this conference. When by midnight the bar isn’t that fun anyway or you just got turned down by your third potential sweetie on the night, take a seat and squint to watch one of the Mountain West games relegated on one of the small TVs in the corner of the room. You won’t be disappointed.

As far as Group of Five conferences are concerned, the MWC is consistently fielding teams in the upper echelon of that group. Most fans just don’t realize that until bowl season rolls around and there’s little time left to enjoy the product.

College Football Playoff Contenders


Realistically, this section should be renamed “New Year’s Six Bowl Contenders” for the Mountain West, and for the remainder of the Group of Five leagues, assume that as the subject. Unfortunately for this league, in-conference attrition is likely to knock each of the 12 teams out of even that conversation by the end of the regular season.

Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State all have an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl bid if any of them were to run the table, but difficult road games for each will probably knock each of them out before October. However, performances against Florida State (Boise State), Southern Cal (Fresno State) and UCLA (San Diego State) should serve as a litmus test for how good the squads may be in-conference. But anything other than a perfect season for a Mountain West team and they’ll be playing in the designated bowls based on conference affiliation.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

San Diego State

The Aztecs were on track for a solid 2018 season, starting 7-2 before the wheels came off, dropping the final four games of the year, including an embarrassing 27-0 shutout against Ohio in the Frisco Bowl. As a result, Rocky Long will install a spread offense to ignite a unit that sputtered during that four game skid at the end of last year. Whether quarterback Ryan Agnew can handle the change remains to be seen, but Long wants to continue to take advantage of a strong running game as well despite the new approach. Running back Juwan Washington is one of the best in the Mountain West and should be able to adapt without much issue.

There will be plenty of competition in the West dvision, most notably with Fresno State, but the Aztecs play their toughest league competition at home this season and will learn some valuable lessons defensively against UCLA early in September. Last season’s breakdown was uncharacteristic of a Rocky Long coached squad, so ATC doesn’t expect to see it happen in consecutive years.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Jordan Love, Utah State junior quarterback

Fans of Bowl Mania may have been first introduced to Love during last year’s New Mexico Bowl, when the then sophomore torched North Texas for 359 yards and 4 passing touchdowns in a 52-13 victory. But for most of the country, the name Jordan Love still doesn’t ring a bell. It should, as he is arguably the Mountain West’s most talented offensive player and makes NFL-type throws with ease. It’s hard to imagine Love not getting a look from the pros when he finishes his career at Utah State.

Last season the Aggies had lots of talent at wideout, most of which has moved on from the program. But that will only make what Love does in 2019 even more impressive, as he’s the type of player unlikely to experience much of a dip in productivity based on those circumstances.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Minnesota at Fresno State (September 7)

Rowing the boat will be tougher than it may seem for P.J. Fleck’s squad against Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium. Enough returns from the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense in 2018 to slow a Golden Gophers offense that should be much improved upon last season.

In effect, this non-conference battle will pit strength against strength, which is always exciting to see in an early season game.

San Diego State at UCLA (September 7)

The revamped San Diego State offense will take on Chip Kelly’s spread attack at UCLA, which struggled in its own right last season and will be looking to bounce back in 2019. Of the two programs, the safe bet on which will be more successful with this offensive approach is the Pac-12 school.

While the upside of UCLA appears to be higher, San Diego State is normally a highly disciplined squad under Rocky Long and if the Bruins haven’t quite learned from their struggles last season, this one could be a more uncomfortable experience than Kelly would like.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Fresno State at San Diego State (November 16)

This mid-November battle between West Division rivals has a good chance of being the game that decides that half of the conference. By this time in the season, we’ll know how San Diego State’s offensive philosophy shift has fared and whether Fresno State’s defense was as dominant in 2019 as it was last season.

Jeff Tedford is known developing quarterbacks, but so far he has turned around this entire program. Winning on the road is never easy, especially against a conference leader, but the Bulldogs will compete in this one.

Boise State at Utah State (November 23)

The Broncos are almost always in the division title race in November, and this year should be no different. What is different is that while Utah State is likely to be the other team battling for the Mountain Division crown, the deciding battle between the two will be played on the Aggies’ turf.

Without Ryan Finley slinging the ball for the Broncos, Utah State is almost sure to have the upper hand at the quarterback position in this one. This is important because with the departure of former defensive coordinator Andy Avalos to Oregon, Boise State may have trouble stopping an onslaught of Jordan Love touchdown passes.

Conference Predictions

Mountain Division

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

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

3. Air Force (5-7, [4-4])

4. Wyoming (5-7, [4-4])

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

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

West Division

1. San Diego State (10-2, [7-1])

2. Fresno State (9-3, [7-1])

3. Nevada (6-6, [4-4])

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

5. UNLV (4-8, [2-6])

6. San Jose State (2-10, [1-7])

Championship Game: Boise State vs. San Diego State

Winner: Boise State

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