The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 13, 2015

2015 Mountain West Conference Preview

There was a time when the Mountain West Conference graded out to be a little stronger than the old Big East Conference and was clearly stronger overall than today’s American Conference.  There were a couple seasons where the league was on par with the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Of course, there was a time when both TCU and Boise State were members of this conference, and there was a time that BYU was a member as well.

In 2015, the MWC may be a bit too weak for the champion to get into the playoff mix, but we believe the champion of this league stands an excellent chance to be 13-0 when the committee decides who is in and who is out.  If two of the Big Six conferences produce two or even three-loss champions, there will be a small chance that a 13-0 MWC team could be a surprise #4 seed.

It’s been five seasons since Boise State last finished the year undefeated.  In 2009, The Broncos defeated Oregon at the start of the year and 12-0 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the year to finish fourth in the nation overall.  This was the second time the Broncos finished undefeated, having first pulled it of in 2006 when once again, BSU won the Fiesta Bowl in a thrilling finish over Oklahoma.  The 2006 team defeated Oregon State early in the season.

This year, Boise State opens at home against Washington.  In week two, they play at BYU.  An October 16 game at Utah State is the only other possible bump in the 2015 road, but this team is considerably stronger than the 12-2 team that won another Fiesta Bowl last year.  The Broncos were the first of the lone guaranteed non-Big Six conference team to be selected to a Big Six Bowl.  Could they become the first non-Big Six school to earn a playoff spot?

We don’t believe the selection committee will take the Broncos, but we do believe Boise will run the table for the third time in a decade and probably be rewarded with yet another trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

There is only one fly in the ointment.  Boise State is loaded on both sides of the ball, but the one place that is a question mark is at quarterback.  Ryan Finley isn’t totally raw, having seen brief action as a Freshman last year, but 27 career passes is not enough to make a case that he might be the next Kellen Moore.

Utah State has gone bowling the last four years, two under former coach Gary Andersen and two under current coach Matt Wells.  Who knows how good this program could have been if quarterback Chuckie Keeton could have finished a season.  He has suffered numerous injuries in his time in Logan, and he has never played a full schedule.  He returns for one final try, and if he can stay on the field, the Aggies pose the only legitimate threat to Boise State.  The loss of Jo Jo Natson may hamper their chances, but USU still has Hunter Sharp at Wide Receiver and LaJuan Hunt at running back, so there is talent at the skill positions.  Inside linebacker Nick Vigil has all the tools, and he will anchor the division’s top defense.

After the top two, the drop to number three is steep.  Colorado State lost the top quarterback in the league in Garrett Grayson; one of the top running backs in Dee Hart; and two of the top defensive players in the league in Aaron Davis and Max Morgan.  Oh, and they lost all-American coach Jim McElwain to Florida.  New coach Mike Bobo comes from the SEC just like his predecessor.  As the long time offensive coordinator at Georgia, Bobo’s Bulldog offenses were balanced with power running games and vertical passing games.  In his first year in Ft. Collins, he inherits talent not all that equipped to suit his style.  He will not see a Nick Chubb or Aaron Murray on the field at Hughes Stadium.  He also will not see his team playing on the field after November 28.  The Rams draw San Diego State and Fresno State out of the Pacific Division, and it looks like a drop under .500 this year.

Air Force has been up and down in recent years for Coach Troy Calhoun.  The Falcons were up last year, winning 10 games, including an upset of Boise State.  This year, the Falcons will be down due to a rebuilding defense and an offense that must break in a new quarterback.  Down won’t be a total disappointment, as we believe the Falcons will find a way to break even and earn a bowl bid.

Our pick for surprise team in the league this year is New Mexico.  The Lobos have been down and out since former coach Rocky Long was let go in 2008.  Following three consecutive 1-11 seasons that included a loss to Sam Houston, former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie was brought to Albuquerque to right the ship.  This is his fourth season following 4-9, 3-9, and 4-8 seasons where the Lobos ran the ball better than any team in the league, topping 300 yards per game all three years.  This year, Davie has experienced talent throughout the roster, and with just a little improvement on the defensive side of the ball, New Mexico could win the close games and earn its first bowl bid since 2007.

There was a time when Wyoming was the class of the Rockies.  The Cowboys were the western Cradle of Coaches for years producing the likes of Bob Devaney, Pat Dye, Fred Akers, Joe Tiller, and Bowden Wyatt, all of whom ascended to big time programs and took teams to conference championships and New Year’s Day Bowls.  As of late, the pickings have been slim in Laramie.  Joe Glenn and Dave Christensen both had great promise but neither turned the tide.  Craig Bohl brought a similar resume to the Rockies as Glenn, having won big at North Dakota State, but his first year in Laramie was no different than recent editions.  This year’s team may make last year’s 4-8 team look like a success as graduation has taken a heavy toll.

The Pacific Division race should be a little more competitive than the Mountain Division.  Four teams have realistic chances to compete for the division title, while a fifth has the potential to get into the race.  It’s not that this side of the league is powerful; the parity is owed more to sub-par rosters than anything else.

San Diego State has been flirting with a division title for five years, and this looks like the year where the Aztecs are the favorite to finally get over the hump.  Coach Rocky Long’s defense is the best in the division and maybe the best in the entire league, and he returns 14 of his top 18 tacklers from last year.  If his offense can maintain the competency of recent years, SDSU could win double digit games for the first time since 1977.

Nevada exploded with a 13-1 record in 2010 and has since returned to mediocrity with three 7-6 seasons wrapped around a 4-8 season.  Third year coach Brian Polian must polish a new quarterback to replace Cody Fajardo, who led the Wolf Pack in addition to his passing skills, led the Wolf Pack in rushing.  The secondary must be rebuilt as well, and in a pass-happy league, a weak secondary can be a recipe for disaster.  However, both sides of the line of scrimmage are stocked with quality brutes, so we believe Nevada will stay in the hunt for another bowl bid.

Fresno State is in a similar boat as Nevada.  Coach Tim DeRuyter must replace his starting quarterback for the second consecutive season, but replacing Brian Burrell will be easier than replacing Derek Carr.  There is a question at the moment concerning the possible starting quarterback this year.  Former West Virginia signal caller Ford Childress is the most talented QB on the roster and should be the starter, but there are questions concerning his eligiblity status.  He is currently practicing with the squad, but there is a chance he will not be eligible to play until the second week of the season.  If Childress is okayed to play, the Bulldogs immediately move up a notch as SDSU’s top contender.  Without him, FSU may have to rely on a freshman or less talented sophomore.

San Jose State fell back in the pack last year, suffering through a 3-9 season which included a season-ending six game losing streak.  Third year coach Ron Carragher returns 10 starters on offense, but the attack troops suffered a mighty blow when freshman phenom and expected starting wide receiver Kanya Bell was dismissed following his arrest on domestic battery charges.  Many of his teammates disagreed with the dismissal, citing that there could be more to the story, and this sounds like it created possible dissension within the ranks.  If so, Carragher faces a tough uphill climb to keep the team believing in his leadership.  If the season heads south early, Carragher could find himself on a hot seat in San Jose.

If there is to be a surprise team in the Pacific Division, we believe it will be Hawaii.  Fourth year coach Norm Chow welcomes the best new quarterback in the league.  Former USC Trojan Max Wittek could be the missing ingredient Chow has needed to run his complicated offense.  The Warriors failed to complete 50% of their passes last year, and Wittek is a major upgrade.  The UH defense was vastly improved last year, and if the offense can improve in the same manner, then Hawaii could compete for that elusive seventh win and get a 14th game in December in Honolulu.  Road games in September at Ohio State and Wisconsin are the big issues.  Not that Hawaii has a chance of upsetting either team, but if injuries in those games prevent the roster from being near full strength in November, when the Warriors have a very favorable schedule, there will be no chance to get to 7-6.

What do you do if you are a first year college head coach, and you inherit a 2-11 team that gave up more than 500 yards per game and barely beat Northern Colorado by a point the year before?  What do you do when said team was decimated by graduation losses and appears to be considerably weaker than the 2-11 team you inherited?  That’s what first year UNLV coach Tony Sanchez faces in Las Vegas.  Sanchez has zero head coaching experience in college football.  He only has one year of any college football experience, and that came a generation ago when he was a graduate assistant at New Mexico State.  Sanchez has been the Knute Rockne of high school coaches in the Silver State.  He never lost a conference game at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, and his annual won-loss records were 15-0, 13-2, 16-0, 13-1, 13-2, and 15-0, winning the Nevada State Championship every year.  Those five losses in six seasons will be eclipsed in little more than half a season this year, because that Gorman team had more future FBS all-star players than this UNLV team, and Sanchez cannot play rising high school junior Tate Martell at quarterback.

Let’s take a look at how the MWC Media predicted the standings for this season.

Mountain West Conference Media Poll
Pos. Team 1st Place Total
Mountain Division
1 Boise St. 28 177
2 Utah St. 2 150
3 Colorado St. 0 108
4 Air Force 0 90
5 Wyoming 0 64
6 New Mexico 0 41
West Division
1 San Diego St. 27 177
2 Fresno St. 3 141
3 Nevada 0 113
4 San Jose St. 0 91
5 Hawaii 0 70
6 UNLV 0 38

Here is the Media’s preseason All-MWS team.

Conference USA Preseason All-Conference Team
Offense Player School
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton Utah St.
Running Back Donnel Pumphrey San Diego St.
Running Back Martez Waller Fresno St.
Wide Receiver Rashard Higgins Colorado St.
Wide Receiver Devonte Boyd UNLV
Tight End Steven Walker Colorado St.
Offensive Line Marcus Henry Boise St.
Offensive Line Rees Odhiambo Boise St.
Offensive Line Alex Fifita Fresno St.
Offensive Line Ben Clarke Hawaii
Offensive Line Pearce Slater San Diego St.
Defense Player School
Defensive Line Eddie Yarbrough Wyoming
Defensive Line Alex Hansen Air Force
Defensive Line Kamalei Correa Boise St.
Defensive Line Ian Seau Nevada
Linebacker Tanner Vallejo Boise St.
Linebacker Kyler Fackrell Utah St.
Linebacker Nick Vigil Utah St.
Defensive Back Weston Steelhammer Air Force
Defensive Back Donte Deayon Boise St.
Defensive Back Darian Thompson Boise St.
Defensive Back Damontae Kazee San Diego St.
Special Teams Player School
Punter Alex Boy Nevada
Kicker Donny Hageman San Diego St.
Return Specialist Carols Wiggins New Mexico

Here are the Preseason PiRate, Mean, and Bias ratings along with the averages of the three.

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Boise St. 114.5 108.6 114.1 112.4
Utah St. 99.7 98.9 100.0 99.5
Colorado St. 95.4 92.9 93.4 93.9
Air Force 91.1 96.6 90.1 92.6
New Mexico 90.7 91.8 90.2 90.9
Wyoming 84.3 86.6 82.5 84.5
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
San Diego St. 96.3 102.6 98.0 99.0
Nevada 91.7 96.6 91.0 93.1
Fresno St. 89.3 98.1 88.7 92.0
San Jose St. 89.3 92.9 89.2 90.5
Hawaii 87.4 91.6 87.7 88.9
UNLV 76.7 79.6 76.5 77.6
MWC Averages 92.2 94.7 91.8 92.9

And, here are the PiRate Ratings Won-Loss predictions and bowl projections.

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
Mountain Division
1 Boise St. 8-0 13-0 * Big Six
2 Utah St. 6-2 8-4 Las Vegas
3 New Mexico 4-4 7-5 New Mexico
4 Air Force 4-4 6-6 Arizona #
5 Colorado St. 3-5 5-7 None
6 Wyoming 1-7 3-9 None
West Division
1 San Diego St. 7-1 9-4 ^ Poinsettia
2 Nevada 5-3 7-5 Idaho Potato
3 Fresno St. 4-4 5-7 None
4 Hawaii 3-5 5-8 None
5 San Jose St. 3-5 4-8 None
6 UNLV 0-8 1-11 None
* Wins Title Game
^ Loses Title Game
# The Arizona Bowl does not have a sponsor and may be postponed

Coming Next: The American Athletic Conference

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