The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 13, 2018

2018 Mountain West Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

For a few seasons, it looked like there would be a changing of the guard in the Mountain West Conference. Fresno State went from the top of the league to the bottom, which brought former California coach Jeff Tedford on board. Quickly, the Bulldogs returned to the top of the West Division, topping the previous king in San Diego State.
In the Mountain Division, Boise State fell back a notch for a couple seasons, but the Broncos appear to be on the precipice of returning to the same dominance that former head coach Chris Petersen guided the school.
One thing that never changes in the MWC is the wide variation of playing styles. If you go on a caravan to see all 12 teams play during the season, you will see three types of option-style football with UNLV, Air Force, and New Mexico; you will see a standard power-style offense like Alabama and Georgia with Colorado State and San Diego State; you will get a nice sampling of the West Coast offense from Fresno State and Wyoming; you will see the wide-open Air Raid offense with Nevada; and then you will see an all over the map offense in most other places.
While the two historic powers resume their spots as tops in the league, this is a really fun conference from top to bottom. The MWC could very well provide more bowl eligible teams this year than they have bowl agreements, and whoever gets shipped to an alternate site is sure to provide an exciting game for that bowl.

Boise State and Fresno State hooked up in back-to-back weeks last year, with FSU winning the regular season finale 28-17. A week later Boise got revenge by winning the MWC Championship Game 17-14. The win allowed the Broncos to head to sin city, where they topped Oregon 38-28 to finish 11-3. With most of their very good defense returning this year, Boise must be considered a top contender to nab the NY6 Bowl bid. The Broncos return top quarterback in the league Brett Rypien as well as 1,000-yard rusher Alexander Mattison, and BSU might run the table if they can score 30 points every week. A tough opener at Troy in the Alabama heat and another tough game at Oklahoma State may keep the Broncos from going 13-0, and at 12-1, they may have a difficult time finishing ahead of the AAC champion.

Behind the Broncos, Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, and Utah State should compete for second place in the division and bowl eligibility. Wyoming returns a lot of quality talent from a team that went 8-5 a year ago. If not for the probability that a freshman will be under center, the Cowboys might be a serious threat to Boise’s potential run this year. Coach Craig Bohl’s Cowboys will succeed because their defense might be the best in the league with a top-flight defensive line returning intact and a linebacking corps that takes a backseat to no other team in the league.

Utah State will have significant experience returning this year from a team that beat the weaker teams on their 2017 schedule and didn’t compete all that well against the better teams. Expect the Aggies to be tougher against the better half of its schedule this year, and USU should make a run at eight or nine wins. The opener at Michigan State could be rough though, and the Aggies close the season on the road against Colorado State and Boise State.

Mike Bobo faces somewhat of a rebuilding job at Colorado State this year. The Rams enjoyed a decent year as they christened their new on-campus stadium. An overtime loss to Boise was all that kept CSU from playing in the conference championship game, but with massive losses on both sides of the ball this year, Bobo will be lucky to get his squad bowl eligible.

Air Force typically plays a lot of seniors, so in most years, it will appear as if they face a rebuilding project, when they have seasoned veterans ready to assume leadership roles. The Falcons’ unique offense always causes trouble for opposing defensive coaches and personnel, as most defensive linemen today are built for pass rushing and stopping the run in their gap or gaps. Having to basically read and react to the quarterback’s reads means these players might be a tad slow making the right choice. Air Force has more than usual defensive experience returning, and Troy Calhoun has won big with about the same amount of returning experience in the past. The key is keeping quarterback Arion Worthman healthy. The Falcons’ schedule gives them a chance to play Boise State in Colorado Springs with first place on the line.

New Mexico is at a crossroads with Coach Bob Davie. The shotgun spread option continues to give the Lobos one of the nation’s top running games, but UNM didn’t score a lot of points last year after the offense clicked in 2016. Don’t expect much improvement from the offense this year, as untested players will start at quarterback and most of the offensive line. The Lobos don’t get to practice against high-quality passers, and it hurts their pass defense. This could be the end of the line for Coach Davie if his team finishes in the basement a second consecutive season.

The West Division race should be a two-team fight between Fresno State and San Diego State. SDSU was the overwhelming pick to win last year, but FSU surprised the nation by beating the Aztecs in San Diego. Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs combined solid running with excellent short passing, and the defense frequently held opponents to three and out following long Bulldog drives. When a team can score a touchdown on a 10-play drive that consumes more than six minutes and then get their defense off the field three plays later, it is not only demoralizing for the opponent, the ensuing fatigue caused by the short rest can hurt a defense for an entire half. If quarterback Marcus McMaryion improves as much this season as he did last year, he could be looking at a high draft pick selection next Spring.

San Diego State went 2-0 in the Pac-12 last year, but they didn’t win the West Division of their own league. The Aztecs topped Arizona State in Tempe, which signaled the beginning of the end for Todd Graham. More impressively, they knocked off Stanford a week later. SDSU was 6-0 and in the catbird’s seat for the NY6 Bowl bid until back-to-back losses to the eventual two division champions ended all hopes. After holding Air Force’s and New Mexico’s option running attacks in check during the regular season, the Aztecs had no answer for Army’s potent offense in the Armed Forces Bowl. The future of this program is up in the air, as they will be seeking a new stadium on campus. There are no guarantees, and their lease runs out at SDCCU Stadium, which lost the Chargers last year. There will be an issue on the November ballot whether or not to fund an on-campus stadium that can be used for multiple purposes. There even was a remote option that old Balboa Stadium, home to the Chargers in the 1960’s could be remodeled and built into a new football venue for the Aztecs.

Nevada and UNLV should compete for third place in the division plus a bowl bid. Both teams have strong offenses but suspect defenses. Neither is strong enough to go 7-1 in the league, but on any given Saturday both could pull off a big upset that decides who will win the division title.

Nevada punishes opponents with their Air Raid offense led by quarterback Ty Gangi, who is able to pass the ball for more than 300 yards per game this year.  UNLV followed the lead of dual threat QB Armani Rogers and the running acumen of tailback Lexington Thomas, and both return this year behind a capable offensive line. The Rebels couldn’t stop the run last year, which kept UNLV at 6-6 when they could have been 9-3.

Hawaii and San Jose State will compete for fifth in the division. The Rainbow Warriors beat the Spartans last year, but they have the biggest rebuilding job in the conference–on both sides of the ball. SJSU finished last in the league on offense and defense and has a long way to go just to become mediocre. One reason why Hawaii might edge out SJSU is the schedule. Hawaii plays FCS member Duquesne the week before this game, while San Jose has to play at Oregon.

Here is how the MWC media voted in the preseason poll.

Mountain West Conference
Team Votes
Mountain Division 1st Place Total
1. Boise State 22 132
2. Wyoming 0 95
3. Colorado State 0 82
4. Utah State 0 78
5. Air Force 0 52
6. New Mexico 0 23
West Division 1st Place Total
1. Fresno State 16 126
2. San Diego State 6 116
3. UNLV 0 78
4. Nevada 0 72
5. Hawaii 0 45
6. San Jose State 0 25

The PiRate Ratings basically confirm the media’s preseason opinions, differing only in the middle of the pack.

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division
Team MWC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Boise St. 0-0 0-0 110.2 109.3 110.9 110.1
Wyoming 0-0 0-0 98.5 98.6 98.8 98.6
Utah St. 0-0 0-0 96.8 98.3 98.1 97.7
Air Force 0-0 0-0 91.7 91.7 90.9 91.4
Colo. State 0-0 0-0 85.6 87.1 86.1 86.3
New Mexico 0-0 0-0 85.7 87.6 85.3 86.2
West Division
Team MWC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Fresno St. 0-0 0-0 107.0 105.4 106.7 106.4
San Diego St. 0-0 0-0 98.7 99.5 99.8 99.3
Nevada 0-0 0-0 92.4 92.5 92.6 92.5
U N L V 0-0 0-0 89.1 90.8 89.6 89.8
San Jose St. 0-0 0-0 76.6 77.4 74.8 76.3
Hawaii 0-0 0-0 74.4 76.4 72.2 74.3
MWC Averages 92.2 92.9 92.2 92.4

New Coaches

There are no new coaches in the Mountain West this year.  There are a couple of places where coaches need to produce successful seasons this year to keep their jobs next year.  Tony Sanchez needs to get UNLV into a bowl and win at least seven games.  Nick Rolovich needs to show some sign of progress after Hawaii sunk from a bowl team to a 3-9 team.  Matt Wells cannot afford a losing record at Utah State with the talent he has this year.  And, Bob Davie could be forced into retirement if New Mexico plays as weak on offense this year as they did last year.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Note: We know that our won-loss records do not factor in any upsets.  There predicted records use the average PiRate Rating plus a set home field advantage to pick the winners.  All FBS vs. FCS games are automatically given to the FBS team.  Obviously, the season is not cut and dry like this, but we concentrate our efforts mostly on the next week of scheduled games and do not look forward past one week with our ratings.

Mountain Division
Team Conference Overall
Boise State 8-0 12-1 *
Utah State 6-2 8-4
Wyoming 6-2 8-4
Colorado State 3-5 4-8
Air Force 3-5 4-8
New Mexico 0-8 3-9
West Division
Team Conference Overall
Fresno State 7-1 10-3
San Diego State 6-2 8-4
UNLV 5-3 7-5
Nevada 3-5 5-7
San Jose St. 1-7 2-10
Hawaii 0-8 2-11

Bowl Tie-ins
The MWC sends its champion to the Las Vegas Bowl, if it does not qualify for the Group of 5 Conference’s automatic New Year’s 6 Bowl bid. The remaining bowl bids have no set pecking order. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

1. Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, NV
Arizona Bowl in Tucson, AZ
Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, HI
Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, ID
New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM

The Mountain West Conference has an alternate bowl agreement to send a team to the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, AZ.

Coming Tomorrow–The FBS Independents

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.