Mountain West Football Predictions 2014
By Tyler Smith
MWC Football Predictions 2014
Offense: Eight starters return for the Wolf Pack. Half of those returning starters come on the offensive line. QB Cody Fajardo is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Last season Fajardo had over 2,600 yards passing and 621 rushing yards in ten games. Kendall Brock is back at RB after a ten touchdown 2013 season. Brandon Wimberly will be missed at WR, but Nevada seems confident they have the pieces to fill the void.
Defense: The defense will need to make a big turnaround as they gave up over 500 yards a game last season. The secondary is a big hole especially at safety. The defensive line is packed with experience. Brock Hekking is the teams big play maker as he's always in the backfield. The top three players in tackles return for the Wolf Pack at linebacker.
Special Teams: Brent Zuzo made 14 of 17 last season as a freshman. Sophomore Alex Boy will take over at punter.
Overview: A lot of starters return for Nevada. The defense can't get much worse than last season. Cody Fajardo is back and healthy at QB. They get both Fresno State and San Diego State at home.
#2 Fresno State
Overview: Derek Carr and Devante Adams are on to Sundays. However the incoming transfer of QB Brandon Connette from Duke will be a nice addition for the Bulldogs. Connete is a capable thrower but is really dangerous with his legs in the redzone as he found it 13 times on the run. The running game is a strength of the team with their top two backs returning. Josh Harper returns at WR after having a monster junior year. He will have to adjust to being the go to guy with Adams and Burse gone. The defensive side of the ball has Fresno State fans remaining hopeful. The secondary has its question marks but safety Derron Smith is one the best in the country. All four starters are back at linebacker. With NFL talent on defense the Bulldogs remain in title contention. Road trips to Nevada and Boise State will be tough though.
#3 San Diego State
Overview: The offensive line has several holes, which is bad news for QB Quinn Kaehler. Kaehler has the tools and the WR group to put up big numbers this season. His top target will be Ezell Ruffin, who had over 1,100 yards last season. D.J. Pumphrey will hope to build off a solid freshman campaign. The defense could take the Aztecs down this season with inexperience. One player that could change things upfront is USC transfer Christian Heyward. Tough road games at Nevada, Boise and Fresno will make it tough for a repeat of six and two in conference play. Add in a kicker who hit 50 percent of his field goals last season and you have a feeling San Diego State takes a step back.
Overview: The good news is Devante Davis returns, bad news is QB Caleb Herring and RB Tim Cornett are gone. The offensive line is in good shape with four starters back. Whether Blake Decker or Nick Sherry will make a positive impact at QB is too be seen. Sherry was once the future for the Rebels and started a full season in 2012. The secondary is solid with Peni Vea, Kenneth Perry and Tajh Hasson back. Stopping the run will be a problem again this season. Getting back to a bowl would be a success.
Overview: The once big program outside of the big five has fallen on hard times. The offense is still passing the ball well but they don't score enough points. Look for running back Joey Iosefa to play a big role after putting up big numbers before getting injured. The line will need to find some stabilty this season. Whomever starts at QB will have a young cast of WR to work with. Look for Keith Kirkwood to have a breakthrough year. The defense was poor against the pass and run last season. Change doesn't look to be on the horizon for Hawaii.
#6 San Jose State
Overview: Finding a replacement for David Fales won't happen. Tyler Winston had a good season last year, but being the go to guy and not having Fales it will be hard to exceed his numbers from last season. Running back Jarrod Lawson can make an impact in the passing and running game. The step back from 2012 to 2013 on defense is troubling and it will likely stay bad this season. But with Greg Robinson in at defensive coordinator the Spartans have some hope. A center point for the defense starts with DT Travis Raciti. The last four games feature games at Utah State, San Diego State and Fresno State.
#1 Utah State
Offense: With Chuckie Keeton back the Aggies are going to be in the hunt for the MWC title. Keeton is dual-threat QB and very accurate passer. The line will need to mesh well with only one starter returning. Keeton will have his favorite target back, junior wide receiver JoJo Natson. Natson led the team in receptions last season with 58. Brandon Swindall is back after catching a team high 6 touchdowns. Running back is an open race between Joe Hill, Kennedy Williams, Karris Johnson and Rashad Hall.
Defense: Last years defense held opponents to an average of 17.1 points per game. They lose seven starters, but don't expect the defense to take a step back. The secondary returns interceptions leader (5) Brian Suite. The Aggies are excited to get Tennessee transfer Daniel Gray on the field at corner to help the secondary. Gray played in eight games for the Vols. Two second team all-league players return at linebacker, Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackrell. Zach's younger brother Nick had a good freshman year with 57 tackles and 5.5 sacks. B.J. Larsen returns on the line, he put together a season that earned him second team all-conference honors.
Special Teams: Nick Diaz had a pretty good year at kicker, though he had several kicks blocked. Jason Bentrude is back at punter.
Overview: The offense is in good hands with Keeton. The defense will reload and be a nuisances to opposing teams. The first game of the year the Aggies will head to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. Don't be surprised if the Aggies get the win. The division race could come down to the final game of the year at Boise State.
#2 Boise State
Offense: It all starts with the run game for Boise State. Jay Ajayi put up monster numbers last season. Ajayi posted 18 rushing touchdowns and over 1,400 rushing yards. The line will look different with the two returning starters changing positions and three new faces. QB Grant Hedrick totaled 22 total touchdowns last season and has his go to targets back. Wide receivers, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, combined for over 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Defense: The defense wasn't what fans had grown accustomed to in Boise. Will they get back to a top 25 defense this year? Probably not but an improvement will put them in serious contention for a MWC title. Linebacker is in good shape with both positions going two deep. The secondary should be fine with four returning starters including former LB Corey Bell. The biggest issue for the Broncos will be how well the line can produce. DE Demarcus Lawrence was a force on the line and will be greatly missed.
Special Teams: Dan Goodale is back at placekicker. Sophomore Sean Wale will handle punting duties.
Overview: The issue is in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The non-conference schedule is challenging, as usual, a ten win season shouldn't be considered by Bronco fans. A chance to win the MWC title however could be in play.
Overview: The Cowboys were looking forward to a good 2014 season then QB Brett Smith left for the NFL and QB Jason Thompson left for Utah. New head coach Craig Bohl does have a good stable of wide receivers. The defense will switch to a 4-3 which will hopefully help a defense that struggled last season. DE Eddie Yarbrough should excel in the new scheme. Wyoming should be back in a bowl this year.
#3.5 Colorado State
Overview: The running game will take a hit this season with the loss of Kapri Bibbs. Bibbs had 31 touchdowns with over 1,700 yards. With the loss of backup RB Donnell Alexander a lot of questions surround the running game, However, with QB Garrett Grayson back and will have plenty of players to spread the ball around to with a deep cast of receivers and tight ends. Last season the defense did enough to keep the Rams in games. The loss of all three guys on the defensive front and Mountain West defensive player of the year, Shaquil Barrett will hurt the Rams. After taking on in-state rival Colorado the Rams head to Boise to kickoff Mountain West play.
#5 Air Force
Overview: The defense will have to improve for the Falcons as they allowed 40 points per game last season. The offense is still looking for a starting QB and RB who can become difference makers. New schemes and coaches give Falcon fans hope on defense. Last season the defense gave up 490 yards a game. The schedule doesn't set up well for Air Force, expect around 3-4 wins this season.
#6 New Mexico
Overview: The home schedule in conference play is exciting, but will the Lobos cash in on any of those games? The running attack was impressive last season, but they lose their top running back. The defense should be in better shape with a strong linebacker unit. Last season LB Dakota Cox earned Freshman All-American honors with his 99 tackles. This won't be the year that New Mexico breaks free from the bottom.
MWC Offensive Player of the Year
Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
MWC Defensive Player of the Year
Zach Vigil, LB, Utah State
MWC Coach of the Year
Brian Polian, Nevada
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