We take an early look at who the contenders are in the MWC this coming season.
Darin Oswald - Idaho Statesman
1. Boise State
Boise State is the class of the Mountain West. The Broncos have won 10+ games 12 times since 2006 & finished ranked in the final AP Poll 13x since 2002. You always have to give them the benefit of the doubt and they will nearly always have the talent & coaching advantage relative to the rest of the conference. 2020 should be no different. The Boise State offense will be led by star running back, George Holani. Holani had 1220 total yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to winning the Mountain West Freshman of the Year Award. Bryan Harsin and the Broncos have a realistic shot at a perfect season but they will have to get by Air Force on September 12th followed by Florida State the very next week.
2. Air Force
Air Force put together an outstanding season in 2019. The Falcons finished 11-2 and #22 nationally in the AP Poll. Their triple option offense will always give opponents trouble and they proved it with wins over Colorado and Washington State last season. The top 4 rushers for Air Force all return this season and Kadin Remsberg headlines the rushing attack with 1050 yards in 2019. The biggest challenges on the schedule will be a trip to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on Purdue and a home matchup vs Boise State.
3. San Diego State
The Aztecs won 10+ games for the 4th time in 5 years last season. Everything was going great. Then suddenly Rocky Long retired. Long spent 9 years in San Diego and accumulated an 81-38 record. His SDSU teams were known for fielding elite defenses and their consistent ability to take down P5 opponents. Over the past 4 years, Long went 5-1 against the Pac-12. It will now be up to Brady Hoke, the former Michigan HC, to take the reigns and keep San Diego State moving forward. The Aztecs only allowed 12.7 ppg last season and you can count on a stingy defense again but gone are Ryan Agnew and Juwan Washington on offense. However, SDSU was able to land Georgia Tech Grad Transfer Lucas Johnson to compete for the starting quarterback role. Hoke will have a favorable schedule in 2020 as the Aztecs miss Boise State and Air Force. It's easy to envision them winning the West Division and playing for the MWC Title for the first time since 2016.
Craig Bohl came to Wyoming after winning 3 straight FCS national titles at North Dakota State. His tenure at Wyoming has been successful up to this point with three 8 win season over the past 4 years. Bowl has also proven he can develop pro prospects after getting 6 Cowboys drafted in the last 4 years. The Cowboys featured a young roster and a freshman QB in 2019 and still went 8-5. Expect the defense to be elite again after ranking 11th nationally in points allowed last season. Sean Chambers put together a solid freshman season at QB while accounting for 567 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Another 8 or 9 win season should be the expectation.
After a 10 win season in 2019, Nick Rolovich left Honolulu for Pullman. Todd Graham will take over at Hawaii after an underrated tenure at ASU that included two 10 win seasons. Cole McDonald is off to the NFL and won't be easy to replace. Cordeiro will be the expected starting QB and threw 8 touchdowns last season in some spot duty. The non-conference schedule is extremely difficult with matchups against Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. It will be a transition season for the Warriors and 6-7 wins could be seen as a success.
6. Utah State
Utah State's Jordan Love was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2020 NFL Draft after leading Utah State to 18 wins over the past 2 seasons. The Aggies will be expected to take a slight step back in 2020 without Love and will face a non-conference schedule that includes WSU, Washington and BYU.
7. Fresno State
Jeff Tedford's first two seasons at Fresno State resulted in 22 wins but 2019 was a sudden step back with just 4 wins. Tedford retired after the season and was replaced by Kalen Deboer who is seen as an elite offensive mind. The Bulldogs didn't have great luck last season as they went 1-5 in one possession games. Expect the Bulldogs to bounce back and pull out some of those close games on their way to a bowl this season.
8. Colorado State
Colorado State is a proud program with outstanding facilities, good tradition and dedicated fans. Due to their resources they should always be one of the premier programs in the Mountain West. Steve Addazio wasn't a flashy hire but made a bowl in 6 of his 7 seasons at Boston College.
Jay Norvell has done a decent job at Nevada with 15 wins over the past 2 years. ESPN's FPI has Nevada as a favorite in 6 of their games in 2020 and a 3rd consecutive bowl appearance could be in the future for the Wolfpack.
UNLV is going to become one of the best programs in the Mountain West very soon. They made an outstanding HC hire when they landed Oregon OC Marcus Arroyo. Arroyo surrounded himself with elite assistants and will be able to recruit to one of the best locations in the Mountain West. The Rebels have an amazing football operations building and will play in the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas.
11. San Jose State
San Jose State was competitive in 2019 with 5 wins and will look to build off that relative success in 2020. They will have to replace their quarterback, Josh Love, but have an outstanding receiver in Tre Walker for the next QB in line.
12. New Mexico
New Mexico hired Arizona State's Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzales to take over as Head Coach in 2020. Gonzalez put together some great defenses at ASU and San Diego State and should have New Mexico competitive on defense soon.