Fresno State must offset the loss of the incomparable Jake Haener
Welcome to the first Mountain West season preview from the Hotline, which begins with the origin story.
Last season, we published a weekly ‘Best of the West’ football power ranking that included teams from the Mountain West and Brigham Young as well as the Pac-12. It enabled us to broaden the scope of our coverage and provide context for the Pac-12’s performance in comparison to its peers.
We decided to add a Mountain West-specific column to our array of content offerings this season after the ‘Best of the West’ content was so popular — as was a basketball version that included the West Coast Conference.
Furthermore, half of the Mountain West teams are located in the coverage zones of the Hotline’s syndication partners in the western third of the country. (The San Diego Union-Tribune is the most recent publication to feature our content.)
Once the season begins, we will publish Mountain West power ratings every Monday morning, in addition to the Pac-12 version. The ‘Best of the West’ rankings will also return for the upcoming basketball season.
Now, on to the Mountain West forecast for 2023…
- Boise State: The Broncos stumbled through the first few weeks of the 2022 season before a coaching staff change (offensive coordinator) fueled a two-month surge. With quarterback Taylen Green and proven playmakers in the backfield and at receiver, the offense appears to be loaded. During a difficult September, the defense must be retooled, and the road schedule is difficult throughout. However, no team enters the season with fewer unknowns.
- San Diego State was ranked fourth in the preseason media poll. We expect more from Brady Hoke’s second stint in the fourth year for several reasons: A lack of confidence in Air Force to meet lofty expectations and Fresno State to adequately replace Jake Haener; the best defensive backfield in the conference; the presumptive maturation of junior quarterback Jalen Mayden; and a schedule that includes visits to Snapdragon Stadium by both Boise State and Fresno State.
- Wyoming: Few coaches in the country do more with less than Craig Bohl, who has produced.500-plus records for six consecutive seasons (excluding the COVID year). Expect more of the same in Laramie, led by a seasoned defense. (The front should be especially impressive.) If the offense, led by quarterback Andrew Peasley, simply avoids major mistakes and assists with field position, the Cowboys should win a lot of games by a score of 20-13.
- Air Force: As previously stated, after the Falcons’ third consecutive 10-win season (excluding 2020), expectations have skyrocketed in Colorado Springs. An experienced defense and coach Troy Calhoun’s deeply ingrained system serve as the foundation for a run at the conference championship, which would be the school’s first appearance since 2015. But are the Falcons prepared to handle the spotlight, to be a favorite rather than an underdog? We’re a little skeptic.
- Fresno State: Even for an offensive master like coach Jeff Tedford, Year One A.H. (After Haener) will be difficult for the Bulldogs. The Valley’s attention will be drawn to a number of potential replacements, including Mikey Keene and Logan Fife. However, we see problems elsewhere, such as the loss of tailback Jordan Mims (1,400 yards last season), an overhauled receiving corps, and a redesigned secondary. So the fate of the FSU in 2023 is about much more than just replacing its heart and soul.
- Colorado State: There is little evidence that the Rams are on the verge of a breakthrough season after winning only three games last year and losing four of their final five. But if you dig deep enough, you’ll find a ray of hope: Coach Jay Norvell previously coached at Nevada, where he won three games in his first season and eight in his second. Could he pull off another Year Two comeback at CSU? Consider ourselves intrigued.
- San Jose State: Will we see the good Spartans (2020, 2022) or the fair-to-middle Spartans (2019, 2021) at ? The answers will come fast and furious as SJSU kicks off the season against USC on Saturday. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro leads an experienced offense that includes several returning starters on the offensive line. Is the redesigned defense up to the task? Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, and Air Force are among the tough league opponents.
- Utah State: Coach Blake Anderson’s program’s 11-win season in 2021 appears to be a fluke rather than a new standard. We don’t see a defense capable of containing the conference’s top teams this fall due to a lack of consistency at quarterback. Last season, the Aggies allowed nearly 200 yards per game on the ground and lack the personnel to significantly strengthen the front seven.
- UNLV: The ill-fated Marcus Arroyo era has given way to the Barry Odom era, which is reason enough for the Rebels to be optimistic heading into 2023. Odom won two of his four SEC seasons (at Missouri) and brings a level of wisdom and savvy that the program has lacked for years. With a returning quarterback (Doug Brumfield), UNLV could find itself in the conference’s middle tier.
- Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors have performed better over the last five years than the current state of affairs would suggest, despite the fact that coach Timmy Chang’s first season (2022) was rocky. The chances of an upturn in Year Two are modest, but better than nil. Brayden Schager, the run-and-shoot quarterback, returns, and the defense is loaded with veterans. Hawaii also missed out on Boise State and Fresno State.
- Nevada: The Wolf Pack were never the same after Norvell abruptly left for Colorado State in December 2021. Nevada went winless in conference play and lost its final ten games last season under an inexperienced replacement, Ken Wilson. The additions of quarterback Brendon Lewis from Colorado and tailback Sean Dollars from Oregon add athleticism but no proven playmaking ability.
- New Mexico: As the program struggles under fourth-year coach Danny Gonzales, the Lobos were as easy to label as last as Boise State was to label first. The outlook in Albuquerque is so bleak that we can’t rule out the possibility that Gonzales’ precarious job security will have an impact on the on-field product. If the losses pile up too quickly, it could lead to a total collapse.