The VSiN college football experts have been hard at work this summer, writing up team previews and predictions for all 131 FBS teams, including their favorite individual season win total and College Football Playoff bets.
Here are the team previews for the Mountain West:
Andy Avalos’ first season as head coach at his alma mater was a disappointment. Boise State went 7-5 and lost three games on the Smurf Turf, one of which was as a 14-point favorite against Wyoming. The Broncos have plenty of returning talent, but the play of QB Hank Bachmeier will decide how far this team goes.
Eight starters return for Boise State on offense, but those starters will have to show real development after an underwhelming 2021 campaign. The Broncos put up 29.2 PPG last season, but their running game was stagnant with an average of 3.1 YPC and the offense overall averaged just 5.3 YPP. All three of those statistical marks are the lowest for the Boise State program in seven seasons. Bachmeier is back under center as well, and while his numbers from last season look good -- 3,079 yards, 20 touchdowns – his play left a lot to be desired. He had multiple TD passes just twice in the final seven games of the regular season and his tendency to hold onto the football caused him to take a career-high 24 sacks. He also loses his top target from last season, Khalil Shakir, and three of the top four receivers from last season’s team overall. Bachmeier will need to progress as a passer if Boise State is to rebound from a poor offensive season.
If the Broncos are going to return to the top of the Mountain West this season, they will get there on the back of this defense. Nine starters are back from a dominant unit that allowed 19 PPG and 5.5 YPP last season. Their defensive line is arguably the best in the conference with Scott Matlock, a first team all-conference defensive tackle, back in the interior. Boise State’s secondary is deep as well, with the entire unit back from last season. Opponents completed just 57.8% of their pass attempts against this group while averaging a pitiful 207 yards passing. JL Skinner is in contention for best defensive back in the conference and Phil Steele ranks this as the 30th-best defensive backfield in the country. While linebacker has some question marks, this unit as whole comes into this season as the best defense in the conference and it will keep the Broncos in every game.
The onus will be on this offense to perform at an acceptable level if Boise State wants to surpass its win total and live up to the billing of preseason favorite. Their schedule does them no favors in achieving that goal, though. The Broncos open the season on the road in three of the first four weeks -- Oregon State, New Mexico and UTEP -- and they will be the underdog in two of those affairs. In conference play they draw each of the big boys in San Diego State, Fresno State, Air Force and Utah State. Luckily three of those games will be at home – they go to Colorado Springs after their bye in October – but they must also host BYU at the beginning of November. Given what we know about this offense, the quality of competition in conference and caliber of nonconference opponents, it’s hard to foresee this team surpassing its win total, let alone winning the Mountain West.
Pick: Under 9
After two down years, the Bulldogs returned to prominence in 2021 with a 10-win season that included a quality win at the Rose Bowl over then-No. 13 UCLA. Fresno State brings back 15 starters from that team and Jeff Tedford is stalking the sidelines once more as the Bulldogs look to win their second Mountain West title in five seasons.
Any conversation about the Fresno State offense begins and ends with quarterback Jake Haener. The senior signal-caller returns after flirting with a transfer to Washington and he is the main reason this team has conference title aspirations. Haener threw for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, leading the Bulldogs to 33.4 PPG and 6.3 YPP, both marks the highest since the 2018 season. With Haener back under center, this team should be able to match that output this season.