While the quality of play in the Mountain West has gone down with the departures of the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and Texas Christian University over the past decade, the conference still maintains a high standard of play relative to Division 1 Football. After all, the Mountain West is the home to Boise State University, the school known for “Smurf Turf” at their home stadium (google it if you don’t know what that is) as much as their two undefeated, Fiesta Bowl Championship seasons. The Mountain West is the home to the University of Hawai’i and their historic passing offenses, known for moving the ball with the same ferocity shown during their pregame native dances. The Mountain West is the home to Fresno State University, a school who has always been up to the challenge of playing anybody, anywhere, at any time, and has shown repeatedly that they will do so without hesitation.
As a side note, the Mountain West is also the conference with the most peculiar names for its Divisions in the Mountain Division and the West Division. Nevertheless, it is westward we travel to look at my Mountain West Conference Preview.
San Diego State University Aztecs (SDSU) – The Aztecs have reigned supreme over the Mountain West in recent memory. San Diego State has featured top talent on both sides of the ball, which is impressive for a team out of a non-Power conference. Coach Rocky Long has done a good job of getting the top players to come to SDSU, but he will have his hands full in 2017. Quite a bit of talent will have to be replaced, including now NFL stars Cornerback Damontae Kazee, Guard Nico Siragusa, and 2,000 yard Running Back Donnel Pumphrey. Despite these glaring holes, I believe there is enough talent still on this squad to make a strong run at a West Division title, with a return trip to the Mountain West Championship an almost certainty for San Diego State.
Boise State University Broncos (Boise St) – It started with a nearly perfect season under Dan Hawkins, and was followed up by multiple undefeated seasons by Chris Peterson. Now, it is Bryan Harsin’s turn to take Boise State to the Promised Land. While while that may seem like a lofty expectation, Harsin was not too far off in 2016, leading the Broncos to yet another 10-win season with such offensive stars as Running Back Jeremy McNichols and Quarterback Brett Rypien. While McNichols is now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rypien is back to improve upon his 2016 season. So too is Defensive Tackle David Moa, who is already being tabbed for multiple national awards, including the Nagurski Award for the nation’s top overall defensive player. It will be a daunting task in dethroning the defending champions in San Diego State, but if anybody can do it, it is the likely champions of the Mountain Division at Boise State.
Air Force Academy Falcons (AFA) – It is not often that a team who won 10 games during 2016 can be considered a dark horse to win a conference the following season. When the two teams at the top of the mountain seem to be leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of pack, however, then such a team would have to be considered a sleeper pick. The Air Force Academy, one of three service academies to compete in the highest level of Division 1 Football, along with the Naval Academy (Navy) and the Military Academy (Army), will need some good fortune if they want to compete for a conference title in 2017. The offense loses their most explosive weapon from a year ago in Receiver Jalen Robinette, while the entire defense will essentially have to be rebuilt. The task at hand will not be easy, but the ability for an offense to run an option system that can produce over 4,000 total rushing yards will always give opposing defenses nightmares. It’s an outside shot at best, you cannot count the Air Force Academy out from the conversation of teams to shock the conference and win the Mountain Division.
As a general rule, I try not to list a disappointment for conferences that are outside of the Power 5 Conferences (This includes the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and Southeastern Conference). When I do choose to list a team under this banner, it is usually for a team that vastly overachieved the year prior or is vastly overrated for the current season. In 2017, I see no team in the Mountain West that warrants the label of disappointment.
It really is quite simple. The Mountain West should, barring injuries or the always-possible Cinderella run, come down to the defending champions, the Favorites from San Diego State, and the ever-popular Contender Boise State. While I would love to see the Air Force, or any other school, crash the party and steal the conference championship, there is simply too much of a talent gap from San Diego State and Boise State to the rest of the conference.
The winner of the Mountain West will be announced, along with my other conference champions, at Midnight on Sunday, August 6, and only at tedtalksports.com!