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The 2016 Mountain West has a clear favorite in each division, and yes, Boise State is one

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Along with the actual defending champs.

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At the end of each conference run-through (previously: Sun BeltConference USA), I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

On average, the Mountain West was worse than the MAC last year. The conference boasted four teams in the S&P+ top 55 but placed six teams 99th or worse.

Between experience and interesting coaching hires, I would expect the bottom of the conference to rebound, but a lot of these MWC teams will be better in 2017 than they will be this fall.

For now, the list of teams in the top half should look about as it did last year.

Tier 1

1. Boise State
2. San Diego State

BSU was either excellent or terrible in 2015, while SDSU surged after a shaky September. The Broncos graded out ahead of the Aztecs on paper, but SDSU finished on a 10-game win streak.

These two should again be the class of the conference and the biggest question about conference title race will be BSU's glitches. The Broncos laid eggs against Utah State, New Mexico and Air Force. If they limit themselves to merely one egg this year, they probably win the conference and secure another major bowl bid. But SDSU's ceiling is only a little bit lower, and the Aztecs have a much sturdier floor.

I go with upside, but San Diego State is going to have an excellent shot at a repeat title.

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Tier 2

3. Air Force
4. Utah State

Air Force rode a brief span of greatness to the Mountain Division title and has the experience and schedule to make another run if BSU is off its game a couple of times. I trust the Falcons slightly more than I do Utah State, if only because of the Aggies' decimated defense.

Tier 3

5. Colorado State

CSU really belongs in a tier to itself. The Rams seem a step behind Air Force and USU but an easy step ahead of the rest.

Tier 4

6. New Mexico
7. Nevada
8. San Jose State
9. Fresno State
10. UNLV

Three of these five bowled last year, and I figure we should see about the same amount.

Fresno State and UNLV, however, are major wildcards. The Bulldogs were dreadful last year and might be a year away from putting pieces together, but the athleticism is there. If they have a QB, they could be dangerous. UNLV recruited well, and I'm starting to love the Tony Sanchez hire.

Tier 5

11. Wyoming
12. Hawaii

Hard jobs. Hard, hard jobs. Wyoming is still absurdly young and in need of more seasoning while Craig Bohl gets his pieces in place. Hawaii is starting over with Nevada's former offensive coordinator. Neither are dramatically less talented than those in the bottom of Tier 3, but neither gets the benefit of the doubt.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

MWC Mountain

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
Boise St. 9-4 (5-3) 41 36 9.1 (6.4) 69 70% (87% / 53%)
Air Force 8-6 (6-2) 52 80 7.7 (4.7) 121 60% (34% / 85%)
Utah St. 6-7 (5-3) 46 73 6.6 (4.7) 107 49% (57% / 41%)
CSU 7-6 (5-3) 81 96 5.7 (3.5) 86 49% (58% / 40%)
UNM 7-6 (5-3) 101 102 5.7 (3.3) 104 78% (76% / 80%)
Wyoming 2-10 (2-6) 114 110 4.2 (2.4) 117 71% (60% / 83%)

MWC West

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
SDSU 11-3 (8-0) 45 55 8.6 (5.8) 74 66% (52% / 79%)
Nevada 7-6 (4-4) 99 91 6.4 (4.3) 93 84% (95% / 73%)
SJSU 6-7 (4-4) 89 92 5.7 (3.9) 90 62% (69% / 55%)
Fresno St. 3-9 (2-6) 100 94 5.8 (3.9) 78 76% (89% / 62%)
UNLV 3-9 (2-6) 106 114 4.4 (2.7) 95 56% (56% / 55%)
Hawaii 3-10 (0-8) 118 118 3.9 (3.0) 100 67% (66% / 69%)