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2018 Mountain West power rankings, after writing big previews of all 12 teams: Who can stop Boise State?

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Don’t expect too many surprises. It’ll probably be Boise State vs. one of the two West stalwarts (SDSU or Fresno State) in the title game.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference previews run-through, 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. We have already completed the Sun Belt, C-USA, and MAC.

Bill C’s MWC power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. Boise State

It’s boring to place a conference’s best-established program first. It’s a lot more fun to go all-in on a sleeper pick. But I’m not going to overthink this one.

Boise State is the defending conference champion and might have the best offensive and defensive players in the conference (QB Brett Rypien and rush end Curtis Weaver, respectively, though there are certainly other candidates for those titles). The Broncos have the conference’s best recruiting to lean on and boast probably the most balanced, athletic roster.

So yeah. The Broncos are starting out on top. We’ll see who can keep up.

Tier 2

2. San Diego State
3. Fresno State
4. Utah State
5. Wyoming
6. Colorado State

The conference is not without its challengers, though. SDSU is only one year removed from back-to-back titles, and from an S&P+ perspective, Fresno State was slightly ahead of BSU last year.

But those teams have more to replace, and while I’m high on Utah State, Wyoming brings back most of an awesome defense, and CSU is loaded with former three-star recruits, I don’t trust them quite as much as BSU. So they’re in a 1a-type of tier here.

Tier 3

7. UNLV
8. Nevada

The fun lives in Nevada. Both UNLV and UNR will be capable of posting and allowing huge point totals this year, and I’m hoping both end up bowling, just so they each get a spotlight for the reckless brand of football they’ll probably play.

Tier 4

9. Air Force
10. New Mexico
11. Hawaii
12. San Jose State

These programs need a little help. SJSU is in the grips of an outright rebuild, Hawaii’s two-deep got torn to shreds, New Mexico is attempting a rebound with a new offense and a head coach who just got himself suspended for a month, and Air Force’s defense desperately needs a magic-act surge. As is always the case, any one of these teams could surprise, but it’s probably one of them, max.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the MWC laid out for 2018, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2018 S&P+ projections here.)

Not a lot of differences between my opinions and my computer’s opinions here. Colorado State has to replace a lot of production and maybe deserves to be in Tier 3 instead of Tier 2, but otherwise the order here is just about what I have. That’s almost as boring as picking Boise State No. 1.

2018 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

Mountain Division

  1. Boise State 6.2 (9.0)
  2. Utah State 5.0 (7.3)
  3. Wyoming 4.8 (7.0)
  4. Colorado State 4.2 (5.9)
  5. Air Force 2.8 (4.4)
  6. New Mexico 2.5 (4.5)

West Division

  1. Fresno State 5.7 (8.1)
  2. San Diego State 5.5 (7.9)
  3. UNLV 3.8 (5.8)
  4. Nevada 3.6 (5.6)
  5. Hawaii 2.4 (4.5)
  6. San Jose State 1.7 (2.6)

Either USU or Wyoming could mount a challenge for Boise State — maybe give UW the nod, simply because the Broncos have to visit Laramie, while USU comes to Boise — but the Broncos have a good amount of margin for error baked in.

Meanwhile, it appears to be a two-team race in the West: the same two teams that have won every West title to date. Big surprise there.

How these teams looked in 2017

The conference was pretty balanced overall. Wyoming skewed heavily toward defense, CSU was all-offense, and everybody else was either good or bad at both.

MWC offenses heading into 2018

About 10 of 12 MWC teams were within shouting distance of each other from an efficiency standpoint, but only a few had big-play capability. UW and SJSU had neither efficiency nor explosiveness.

MWC defenses heading into 2018

Five defenses very much stood out from the pack, and they belonged to teams that went a combined 29-11 in conference play. That’s probably not a coincidence.

Best 2018 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Air Force: QB Arion Worthman
  • Boise State: QB Brett Rypien
  • Colorado State: WR Olabisi Johnson
  • Fresno State: C/G Micah St. Andrew
  • Hawaii: WR John Ursua
  • Nevada: WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange
  • New Mexico: RB Tyrone Owens
  • SDSU: OT Tyler Roemer
  • SJSU: WR Tre Hartley
  • UNLV: QB Armani Rogers
  • Utah State: C Quin Ficklin
  • Wyoming: WR C.J. Johnson
Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State v Oregon
Brett Rypien
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Best 2018 defensive players by team

  • Air Force: OLB Lakota Wills
  • Boise State: DE Curtis Weaver
  • Colorado State: ILB Josh Watson
  • Fresno State: S Juju Hughes
  • Hawaii: ILB Jahlani Tavai
  • Nevada: DE Malik Reed
  • New Mexico: OLB Alex Hart
  • SDSU: CB Ron Smith
  • SJSU: ILB Jamal Scott
  • UNLV: CB Jericho Flowers
  • Utah State: ILB Suli Tamaivena
  • Wyoming: S Andrew Wingard

You can’t go wrong with either Wingard, Weaver, or Hughes. Tie goes to the guy with the most enjoyable hair.

Wyoming v UNLV
Andrew Wingard
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images