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2019 MWC power rankings: Deepest G5 conference still has a clear favorite

Boise State is your preseason MWC favorite each year for a reason.

NCAA Football: San Diego 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 MAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and AAC.

Bill C’s Mountain West 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

I know what you’re saying, fans of every MWC school not named BSU. “Oh look ... how creative ... picking Boise State at the top of the conference once again ... despite the fact that they only have one conference title in four years ...”

If you’re skeptical, I get it. Bryan Harsin’s Broncos get benefit of the doubt like no one else in the conference. But the reason they do is because they’ve earned it. They recruit laps around almost all of the rest of the Group of 5, and while conference challengers come and go, they’re always in the top two or three in the league, per S&P+.

I fully expect at least one team from Tier 2 to make a serious run at the conference title. But I’m putting BSU in a tier to itself because I know the Broncos are contenders.

Tier 2

2. Fresno State
3. Utah State

Fresno State’s rebuilding at QB, WR, OL, and LB. Utah State’s got a new head coach, a new skill corps, a new O-line, and a new LB corps. San Diego State needs answers after completely collapsing late last year. There’s reason to be excited about all three, but each has just a few more questions than BSU.

Tier 3

5. Nevada
6. Wyoming
7. Air Force
8. Hawaii
9. Colorado State
10. UNLV

There are two primary reasons why last fall was the MWC’s best season in nearly a decade.

First, Fresno State and Utah State were, by their standards, historically awesome. The conference’s top tier was damn near that of a power conference’s top tier.

But beyond that, the MWC’s middle class got its act together. Nevada was as good as it’s been since Chris Ault left, Wyoming and Hawaii hinted at super-high ceilings, etc. In previous years, disappointing teams like CSU and UNLV might have gotten away with rankings in the 100s and still pulled off five or six wins. That was not an option in 2018.

FS and USU are almost certainly going to take backward steps this season, but the conference could still be solid because the middle class might continue to grow. Nevada’s one year from a potential division title run, Wyoming and Air Force should be strong, Hawaii will remain a high-upside enigma, and after key injuries and off-the-field issues in 2018, both UNLV and CSU could live up to what I thought they were capable of last year. The conference’s upside might not be as high, but the depth could be even greater.

Tier 4

11. SJSU
12. New Mexico

When depth is great, someone still has to lose games. SJSU improved on paper last year but still went 1-11, and now New Mexico is almost completely starting over — Bob Davie has new coordinators and signed nearly a starting lineup’s worth of JUCO defenders as a Hail Mary. Could all the new blood work? Certainly. But it’s very hard to predict it to work.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the MWC laid out for 2019, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2019 S&P+ projections here.)

S&P+ doesn’t co-sign on my CSU optimism, but it sees UNLV and Hawaii taking solid steps while BSU inches forward. USU and Fresno are going to be formidable, but it would be surprising to see them end up in the S&P+ top 25 again.

2019 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

West Division

  1. San Diego State 5.6 (8.4)
  2. Fresno State 5.6 (8.3)
  3. Nevada 4.3 (6.7)
  4. Hawaii 3.6 (5.9)
  5. UNLV 3.1 (4.8)
  6. San Jose State 1.7 (3.1)

We have a division race! Fresno State rolled to 7-1 and an easy West title last year, but the Bulldogs’ projected regression, combined with SDSU’s slight potential improvement, sets up a dead heat. I guess, since the FS-SDSU game is in San Diego, we’ll give the Aztecs the slightest of edges.

Mountain Division

  1. Boise State 6.8 (9.8)
  2. Utah State 5.5 (7.7)
  3. Air Force 4.0 (6.5)
  4. Wyoming 3.6 (5.6)
  5. New Mexico 2.2 (3.9)
  6. Colorado State 2.1 (3.4)

As always, BSU is projected to roll. But the Broncos have to play at Utah State on November 23, and if they slip up somewhere else (unlikely, since their other conference road games are at UNLV, SJSU, and CSU), they could hand the division to the Aggies.

MWC offenses heading into 2019

This conference had a boatload of efficient offenses in 2018, but only a few that packed explosiveness into the mix.

MWC defenses heading into 2019

In both efficiency and explosiveness, the range of good to bad was much larger for MWC defenses. Wyoming, Fresno State, and Utah State were outstanding; others very much were not.

Best 2019 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Air Force: QB Donald Hammond III
  • Boise State: LT Ezra Cleveland
  • Colorado State: QB Collin Hill
  • Fresno State: RB Ronnie Rivers
  • Hawaii: QB Cole McDonald
  • Nevada: SLOT Kaleb Fossum
  • New Mexico: WR Anselem Umeh
  • SDSU: RG Keith Ismael
  • SJSU: WR Tre Walker
  • UNLV: QB Armani Rogers
  • Utah State: QB Jordan Love
  • Wyoming: RB Xazavian Valladay

Love will see a bunch of new pieces when he surveys the field, and that might hurt his stats, but he proved himself with a massive 2018, and new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford should help him improve further.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Boise State
Jordan Love
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Best 2019 defensive players by team

  • Air Force: DE Jordan Jackson
  • Boise State: DE/OLB Curtis Weaver
  • Colorado State: DE Emmanuel Jones
  • Fresno State: SS Juju Hughes
  • Hawaii: LB Penei Pavihi
  • Nevada: CB Daniel Brown
  • New Mexico: NT Aaron Blackwell
  • SDSU: LB Kyahva Tezino
  • SJSU: LB Jesse Osuna
  • UNLV: DE/OLB Gabe McCoy
  • Utah State: LB David Woodward
  • Wyoming: LB Logan Wilson

Man, this was tough. Hughes, Woodward, Weaver, and Tezino are among the best defenders in the Group of 5, perhaps in all of FBS.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Fresno State
Juju Hughes
Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports