One more year with Boise State and San Diego State and the Mountain West will look a lot like the WAC used to. Such is the life on the lower end of the totem pole of conference cannibalism (some of you may know it as realignment).
The Broncos failed to win a conference championship in 2011, but are the overwhelming favorites to end their brief stint in the MWC atop the standings.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how I think the Mountain West shakes out:
(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)
1. Boise State (last season: 12-1; won Las Vegas Bowl)
Boise State only loses its greatest player in the history of the program in Kellen Moore. Oh, yeah, and the team returns practically nobody. No biggie, right? Thankfully for the Broncos, the Mountain West also loses TCU, the team’s biggest competitor for a conference title, and keeps coach Chris Petersen.
2.Nevada (last season: 7-6; lost Hawaii Bowl)
The Wolf Pack only return 12 starters, and there are changes being made offensively, but I’m never one to doubt Chris Ault. Nevada’s defense has a lot to replace too.
3. Wyoming (last season: 8-5; lost New Mexico Bowl)
Dave Christensen is building a strong program at Wyoming and he has a solid quarterback returning in Brett Smith. There’s some questions on defense, but I like the Cowboys’ chances of making a run at a MWC title in 2012.
4. San Diego State (last season: 8-5; lost New Orleans Bowl)
The Aztecs lose quarterback Ryan Lindley and stud running back Ronnie Hillman, but gain former USC receiver Brice Butler and Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz. Both are immediately eligible and should be able to compete right away.
5. Fresno State (last season: 4-9)
It’s going to be weird to watch Fresno State this season and not see Pat Hill on the sidelines. Hill was the face of that program, but former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter inherits a talented team with plenty of returning starters. Losing top receiver Jalen Saunders hurts, however.
6. Colorado State (last season: 3-9)
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain takes over a Rams program trying to get back on track. He’ll have 18 starters from a year ago to help him out. The first half of the schedule doesn’t lend CSU many favors though.
7. Air Force (last season: 7-6; lost Military Bowl)
Air Force recently announced that five key contributors on both offense and defense had been removed from the team. That’s not counting running back Asher Clark, who was dismissed in the spring. In general, it’s been a crappy offseason for the Falcons. It’ll be a mediocre regular season too.
8. Hawaii (last season: 6-7)
Norm Chow finally gets his chance to be a head coach (not counting BYU’s freshman team in 1975) after serving as a longtime assistant at various stops. However, his time at as an offensive coordinator at UCLA and Utah was forgettable. Will a new job in his home state rejuvenate the 66-year-old?
9. UNLV (last season: 2-10)
For as good as the Mountain West has been at the top of the standings in recent years, the bottom of the conference has been dreadful. Coach Bobby Hauck was tremendously successful at Montana, but it just hasn’t translated at UNLV — yet. It also say something about the program when the marketing campaign leads off with “WE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!!!!“
10. New Mexico (last season: 1-11)
Boy, this is a program that’s fallen on hard times, eh? The worst thing New Mexico has done recently was hire Mike Locksley, which led to the best thing New Mexico has done recently: fire Mike Locksley. Bob Davie is an interesting choice to replace him, but he’s going to have little to no help this year.
Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.