Just as we did with the Pac-12 a couple weeks ago, let’s take a look at the best and worst case scenarios for Mountain West programs entering the 2012 college football season. There are newcomers in Hawaii, Fresno State, and Nevada. Boise State enters its second and final season in the conference. Below are the best and worst case scenarios for each program with the predicted order of finish.
Best Case (11-1): The Broncos return only 10 returning starters with just two on defense. Head Coach Chris Petersen as always, doesn’t miss a beat and proves the Broncos reload instead of rebuild. Joe Southwick earns the starting quarterback gig in camp and the Broncos roll on the back of four returning starters on the offensive line. A loss to Michigan State in East Lansing is the only blemish on another stellar season.
Worst Case (8-4): Kellen Moore‘s absence proves too much to bear. The Broncos losses on the defensive line hinder their pass rush, the questions in the linebacking corps remain unanswered and BSU suffers its worst season in over a decade.
Best Case (9-3): Quarterback Brett Smith avoids a sophomore slump and improves on his 20 touchdown performance of 2011. Brandon Miller keeps the Cowboys rushing attack in the top 35. The defense is as tough as advertised. Head Coach Dave Christensen builds the best ‘Pokes team since Joe Tiller‘s ’96 squad.
Worst Case (6-6): After a blowout loss at Texas Smith struggles to recapture his MWC Freshman of the Year accolades. There is a huge drop-off in the running game, and Wyoming’s D fails to improve from 2011′s 98th best finish. Even in the worst case scenario, the Cowboys make a second-consecutive bowl game.
Best Case (8-4): First year head coach Tim DeRuyter installs the new 3-4 defensive scheme and improves a dreadful 2011 unit with eight returning starters. Derek Carr is every bit as good as his older brother David in a Fresno State uniform. The new spread offense works brilliantly and the Bulldogs rebound from last year’s four win total.
Worst Case (5-6): Too many new faces on the coaching staff and on the field fail to give bite to the Bulldogs bark. Three new starters on the offensive line hamper Carr’s production and safety. Coach DeRuyter’s team uses 2012 as a learning experience rather than a step forward.
Best Case (8-4): A fourth winning season in a row is no problem for Chris Ault and company. Quarterback Cody Fajardo duplicates his WAC Freshman of the Year 2011, with a solid 2012 effort. New offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is able to improve an already efficient Nevada passing attack. The defense overcomes inexperience at key positions.
Worst Case (5-7): The Wolf Pack start the year with losses to Cal and South Florida. The defensive line fails to slow down opposing Mountain West QB’s and the lack of talent at the skill positions is exposed.
Best Case (8-4): The departure of Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman has little effect on the Aztecs offense. Ryan Katz enters the program as a transfer from Oregon State and tosses TD passes to a solid receiving unit headlined by 6’6″ junior tight end Gavin Escobar. The 3-3-5 defense installed by head coach Rocky Long finally takes hold.
Worst Case (5-7): Offensively, the Aztecs take a big step back losing Lindley and Hillman. The defense is scorched yet again by the better Mountain West teams. SDSU misses out on a bowl game.
Best Case (8-4): The Warriors fall to USC to start the year, but take advantage of an otherwise soft non-conference schedule. First year head coach Norm Chow handles off-season distractions with ease; quarterback Jeremy Higgins beats out competition and handles the west coast offense without issue.
Worst Case (5-7): Hawaii loses every road contest as the offense slows considerably in the first year under Chow’s transition from the run-and-shoot. With only four returning starters on defense, the season is long in Manoa.
Best Case (7-5): Coach Troy Calhoun loses almost his entire offensive backfield from 2011, but incoming senior quarterback Connor Dietz makes the transition mostly painless. The flexbone option is once again a top 10 rushing attack, and the Falcons defense only falters against the better offenses.
Worst Case (5-7): There are just too many new starters in Colorado Springs for coach Calhoun’s offensive system to overcome. Opposing defenses force Dietz to pass for first downs. The defense is even worse than 2011 with only three returning starters.
Best Case (5-7): Head coach Jim McElwain shows marked improvement as he takes the reins after leading Alabama’s offense to two national championships. Quarterback Garrett Grayson looks as polished as he did his freshman year and running back Chris Nwoke picks up where he left off, running over Mountain West defenders.
Worst Case (2-10): Losing key players on defense due to an off-season campus brawl is a brutal blow to a unit lacking talent regardless. The new 3-4 defense struggles against the run as poorly as the 116th ranked 2012 unit did. A reworked offensive line fails to protect Grayson. Rams fans will have to wait another year to see progress.
Best Case (3-9): Bobby Hauck motivates his team to an upset against Air Force at home. Quarterback Nick Sherry provides a solid presence in his first year at QB. The offensive line returns every starter paving the way for running back Tim Cornett, and the defense gives the Rebels a chance against lesser opponents.
Worst Case (1-11): Northern Arizona is the only victory for UNLV as coach Hauck longs for the days he was manning the whistle at Montana.
Best Case (3-9): The Lobos somehow landed Bob Davie as head coach. The luck continues with a three win season that is incredibly an improvement by two games from 2011. B.R. Holbrook takes to the new pistol offense and fans in Albuquerque actually witness two wins at home to Southern and Texas State.
Worst Case (1-11): A comedy of errors ensues with a new offense. The Lobos make no improvement on their weak defense or turnover margin. Coach Davie questions what he was thinking accepting the worst head coaching gig in the FBS, and is caught daydreaming as he reminisces about Notre Dame.