This week the USA Today Coaches’ Poll was released with only one Mountain West school included. Boise State, ranked 22, is by far the favorite to take the conference championship especially with TCU out of the picture. With the season so close it is time to let the debate begin. The following is the first installment of the MWC power rankings going into 2012.
1) Boise State No need to be surprised here. The Broncos do one thing really well, and that is win games. Since 2002 BSU has failed to reach the double digit win total only once. Yes, there is much to replace, namely the winningest quarterback in FBS history. Even without Kellen Moore, the boys on the blue turf will be a tough out no matter who they play.
2) Fresno State The Bulldogs have some very big pluses entering this season namely a seasoned and talented quarterback in Derek Carr. Virtually the entire offensive line is back along with senior tailback Robbie Rouse. The defense must replace the line and most of the secondary. New head coach Tim DeRuyter will change the defensive approach to a 3-4 scheme. A road trip to Boise October 13 will be a tough task, otherwise, the Bulldogs should be a strong contender.
3) Wyoming Coach Dave Christensen has a returning quarterback that can flat out play. With Brett Smith throwing the football, the Cowboys should be able to score with anyone in conference. The defense must improve around a solid linebacking corps. I’m been pretty high on Wyoming’s ability in 2012. I will soon find out if my praise is warrented, as the Pokes open Mountain West play with Nevada October 6.
4) Nevada The Wolfpack enter the Mountain West after eleven years in the WAC. If Nevada is to make a splash, sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo better adjust quickly to new offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich’s playbook. Most of the secondary returns. The front seven return only two starters.
5) San Diego State Just like Boise State, the Aztecs are in their final year of the Mountain West before both head for the Big East. Rocky Long proved he could win as head coach posting an 8-5 record in his first season at SDSU. This year, Long will not have the benefit of quarterback Ryan Lindley. If new signal-caller Ryan Katz proves to be a solid transfer out of Oregon State the Aztecs can make things interesting. Otherwise they are in the middle of the pack.
6) CSU The Rams get a great hire at head coach in the former Alabama offensive coordiantor Jim McElwain. Offseason antics hurt the defense with both Nordly Capi and Mike Orakpo being suspended. CSU is tough to figure out going into 2012. Junior Chris Nwoke is great running back, and new starting quarterback Garret Grayson shows promise. I expect the program to improve under McElwain’s leadership. How much improvement in year one is a big question.
7) Air Force A unique offensive option attack causes headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Air Force is almost always going to lead the Mountain West in rushing. The problem for head coach Troy Calhoun is the amount of starters he must replace. Both offensively and defensively the Falcons were fairly solid in 2011. That being said, the better offenses they faced caused problems. A home game against CSU on September 29 will go a long way in determining how the Academy fares this season.
8) Hawaii Norm Chow takes over a program known for throwing the ball as if it was a requirement. Chow is renowned for his offensive acumen, however, he is installing a more pro-style playbook. If the personnel on offense can learn quickly, the Warriors might have a shot at playing in their home Hawaii Bowl. Likely, it will be a difficult year in Manoa as UH begins the Mountain West era.
9) UNLV If there is solace to be found in Sin City, it would the return of the entire offensive line. Stability for a unit that averaged a mere 17.3 points per game in 2011 is at least something. Bobby Hauck’s first two seasons in Las Vegas have been ugly. Year three is when a turnaround should be evident.
10) New Mexico There is good news and bad news in Albuquerque. The good news is, Bob Davie is the new head coach, the Lobos have a senior quarterback in B.R. Holbrook, and the entire offensive line is intact from last year. The bad news is, there is no other good news. It has been three years since the Lobos have won more than one game.
Feel free to disagree. The power rankings will change with each week. Here’s to another anticipated Mountain West season.