A long summer has given way to a cooler breeze from the north and crisper evenings mark the beginning of another college football season. Smell that? That’s what we’ve been waiting for. The Mountain West Conference is ready to set sail on a season that will be the first for some and the last for others.
Minnesota at UNLV Thursday 9pm Mountain
Immediately the Rebels have an opportunity to show exactly what they bring to the table in 2012. When it comes to Big Ten programs, the Gophers aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. Minnesota was atrocious on defense last season and wasn’t any better at putting points on the board.
UNLV is breaking in a reshuffled coaching staff with defensive backs coach J.D. Williams being promoted to defensive coordinator, and tight ends coach Brent Myers to offensive coordinator. Head coach Bobby Hauk better hope the changes translate into more wins. UNLV returns its entire starting offensive line so that should help. My guess is the Gophers come up with one more big play, likely from placekicker Jordan Wettstein.
Prediction: Minnesota 24 UNLV 23
(24) Boise State at (13) Michigan State Friday 6pm Mountain
The granddaddy of the weekend. Boise State draws its biggest challenge of 2012 in week one. Michigan State has one of the top defenses in the country and maybe the Big Ten. Joe Southwick was just named starting quarterback for the Broncos by head coach Chris Petersen. The junior will have a solid offensive line in front of him but, like himself, many new faces among the starting 22. If Petersen pulls off a win in East Lansing consider it one of his biggest magic tricks yet. There are simply too many questions on the Broncos roster.
Prediction: Boise State 13 Michigan State 24
Idaho State at Air Force 12pm Mountain
Not exactly the game we’ve been waiting for all summer. Colorado Springs has a win teed up nicely to begin the 2012 season. The Bengals were a two win team last year in the FCS Big Sky Conference. Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun is breaking in plenty of new starters and even had to deal with offseason suspensions earlier in the month. This week, depth isn’t going to be an issue. Next week at Michigan, Air Force might want to worry. For now, enjoy your Saturday cadets.
Prediction: Idaho State 9 Air Force 45
Nevada at California 1pm Mountain
Chris Ault, the Nevada head coach, has a chance to jumpstart the season by a big time non-conference win in Berkeley. By all intents and purposes, this should be a win for Cal and head coach Jeff Tedford. Should. Tedford has been preaching the entire offseason that his Bears return their top passer, rusher, and receiver. The biggest concern for the Wolfpack is keeping Cal from lighting up the scoreboard. Nevada’s defense was pretty solid last season allowing an average of 25.2 a game. Sophomore Cody Fajardo is capable at QB but I’m not sure he can keep up with the Bears as the Pack learn a new offense.
Prediction: Nevada 24 Cal 35
Colorado State at Colorado 2pm Mountain (Denver)
There is something about beginning the schedule with an in-state rival that injects an added sense of excitement to the start of the season. The annual Rocky Mountain Showdown does just that. Once again, Denver hosts the rivalry game between the Rams and Buffs. CSU head coach Jim McElwain is in his first yeat at Ft. Collins. Much is expected from the former Alabama assistant. Colorado will be the youngest team in the Pac-12 which is troubling when you consider CU went 3-9 last year. I’ll give the edge to the Rams at quarterback and running back.
Prediction: Colorado State 21 Colorado 20
Southern at New Mexico 3pm Mountain
If the Lobos want to improve on three one win seasons in a row, scheduling FCS teams like Southern will certainly help. New head coach Bob Davie is installing the pistol offense behind experienced quarterback B.R. Holbrook, and an intact offensive line from 2011. Expect a lot of rushing attempts from Demarcus Rogers at tailback as New Mexico pounds the ball.
Prediction: Southern 10 New Mexico 30
Hawaii at (1) USC 5:30pm Mountain
A truly unlucky draw for Norm Chow as he enters his first year as a head coach. Hawaii will likely be lit up by the Trojans offense led by quarterback and Heisman favorite Matt Barkley. This is the Warriors first year in the Mountain West and they will be ecstatic to get out of week one with their pride intact.
Prediction: Hawaii 10 USC 50
Wyoming at (15) Texas 6pm Mountain
Brett Smith is coming off a spectacular debut season where was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of The Year. Texas will likely present the most difficult four quarters for the Cowboys offense all year. If the sophomore quarterback has time to throw (which he probably won’t) and can avoid turnovers (again, unlikely) Wyoming can keep the score reasonable. Don’t count on it in Austin. The Horns may be a question at QB, but that shouldn’t be an issue as they will smash the ball directly at a porous Cowboy run D.
Prediction: Wyoming 13 Texas 35
Weber State at Fresno State 8pm Mountain
Fresno welcomes new head coach Tim DeRuyter after a Pat Hill era that put the Bulldogs on the map as a more than viable mid-major program. Don’t expect a big challenge from the Wildcats in central California. Derek Carr should have a solid game at quarterback for the Dogs.
Prediction: Weber State 17 Fresno State 41
San Diego State at Washington 8:30pm Mountain
Another Mountain West versus Pac-12 pairing. The Aztecs have to find a way to replace the production of quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman both in the NFL. SDSU has their work cut out as the season begins in Seattle. The Huskies possess one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game with signal-caller Keith Price. Head coach Rocky Long will have a rough night manning the sidelines for the Aztecs.
Prediction: San Diego State 17 Washington 38
For the Mountain West preseason power rankings click here.
James Gomez is a Pac-12 and Mountain West columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America
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