Leading up to the start of the season, Rotoworld will be pumping out previews for every Group of 5 and Power 5 conference (plus Independents), complete with fantasy projections courtesy of RW analytics guru Hayden Winks, draft prospects to watch and a full examination of each conference's team's best and worst case scenarios. This week: The Mountain West.
Mountain West Fantasy Projections
|Cole McDonald (Hawaii, JR)||3406||31||308||27|
|Jordan Love (Utah State, JR)||3590||31||107||24|
|Chase Cord (Boise State, SO)||2321||16||409||22|
|Armani Rogers (UNLV, JR)||1751||14||598||19|
|Malik Henry (Nevada, JR)||2625||17||275||20|
|Josh Love (San Jose State, SR)||3010||22||103||16|
|Jorge Reyna (Fresno State, SR)||2687||21||122||17|
|Collin Hill (Colorado State, JR)||3371||19||0||15|
|Donald Hammond III (Air Force, JR)||903||6||646||16|
|Ryan Agnew (San Diego State, SR)||2209||13||296||13|
|Tevaka Tuioti (New Mexico, SO)||1920||12||146||13|
|Sean Chambers (Wyoming, rFR)||1875||12||251||13|
|Juwan Washington (San Diego State, SR)||1264||14||83||21|
|Gerold Bright (Utah State, SR)||778||7||269||17|
|Ronnie Rivers (Fresno State, JR)||604||8||281||16|
|Toa Taua (Nevada, SO)||752||5||176||13|
|Andrew Van Buren (Boise State, SO)||740||8||97||13|
|Kadin Remsberg (Air Force, JR)||814||6||62||13|
|Xazavian Valladay (Wyoming, SO)||810||6||68||12|
|Charles Williams (UNLV, JR)||879||6||32||12|
|Jordan Mims (Fresno State, JR)||326||4||261||10|
|Marcus McElroy (Colorado State, JR)||526||4||114||10|
|Robert Mahone (Boise State, JR)||517||6||81||10|
|Tyler Nevens (San Jose State, JR)||547||4||78||9|
|Jaylen Warren (Utah State, JR)||505||5||63||9|
|Dayton Furuta (Hawaii, SR)||512||4||73||9|
|Nolan Eriksen (Air Force, SR)||554||4||27||9|
|Kelton Moore (Nevada, SR)||380||3||99||8|
|Trey Smith (Wyoming, SR)||383||5||73||8|
|Marvin Kidsey Jr. (Colorado State, SR)||430||3||79||7|
|Chase Jasmin (San Diego State, JR)||395||3||46||7|
|Cedric Byrd (Hawaii, SR)||81||993||9||19|
|JoJo Ward (Hawaii, JR)||63||1054||9||19|
|Warren Jackson (Colorado State, JR)||83||971||6||18|
|Tre Walker (San Jose State, JR)||46||624||4||14|
|Romeo Doubs (Nevada, SO)||61||811||4||14|
|Melquise Stovall (Hawaii, JR)||52||713||6||14|
|Derrion Grim (Fresno State, SR)||62||658||5||13|
|John Hightower (Boise State, SR)||52||648||4||13|
|Savon Scarver (Utah State, JR)||44||687||6||13|
|Kaleb Fossum (Nevada, SR)||61||637||3||12|
|Nate Craig-Myers (Colorado State, JR)||52||681||4||12|
|Khalil Shakir (Boise State, SO)||52||578||4||12|
|Ethan Dedeaux (San Diego State, SO)||47||561||3||10|
|Jordan Nathan (Utah State, JR)||43||514||5||10|
|Bailey Gaither (San Jose State, JR)||35||624||3||10|
|CT Thomas (Boise State, JR)||43||491||3||10|
|Elijah Cooks (Nevada, JR)||37||485||4||10|
|Tyleek Collins (UNLV, SO)||41||477||3||10|
|Taylor Compton (Utah State, JR)||30||448||4||8|
|Jay Griffin IV (New Mexico, JR)||37||453||3||8|
|Nikko Hall (Colorado State, SO)||39||443||3||8|
|Kobe Smith (San Diego State, SO)||34||446||3||8|
|Jason Matthew-Sharsh (Hawaii, SR)||30||413||4||8|
|C.J. Johnson (Wyoming, JR)||33||413||3||8|
|Darren Woods Jr. (UNLV, SR)||28||404||3||7|
|Keric Wheatfall (Fresno State, JR)||31||387||2||7|
|Geraud Sanders (Air Force, SR)||26||435||2||7|
|Austin Conway (Wyoming, SR)||34||267||2||7|
|Devon Thompkins (Utah State, SO)||24||330||3||6|
|Anselem Umeh (New Mexico, JR)||22||363||2||6|
|Raghib Ismail Jr. (Wyoming, SR)||26||285||2||6|
|Brendan O'Leary-Orange (Nevada, SR)||21||323||2||5|
|Akilian Butler (Boise State, SR)||27||251||2||5|
|JaQuan Blackwell (San Jose State, JR)||23||274||2||5|
|Octavius Evans (Boise State, JR)||22||281||2||5|
|Chris Coleman (Fresno State, SO)||22||276||2||5|
|Dominic Christian (Nevada, SR)||21||254||2||5|
|Elijah Lilly (New Mexico, SR)||15||252||1||5|
|Jared Rice (Fresno State, SR)||46||524||3||10|
|Cameron Butler (Colorado State, JR)||28||305||2||6|
|Carson Terrell (Utah State, JR)||26||285||3||6|
|Parker Houston (San Diego State, SR)||29||294||2||6|
Boise State 10-1 (8-0 in conference)
San Diego State 9-3 (7-1 in conference)
Utah State 8-4 (6-2 in conference)
Fresno State 9-3 (7-1 in conference)
Air Force 6-6 (4-4 in conference)
Nevada 7-5 (5-3 in conference)
Wyoming 4-8 (3-5 in conference)
Hawaii 6-6 (4-4 in conference)
Colorado State 3-9 (2-6 in conference)
UNLV 2-10 (1-7 in conference)
New Mexico 2-10 (0-8 in conference)
San Jose State 2-10 (1-7 in conference)
Boise State Broncos
2018 record: 10-3 (7-1 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DE Curtis Weaver. Weaver explodes off the edge with speed and stride. He comes equipped with NFL-ready size at 6-foot-3, 266 pounds and will be in play for a Day 1 selection with a smooth evaluating process.
The case for: The case for the Broncos is actually slightly more complicated than it has been over the past few years. Over the past few years, we have grown comfortable with QB Brett Rypien and a steady stream of obvious running backs heading into August camp. That running back pipeline hasn’t necessarily run dry, but it’s going to take clanging a wrench on the darned thing to figure out who is going to take over Alexander Mattison this fall.
We like Andrew Van Buren for obvious name reasons, but even beyond The President of the Boise Valley’s old-fashioned moniker, Van Buren looks like the most likely comer to fill Mattison’s big, NFL-bound shoes. But Robert Mahone is in this conversation as well, and a time share is very much possible, here.
It would be nice if either Van Buren or Mahone can take the starting job outright in August, as that would give the Broncos a comfortable starting point on an offense that needs to replace Rypien.
The receiving corps, line and defense are on more solid footing. One name in each unit that will be a fun watch this season. WR John Hightower supplies deep fireworks, averaging 17.1 yards per play from scrimmage last season, T Ezra Cleveland is an all-conference first-teamer with NFL aspirations and oh speaking of NFL aspirations, EDGE terror Curtis Weaver is one of the best pass-rushers in the country.
These Broncos have a few important things to sort out in preseason camp, yes, but HC Bryan Harsin has earned our benefit of the doubt. The Broncos open against FSU on Aug. 31, in what will be a fascinating watch with both teams.
The case against: Gee, buddy, you barely even mentioned quarterback. Brett Rypien’s stellar career in the valley has ended, leaving that hole wide open. The most obvious way for the Broncos to take a step back from their usual conference contender-ness would simply be for the quarterback not to be there.
Perhaps the most intriguing quarterback on roster is true freshman Hank Bachmeier, who ranked as the country’s No. 235 overall prospect in the 2019 class (by the 247Sports composite) and has the most upside of any of Harsin’s options between Bachmeier, Chase Cord and Jaylon Henderson.
The problem, here, is that if the passing game does not come together, or if Harsin bounces between options, that puts all the more of a spotlight on the running game. A running game which might or might not be there. The Broncos remain one of the most well-assembled outfits in the Group of 5, but this year will represent their toughest test since Ryan Finley broke his foot three years back, opening the door for a little guy named Brett Rypien.
Vegas over/under win total: 10
Utah State Aggies
2018 record: 11-2 (7-1 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: QB Jordan Love. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Love has robust measurables. Don’t let that size fool you into thinking he is a statue, though. He has an innate feel for when to move in the pocket coupled with the requisite arm talent. His overall physical toolbox appeals for the pros.
The case for: The case for the Aggies starts with -- but is not limited to -- QB Jordan Love, a palatably-sized 6-foot-4, 225-pound gunslinger who is seriously blipping on the NFL radar. Love is a legitimate difference-maker and should be receiving more under-the-table darkhorse Heisman talk after throwing for 3,567 yards with a 32/6 TD/INT ratio.
Not that Love is going to win the award, but he deserves to be in that conversation just as much as a Power 5 name like Adrian Martinez. Statistically glitzy without a legitimate shot at the Playoff. That’s the Heisman finalist seat which Love would be looking to fill.
His cast and crew on offense is out one explosive runner in Darwin Thompson and in another in Gerold Bright, who totaled 1,120 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage last season while splitting touches and carries.
While the Aggies are thin at linebacker outside of stalwart David Woodward, an all-conference type of performer, and facing attrition at safety, their defensive line and cornerbacking rotations are among the best in the Mountain West.
As exciting as Love might be, as intriguing as his draft stock may be, he may need to turn in a Herculean effort upcoming, because this is a team which is being held together by duct tape in places.
The case against: There are several weak points on this Utah State squad which could be exploited this coming season. Most notably, Love is working his magic behind what is going to be a green, largely unproven offensive line. And he’s going to be working said magic with a completely remade receiving corps.
Ron’Quavion Tarver, gone. Jalen Greene, gone. Aaron Vaughns, gone. Dax Raymond, gone. Maybe Utah transfer Siaosi Mariner clicks -- he was only modestly productive with the Utes -- or maybe the likes of Jordan Nathan, Sam Lockett and Savon Scarver can step up, but the reality is that Love’s lack of a supporting cast could prove incredibly problematic.
Vegas over/under win total: 7
Air Force Falcons
2018 record: 5-7 (3-5 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: N/A
The case for: The Falcons played three card monte with their quarterbacking situation last season, cycling through Arion Worthman, Isaiah Sanders and Donald Hammond III. Worthman is gone -- and wasn’t very good to begin with -- leaving it to Sanders and Hammond to duke it out for the starting role in August.
Hammond offers the brightest light between the two, shining at his most dazzling in back-to-back performances against New Mexico and Wyoming in which he ran for 225 combined yards while accounting for seven total touchdowns. They will need more of that this fall, especially following the unexpected offseason departure of RB Cole Fagan (more on Fagan below).
If Hammond can sustain his gains from last season, this is a Falcons team which boasts a sturdy, move-the-pile offensive line and an elite run defense -- No. 20 on S&P+ in 2018 -- and could make a run for a bowl.
The case against: Say Hammond’s successes from last season were something of fool’s gold. Say that he just happened to offer a nice spark for a ho-hum team and it’s nothing more than a momentary burst in the football cosmos. Well then the Falcons are back to square one at quarterback.
Then there is the other thing. The Cole Fagan one. Hammond, Sanders, neither, both, no iteration of quarterbacks brings Fagan back. He is no longer with the team. Reason why, unknown. Fagan’s loss stings deeply. Not only did he rush for 997 yards and seven touchdowns last season, he was all kinds of clutch when it mattered, converting for first downs or touchdowns on 30% of his carries (per Pro Football Focus).
Air Force will throw bodies at the Petersberg-sized crater Fagan left behind, and maybe a Taven Birdow and a Kadin Remsburg step up to help cover for that loss. It’s one more thing for Air Force HC Troy Calhoun will have to worry about in August camp, one more thing that could go wrong.
Oh, and the flipside to that fantastic run defense our cheerier half mentioned above -- the pass defense was an inversely horrible unit last season.
Vegas over/under win total: 6.5
2018 record: 6-6 (4-4 in conference)
NFL Draft prospect to watch: LB Logan Wilson. A former two-star receiver, Wilson has bulked up to 6-foot-2, 250 over the course of his Wyoming career. He tackles everything in sight and plays with accountable leadership. Will have spotlight on him in fall with so many other notable defenders now off roster.
The case for: If the Cowboys are going to improve off of their .500 campaign from last fall, it is going to happen on the strength of the team’s defense. Admittedly, they are facing notable losses on the defensive line in Carl Granderson and Youhanna Ghaifan, ditto losses in the secondary in Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps.
Even without the aforementioned stud defenders, though, the Cowboys have a tough, nasty unit on the whole, one led by cornerbacks Antonio Hull and Tyler Hall. Hull and Hall, coupled with Wingard and Epps, helped to lead a passing defense which ranked a lofty No. 9 on S&P+ last season. That returning pair is buttressed by LB Logan Wilson, who has led Wyoming in tackles each of the last two campaigns.
So long as the Cowboys can paper over for their losses, they are going to find themselves playing in close, low-scoring contests. A little offensive oomph would go a long ways. Which leads us to our biggest concern with Wyoming.
The case against: Just how much water can Wyoming draw from the offensive rock. That’s our main concern. The team named Sean Chambers starting quarterback out of spring practice, allowing him the rest of the offseason to prepare as starter in earnest.
That is all well and good. It’s just that Chambers remains largely unproven. In his four games last season, playing as a true freshman, he attempted just 25 passes. He proved willing to run at the drop of a hat, which again, all well and good, but we simply don’t know how far along Chambers is on the mental front.
It doesn’t help matters that his supporting cast is largely unproven. We are still talking about the likes of Austin Conway and C.J. Johnson in the receiving corps, an uninspiring concept, while surprise breakout RB Niko Hall danced off roster over the offseason. It will be Xazavian Valladay starting in Hall’s place upcoming. Valladay at least flashed as a true freshman last season in rushing for 396 yards (5.6 YPC) on 71 carries.
The reality for Wyoming is that this offense probably isn’t there, yet, unless we see a major step forward from Chambers. The Cowboys lost games a year ago simply due to the fact that their defense, while very able, would eventually snap on the scoreboard over the course of a given contest simply due to a lack of offensive support. That could well be the case again this coming season. My kingdom for Josh Allen?
Vegas over/under win total: 5.5
Colorado State Rams
2018 record: 3-9 (2-6 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: LB Tron Folsom. Slim picking for draft prospects on CSU, but we’ll roll with Folsom. What piques our interest most with the former Troy linebacker is his productivity -- 80-plus tackles each of the past two seasons -- but even more than that, his analytical marks. PFF sees a potential diamond in the rough here, assigning Folsom an overall grade of 81.4 for the 2018 season. His size at 210 pounds is problematic, though.
The case for: If CSU is to turn itself around off a lost 3-8 season, that starts with QB Col.in Hill. Hill began the season on Colorado State’s bench, behind K.J. Carta-Samuels, but after Carta-Samuels hit on a few respectable early games only to hit struggles, HC Mike Bobo opted to bench the graduate. Hill started four games for the campaign while posting three games north of 280 yards passing.
We would prefer a more experienced offensive line to keep Hill clean -- he has undergone multiple knee injuries in his career -- and some kind of running game, at all, but even without those two things, we trust that Colorado State will field a few killer receivers. They always do, fielding a 1,000-yard receiver in each of the last five seasons. Warren Jackson is the lead contender to be The Next Man in a line which includes Preston Williams, Olabisi Johnson, Rashard Higgins et al.
Jackson logged a 32-405-4 receiving line last season. It’s easy to be sucked into the idea of Colorado State, they always seem to have something cooking on offense. We don’t know what Hill will look like as a starting quarterback, but we feel confident saying that this offense will have the capability to put up points not yet knowing the particulars.
The case against: The abominable defense, for starters. The Rams ranked No. 117 in the country in scoring defense and scored numerous hideous grades on ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ advanced metrics (No. 119 against the run, No. 118 against the pass). There is no reason to believe that there is an immediate rescue for the downtrodden unit.
Just assume the defense will be bad. And as with all bad defensive teams, it takes just a few offensive cracks for the dam to burst into an uncompetitive game.*
* This was Oregon State’s go-to game last season. A few third-and outs and suddenly the offense is looking at a 14- or 17-point deficit. It doesn’t matter that the Beavers have Jermar Jefferson or Isaiah Hodgins.
It’s not nothing to lose a pair of NFL wideouts, not even for a team which routinely pumps them out -- Colorado State probably can’t call itself WR U, but maybe WR Community College? -- and we have our questions on Hill as the signal-caller for this offense. Most of those questions revolve around his health.
Hill missed the whole of the 2017 season rehabbing from a knee injury and only just returned to action midway through the 2018 campaign. We simply don’t know if his knee will hold up as a 12-game starter. That is impossible to predict, given just how little we have actually seen from Hill while waiting for him to ascend to his expected starting role.
Behind a mostly green offensive line, without a running game, the 6-foot-5, 214-pound Hill is going to have to carry a load, here. Whether that left knee is strong enough to hold said weight is going to determine just how competitive this team will be on offense.
Vegas over/under win total: 3.5
New Mexico Lobos
2018 record: 3-9 (1-7 in conference)
Best NFL Draft prospect: DL Aaron Blackwell. Blackwell is country strong -- capable of squatting 675 pounds -- but has yet to translate that big boy strength into serious production. He will need to show a bit more this fall if he is to legitimately blip for a late draft selection.
The case for: For many, many reasons, the year 2016 will be forever etched in the history books. As time passes, though, it can start to feel very, very distant. You know what we’re talking about. In the fall of 2016, New Mexico won nine games. We’re gonna stick to sports on this one.
Things have rapidly collapsed since then, with HC Bob Davie’s squad posting back-to-back three-win seasons.
Nine wins with this current team is a laughable proposition. Bowl eligibility, even, might not be realistic. If they are to find five wins, if they are to even have a hint of relevancy then they are going to need to go Daniel Plainview on things and hit a few wellsprings of oil. That starts with sorting out a quarterback morass between Sheriron Jones, Tevaka Tuioti, Brandt Hughes and Trae Hall.
Jones -- who has been spending his down time this summer getting in touch with New Mexico on the possibility of building an on-campus skate park -- is probably the odds-on favorite to start from this lot. He torched UNLV and Liberty last season. Also threw 12 interceptions, but there is no sure thing in this position room.
Most bad teams have some glimmer of upside if you squint for it, even with the Coastal Carolinas of the world. Well we’re squinting like George Costanza and will admit upfront that New Mexico’s outfit offers distressingly little to work with. To paraphrase Adam McCay’s VICE, we did the best we could.
The case against: Very quietly, the Lobos might be the saddest team in the country. We don’t blame the New Mexico faithful -- an endangered species at this point -- for feeling cynical. This is a program which suspended its head coach for a month last spring due to multiple investigations around the culture he was fostering, then went 3-9 and then just brought him back because hey, sure, why not. It was a dumb shrug in the same way that Lynn Swann dumb-shrugged USC’s retention of Clay Helton.
Except USC just had a kind of mediocre season. They aren’t inherently mediocre. New Mexico under Davie is inherently mediocre trending toward bad. Just twice in Davie’s seven seasons with the program have the Lobos won more than six games. They won seven in 2015 and nine in 2016. And they bounced off those “big” seasons to post back-to-back three-win campaigns. The worst case for New Mexico is that they just play like New Mexico always has under Bob Davie.
Tangibly, the Lobos do not have a starting quarterback of any proven worth, are out lead rusher Tyrone Owens and are in the process of replacing both of their starting guards (fare thee well most notably to all-conference right guard Aaron Jenkins). That looks rosy in comparison to a completely-gutted defensive secondary which lost almost literally everybody, which might as well have had a run-in with a bear.
Vegas over/under win total: 5