Coach: Troy Calhoun
Record: 59-44 (ninth season); 59-44 career
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Last year: 10-3 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Famous Idaho Potato (W, 38-24 against Western Michigan)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense, 0 specialists
Storyline: Air Force went from two wins to 10, but losing a bulk of its starters, it will be tough to find the school’s second back-to-back 10-win seasons. The Falcons will run the ball well, as usual, led by Jacobi Owens (1,054 yards in 2014), but the defense loses some key leaders.
Coach: Mike Bobo
Record: 0-0 (first season); 0-0 career (Georgia OC from 2007-14)
Last year: 10-3 overall, 6-2 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Las Vegas (L, 45-10 against Utah)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense, 1 specialist
Storyline: Bobo inherits one of the nation’s best WRs in junior Rashard Higgins, though the Rams need to replace a 4,000-yard QB and a 1,000-yard RB. An experienced defense will help. The early schedule is key: four of the first six games are vs. Minnesota, Colorado, Utah State and Boise State.
Coach: Bob Davie
Record: 11-26 (fourth season); 46-51 career (eight seasons)
Last year: 4-8 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2007 New Mexico (W, 23-0 against Nevada)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists
Storyline: The Lobos took a big step last season, with six losses by 11 points or fewer. Their option-based attack is led by senior RB Jhurell Pressley (1,083 yards, 12 TDs). As is often the case with Davie’s team, the defense needs to step up after yielding 35.9 ppg.
Coach: Matt Wells
Record: 19-9 (third season); 19-9 career
Last year: 10-4 overall, 6-2 MW
Last bowl: 2014 New Mexico (W, 21-6 vs. UTEP)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist
Storyline: The Aggies get back two big pieces off injury (QB Chuckie Keeton and LB Kyler Fackrell), plus get to host Boise State and Colorado State. The defense could be very tough after giving up 19.7 ppg last season. Even with JoJo Natson kicked off the team, Keeton returns his top rusher and receiver.
Coach: Craig Bohl
Record: 4-8 (second season); 108-40 career (12 seasons)
Last year: 4-8 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2011 New Mexico (L, 37-15 against Temple)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 4 defense, 1 specialist
Storyline: Bohl’s trying to build a team like he did at North Dakota State, but the Cowboys are young (nine seniors on the roster). Bohl wants a strong, powerful run game, and he should have it, but the defense may struggle again after yielding 32.8 ppg last season.
Coach: Tim DeRuyter
Record: 26-14 (fourth season); 26-14 career
Last year: 6-8 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Hawaii (L, 30-6 against Rice)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense, 3 specialists
Storyline: The Bulldogs named sophomore Zack Greenlee their starting QB in fall camp. However, DeRuyter said he expects freshman Chason Virgil to play some during Sept. 5’s opener. Fresno State loses its top receiver, so the run game will be leaned on plenty. It needs to cut down the 32.4 ppg allowed in 2014.
Coach: Norm Chow
Record: 8-29 (fourth season); 8-29 career
Last year: 4-9 overall, 3-5 MW
Last bowl: 2010 Hawaii (L, 62-35 to Tulsa)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 0 specialists
Storyline: Hawaii showed some improvement last season with six losses by 10 points or fewer. USC transfer Max Wittek could provide needed stability at QB on an offense that was last in the MW in yardage and 11th in scoring. The defense was at times stout last season (tied for fifth with Boise State at 26.8 ppg).
Coach: Brian Polian
Record: 11-14 (third season); 11-14 career
Last year: 7-6 overall, 4-4 MW
Last bowl: 2014 New Orleans (L, 16-3 against Louisiana-Lafayette)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense, 4 specialists
Storyline: Junior Tyler Stewart was named Nevada’s starting quarterback Aug. 20. As usual, the Wolf Pack will have a strong running game to help, led by Don Jackson (957 yards in 2014). The defensive front seven is tough. Nevada lost four games by seven points or fewer in 2014.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Coach: Rocky Long
Record: 32-20 (fifth season); 97-89 career (15 seasons)
Last year: 7-6 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Poinsettia (L, 17-16 against Navy)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 4 specialists
Storyline: The Aztecs should again be tenacious on defense (16th nationally in total defense in 2014), along with a strong rushing game. The question, as it has been the last few seasons, is if they can get even above-average quarterback play and find playmakers at wide receiver.
SAN JOSE STATE
Coach: Ron Caragher
Record: 9-15 (third season); 53-37 career (eight seasons)
Last year: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2012 Military (W, 29-20 against Bowling Green)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 2 specialists
Storyline: There’s some experience back, which should help. SJSU will need to see a big leap from the defensive line after getting just 12 sacks and yielding 239.4 rushing ypg. The offense needs a boost, too, after scoring only 14 points total the last three games.
Coach: Tony Sanchez
Record: 0-0 (first season); first college coaching job
Last year: 2-11 overall, 1-7 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Heart Of Dallas (L, 36-14 to North Texas)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists
Storyline: Sanchez takes on a tough task in rebuilding the Rebels, but the successful Las Vegas high school coach has injected some energy and positive recruiting momentum. There is potential in the passing attack, but it will take time to build up facilities, depth and wins.