Plays Boise State on Nov. 25
Coach: Troy Calhoun
Record: 67-50 (10th season); 67-50 career
Last year: 8-6 overall, 6-2 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Armed Forces (L, 55-36 vs. California)
Returning starters: 4 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists
Storyline: This could be Calhoun’s most talented team at the academy, getting back starting QB Nate Romine after he tore his ACL in September. Jacobi Owens (1,096 rushing yards) and all-MW defensive backs Weston Steelhammer and Roland Ladipo are back, too. Can they make it three straight wins against Boise State? If so, a division title could be theirs.
Plays at Boise State on Oct. 15
Coach: Mike Bobo
Record: 7-6 (second season); 7-6 career
Last year: 7-6 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Arizona (L, 28-23 vs. Nevada)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense, 3 specialists
Storyline: The Rams lose a bulk of their defensive starters off a team that was 106th nationally against the run and created only 15 turnovers. There also is a QB controversy, with three candidates (a senior, junior and true freshman) that Bobo won’t unveil until the opener. Outstanding WR Rashard Higgins departs, too, but the offensive line is among the MW’s best.
Plays Boise State on Oct. 7
Coach: Bob Davie
Record: 18-32 (fifth season); 53-57 career (nine seasons)
Last year: 7-6 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2015 New Mexico (L, 45-37 vs. Arizona)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 10 defense, 2 specialists
Storyline: The Lobos were a feel-good story last season, making their first bowl since 2007 and beating Boise State on the road. The defense improved greatly, allowing 7.5 points and 80 yards per game fewer than 2014, and returns 10 starters. They lose top rusher Jhurell Pressley but return speedy QB Lamar Jordan. UNM has only three true MW road games, getting Air Force on a neutral field.
Plays at Boise State on Oct. 1
Coach: Matt Wells
Record: 25-16 (fourth season); 25-16 career
Last year: 6-7 overall, 5-3 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Famous Idaho Potato (L, 23-21 vs. Akron)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 3 defense, 3 specialists
Storyline: Chuckie Keeton won’t be back for a seventh year, but Kent Myers has extensive experience at QB, plus the Aggies return RB Devante Mays (966 yards last season). However, their defense, which at times was sensational, loses some serious talent in seven of its top eight tacklers, including LBs Nick Vigil and Kyler Fackrell. The Aggies have six new coaches on staff.
Plays Boise State on Oct. 29
Coach: Craig Bohl
Record: 6-18 (third season); 110-50 career (13 seasons)
Last year: 2-10 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2011 New Mexico (L, 35-17 vs. Temple)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense, 1 specialist
Storyline: The Cowboys had just nine seniors last season, and it showed. Now with a much more experienced team, they should be more competitive. They boast an NFL-caliber back in junior Brian Hill (1,631 yards last season). For a fourth straight season, there will be a new starting QB (sophomore Josh Allen). The top four tacklers return, but the schedule is tough.
Coach: Tim DeRuyter
Record: 29-23 (fifth season); 29-23 career
Last year: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2014 Hawaii (L, 30-6 vs. Rice)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 1 specialist
Storyline: The Bulldogs had some brutal luck at quarterback, starting four during the course of last season. Freshman Chason Virgil got a medical redshirt and is the presumed starter, a strong dual-threat presence. Fresno State loses its top rusher and the defense, which yielded 38.1 ppg, loses its best player. All three coordinators are new, too. Looks like a rebuild year.
Plays Boise State on Nov. 12
Coach: Nick Rolovich
Record: 0-0 (first season); 0-0 career
Last year: 3-10 overall, 0-8 MW
Last bowl: 2010 Hawaii (L, 62-35 vs. Tulsa)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 4 defense, 3 specialists
Storyline: An offensive rebirth under Norm Chow never appeared, and in steps Rolovich, a former Warriors QB. He inherits an experienced offense, including 1,000-yard rusher Paul Harris. He’ll slowly incorporate some run-and-shoot concepts that made the offense great a decade ago. The defense yielded 35.6 ppg and is still fairly inexperienced. Expect some high scores.
Coach: Brian Polian
Record: 18-20 (fourth season); 18-20 career
Last year: 7-6 overall, 4-4 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Arizona (W, 28-23 vs. Colorado State)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense, 0 specialists
Storyline: This could be Polian’s best offense, returning starting QB Tyler Stewart, RB James Butler (1,342 yards last season) and WRs Hasaan Henderson and Jerico Richardson (combined 1,491 yards last season). They’ll need to find plenty of answers on the front seven on defense, losing six starters, but return four starters at defensive back.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Coach: Rocky Long
Record: 43-23 (sixth season); 108-92 career (16 seasons)
Last year: 11-3 overall, 8-0 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Hawaii (W, 42-7 vs. Cincinnati)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 4 specialists
Storyline: The Aztecs have a ton of talent back, led by Mountain West POY Donnel Pumphrey. Sophomore Christian Chapman is the new starting QB who won’t throw a ton, but has to be accurate. The defense will be nasty after allowing 16.4 ppg last season, returning its top two sack leaders and pass interceptors. It’ll be shocking if they aren’t in the MW title game.
SAN JOSE STATE
Plays at Boise State on Nov. 4
Coach: Ron Caragher
Record: 15-22 (fourth season); 59-44 career (nine seasons)
Last year: 6-7 overall, 4-4 MW
Last bowl: 2015 Cure (W, 27-16 vs. Georgia State)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialists
Storyline: A team trending upward, the Spartans return a solid QB in Kenny Potter and an excellent TE in Billy Freeman (586 yards and six TDs last year). Four starters return on the offensive line, too, but they lose do-everything RB Tyler Ervin. The top three tacklers return to a defense that was No. 2 in the nation against the pass, 102nd against the run.
Plays at Boise State on Nov. 18
Coach: Tony Sanchez
Record: 3-9 (second season); 3-9 career
Last year: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MW
Last bowl: 2013 Heart Of Dallas (L, 36-14 vs. North Texas)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialists
Storyline: Coming from the high school ranks, Sanchez’s first season was a success, showing potential with three wins (second most since 2010) and four losses by eight or less. Some talented receivers will help out 245-pound Johnny Stanton, a former Nebraska QB. The defense has some experience, and if it can improve its 457.3 ypg allowed, UNLV may contend for a bowl.
Note: Boise State does not play Western Division teams Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State this season.
MW Preseason Media Poll
Mountain Division / Pts.
Boise State (27) 172
Air Force (2) 126
Utah State 111
Colorado State 95
New Mexico 74
West Division / Pts.
San Diego State (29) 175
San Jose State 122
Fresno State 76
(First-place votes in parentheses)
Preseason players of the year
Offense: Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Defense: Damontae Kazee, DB, San Diego State
Special teams: Rashaad Penny, KR, San Diego State