The Mountain West in 2014 enters the second year of its new 12-team format. The Fresno State Bulldogs topped the Utah State Aggies in the inaugural Mountain West championship game last season, and there are several contenders for for this year’s conference crown.
San Diego State and Fresno State likely will be the strongest contenders in the West, but Nevada hopes to bounce back from its first losing season since 2007. San Jose State also has plenty of talent, despite the departure of quarterback David Fales.
In the East, Utah State gets star quarterback Chuckie Keeton back from injury, Boise State looks to return to conference dominance and Colorado State coach Jim McElwain has his Rams ready to build on last year’s eight-win season.
On the recruiting front, because nine of the 12 coaching staffs have been with their respective schools for three years or less, many are just now establishing a strong recruiting presence in the West Coast and Mountain Regions. SJSU, Nevada and Colorado State took a step forward by making it into the top five recruiting classes in the MWC in 2014.
QB Chuckie Keeton, Utah State – Keeton returns after a torn ACL and MCL abruptly ended his 2013 (junior) season. Keeton had amassed 1,388 yards and 18 TD passes with just two interceptions in five games. He is one of the most entertaining quarterbacks in the nation, but more importantly, he moves the Aggies’ offense efficiently.
QB Derron Smith, Fresno State – Smith enters 2014 as one of the top safety prospects in the nation, and is the active FBS leader in interceptions at 14. He capped his junior season with 18 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown versus USC in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl.
RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State – Starter Adam Muema left the Aztecs after last season, but Pumphrey has proven capable of carrying the load for SDSU. He is set to be the feature back in an offense that likes to run the ball.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Norm Chow, Hawaii – Chow has won just four games in his first two seasons, and the Warriors need to start showing signs of improvements for the administration to continue to stand behind Chow. It was less than a decade ago that the Warriors were in the Sugar Bowl.
Nevada – The Wolf Pack played in a bowl game for eight consecutive seasons, but that streak came to a screeching halt last year due to a 4-8 record. With quarterback Cody Fajardo leading the offense and facing a more manageable schedule, Nevada could bounce back in 2014.
MUST-SEE CONFERENCE GAME
Utah State at Boise State, Nov. 29 – This matchup kicks off on the last week of the regular season, and the winner could be headed to the Mountain West championship game to represent the East division.
MUST-SEE NON-CONFERENCE GAME
Ole Miss vs. Boise State in Atlanta, Aug. 28 – The Broncos are coming off a down year (by their standards) with an 8-5 record. The whole conference will be glued to this season opener to see how Boise State looks under new head coach Bryan Harsin, and whether they can knock off an SEC program.
S Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Boise State –Sumner-Gardner may have trouble getting on the field as a true freshman, as the Broncos return their starting secondary, but he was the conference’s only four-star recruit in 2014.
Hawaii – Hawaii offers a cuisine and scenery that is truly one-of-a-kind in the world of college football. The home crowd may be hostile toward opponents, but the tailgating and scenery on the island is terrific.
There will be a rematch in the Mountain West championship game … as Fresno State and Utah State meet for the second straight time. Both teams avoid each other in conference play and can likely get into the championship game with a loss.
1. QB Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
2. RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State
3. QB Cody Fajardo, Nevada
4. WR Josh Harper, Fresno State
5. WR Ezell Ruffin, San Diego State
1. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
2. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
3. Grant Hedrick, Boise State
4. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
5. Quinn Kaehler, San Diego State
TOP SKILL-POSITION PLAYERS
1. RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State
2. WR Josh Harper, Fresno State
3. WR Devante Davis, UNLV
4. WR Ezell Ruffin, San Diego State
5. WR Matt Miller, Boise State
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS
1. S Derron Smith, Fresno State
2. DE Brock Hekking, Nevada
3. LB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
4. DT Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
5. CB Donte Deayon, Boise State
BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL
1. QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State
2. QB Joe Gray, San Jose State
3. DE Beau Martin, Boise State
4. OT Austin Corbett, Nevada
5. WR Aaron Peck, Fresno State
1. RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
2. WR Hasaan Henderson, Nevada
3. RB Thomas Tucker, San Jose State
4. WR Aaron Peck, Fresno State
5. TE Kivon Cartwright, Colorado State
BEST HEAD COACH
1. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
2. Rocky Long, San Diego State
3. Matt Wells, Utah State
4. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
5. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
TOP CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Utah State @ Boise State
2. San Diego State @ Fresno State
3. San Diego State @ Boise State
4. Fresno State @ Boise State
5. Wyoming @ Colorado State
TOP NON-CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Utah State @ BYU
2. Ole Miss vs Boise State
3. Nebraska @ Fresno State
4. Colorado State vs Colorado
5. San Diego State @ Oregon State
2014 RECRUITING CLASS RANKINGS
1. Boise State
2. San Diego State
3. San Jose State
5. Colorado State
All of Scout's 2014 college football preview, with conference previews, All-American Team, Preseason…