1. San Diego State
The running game should keep on rocking and rolling with Donnel Pumphrey back leading a deep and talented backfield, but quarterback Quinn Kaehler has to be replaced. Left tackle Terry Poole is the only loss on the strong offensive line that should pave the way for another huge year for Pumphrey. The receiving corps loses Ezell Ruffin, but four of the top five targets are back.
Two starters return to the defensive front three including veteran end Jon Sanchez and tackle Christian Heyward. The linebacking corps loses key tacklers Cody Galea and Josh Gavert, but Calvin Munson is back after leading the team. The secondary loses corner J.J. Whitaker, but it returns loaded with four starters back including safety Trey Lomas and rising Warrior Malik Smith. Veteran punter Joel Alesi is done, but kicker Donny Hageman returns.
After turning the corner in 2014, the Wolf Pack should be an even bigger threat to the Mountain West title if they can replace QB Cody Fajardo. Tyler Stewart is bigger and has the potential to be the next great Nevada playmaker behind a good line that started two redshirt freshmen and get back three starters. Don Jackson returns along with James Butler for a potentially devastating 1-2 rushing punch, and four of the top five pass catchers return, including Jackson.
The defense has work to do in the secondary with three starters gone, but linebackers Brian Lane Jr., Matthew Lyons and Jordan Dobrich should anchor things. There’s no replacing Brock Hekking and what he brings to the defensive front, but Ian Seau, Lenny Jones and Rykeem Yates should form a solid front wall. Both PK Brent Zuzo and P Alex Boy are back.
3. Fresno State
The turnover is nothing compared to what the team had to deal with last season, and now the Bulldogs should be front-and-center in the preseason MW title chase. QB Brian Burrell has decided to leave the team making Zack Greenlee the main man going into spring. Fortunately, RB Marteze Waller is back working behind a line that should be fine with three starters returning, but the quarterback situation has to be rock-solid - that’s going to be a big spring question mark. Leading receiver Josh Harper and No. 3 man Greg Watson are gone, but Aaron Peck and Delvon Hardaway are promising.
The defense was optional for long stretches in 2014, and now it loses star safety Derron Smith, top lineman Tyeler Davison, and five of the top seven tacklers. The secondary returns the most experience with three starters back – only losing Smith – and there’s just enough athleticism up front to be aggressive, especially with LB Ejiro Ederaine returning. PK Kody Kroening and P Garrett Swanson return.
4. San Jose State
Starting with WR Tyler Winston, the passing game should be solid. Tim Crawley is back and Hansell Wilson returns, too, and now it’s time to find the right quarterback Mitch Ravizza, Joe Gray and Chris Dadson will all get an even shot at getting the gig. Four starters are back up front to what should be a solid line, and there might be more of a running game with Tyler Ervin returning along with the top eight rushers.
Christian Tago is a terror of a linebacker, and Maurice McKnight is a good-looking corner, but the line loses all four starters including Travis Raciti and Foloi Vae on the inside. Vince Buhagiar is gone from the linebacking corps, and the safety tandem of Akeem King and Forrest Hightower will be missed. Michael Carrizosa struggled punting as a true freshman averaging just 37 yards per kick, and while he can be used as a placekicker, Austin Lopez is back after a shockingly down year hitting just 12-of-24 kicks.
The Warriors finally need to come up with a consistent attack, but can Ikaika Woolsey or Beau Reilly shine at quarterback? Pounding runner Joey Iosefa is done, but Steven Lakalaka is back after leading the team in rushing. The receiving corps should be solid with Marcus Kemp and Quinton Pedroza returning, and with enough depth to hope for some decent options. Three of the starting offensive linemen return.
Leading tackler Taz Stevenson is done from the secondary, but the next three top tacklers return including CB Ne’Quan Phillips and S Trayvon Henderson. Three of the four linebackers return including inside tacklers Julian Gener and Simon Poti, but just one starters – end Kennedy Tulimaseallii – back up front. WR/P Scott Harding is done after averaging 41.33 yards per punt, and PK Tyler Hadden is gone after hitting 18-of-23 field goals.
New head coach Tony Sanchez has options to play with. The running game struggled to get going, and now leading rusher Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is done. Fortunately, Keith Whitely is in place to take over, and QB Blake Decker is a good runner. Can Decker cut down on the interceptions? Devonte Boyd is a great-looking young receiver, but Devante Davis and Maika Mataele are done. Three of the starters return up front.
The defense has some big turnover up front with two starters gone including top pass rusher Siuea Vaesau. Leading tackler Tau Lotulelei is back along with excellent SS Peni Vea. Unfortunately, Vea is the only returning starter in the secondary, but the linebacking corps should be strong with Ryan McAleenan back in the middle and Lotulelei and Matt Lea on the outside. PK Jonathan Leiva is back after a shaky 11-of-17 season, and P Logan Yunker returns after averaging 40.5 yards per punt.
2015 Pre-Preseason MW West Rankings
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