1. Boise State
This might be just the beginning for a Bronco team that should be the class of the Mountain West once again if it can figure out its backfield. QB Grant Hedrick is gone with Ryan Finley the likely heir apparent, but the big loss is RB Jay Ajayi, as he saves his body from all the touches and takes off early for the NFL. The line returns all five starters, and while Dallas Burroughs is gone, most of the top targets return.
The defense gets back the top five tacklers and even of the top eight – it’s going to be terrific. The Broncos have to replace Beau Martin on the line, but the rest of the front four is back along with all three linebackers and all the key backups. S Jeremy Ioane is tough to replace, but the other three starters are back to what should be a lockdown secondary. PK Dan Goodale is gone, but P Sean Wale returns after averaging 41 yards per punt.
2. Utah State
It all depends on the starting quarterback situation. Kent Myers showed enough to be the main man, but everyone else is coming back – maybe. Who’ll transfer? Who’ll be 100% healthy? Can Chuckie Keeton stay in one piece after getting another year of eligibility? The position could be the key to the Mountain West season. LaJuan Hunt proved he could handle himself in the backfield, and he’ll get more work with Joe Hill gone. The biggest positive is a potentially dominant offensive line with four starters returning, and a receiving corps that welcomes back deep threat Hunter Sharp and four of the top five targets.
Say goodbye to do-it-all linebacker Zach Vigil, but Nick Vigil is back along with Torrey Green to the corps. The secondary loses three starters – with corner Jalen Davis the lone returnee – while the line has to replace B.J. Larson on the outside and Elvis Kamana-Matagi inside. Both P Jason Bentrude and PK Nick Diaz are gone.
3. Colorado State
Losing head coach Jim McElwain hurts after all he started to build, but the potential is there for a loaded team returning led by Rashard Higgins – possibly the best receiver in the nation you’ve never seen. Dee Hart took off early for the NFL, but the next five top rushers return and Higgins leads a loaded receiving corps that loses Charles Lovett but gets everyone else back. The line has an issue on the left side losing Ty Sambrallo at tackle and Mason Myers at guard, but the other three starters are back. Oh yeah … quarterback. Nick Stevens will get the first look with Garrett Grayson gone after his magnificent season.
Leading tacklers Aaron Davis and Max Morgan are gone from the linebacking corps, but the line should be a positive with three starters returning. Corner Bernard Blake is finished, but the other three starters return in the secondary including hitting machine, Kevin Pierre-Louis. PK Jared Roberts will be tough to replace, but P Hayden Hunt is back.
4. Air Force
There’s always a ton of turnover for the Falcons, but it shouldn’t be so bad on offense with top RB Jacobi Owens leading a veteran backfield. QB Kale Pearson was a good one, but Nate Romine should know what he’s doing from the start. Jalen Robinette turned into a real, live receiving weapon, and now he and the top four targets are back. C David Jones and guards Michael Husar and Patrick Noyes are gone from the line, but Matt Rochell and Andrew Ruechel return at the tackles.
Enough key parts are back on defense to make it a decent transition season, but four starters on the front seven and three starters in the secondary are gone. Connor Healy should be the leading tackler at inside linebacker with Jordan Pierce gone, and DE Alex Hansen should be once again be one of the team’s top players. Will Conant if done after handling the placekicking and punting duties.
5. New Mexico
Can the offense break free a bit? The running game will be decent, and having Teriyon Gipson and Romell Jordan back helps, but it’s Jhurell Pressley who should shine with yet another big year. The line gets back three starters including Reno Henderson and Eden Mahina on the left side, but losing C LaMar Bratton is a killer. The top two targets – Tyler Duncan and Jeric Magnant – are gone from a passing game that completed just 76 passes. New wide receivers have to emerge, and a quarterback has to become the main man with Cole Gautsche and Lamar Jordan both back.
Even though the results weren’t there, there was a good mix of youth and JUCO transfers that should pay off this year. Leading tackler Dakota Cox is back at linebacker, but S David Guthrie and LB Tevin Newman have to be replaced. Five starters return on the defensive front seven including leading sacker, Nik D’Avanzo at one end and the tandem of William Udeh and Jack Ziltz at tackle. SS David Guthrie and CB SaQwan Edwards are gone, but FS Markel Byrd and CB Cranston Jones are back. Zack Rogers is back after hitting 5-of-8 field goals and averaging 42.6 yards per punt.
It was a year of rebuilding under Craig Bohl, and now there’s hope for a big improvement starting with an O line with four starters returning up front. QB Colby Kirkegaard is gone, but Tom Thornton is a baller who knows what he’s doing. RB Brian Hill is coming off a good freshman season, and with the top three runners back, there’s hope for more of a ground game. The problem is in the receiving corps with Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne done, meaning Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt have to play bigger roles.
The top two tacklers are gone and three of the top four are done, but DE Eddie Yarbrough is back and should be an all-star, and three of the four starters are back up front working around Uso Olive on the nose. CB Blair Burns is gone, but three of the top four defensive backs return including the safety tandem of Tim Kamana and Will Tutein. SLB Lucas Wacha is the only returning starting linebacker. P Ethan Wood returns after averaging 41.4 yards per punt, but Stuart Williams is gone after hitting 12-of-17 field goals.
2015 Pre-Preseason MW Mountain Rankings
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