The Mountain West Conference’s West Division is split into two evenly divided classes—there are three teams for whom you can make an almost equally credible case to win the division and advance to this new-look conference’s first-ever league championship game. And there are three teams for whom no reasonable case can be made. Today’s Mountain West college football coverage continues with a look at the West Division…
THE BIG THREE
Fresno State: Quarterback Derek Carr was the MWC Player of the Year in 2012, in helping his team win a piece of a league title that split three ways, with Boise State and San Diego State. Carr threw for over 4,000 yards and has favored target Davante Adams back in the fold. He’ll be protected by a reasonably good offensive line.
Defensively, Fresno is experienced up front and in the secondary, while needing re-tooling at linebacker. The good news here is that defense is the calling card of second-year coach Tim DeRuyter. If he gets his unit to gel, they can have another big year, and perhaps avenge a hugely disappointing bowl performance, when they were waxed 43-10 by SMU.
San Jose State: Just like in the Mountain Division, the West has a transfer team on the list of serious contenders. It’s Utah State on the other side of the league, and San Jose State is set to make an immediate splash in its first year over from the dissolved WAC.
David Fales is a prolific passer, and like Fresno’s Carr, he welcomes back his top target in Noel Grigsby. San Jose is stacked up front and should be able to move the ball any way they want. But the defense has a major rebuilding job ahead of it, and an even bigger question is how the coaching transition will go. Mike MacIntyre cashed in last year’s success to get the Colorado job and now we have to see Ron Caragher can get it done.
San Diego State; The one contender who brings something different. The Aztecs don’t have a great quarterback—Adam Dingwell can be inconsistent. But running back Adam Muema is the best in this division and one of the two best in the league, along with New Mexico’s Kasey Carrier. Muema ran for over 1,400 yards last year and there are three starters back on the offensive line.
Defensively, San Diego State is stacked with experience, with all three safeties in its five-man defensive backfield returning, along with upperclassmen back to man the front six spots.
THE LITTLE THREE
Nevada: Head coach Chris Ault has retired and the first order of business for new boss Brian Polian is to completely rebuild the back seven, the offensive line and to replace departed running back Stephon Jefferson. The new coach has a quality quarterback in Cody Fajardo and all four defensive lineman back, so when I put the Wolfpack in the “Little Three” , I don’t dismiss their bowl chances—they snuck in at 7-5 a year ago—but simply their division title chances.
But in the end, the closes Nevada fans will get to a championship this season is if famed alum Colin Kaepernick leads the San Francisco 49ers back to the Super Bowl and wins it.
UNLV: Bobby Hauck has coached this team for three years and his record is 6-32. I know Vegas isn’t a football hotbed, but this program shouldn’t be such a hopeless cause. The skill players are back in the fold, including sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry, but the line is young. Expect Sherry to get knocked around. The defense should be a little bit better this season, with returning personnel in the trenches and in the secondary, but the road back is a long one.
Hawaii: Norm Chow’s anticipated return to the college game was a dud, as the one-time USC offensive coordinator who oversaw their best attacks in 2003-04, struggled to a 3-9 year in 2012. Chow does have eight starters back on defense and four of his five offensive linemen. The quarterback is a question mark, but if the biggest problem Chow has is QB, I think he can fix it. This program could, at the very least, spring an upset or two along the way in 2013.
I’m still enough of a football traditionalist, that even in this era where all the rules favor quarterbacks, I like teams that can run the ball. In a close race, I’m giving San Diego State a slight edge over Fresno for the division, with San Jose clocking in third.