I hoped to have more time to think, but it seems as though the time is nigh for bold predictions on the upcoming college football season… otherwise known as looking stupid in five months for no good reason. You can find the layman’s version of my Mountain West predictions here, but I want to lay out my reasoning for the two readers who are interested.
SB Nation put its collective heads together for conference-by-conference predictive standings in early July, and the one thing that stood out for me in their forecast for the MWC is that the Nevada Wolf Pack seemed not to receive the respect it deserves. The non-conference slate features a couple of unforgiving road games against UCLA and Florida State, but the slate of teams visiting Reno in 2013 is friendly. San Jose State figures to be a tough out, but every other team is beatable: UC Davis, Hawai’i, Air Force, UNLV and BYU.
The Pack’s toughest four game stretch begins in October with back-to-back trips to San Diego State and Boise State, but they do get a week off in between the two. A trip to Fresno following their tilt against the Rebels seems unfair, but I think this team possesses the offensive wherewithal to steal one, and possibly two, of those games. A lot of this depends on the maturation of quarterback Cody Fajardo, who had his moments even as the team had its schneid late in the year. This team is good enough to win 8 games, which I suspect is more than most of the pundits predict.
The Utah State Aggies were not that far away from a BCS game in 2012, and this team still has a lot of potential despite coach Gary Andersen’s departure. They possess what is probably the conference’s best offensive line, a dynamic quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, and get their most important game of the season at home: against Boise State on October 12. Their early season road swings are not cake walks (at Utah, Air Force and USC), but they’re good enough to survive and potentially disrupt the status quo.
Player of the Year
You can call me a homer if you want, but Derek Carr is going to put up some numbers in 2013. Consider that he won the Offensive Player of the Year award in 2012 despite an abdomen tear that left him at less than his best. Consider also that this will be his second year in coordinator Dave Schramm’s spread attack, and he has a trio of receivers — Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper — capable to earning all-conference honors. Could he top 40 touchdowns? Absolutely.
My team: Fresno State
I’ve had this sneaking suspicion for a while now that the Mountain West in 2013 is going to be a war of attrition. I don’t think anyone is going to emerge from the regular season undefeated, which means no BCS berths in the system’s final year. There is no one dominant team, just as in 2012.
That being said, the Bulldogs have the most talent in the new West division and are rightfully the odds-on favorite to win it. My greatest concern is the slow starts that plagued Fresno in 2012, enough to cost them victories against Tulsa and Boise. It almost cost them against San Diego State and New Mexico, as well. My rationale is that another of the conference’s many contenders will give the ‘Dogs a bloody nose at some point, and with a gun to my head I’d put my money on SDSU. No slight to Boise, they will be a very good team, but I like that the Broncos will have to travel to Fresno in September.
Upset of the Year
It may not surprise you that it took a lot of homework to pick one matchup and, even with all of the searching, what I settled upon may not strike some as very much of an upset. However, San Diego State is being generally regarded as a strong title contender (not to mention a deep sleeper for a BCS berth), and Air Force looks like a mild-mannered third-place team in the Mountain division. The Aztecs have to travel to Colorado Springs on October 10, two weeks before their big matchup against Fresno State, and I think the Falcons can come away with a big win at home.
When the two teams met in 2012, the AFA actually outgained SDSU by nearly 150 yards, but were done in by some untimely turnovers. Two other long drives ended deep in SDSU territory before sputtering out on downs, as evidenced by the drive chart. The Falcons, amazingly, lost at least two fumbles in each of their last seven games. If they can hold onto the football, SDSU provides the most likely prey: Rocky Long’s offense is not what I’d call dynamic, and Troy Calhoun’s squad won the time of possession battle. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
To be honest, I don’t think any coaches get fired in 2013. That may ultimately be my boldest prediction of all, since it requires the belief that Bobby Hauck’s UNLV Rebels improve enough to save his job. It also means, to a lesser extent, that Norm Chow gets a long enough leash in Honolulu to sort through the wreckage he inherited last year.
I think it’s more likely that a coach or two jumps ship after successful seasons. In order from most to least likely:
1. Tim DeRuyter
2. Jim McElwain
3. Chris Petersen
It’s easy to be taken in by San Jose State’s success in 2012. When you look at their schedule, though, they lost to the two best teams on their schedule: Stanford and USU. In 2013, there are no Texas States or Idahoes on the schedule. You can argue that their main competition, Fresno State and SDSU, have to come to Spartan Stadium, and they avoid Boise altogether. It’s my opinion that they don’t have the talent to keep up with those two teams.
David Fales is going to win a few games for SJSU, don’t worry, but the Spartans will finish closer to .500 than to 10 wins. They will lose to Stanford, SDSU, Fresno and USU. A trip to Reno in November is no easy task, either. In the long term, I’d still say a 7-5 season counts as a victory, considering the depths of irrelevance the program has climbed out from in recent years.
Mountain West Championship
Like I said before, I think the word for the 2013 season is “attrition”. When the Boise State Broncos and Fresno State Bulldogs meet at Bronco Stadium on December 7, they will have earned it. My guess is that Fresno wins the division despite a loss to Boise, much as they earned a share of the conference title in 2012. Boise is the safest bet to run the table in the regular season, and I do think they’ll take care of business against USU, but I think they lose in San Diego. San Diego will lose the tiebreaker to Fresno, and it’s deja vu all over again.
I really want to buy into the preseason hype surrounding my beloved Bulldogs. I do, but it has made me uneasy. I fear the inevitable letdown. Fresno has had some very talented teams in the past, but precious few of them have been able to stand toe-to-toe with Boise. Last year’s matchup was closer in my eyes than in most, I’m sure.
To be the best, though, you’ve got to beat the best. Until that happens, I’ve got to suck it up and pick the Broncos to win yet another conference championship. I don’t like doing it, but it’s hard to ignore half a decade of recent history.