Because we're running up against non-conference games and your humble "writer" is already getting his ass kicked by PhD work, here's another Beyond the Empire article! Maybe talking Iowa-Iowa State with a little bit of Big XII thrown in isn't your thing. Maybe you really have strong opinions on Colorado State football. Maybe you just want to avoid doing actual work. Well, friend, do I have a solution for you! First, check out what Jesse and I have done on Beyond the Empire so far:
Joining us for the second straight year to talk all things Mountain-y and...well, West-y is Jeremy Mauss from SBNation's excellent blog Mountain West Connection.
1. 9/12 - Minnesota @ Colorado State:
CSU has a new coach, a new QB, and a new RB, but returns a bunch of talented receivers. On the flip side, the Rams could not stuff the run -- almost historically so -- and allowed possession offenses to have their way. Minnesota is, to a T, that possession offense. This game is a huge test for a Minnesota team coming into the season with considerable hype but low expectations. How do the Rams beat the Gophers? Do they?
Colorado State will have some issues not only losing their starting quarterback, running back and a new head coach but they lost their veteran left tackle Ty Sambrailo who could be starting on the Denver Broncos offensive line this year. The defense does have their issues and in their front seven they lose one starting lineman and two linebackers. A new defensive scheme and some added experience will help but Colorado State's defense will still have issues.
Colorado State will need quarterback Nick Stevens to have a huge game and getting the ball to Rashard Higgins who is arguably the best receiver in the country. The receivers are more than just Higgins with Joe Hansley and Xavier Williams combined for 62 receptions plus the Rams have two of the best tight ends in Kivon Cartwright who is back from missing most of last year and then Steven Walker. Getting everyone in the passing game is how Colorado State is capable of winning, and they have good shot of getting this win with the passing attack.
2. 9/19 - Air Force @ Michigan State:
QB Nate Romine lost his job last year to now-graduated Kale Pearson but returns a ton of skill players. Any chance the Falcons air it out in the first test on their brutal 2015 road slate? Can an inexperienced secondary with All-Name Team Candidate Weston Steelhammer slow down a potent Spartan attack?
As with most games when Air Force plays a big time opponent, look for the Falcons running attack to cause Michigan State issues. Nate Romine has plenty of experience at quarterback and he is more of a throwing quarterback than rushing, at least in Air Force terms, so that is a wrinkle that could surprise some teams with a run, run, run and then a deep pass. A lot of throwing for Air Force would be 15 or more pass attempts.
Weston Steelhammer and Alex Hansen lead the defense and are two of the best at their position in the Mountain West, however they only return four starters from one of their best defense in years. The defense will slip back and won't be able to keep pace with Michigan State.
Air Force will likely keep it close for about a half but will not be able to keep pace with Michigan State.
3. Hawaii - 9/12 @ Ohio State, 9/26 @ Wisconsin:
It looks like Hawaii's offense under Noted Offensive Guru Norm Chow is still rebuilding. Any chance we see USC burnout Max Wittek on the field? Could this team put the scare into either OSU or Wisconsin, or should they just be happy to still exist and just expect to continue on in mediocrity?
Max Wittek will be starting and if you listen to head coach Norm Chow he is giving extremely high praise to Wittek, and that hype has carried over to making people believe that he will be the best quarterback in the conference. Hawaii is slowly improving but their first month of the schedule is very, very tough and there will be little to no scare. The offense does have potential, if we believe the hype in Wittek, with wide receiver Marcus Kemp who is a top-five receiver in the Mountain West. There may be a few bright spots for the Warriors, but both will be loses and probably be by more than 17 points in each game.
4. 9/19 - UNLV @ Michigan:
The Rebels have a former high school coach leading their program and a new, Vegas-themed field. They also have an inefficient quarterback, rebuilding OL and DL, and deep LB corps. Which of those two sentences should we in B1G country care more about? Is there a chance that UNLV puts a scare in the Fightin' Harbaughs?
Despite UNLV more than likely going to struggle to win a handful of games, in confidence they will have the best player on the field in wide receiver Devonte Boyd. However, Blake Decker getting him the ball could be an issue with a rebuilt offensive line, but if that line has some success then Boyd could have a few big plays. In short: no chance UNLV puts a scare in Michigan, there are still too many questions on this team.
5. 9/26 - San Diego State @ Penn State:
Minnesota fans might be vaguely excited to hear that former interim HC Jeff Horton is coordinating a physical pro-style SDSU offense. Any chance that offense gains some traction against a fearsome Nittany Lions defense that can really stop the run? With a deep, aggressive defense returning, could the Aztecs get to Christian Hackenberg and put the scare in Penn State?
This game has upset alert all over it for me. Running back Donnell Pumphrey is arguably one of the best running backs in the country and on par with Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. The Mountain West has some solid front sevens in Boise State and rushed for 147 yards, two touchdowns and caught three passes out of the backfield. Look for a steady dose of Pumphrey in this game, but if Penn State can limit Pumphrey then the Aztecs are in trouble as their quarterback play and wide receivers are relatively new with Kentucky transfer Maxwell Smith under center. Rocky Long's defense is always athletic and causes trouble with his hybrid defense that can multiple looks, including a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5.
6. Conference Chat:
The MWC was quite the mixed bag on the national scene in 2014, especially in bowl season. #20 Boise State went into Arizona and escaped the Wildcats. Air Force proved that planes are better than ROW ROW ROW, and Utah State handled UTEP. On the other hand, Fresno and Colorado State got boatraced by Rice and #22 Utah, and SDSU dropped a tight one to Navy. Is the MWC settling into this comfort zone of "Boise, USU, and everyone else?" In our interview with Vanquish the Foe, they mentioned that BYU considers itself above the MWC -- is a BYU merger something the MWC would ever pursue, futile or not? On the whole, can the MWC (nationally-speaking) do anything to challenge for the (damning with faint praise) title of best non-P5 conference?
Last year, the Mountain West had three teams win 10 games and the pecking order is Boise State and there is a far gap to Utah State, and that will stand until the Aggies can actually beat the Broncos. However, Boise State is not immune to losing in conference as they lost to Air Force and also lost back-to-back games to San Diego State since joining the league, but they are still the best team in the conference.
The Mountain Division is far more superior than the West and there is a chance that all six Mountain Division teams go bowling, and four would be the bare minimum. San Diego State is the best team out West and it would be a complete shock if they do not win the division.
On BYU, if there was ever a chance that they would consider returning to the Mountain West the league would be stupid to not take them back, and there has been communication between the two but the Mountain West will likely have to wait until BYU is ready to join a conference and won't be able to persuade them back. BYU is a big brand and would bring more money, more fans and even more credibility to the league.They are better than some teams but not everyone in the conference. Their independent deal is valuable and currently they make more money than the Mountain West, however the conference already has a creative deal to offer teams, specifically Boise State, a way to earn more money from the TV deal. The money can be there for BYU to make at the very least what they are getting right now.
The Mountain West is the top non-power conference. The American is close with a few teams but overall the Mountain West has shown they are the top Group of Five teams. Moving closer to be considered a power league will be tough and to even get in the neighborhood the league needs multiple 10 win teams like last year, but have a different champion go out and win a New Year's Day bowl game. It can not be just Boise State each and every year in those big games.
Thanks, Jeremy! Give Jeremy a follow @JeremyMauss, check out MWC Connection, and, hell, give their whole masthead a follow! They're putting out excellent stuff in whatever that weird time zone thing is.