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2015 MW Football Preseason Poll & Awards

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From the MW LAS VEGAS – Defending Mountain West champion Boise State was predicted to win the 2015 Mountain Division title, while San Diego State was chosen to finish atop the West Division, announced today by the Mountain West at its annual Media Days, being held at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

Rk.       Team (first-place votes)            Pts.

1.         Boise State (28)                        177

2.         Utah State (2)                            150

3.         Colorado State                          108

4.         Air Force                                   90

5.         Wyoming                                  64

6.         New Mexico                              41

WEST DIVISION

Rk.       Team (first-place votes)            Pts.

1.         San Diego State (27)                 177

2.         Fresno State (3)                        141

3.         Nevada                                     113

4.         San José State                         91

5.         Hawai‘i                                      70

6.         UNLV                                        38


Pete Fiutak ballot and breakdowns

MOUNTAIN

1. Boise State

What You Need To Know About The Offense
: The attack that finished ninth in the nation in scoring and was grinding on the ground and efficient through the air welcomes back nine starts – but it’s missing two key ingredients. The quarterback situation might be up in the air up until Washington runs out on the field, and the running back pecking order also needs some tinkering after losing Jay Ajayi. However, the receiving corps is terrific and the line should be the best in the Mountain West. The explosion and big numbers should be there again, but unlike last season, they need to start coming early on.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Broncos couldn’t seem to handle the quirky running games – Nevada, Air Force, San Diego State – but they did a tremendous job against just about everyone else, including Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Seven starters return along with a whole bunch of depth to a D that should be even better. The line will camp out in opposing backfields with a strong rotation at each spot, while Kamalei Correa and the linebacking corps should be dominant. The secondary gave up yards, but that’s because teams had to throw to keep up – Safety Darian Thompson and corner Donte Deayon lead a loaded group.

2. Air Force

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The O bounced back in a big way with the rushing attack returning to form after a disastrous 2013. Leading rusher Jacobi Owens is back from a foot injury and should be a lock for 1,000 yards again behind a strong line and with the passing game to take the heat off. Jalen Robinette would put up massive receiving numbers for just about anyone else, but as is he should be perfect as the right deep threat for the Falcon offense. Nate Romine is a veteran quarterback who knows what he’s doing, but Karson Roberts is a decent option waiting in the wings.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: There will be a little bit of reworking with the top three pass rushers from last season gone and a slew of key tacklers done. Air Force always has 225-ish pound linebackers ready to step in, and it always has undersized quick linemen in a rotation, but there isn’t a ton of starting experience returning from a defense that came up with a relatively steady, good year. The production depends in large part on the offense being able to control the time of possession, but the Falcons did their job on the other side of the ball, especially against the run. The secondary that gave up 259 passing yards per game has to replace three starters, but Weston Steelhammer is a good safety to work around.

3. Utah State

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can Chuckie stay healthy? Coming off his second torn ACL injury in as many years, QB Chuckie Keeton is back and ready to roll as the leader and star of the attack. If he can stay in one piece, the attack that struggled at times throughout last year should be far more consistent. The line is solid with four starters returning, and the backs are in place with LaJuan Hunt leading a decent rotation. Hunter Sharp and three of the top five targets are returning to help make Keeton shine – and vice versa.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Even with the loss of LB Zach Vigil and some other key parts, don’t expect any sort of a drop-off from a D that finished 12th in the nation in scoring D and 30th overall. Zach’s brother, Nick, should be a Mountain West superstar, and the pass rush should be even better with the return of Kyler Fackrell from a torn ACL. The secondary has to come up with three new starters, but Jalen Davis is an excellent young corner and Devin Centers is ready to do more at safety. The front three has the size to hold up and let the linebackers do their thing.

4. Colorado State

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Will Friend worked on the Georgia offense with Mike Bobo, and now he’s going to take over the Ram attack. Don’t expect too many massive changes from last year’s attack that finished 18th in the nation in total offense and eighth in passing. There will be a fullback and more of an emphasis on the ground game, but the passing attack should be deadly again with WR Rashard Higgins back along with a loaded group of tight ends. The line should be among the most effective in the Mountain West, but the quarterback situation has to be settled with Garrett Grayson gone. A steady rotation of running backs has to emerge with Dee Hart gone, but there are several quick options ready to take over.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: New defensive coordinator Tyson Summers led the way for UCF last season creating an attacking D that turned out to be among the best in the American Athletic. He inherits a good-looking line that has to do more to get into the backfield and make more big plays. The secondary has experience and should be a rock at times after doing a tremendous job of keeping the big plays to a minimum. Cory James is one of the Mountain West’s top defensive players, but the other two spots need to be filled.

5. Wyoming

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Cowboy offense is supposed to be balanced with a powerful, tough ground game that leads to big pass plays happening down the field. The problem last year was the lack of overall production, dipping by almost 100 yards and ten points per game. The hope is for a big rebound starting with a veteran line leading the way to a terrific pair of running backs in Shaun Wick and Brian Hill. Indiana transfer QB Cameron Coffman should add more pop to the passing game if a few receivers can emerge. The O should be able to move the ball, but can it score? Getting points on the board was the big problem last year, but expect that to change.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: After changing over to a 4-3 under the new coaching staff, the defense improved a bit against the pass but gave up too many deep plays. The run defense wasn’t much better. It’s a smallish defensive front, which is fine if the athleticism leads to disruptive plays – that didn’t happen. The pass rush was non-existent with the lack of pressure killing the secondary – expect a more aggressive front seven. There’s speed at linebacker, but can the young defensive backs produce? The D has to find one thing it can do at a high level, and that needs to start with ends Eddie Yarbrough and Siaosi Hala’api’api up front.

6. New Mexico

What You Need To Know About The Offense: You know what the offense is going to do. The pistol-option will run and run some more with a great backfield pairing of Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson to work around. The line gets back three starters to work around with a good left side, and the power will be there with the quickness for one of the nation’s top ground attacks. Will there be a little bit of a passing game? It only came up with 89 yards per game, but as long as it’s more efficient – whether it’s Lamar Jordan or Austin Apodaca under center – it’ll be what the offense needs. It would be nice, though, if a dangerous receiver could emerge.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It’s desperation time for a run defense that got steamrolled over and didn’t do anything against the pass, either. The linebacking corps in the 3-3-5 alignment could be excellent if star Dakota Cox can come back at some point and be close to the tackler he was before tearing his ACL. There’s experience on the front three, but the size has to hold up against the tougher teams while the back eight cleans it up. The safeties are going to be solid, but the Lobos need work at the corner after allowing 250 yards per game.

WEST

1. San Diego State

What You Need To Know About The Offense: It’s a Rocky Long offense, so the ground game was terrific, and the passing attack was iffy. The Aztecs should be outstanding again running the ball with star back Donnel Pumphrey working behind a veteran line that returns three starters and – despite a rocky offseason – should be strong. There actually will be production through the air after averaging just 178 yards per game and finishing 110th in the nation in passing efficiency with Kentucky transfer Maxwell Smith and young baller Christian Chapman upgrading the quarterback situation. Now the receiving corps has to do its part after an underwhelming 2014.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: If it’s not the best defense in the Mountain West, it’ll be close after finishing 13th in the nation in scoring D and 16th in yards allowed. All five starters return to an occasionally dominant secondary – it’ll be a brick wall against anyone who doesn’t throw at a high level. The front six gets star linebacker Jake Fely back, but can he stay healthy? There’s good bulk on the front three, and while there won’t be a big-time pass rush, it’ll be effective. It’s not a massive group, but it’ll hold up well against the run with a great rotation.

2. Fresno State

What You Need To Know About The Offense: With seven starters back, the Bulldogs should be more consistent. The offense predictably fell down a few notches after losing Derek Carr and the top receiving weapons, but the running game still worked and the passing attack put up yards, even if it wasn’t efficient. This year, the line should be solid with three starters returning and RB Marteze Waller to add flash to the offense. The quarterback situation needs to be figured out, with Zack Greenlee having a slight edge in a three man race, but the receiving corps has to come through and be more explosive.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Considering the coaching staff is supposed to know how to take care of a defense, it isn’t working out. Some of the stars of last year are gone, but the 3-4 has the linebackers with Kyrie Wilson inside, Ejiro Ederaine outside. Safety Derron Smith might be gone, but the other three starters are back in a secondary that should be stronger. Overall, the defense needs to come up with more timely plays and it has to get off the field. With the returning experience and athleticism, it should be able to do that.

3. Nevada

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can the offense become the dangerous Nevada offense of a few years ago? The pieces aren’t quite there, but there should be decent balance. It’ll be about the consistency needing to make more big plays down the field with the passing game and finding more holes for Don Jackson and the ground attack. The line gets back three starters, but it’s not loaded with a lot of talent, relying on some new parts and walk-ons to play a big role. Can Tyler Stewart become the star at quarterback, or will Dante Mayes become a factor? The receiving corps should be just good enough to help the cause, but overall the O needs more playmakers and more explosion.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It wasn’t as miserable as it was in past seasons, but it still was hardly a plus finishing 100th in the nation and doing nothing against the pass. Can Nevada finally piece together a defense that won’t get gouged? It’s going to take some work. It’s going to be a rockier road this season with the entire secondary likely needing an overhaul of new starters. The linebacking corps, though, should be improved with the combination of Jordan Dobrich and Matthew Lyons likely to be among the most productive in the Mountain West. The stars will be up front with Ian Seau a pass rushing terror on once side ad Rykeem Yates a rising star in the interior.

4. San Jose State

What You Need To Know About The Offense: There’s hope to do far more this season with several quarterback options to test out – along with solid starter Joe Gray – throwing to a great receiving tandem of Tyler Winston and Tim Crawley. Billy Freeman is one of the league’s best tight ends, leading rusher and total yardage machine Tyler Ervin is back, and four starters return – in some configuration – to an experience line. Now the O has to score. The Spartans sputtered and coughed too often last season averaging 19 points per game and scoring 14 total in the final three outing. There’s too much returning experience not to be better.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: The pass defense was No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed, doing a great job of keeping the big plays to a minimum and clamping down when needed. One problem – teams were too busy running the ball. The secondary should be the team’s biggest strength with three terrific, versatile returning starter led by the corner tandem of Cleveland Wallace and Jimmy Pruitt, but the defensive front seven has to be far tougher against the run and much better at getting to the quarterback. Christian Tago is a special linebacker, but he needs help around him.

5. Hawaii

What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator Don Bailey will try to breathe some life into a woefully inefficient passing game with a high-octane, up-tempo attack that’s designed to keep defenses on their heels. He might have the quarterback who can run it with USC transfer Max Wittek eligible and ready to roll, and the receivers are in place to finally start to get things going. Steven Lakalaka is a talented back to balance the attack out a bit, and the line should be better – now it has to be better in pass protection after allowing 41 sacks.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Former SMU head coach Tom Mason takes over a D that did a nice job last season of keeping things from getting out of hand, but it has to create more big plays and has to avoid getting hit by the big pass play. The front three has to find some more options, but there’s size up front to work around. Simon Poti leads a veteran linebacking corps full of seniors, but the strength should be the secondary that gets back three starters led by safety Trayvon Henderson.

6. UNLV

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Offensive coordinator Barney Cotton comes over from Nebraska, and he has plenty of work to do with an offense that cranked out just 129 rushing yards per game. The inefficient passing game didn’t go anywhere, and the points were impossible to come by in key moments. Fortunately, the passing attack should be stronger with QB Blake Decker healthy and ready to do more with a good-looking receiving corps led by Devonte Boyd. The line that struggled so much last season has bulk, but it needs to generate more of a push for promising back Keith Whitely.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Veteran defensive coordinator Kent Baer has plenty of work to do for a defense that was among the worst in the nation in almost every main category. The run defense was the main culprit, getting gashed for 294 yards per game, but the experienced linebacking corps should be better and stronger with three good starters back. The secondary needs an overhaul, but Peni Vea and the safeties could be terrific. More of a pass rush needs to come from the line, but more than anything else, the tackles have to be tougher against the run.

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