USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken reveals the preseason poll, which includes four Big Ten teams in the top 10.
USA TODAY Sports
There’s a famous story about Kellen Moore that goes like this:
During his first trip to Las Vegas while a Boise State quarterback – as one of the Broncos’ player representatives for Mountain West Conference media days – Moore arrived one day early, and during the evening before he was set to address the masses went down to the casino floor to test his luck at the tables.
Not knowing one game from another, Moore shuffled over to a roulette wheel, took his chips and placed the entire stack on 11, his jersey number. The croupier spun the wheel, sending the ball around and around until it landed, yes, on 11.
Moore, amazed, didn’t reach to grab his winnings before the next round. So the ball twirled, bouncing this way and that, before stopping again – on 11. Moore picked up his chips, collected his purse and called it a night.
It used to be that easy for Boise State: put your chips here, take a step back, collect your winnings. That’s no longer the case.
The most consistent program on the Group of Five ranks no longer rolls out 10- or 11-win seasons with ease; the landscape has changed, and so have the results.
There’s simply too much depth in this league for the Broncos to not break a deep sweat on the road to a New Year’s Six bowl. How about a divisional title? Air Force won the Mountain Division two years ago. Wyoming last fall. This season finds three prime contenders for the top spot, with Colorado State joining the Broncos and Cowboys.
It’s not so easy anymore – not that it ever was easy, per se, though the Broncos made it look that way. Every week in the Mountain Division contains a potential pitfall: Air Force’s option game, Craig Bohl’s physical blueprint at Wyoming, Colorado State’s inventiveness, New Mexico’s punishing ground attack.
This is great news for the Mountain West. It’s indicative of the league’s growth as a whole, which places the MWC alongside the American Athletic Conference as the premier members of the Group of Five. No fact speaks to the Mountain West’s current standing than this: Boise State no longer rules with an iron fist.
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
QB: Josh Allen, Wyoming
RB: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
RB: Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
WR: Cedrick Wilson, Boise State
WR: Michael Gallup, Colorado State
TE: David Wells, San Diego State
OL: Austin Corbett, Nevada
OL: Antonio Rosales, San Diego State
OL: Jake Bennett, Colorado State
OL: Aaron Jenkins, New Mexico
OL: Dejon Allen, Hawaii
DL: Malik Reed, Nevada
DL: David Moa, Boise State
DL: Mike Hughes, UNLV
DL: Kevin Prosser, Wyoming
LB: Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
LB: Frank Ginda, San Jose State
LB: Logan Wilson, Wyoming
CB: Kameron Kelly, San Diego State
CB: Andre Chachere, San Jose State
S: Andrew Wingard, Wyoming
S: Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii
K: John Baron, San Diego State
P: Michael Carrizosa, San Jose State
RET: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Quarterback: Wyoming. I’d happily make the case for Brett Rypien or Nick Stevens, but Josh Allen is destined for big things.
Running back: San Diego State. Colorado State has great depth in Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews, but Rashaad Penny is the league’s best at his position.
Wide receivers and tight ends: Colorado State. The Rams’ depth and the immediate production found in former junior-college transfer Michael Gallup puts them ahead of Boise State.
Offensive line: New Mexico. Four returning linemen with starting experience headline a unit with the potential to match or even exceed its breakout performance of 2016.
Defensive line: Boise State. Led by all-conference contender David Moa, the Broncos’ defensive front bears the responsibility of beefing up last season’s woeful rush defense.
Linebacker: San Diego State. You can set your watch to the Aztecs’ steady linebacker play, which will continue in 2017 despite losing a star in Calvin Munson.
Secondary: Wyoming. There’s a case to be made for San Jose State, which may house the league’s top cornerback in Andrew Chachere, but Wyoming returns all four starters and has an All-America contender in safety Andrew Wingard.
Special teams: San Diego State. The Aztecs have the league’s most trustworthy kicker and an outstanding return man in Penny.
RANKING THE STARTING QUARTERBACKS
1. Josh Allen, Wyoming. Allen will star for one more season before being taken within the first handful of picks in next year’s NFL draft.
2. Brett Rypien, Boise State. The program’s best quarterback this side of Kellen Moore takes aim at his third year in a row earning first-team all-conference honors.
3. Nick Stevens, Colorado State. A full and healthy season from Stevens could lift the Rams to the top of the MWC and into the thick of the New Year’s Six chase.
4. Christian Chapman, San Diego State. Look for Chapman to assume an even larger role in the offense with the departure of Donnel Pumphrey – though the Aztecs won’t change their run-happy focus.
5. Dru Brown, Hawaii. Brown will get better and better with each passing snap he takes under Nick Rolovich’s tutelage.
6. Lamar Jordan, New Mexico. Jordan fits what Bob Davie and offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse want from the position.
7. Arion Worthman, Air Force. Worthman deserves the job after leading Air Force to six wins in a row last fall, but Troy Calhoun does have senior Nate Romine in reserve.
8. Kent Myers, Utah State. Will Myers’ final season find him recapturing his sophomore form after an inconsistent 2016 campaign?
9. Chason Virgil, Fresno State. Virgil’s the holdover from the Tim DeRuyter era, but he may just be keeping the seat warm while Jeff Tedford gets Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion up to speed.
10. David Cornwell, Nevada. The former Alabama transfer is the first starter of the Jay Norvell era.
11. Armani Rogers, UNLV. The hype machine is already in full swing for the redshirt freshman, who almost certainly will need time and patience to piece together his athletic gifts with the consistency needed to succeed under center.
12. Michael Carrillo, San Jose State. The former junior-college transfer seems like the safe bet, though first-year coach Brent Brennan could opt to go with one of two freshmen on the depth chart.
PHOTOS: TOP 25 TEAMS IN THE AMWAY COACHES POLL
Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland. The scout team player of the year last fall, Cleveland is set to ascend to the starting role at left tackle as a redshirt freshman.
Utah State OL Roman Andrus. The former JUCO transfer and converted defensive lineman has impressed the Aggies’ coaching staff during fall camp.
New Mexico QB Cameron Burston. Lamar Jordan is the guy, but Burston could be used in certain packages as Bob Davie and the Lobos consider their succession plan under center.
UNLV DB Chauncey Scissum. The Rebels need the graduate transfer from Syracuse to solidify the back end of their secondary.
Wyoming OL Jace Webb. Webb is one of two rookies battling to replace Chase Roullier at left guard, along with true freshman Patrick Arnold.
GAMES OF THE YEAR
Oregon State at Colorado State, Aug. 26. One of the year’s first games marks the debut of Colorado State’s new stadium and the start of the Rams’ push for national recognition.
Wyoming at Iowa, Sept. 2. The first of two out-of-conference games that may come to define Wyoming’s season.
Troy at Boise State, Sept. 2. This is going under the radar as one of the more interesting games of the first full week of the regular season.
Colorado State at Alabama, Sept. 16. Good luck.
Oregon at Wyoming, Sept. 16. To say the Cowboys are looking forward to hosting the Ducks would be an understatement.
Boise State at San Diego State, Oct. 14. San Diego State is almost a lock to come out of the West Division, though the Broncos would have a number of hurdles still to pass before punching their own ticket to the conference title game.
Wyoming at Boise State, Oct. 21. A must-win game for either team in the chase for a January bowl.
Colorado State at Wyoming, Nov. 4. The Cowboys haven’t forgotten the shellacking they suffered at the Rams’ hands last fall.
Boise State at Colorado State, Nov. 11. This stands alongside the Broncos’ date with Wyoming a month earlier as the defining games of the league’s regular season.
BEST CHANCE AT THE PLAYOFF
San Diego State is once again the clear class of the West Division, though the team’s losses since the end of last season – the all-conference running back and two of the top defenders in recent program history, for example – complicates the Aztecs’ goal of reaching an access bowl. In 2017, SDSU may settle for simply being a very good team, not a great one.
The real conversation centers on the Mountain Division, and on three teams in particular: Boise State, Colorado State and Wyoming.
I’m less bullish on the Rams than some. I wonder about the offensive line. The defensive line still seems too thin in terms of depth. The secondary brings back experience but needs to take a step forward in 2017. The kicking game loses a weapon in punter Hayden Hunt. This is a definite bowl team with the potential for more, especially given the likely play of quarterback Nick Stevens. I still think CSU trails behind the top two.
Wyoming is only moving forward under Craig Bohl – the Cowboys have had their breakthrough and will build on that, not tread water. More than Josh Allen or any specific player, the program has a blueprint built from a specific style of play; it’s the same approach that helped Bohl carve out a dynasty at North Dakota State.
Boise State is the most talented team in the conference, but can the Broncos manage perhaps the most difficult schedule in the Group of Five? Troy, New Mexico, Virginia, Wyoming and Air Force at home. Washington State, Brigham Young, San Diego State and Colorado State on the road.
The positive? Should Boise State navigate through that schedule with two or fewer losses, win its division and take the conference, it will own a résumé rivaled by only a select few across the Group of Five – maybe a one-loss or unbeaten South Florida team, for example, but even that’s stretching it.