College Football is back!
Week One brings us an appetizer before the big boys of college football get the ball rolling next weekend. With two Mountain West Conference (MWC) participants kicking off this Saturday, let’s talk about the conference and potential investments to make.
|Boise State (+115)||Nevada (+400)||Wyoming (+800)|
|San Jose State (+800)||Fresno State (+800)||San Diego State (+1100)|
|Air Force (+2000)||Hawaii (+2500)||Colorado State (+8000)|
|Utah State (+10000)||New Mexico (+15000)||UNLV (+25000)|
The Chalk – Boise State (+115)
The Broncos have played in four straight MWC championship games. They have had three MWC championship game victories since the inception of the conference championship game (2013). It should come as no surprise that the Broncos are the clear chalk to win the MCW championship this season.
The Broncos have, arguably, the best quarterback situation in the conference. They have two dynamic choices in Hank Bachmeier and Jack Sears. Hank Bachmeier is a former four-star prospect. The Broncos averaged 34.2 points per game last season with Bachmeier operating the offense. Meanwhile, Sears appeared in three games and made two starts last season after transferring from USC. He threw for 557 yards and five touchdowns before missing the last four games due to injury.
Boise State returns its’ top three rushers from a season ago and they’ll operate behind an experienced offensive line. The Broncos also added Oregon’s short-yardage specialist Cyrus Habibi-Likio to the backfield. Habibi-Likio recorded 21 touchdowns on 122 rushing attempts in three seasons as an Oregon Duck. George Holani will likely be the featured running back in 2021. Holani was the 2019 MWC Freshman of the Year after finding pay dirt seven times and eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards.
The Broncos are loaded at wide receiver. Four out of their top five pass catchers are back for another season. Khalil Shakir is a star and maybe the best wide receiver amongst the Group of Five (non-Power Five conferences). The versatile Shakir averaged 102.7 receiving yards per game a season ago. He also was the Broncos’ second leading ball carrier in 2020.
The defense is an experienced group as they welcome back eight starters from a season ago. That includes six out of their top seven tacklers from last season. Two out of the three new defensive starters will be at cornerback.
Finally, the Broncos MWC schedule is an advantage. Boise State will host the preseason West Division favorite, Nevada, at home. They also avoid last year’s conference champion, San Jose State, entirely. A favorable schedule and a veteran-laden squad make Boise State a strong favorite to win the MWC championship in 2021.
Best Value – San Jose State (+800)
I must say I was surprised to see San Jose State listed at 8/1 to win the MWC championship. The Spartans return 10 defensive starters and nine offensive starters from their 2020 championship team.
Quarterback Nick Starkel finally found a home with the Spartans in 2020 after two short stints in the SEC. In eight starts a season ago, Starkel threw for 2,174 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was named to the second team all MWC.
Starkel and the Spartans’ offense will look to hit the ground running. The offense ranked 36th nationally in total offense last season (430.9 yards per game). San Jose State returns all five of its’ starting offensive linemen.
San Jose State also returns their top two rushers from 2020. Tyler Nevins and Kairee Robinson combined for 828 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The two running backs could be leaned up more heavily as the Spartans are inexperienced at wide receiver.
The lone weakness is at wide receiver. The Spartans will have to replace their top two wide receivers from last season. Tight end Derek Deese and Isaiah Hamilton will have to step up to fill the void in the passing game.
Cade Hall is the star of the Spartans’ elite defense. Hall racked up 10 sacks in seven games last season and was named the MWC’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Spartans finished 26th nationally in total defense (346.1 total yards allowed per game). San Jose State has the personnel to finish among the nation’s top defenses this season. An early November matchup at Nevada will likely decide the winner of the West Division.
The Darkhorse – Air Force (+2000)
Air Force will have five new starting offensive linemen to start this year’s campaign. That is a daunting task. Fortunately, the early season schedule is favorable. The Falcons will almost certainly be betting favorites in each of their first five games. Watch out for the Falcons if the offensive line gels in time for the second half of the season.
While they may be inexperienced up front, Air Force brings back a set of experienced playmakers. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels wasn’t expected to play last season but an early-season injury to the starting quarterback forced Daniels onto the field. The sophomore accounted for six touchdowns in six games and led the Falcons to a 3-3 record.
Leading rusher Brad Roberts is a breakout candidate after emerging as a topflight running back late last season. The sophomore piled up 461 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 64 carries over the final three games.
The pass catchers are primarily utilized as blockers in Air Forces triple-option offense. The Falcons attempted all of 61 passes last season. Regardless, the men from Colorado Springs welcome back their top four pass-catchers from a season ago.
On the other side of the ball, the defense will welcome back eight players that started games last season. On top of that, the Falcons will also welcome back a handful of turnback players (players that opted out of last season due to the pandemic). From a depth perspective, this will be one of head coach Troy Calhoun’s deepest defensive units in his Air Force tenure (entering his 15th season). Air Force finished sixth in the country in total defense last season. They allowed just 15.0 points per game and 303 yards per game.
Finally, the Falcons have a 17% chance to reach the MWC title game according to Pro Football Focus (third-best odds in the conference). Count me in on Air Force at 20/1 odds to win the MWC.