2023 Mountain West Futures & Predictions | Action Analytics Betting Preview
David Becker/Getty Images. Pictured: The Mountain West logo on a down marker.
Welcome to the 2023 college football season! To officially kick things off our analytics-based series of conference articles, we're taking a look at the Mountain West Conference.
Last year was not exactly a banner year for the second-best West Coast conference, as it went 20-28 in nonconference matchups with a dismal 1-15 regular-season record against the Power 5. That lone win? Air Force coming out on top against the "mighty" Colorado Buffaloes.
Despite this, the conference managed a respectable 3-4 bowl record with Air Force, Boise State and Fresno State all coming out on top in the postseason. Ironically, Air Force and Fresno State doubled their Power 5 win total with convincing wins over Baylor and Washington State, respectively.
So, what does 2023 hold for the Mountain West? Well, we know the conference will look significantly different without its Mountain and West Divisions. They've merged together to form one 12-team division, where the teams with the two best conference winning percentages will clash for the title, similar to the Big 12.
Why the change? According to the Mountain West, it's to "put the Mountain West in the best position for a place in the College Football Playoff."
This move came at the recommendation of its football oversight committee. While it may not help with the four-team playoff, its effects will most likely be seen when the 12-team playoff arrives in 2024.
Unfortunately, this is not a 2024 preview; it's a 2023 preview.
Note that this is not a futures-only article. There are a lot of Week 0, Week 1 and Game of the Year lines we can still take advantage of.
So, let's dive into the bets I'm eyeing for the Mountain West during the preseason.
Colorado State (+10) at Colorado
This first one is going to depend on what lines are being offered in your area for "Game of the Year," but this line specifically can be found at Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. Keep your eyes peeled for this one to go up at books like DraftKings closer to the season (especially if you live out West).
While the Rams had a tough 2022 season with a 3-9 record, there's real optimism heading into the 2023 campaign. They'll look to get on the board in Week 2 against essentially a brand new Colorado program that will be playing its third game under Deion Sanders.
The Buffaloes should be limping into this one after a Week 1 matchup with National Championship runner-up TCU and a Week 2 matchup against a Matt Rhule-led Nebraska team.
Before you ask — yeah, we're not high on the Buffaloes here. And we are higher than most on the Rams, which leads to a perfect opportunity to back Colorado State and fade Colorado.
Ten points is way too many to be giving a Rams team that has the benefit of continuity against a team that's completely brand new.
I would anticipate this number being closer to a field goal at books around the country after Colorado gets blown out in its first two games.
Colorado State Over 4.5 Wins (-150)
You might be sensing a theme here, but I promise this is the last time we mention Colorado State. This one comes down to two simple metrics: returning production and strength of schedule.
The Rams rank 25th in overall returning production, and our strength of schedule metric puts them at 122nd. This type of continuity gives them a big advantage, which shows in our projections. We have Colorado State favored against Colorado, Middle Tennessee, Utah Tech, Utah State, Nevada and Hawaii with a pick'em against San Diego State.
While I don't love the juice associated with it, I think it's worth buying into. It's definitely worth shopping around and seeing if you can get a better price.
If you enjoy price shopping, make sure to check out our OneSheets to stay up to date on what the major sportsbooks are offering (but absolutely check local shops, too; that's where you'll find the greatest discrepancies).
Hawaii (+10) at Stanford
I don't want this to be construed as, "Oh, we think Hawaii is better than the market." I would argue this comes down to home-field advantage and Stanford being significantly worse than what the betting market thinks.
This is also a particularly high line for a team with a new coach and almost no roster continuity — Stanford ranks 122nd in returning production — in a Week 1 matchup.
And might I remind you, the players Stanford needs to replace were not good. The Cardinal rank 118th in our power ratings and finished 130th against the spread last season, covering at a dismal 17% clip.
Meanwhile, the Rainbow Warriors were a covering machine with a 69% cover rate. Ten points is way too much. Make sure you grab this before it shifts below a touchdown.
Wyoming to Win Mountain West (+1200) · Over 6.5 Wins
The three betting favorites to win the Mountain West are Fresno State, Air Force and Boise State. San Diego State is the clear fourth favorite before we get to the Cowboys.
However, I think Wyoming is well-positioned to make a run, and at 12-1 odds, I'm more than happy to take a little sprinkle on the Pokes.
So, what makes me high on the Cowboys?
To start, let's take a look at their returning production numbers:
Third in overall returning production. First in defensive returning production. Thirteenth in offensive returning production.
This continuity is excellent, especially when compared to the rest of the conference:
However, this continuity doesn't mean much if Andrew Peasley doesn't take a step forward in 2023. The super senior earned a 56.1 PFF grade in 2022 after passing for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. If the Cowboys want to make a serious run at the conference title, they must field better quarterback play.
However, their run game is excellent and will find ways to keep games close. Wyoming ran the ball on 58% of snaps in 2022, good for 17th in the country. It performed admirably, ranking 46th in PPA/play, 68th in Success Rate and 48th in explosiveness.
So, even if Peasley doesn't play well enough to win the conference, the Pokes' rushing attack should carry them to seven wins in a weak Mountain West.
Let's take a look at their schedule:
Weeks 6, 7 and 9 are going to be the most important for the Cowboys, as they face Fresno State, Air Force and Boise State in back-to-back-to-back games. You may notice we have them favored against Fresno State, and Air Force and Boise State are favored by less than a touchdown each.
If the Cowboys can steal two out of those three games, they should be looking at a conference title game for the first time since Josh Allen's Pokes lost to San Diego State in 2016.
Utah State Under 5.5 Wins (-140)
We are extremely low on the Aggies. Want to know why? Well, let's take a look at some of their metrics:
That is… a lot of red.
Not only do they lack any continuity, ranking 123rd in returning production, but the little returning production they have was also terrible. Both their offense and defense were horrible, and in my opinion, we're looking at one of the worst teams in the country.
Digging into their schedule, I struggle to find four wins for them, much less six.
It's not good when you're projected as a two-touchdown underdog to UConn.