Mountain West Conference Betting Odds & Picks: Stuckey’s 2020 MWC Betting Preview

Mountain West Conference Betting Odds & Picks: Stuckey’s 2020 MWC Betting Preview article feature image

Loren Orr/Getty Images. Pictured: Brandon Hawkins.

A lot of the talk this week in college football has centered around the return of Big Ten action, but don't forget about the Mountain West Conference, which also kicks off with five games on Saturday.

The MWC went through as many offseason changes as any conference in the country. Of the 24 head coaching changes across FBS, six (24%) came from the Mountain West. Those six teams include San Diego State, Fresno State, Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico.

And of the other six teams in the conference, four had at least one primary coordinator change. Only San Jose State and Air Force retained their head coach and primary coordinators from last season. However, both will have new quarterbacks under center for the 2020 season.

Let's take a closer look at all five games — each of which starts in prime time. I'll also finish up by touching on some notes on Colorado State and New Mexico, who had their opening game canceled this week.

Mountain West Conference Football Season-Opening Games in Week 8

  • 7:00 p.m. ET | Utah State at Boise State
  • 7:00 p.m. ET | Wyoming at Nevada
  • 7:30 p.m. ET | Hawaii at Fresno State
  • 10:30 p.m. ET | UNLV at San Diego State
  • 10:30 p.m. ET | Air Force at San Jose State

CANCELED | New Mexico at Colorado State

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Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Avery Williams and the Boise State Broncos.

Utah State at Boise State (-16.5) | Over/Under: 53.5

Boise State Broncos

Boise State is the clear-cut favorite to defend its Mountain West title. The Broncos, who were a three-point loss to BYU away from an unblemished record last season, bring back a loaded roster.

It all starts in the quarterback room with the talented Hank Bachmeier, who will get the start in his sophomore campaign after throwing for over 1,800 yards across eight games in 2019. Despite losing John Hightower to the NFL, the wide receiver room still has plenty of talent and experience, led by Khalil Shakir (63 rec, 872 yards in 2019). Fellow wideout CT Thomas and tight end John Bates each have at least 40 career starts.

Bachmeier seems to take too many hits, though, so staying healthy is a concern. Boise has great depth at QB with Chase Cord ready to rock if Bachmeier is ineffective or suffers an injury. However, Cord still isn't fully recovered from an injury. Boise also gets George Holani back after he posted a 1,000-yard season on the ground.

The Broncos did lose four of their top five offensive linemen from last season. However, the line struggled mightily at times in 2019, ranking 65th in Sack Rate, so the impact of those losses might be a tad overstated. Still, this is the group with the biggest question marks. Not only does the line lose four starters, but the lone returning starter — John Ojukwu — will move from right to left tackle to replace Ezra Cleveland, who's now with the Minnesota Vikings. The other four projected starters have seven combined starts.

On defense, Boise looks very strong at linebacker and cornerback. The Broncos have the most talented and deepest group of linebackers in the conference, especially with Ezekiel Noa returning from injury and Brock Miller transferring in from NC State. They also have three returning senior starters at cornerback.

Similar to the offense, the biggest area of concern is in the trenches, as Boise must replace four of its top five defensive linemen. Also, replacing the pass-rushing prowess of Curtis Weaver at the STUD position won't be an easy task. Not a single returning player from last year's depth chart will head back to the defensive end spot. That's especially tough considering the unit was stout against the run last year. The name to watch moving forward is Demitri Washington, who could potentially fill the void left by Weaver.

It's also worth noting Boise has to replace two three-year starters at safety, but it has high hopes for sophomore JL Skinner.

Utah State Aggies

When talking Utah State, one has to start with the quarterback position. The Aggies lost Jordan Love, who threw for over 8,000 yards in his career, to the first round of the NFL draft. His backup, Henry Colombi, followed former head coach Matt Wells to Texas Tech. That means Jason Shelley will get the first crack at the starting gig. Shelley, who recorded five career starts at Utah before transferring, has some mobility that could come in handy on Saturday.

The Aggies also lost leading rusher Gerold Bright and leading receiver Siaosi Mariner. Jaylen Warren and Devonta'e Henry-Cole — another Utah transfer — should still give them a formidable backfield, but it remains to be seen who will step up as the new true No. 1.

Utah State's biggest weakness on offense last year was its offensive line, which was ineffective throughout the season. However, it was an extremely young group, so that experience should pay off for an offensive line that brings everybody back except for senior Ty Shaw, who decided to forego his senior season. His presence will be missed.

On the other side of the ball, Utah State will transition from a four-man front back to a 3-4 defense, hoping for better results than last season when it finished 81st overall, per S&P. A unit that flopped in 2019 must now also replace three key contributors in All-MW LB David Woodward, defensive end Tipa Galeai and top cornerback DJ Williams.

The strength of the defense will be on the back end at safety with Troy Lefeged and Shaq Bond.

Special Teams Watch: Utah State lost an outstanding kicker in Dominik Eberle. You will see two of the most electric returners in the nation on Saturday with Savon Scarver (Utah State) and Avery Williams (Boise State). Both are capable of taking one to the house at any moment. Scarver could break the all-time FBS return touchdown record this season.

Bet to Watch: Under

Utah State was the most fast-paced team in the nation last year, clocking in at only 18.07 seconds between plays. It remains to be seen how quick the Aggies will play this year with a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator in Bodie Reeder. We do know Reeder fancies a pass-heavy attack based on his previous stops at Eastern Washington and North Texas.

However, not only do I think the Utah State offense will need some time to figure some things out after losing Love in addition to its leading receiver and rusher, but I believe the Aggies will play a bit slower in 2020. Head coach Gary Andersen has alluded to playing more methodical and using more huddles this season. That, in turn, would help out a defense that could never catch a breather last year.

And if Utah State wants to throw incessantly, that will play right into the strength of this Boise defense.

Based on how I see this matchup and my updated pace projections, I see value on this under between two teams that could have early-season issues along the offensive line.

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Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Wyoming Cowboys players.

Wyoming at Nevada (-4.5 | O/U: 51)

Wyoming Cowboys

A year after finishing in the top 25 in rushing attempts and yards per game, the Pokes should once again boast one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the country.

Wyoming basically brings back its entire rushing offense, including a veteran offensive line and All-MWC running back Xazavian Valladay, who ran for over 1,200 yards in 2019. The Pokes also return two dual-threat quarterbacks who will both see time in projected starter Sean Chambers and Levi Williams.

In contrast, the passing attack finished in the bottom 10 in FBS in most statistics. Don't expect any significant jump in this department, but Wyoming can do enough on the ground to carry it to plenty of victories in the Mountain West.

Last season, Wyoming's run defense dominated. The Pokes finished 2019 as one of five schools to hold opponents under 3.0 yards per carry.

However, new defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, who will stick with a 4-2-5 base, has his work cut out for him after all of the talent departed. Wyoming lost star linebackers Logan Wilson (third round, Bengals) and Cassh Maluia (sixth round, Patriots) to the NFL. The Pokes also must replace defensive ends Josiah Hall (graduation) and Solomon Byrd (opt-out). Defensive tackles Mario Mora and Claude Cole also opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.

They do at least have senior Garrett Crall at one end spot, but he'll miss the opener with an injury. It's more than reasonable to expect a steep drop-off early on in the production up front.

Unlike the stout defensive front, the secondary could be exploited last year, especially away from the usually gusty conditions in Laramie. Wyoming hopes the sophomore experience of three junior cornerbacks will lead to better results in 2020. It will also need to find a way to replace safety Alijah Halliburton, who led the team in tackles last year.

If you're looking into Mountain West futures, Wyoming does host all of its best opponents in the tough elevation of Laramie. Its conference road schedule consists of Nevada, New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State. It doesn't get any more favorable than that.

Nevada Wolfpack

Nevada runs a modified Air Raid offense that just never found its groove last year. Part of that had to do with transitioning from senior quarterback Ty Gangi to freshman Carson Strong.

Strong should be much better this season in the second year of this system, especially with all of the returning production he will have at his disposal. The offensive line had its share of struggles last year, but it returns four of the five upperclassmen starters to give it some experience. The biggest question mark comes at left tackle after Miles Beach decided to retire.

The dynamic Toa Taua returns at running back along with Devonte Lee to give Nevada a rock-solid 1-2 punch there. Nevada also boasts potentially the best wide receiver group in the conference, led by the big-framed Elijah Cooks and the explosive Romeo Doubs on the outside. I expect a substantial jump in production from the Nevada offense in 2020.

After a down season, head coach Jay Norvell overhauled his defensive staff, bringing in Brian Ward as his new defensive coordinator. Ward will transition the team from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 base with more man-to-man coverage on the outside. He has a star to work with up front in Dom Peterson, who may play more inside this year.

However, the rest of the defense has plenty of question marks. The Pack must replace its four top linebackers with a very inexperienced bunch. After Hausia Sekona's graduation, Chris Green was projected to start at defensive tackle, but he's not on the depth chart after an arrest earlier this month. That now leaves the job to local walk-on Zak Mahannah. Outside of Peterson, Nevada has major question marks up front.

The secondary also isn't without concern, especially since starting safety Austin Arnold remains suspended after last year's brawl against New Mexico.

Bet to Watch: Over

It's very scary to think about betting an over between these two teams with Wyoming's run-heavy offense and after we saw struggles last year from Nevada's offense, which only managed three points in last year's 31-3 loss to Wyoming — albeit in windy conditions in Laramie.

However, I expect a major improvement in Nevada's offense this year, and Wyoming's defense should see a major drop in production after needing to replace all of the talent. As a result, you can also expect some major regression for Wyoming's red-zone defense, which led FBS last season.

On the other side of the ball, I'm just not sure how this undermanned and undersized Nevada defense will slow down Wyoming's vaunted ground-and-pound attack.

It's also worth noting that Jay Norvell might not coach in this game after the recent death of his father, but offensive coordinator Matt Mumme — son of Air Raid inventor Hal Mumme — has experience calling plays.

Give me the over (51 or better) in Reno, where it doesn't look like we'll have any wind to worry about.

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Darryl Oumi/Getty Images. Pictured: The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors run onto the field at Aloha Stadium.

Hawaii at Fresno State (-3.5 | O/U: 65.5)

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

This conference opener pits two teams with new coaching staffs against each other.

Hawaii hired former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham to man the ship on the island. Graham brought in former Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne as his new offensive coordinator. Little is known about Kinne, who has only worked as an assistant or analyst over the past three years — albeit under some well-known play-callers in Doug Pederson, Mike Norvell, Chad Morris, Ryan Day and Chip Kelly.

You will still likely see mostly four-wide receiver sets from Hawaii, but the scheme will be a bit different. Expect a combination of run and shoot principles from the previous regime mixed with the Air Raid, characterized by power runs and deep passes.

Despite losing quarterback Cole McDonald to the NFL Draft, Hawaii still feels very good with its situation under center, as Chevan Cordeiro will take the reins under center. Cordeiro is 4-0 as a starter and will have Miles Reed back at RB in addition to a pair of dynamic receivers in Rico Bussey and Jared Smart — each of whom has previously posted a 1,000 yard-season, with Bussey's at North Texas and Smart's at Hawaii. The 'Bows have plenty of speed on the outside. The offensive line also returns almost all of its production from last year, so this is a very experienced group.

The most intriguing hire Hawaii made in the offseason was Brennan Marion, who is well known for the recent "Go-Go Offense" craze that has influenced playbooks across college football and NFL. Check out this intriguing story on Marion and the origins of his modern take on the option.

I expect to see some variation of his unique offense that led to remarkable offensive turnarounds at both Howard and William and Mary. Just ask UNLV about Marion's offensive concepts — The Rebels lost to Howard as 45-point favorites against the offense.

An interesting piece that could be used in these potential sets is Calvin Turner, who transferred in as an option quarterback that ran for over 1,300 yards at Jacksonville before it ended its football program. He's been getting work at running back but could be used all over the field in Hawaii's spread attack that may now incorporate some of these unique "Go-Go" formations and philosophies.

But can Hawaii get any stops? Last year, its offense ran the show, but the defense could never get off the field as it ranked 106th in yards per play allowed. The offense is the main attraction once again, but it would be nice if the defense could help in any capacity.

There is plenty of turnover on this unit that will transition from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz, who Graham plucked away from the head coaching job at Azusa Pacific. Graham wants a much more aggressive defense, so expect more blitzing from Hawaii in 2020.

Fresno State Bulldogs

After one season as the offensive coordinator at Indiana, Kalen DeBoer returned to the Valley to take over as head coach. DeBoer, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs in 2017-18, is known for his offensive mind. Expect plenty of 11 personnel and timely deep shots; hitting explosive plays has always been a primary focus for DeBoer. He won't call plays, though, as those duties will go to new OC Ryan Grubb, who has been with DeBoer for nine years.

Fresno State had a disappointing 2019 campaign at 4-8, but it was at least competitive throughout the season. The Bulldogs lost their final four games by a combined 20 points and went 1-7 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

The Bulldogs will turn to their third starting quarterback in the past three years with Washington transfer Jake Haener. Ronnie Rivers returns at running back, along with a now-healthy Jordan Mims behind a big offensive line that returns three starters, including two senior tackles. Last year, injuries along the offensive line crushed the Bulldogs, as 11 different players started at least one game. This unit could see an uptick in production if it can stay healthy.

However, the Bulldogs lack experience on the interior of the offensive line after losing Netane Muti to the Denver Broncos.

Wide receiver also remains a large unknown. Surprisingly, Zane Pope — who led the team in receiving yards last year — did not make the first depth chart. Fresno also lost its top two tight ends from 2019 in Jared Rice and Cam Sutton.

Fresno State's defense got significantly worse last year, giving up 16 more points per game than the year prior, which led to a finish of 98th overall, per S&P.

As a result, DeBoer overhauled the entire defensive staff. New defensive coordinator William Inge, who spent the past seven seasons at Indiana, will have to make do with a fairly inexperienced group, especially after star linebacker Justin Rice decided to transfer to Arkansas State.

There are still holes to fill after departures along the defensive line. Expect Inge to keep the four-man base front from last year but to move to more 4-2-5 looks this season with a new hybrid "Husky" position that will initially be filled by sophomore Levelle Bailey.

The starting outside corners will be manned by redshirt freshman walk-on Bralyn Lux and Wylan Free, who played safety last year. The Bulldogs may struggle in coverage once again.

Bet to Watch: Hawaii 

If you're looking to invest in this game, it might be worth a shot to back Hawaii against the spread or on the moneyline, as I think it could potentially catch Fresno State completely off-guard with some brand new offensive concepts from the "Go-Go" playbook.

Who knows how much influence Marion will have with the game planning, but I have to imagine Hawaii brought him in for a reason.

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Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Juwan Washington and the San Diego State Aztecs.

UNLV at San Diego State (-14.5 | O/U: 49)

UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Ex-Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo takes over as the new head coach in Vegas. The Rebels, picked to finish last in the West Division, will start their season on the road against the team picked to finish first. Arroyo will inherit a team that had major issues on both offense and defense, finishing 114th and 115th, respectively, per S&P.

Arroyo will implement a new offensive scheme and apparently run things out of the pistol formation. He will do so with one of three potential quarterbacks. Kenyon Oblad, Max Gilliam and Justin Rogers (TCU transfer) are all listed as potential starters on the initial depth chart, with Oblad listed first for what it's worth. UNLV's best offensive player is running back Charles Williams, who rushed for over 1,200 yards last year.

Arroyo brought in a new defensive coordinator in Peter Hansen, who spent the past six years as Stanford's linebacker coach. Hansen has his work cut out for him with only four returning starters and a lack of depth. The Rebels specifically lost a ton at linebacker and have major question marks in the secondary. His first task will be to try to generate some kind of pressure for a unit that finished last season with the nation's second-worst Sack Rate.

San Diego State Aztecs

Brady Hoke moved from defensive line coach to take over as head coach at SDSU for the second time in his career. He will keep things pretty status quo with SDSU's patented 3-3-5 defense. He did bring in Jeff Hecklinski as the new offensive coordinator to continue the transition to a more spread-based offensive attack.

The bottom line is the Aztecs need to find better quarterback play. That onus will fall on the shoulders of last year's backup, Carson Baker, who showed pinpoint accuracy in his lone start last season in a win over BYU.

Baker will have a new running back by committee after the graduation of Juwan Washington, but all of the primary pass-catchers from last season will return. The offensive line brings back three starters, including two senior offensive tackles. However, projected senior starting center Dominic Gudino has not been taking first-team reps this week due to right hand injury. Gudino was slated to replace Keith Ismael, who was drafted by Washington in the fifth round of the NFL draft. SDSU also must replace Daishawn Dixon, who has been a mainstay at guard over the past four years.

While the offense could never get anything going in 2019 at a pitiful 4.8 yards per play (121st), the defense balled out, finishing 15th, per S&P. The Aztecs, who ranked second in points and rush defense, bring back seven starters but lost one All-MW performer at all three levels in DT Myles Cheatum, LB Kyahva Tezino and CB Luq Barcoo.

The defense should remain very stout up front with Keshawn Banks and Cam Thomas along the defensive line. And SDSU arguably has the best secondary in the conference, led by Tariq Thompson at safety.

Bet to Watch: Over

Maybe SDSU can ride the momentum of its 48-point outburst in last year's bowl game, but I can't take too much from one meaningless bowl result.

I'm still not sure what to expect from UNLV, as Arroyo has kept his lips sealed leading up to the opener. That includes a starting quarterback announcement.

The uncertainty is even greater with recent news that UNLV is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak but can't say which players are affected or how many, per federal law. However, based on the initial depth chart, it looks as if projected starting receivers Randal Grimes — an NFL prospect — and Brandon Presley will not suit up.

UNLV's depth chart for week 1 vs. SDSU

Kenyon Oblad, Max Gilliam and Justin Rogers are all listed as potential starters.

But Oblad is listed first…

— Tyler Bischoff (@Bischoff_Tyler) October 20, 2020

For what it's worth, UNLV and SDSU have split over the past two seasons with each being decided by a field-goal margin. This looks like a pass to me, but I wouldn't fault you for fading an Aztec team whose style makes them a dreadful double-digit favorite. Over the past three seasons, they've gone 4-11 ATS (26.7) as a favorite of 10 for more points, failing to cover by over a touchdown per game.

Update: However, if you listened to our most recent podcast episode, my co-host Collin Wilson made some sound points about this San Diego State offense. After digging some, I'd play this over at 50 or below.

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Kyle Emery/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Air Force Falcons players.

Air Force at San Jose State (+7 | O/U: 62)

Air Force Falcons

Air Force has a unique schedule in that it will only play six conference games. The Falcons already played Navy and will also face Army in addition to their six conference games, starting with a trip to San Jose State on Saturday.

Air Force absolutely beat Navy down in its opener by a score of 40-7. The Falcons ran for over 350 yards at a staggering 7.0 yard average clip while holding Navy's triple option attack to just 90 yards on 2.5 yards per carry.

I can't take too much from that defensive performance, as Air Force has a chance to practice against the triple option every day. There are still plenty of question marks surrounding this unit that returns zero starters after having a number of players opt out to save a semester of eligibility when they thought the season would be lost.

As a result, Air Force has a number of freshman contributors on defense, which is super rare for a Service Academy. We will learn a lot on Saturday night about the Air Force secondary that has been shaky in recent years.

On the other hand, I'm not as concerned with the offense despite losing projected starting QB Darrell Hammond III — who no longer remains in good standing with the Academy after accounting for over 1,800 yards of total offense in 2019.

Sophomore Haaziq Daniels filled in just fine under center in the opener. He'll also benefit from a very strong offensive line, led by 2019 All-MWC selections Nolan Laufenberg and Parker Ferguson on the left side of the line. Air Force has three new starters along the offensive line, but Nicholas Noyen, Kyle Krepsz and Adam Jewell all looked great in the season opener. Having three weeks to build even more continuity leading up to this game will only help.

The backfield is also stacked with returning starters Timothy Jackson and Kadin Remsberg, who combined for 1,795 yards on the ground last year at a superb 5.9-yard average.

It's usually next-man-up at Air Force and not much of a drop-off when a starter needs to be replaced, as the Falcons are so system-reliant. However, the defensive losses seem like an anomaly to me. This offense should be excellent once again, but expect some growing pains on the defensive side of the ball.

San Jose State Spartans

For all of the talk about Utah State's Jordan Love, who went in the first round of the NFL Draft, it was another Love who actually won conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2019. That was SJSU quarterback Josh Love, who threw for just under 4,000 yards. Love led the Spartans to a 5-7 overall record despite three conference defeats by eight combined points.

The first order of business for SJSU is finding a replacement for Love. As of now, the depth chart lists two potential starters with an "OR" designation. Brent Brennan has yet to name the guy between Arkansas transfer Nick Starkel and sophomore Nick Nash. I imagine the job will initially go to Starkel, who has shown flashes of potential in his previous stops at Arkansas and Texas A&M.

If SJSU can adequately replace Love's production, this team could pull off a few upsets. This was a very young team last year that got valuable experience across the board.

SJSU lost its leading rusher DeJon Packer but the ground game was basically non-existent last season. Just take a look at where the Spartans finished last year:

  • 3.8 yards per carry (121st)
  • 89.4 rushing yards per game (125th)

This offense moves the ball through the air, and it has the receivers to do so. All three of SJSU's top wideouts from last season are back in the mix this year. Tre Walker, Bailey Gaither and Isaiah Hamilton combined for 174 catches and just under 2,700 yards in 2019. This is the strongest group on the roster. And it helps when Walker is a baller.

San Jose State does need to replace two senior starters on the offensive line, but the projected starters are a very veteran bunch, led by fifth-year senior Jack Snyder, who has started for the past three seasons and can play either tackle position.

It can't get much worse than last year in regards to run blocking. SJSU ranked in the bottom 10 in basically every run-blocking metric across the board. However, the pass-blocking statistics were much rosier. The Spartans finished No. 2 overall in Sack Rate and allowed just 14 sacks, which ranked in the top 10 nationally. However, those statistics also speak to quarterback play.

On defense, the Spartans struggled mightily in 2019 despite leading the nation in interception rate, which you'd expect to regress this year. They run a 3-4 base that will have a new nose tackle in JUCO transfer Jay Kakiva. The most concerning losses come at linebacker, where SJSU will need to replace two underrated players in Ethan Aguayo and Jesse Osuna. They both played in each of the past four seasons and made so many tackles all over the field for a very poor overall unit.

The secondary does at least return three starters, including a solid corner in Nehemiah Shelton. However, a redshirt freshman will be joining him as a starter at the other corner spot. Jay Lenard and Tre Webb provide SJSU with plenty of experience at the safety position, as each has contributed for the past three years.

Bet to Watch: Over

Can Air Force avoid a letdown here after beating Navy down with a home game against Boise State on deck? I personally don't worry about lookahead and letdowns when it comes to Service Academy schools, so I'd throw that out the window.

From a matchup perspective, this is a complete clash of offensive styles. SJSU averaged just 25.7 carries per game last season, the second-fewest nationally, ahead of only Washington State. In complete contrast, Air Force averaged 58.1 — the second-most in the country.

I don't think Air Force will have issues gashing a San Jose State defense that allowed 4.8 yards per carry (102nd) last season, especially without two very reliable linebackers. On the other side of the ball, I think SJSU's very solid receiving corps can have a field day against a raw Air Force secondary.

It's always dicey to bet a Service Academy over as one twelve-minute drive can slowly and painfully crush your hopes of getting to the window. However, I'm willing to take a shot here. I think we should see plenty of chunk plays from both offenses. Both of SJSU's games against service academies last year eclipsed the 60-point mark, including a 41-24 loss to Air Force.

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Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images. Pictured: Wyatt Bryan.

Colorado State Rams

Colorado State's game against New Mexico was canceled, but here are a few notes for future wagering reference:

  • The Rams brought in a new head coach in Steve Addazio, who finished with a 44-44 record at Boston College.
  • Addazio and new offensive coordinator Joey Lynch (longtime Ball State OC) will likely want to get more out of a running game that couldn't do much last year, especially now that star wide receiver Warren Jackson decided to skip the season to prepare for the NFL Draft. With Patrick O'Brien back under center, the Rams could've had an absolutely devastating passing attack with two future NFL targets in Jackson and tight end Trey McBride. CSU finished with a top-20 aerial attack last season. Jackson is irreplaceable, but CSU hopes Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Myers can help fill that void along with returning No. 2 Dante Wright.
  • New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater will try to figure out how Colorado State can stop the run after getting gashed last season (104th). The pass defense, which finished in the top 10 nationally in yards per attempt, returns three of the four starters in the secondary, but teams could simply move it down the field at will on the ground. Expect Heater to move CSU from a 3-4 base back to a 4-3. There are major concerns at linebacker.
  • Colorado State has one of the best punters in the country in Ryan Stonehouse.
  • The Rams finished 123rd in turnover margin last year, which they will need to clean up if they want to compete in their tough road conference slate. They at least got in seven spring practices.

New Mexico Lobos

  • The Bob Davie era is finally over. Former Arizona State coordinator Danny Gonzales is now the man in Albuquerque, and there will be massive scheme changes on both sides of the ball.
  • Gonzales brought in his former boss and mentor Rocky Long to run the defense. Long will implement his patented 3-3-5 blitzing scheme with man-to-man on the outside. Long has plenty of success with this scheme at San Diego State, but he's inheriting a secondary that ranked 130th out of 130 FBS teams against the pass last year.
  • Gonzales plucked Derek Warehime away from Texas to serve as the new offensive coordinator. Warehime, who served as an offensive assistant under Tom Herman, will transition New Mexico's offense to a no-huddle, spread run-pass option offense.
  • Experience won out in regards to the quarterback completion, as Tevaka Tuioti will get the first crack under center. However, talented sophomore Trae Hall could end up getting a shot if Tuioti falls short of expectations. Like Tuioti, Hall has the athleticism to run Warehime's offense — and likely has a better arm. Overall, the offense returns a lot of production from last season for Warehime to work with.

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