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College Football: Mountain West Odds

College football is about to start, with the regular season just over a week away on Aug. 28. Let’s give you an overview of how teams stack up in the nation’s 10 FBS conferences.

This time, let’s look at the landscape in the Mountain West.

Wyoming Cowboys with help from offensive of the Rebels in the first half of their game.The Cowboys defeated the Rebels.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Boise State Broncos

Conference Odds: +115
Division Odds: -400 (Mountain Division favorite)

The Boise State Broncos go into this season with a new head coach. Bryan Harsin, who won multiple conference championships at the school and did a generally solid job of leading the program after the iconic Chris Petersen lifted it to national prominence, is gone. He took the head coaching position at Auburn, relishing the challenge of the SEC. Taking his place is Andy Avalos, who was formerly the defensive coordinator at the University of Oregon.

The change in coaching staff means a change at offensive coordinator. Tim Plough was Avalos’ choice to be the offensive play-caller. The good news is that Boise State has some stability and continuity at quarterback. USC transfer Jack Sears has experience under center, as does Hank Bachmeier. Both are capable. Bachmeier’s career has been derailed by injury. If he can stay healthy, he can be an impressive leader.

On defense, a key point is that the Broncos — who gave up 27.1 points per game last season — missed edge rusher Demetri Washington, who was injured last season. Getting him back should make the defense noticeably better. After an ordinary 5-2 season (ordinary in terms of the winning percentage; the pandemic season was anything but normal) in 2020, Boise State should be better this season and that’s why the Broncos are favored here for the college football odds.

Nevada Wolf Pack

Conference Odds: +400
Division Odds: +175 (West Division favorite)

The great news for Nevada is that there are few changes from a team that had a solid 7-2 season in 2020. The main playmakers and producers are back on offense: quarterback Carson Strong, running back Toa Taua, receivers Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks, and Melquan Stovall. Coach Jay Norvell has consistently had winning seasons and bowl teams at Nevada, but he hasn’t won a Mountain West championship. Many think this roster can make a big run at the brass ring. Nevada is the clear favorite in the West Division, with San Diego State and Fresno State — the West Division standard-bearers of previous years — not having the high-end talent they normally do.

One thing Nevada’s defense will need to do in 2021 is forcing more turnovers. The Wolf Pack created nine last season and have to find a way to be more dynamic and create more sudden-change situations which will give their offense a short field. Nevada has three transfers coming into the program who will add depth to the secondary: safeties Chad Brown and Bentlee Sanders plus cornerback Isaiah Essissima and defensive back Miles Haynes. If they can’t be more effective on defense, you might want to bet overs in terms of their scores and odds on a weekly basis.

Wyoming Cowboys

Conference Odds: +800

Division Odds: +400 (Mountain Division)

The Cowboys are reliant on their defense because their offense is ordinary. Wyoming has ranked ninth or worse in the Mountain West in passing offense in each of the past four years. The offensive line and the running backs are solid, and they return largely intact this year, but Wyoming has had trouble settling on an established starting quarterback in recent seasons and has an open competition heading into Week 1 of this season. There is also a new offensive coordinator under head coach Craig Bohl. Tim Polasek will be asked to get more out of this slumbering passing attack.

Wyoming’s defense is excellent, and it’s why the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to win the Mountain West. The Cowboys allowed 21 points per game last year and get nine starters back. Solomon Byrd, a quality pass rusher who notched 6.5 sacks in 2019, opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, will be back for 2021. That’s a lot of production Wyoming will add to what is already a strong unit.

San Jose State Spartans

Conference Odds: +800
Division Odds: +300 (West Division)

The San Jose Spartans were one of the great feel-good stories of the pandemic college football season in 2020. They rolled through the Mountain West unbeaten, winning all seven games and capturing the conference title by beating Nevada. Coach Brent Brennan did one of the best coaching jobs in the country, reviving a previously downtrodden program that had fallen on hard times. San Jose State did the job with a defense that allowed under 20 points per game and was able to regularly smother opposing offenses. Now this team, which was able to put all the pieces together in 2020, will try to go back-to-back and show that it hasn’t lost the magic in Silicon Valley.

The most positive aspect for San Jose State is the core offensive performers are returning, beginning with quarterback Nick Starkel. There should be plenty of familiarity in pitch-catch combinations as the skill players and the offensive line have a good rapport. A point of concern is that the SJSU offense was not dynamic last year, averaging under 29 points per game and getting hammered in the Arizona Bowl by Ball State. That’s why a lot of their games went under the college football lines. San Jose State’s offense will need to improve this year if the Spartans are going to reach their goals.

The defense stood on its head last year. It’s not likely it will be able to hold opposing offenses under 20 points per game. The SJSU offense will have to pick up more of the slack.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Conference Odds: +800
Division Odds: +300 (West Division)

One of the first-year coaches who had to deal with the pandemic last year was Kalen DeBoer, who had previously served as the school’s offensive coordinator. He didn’t get the time he wanted in 2020 to install his system with his current crop of players after returning to Fresno from Indiana University. DeBoer now gets a full offseason in which to instill his offensive concepts.

The good news for Fresno State is that quarterback Jake Haener and running back Ronnie Rivers return. That should lend stability to an offense that could make improvements. What is also encouraging is that last year’s Fresno State defense came up with 25 sacks in six games, which is an average of over four sacks per game.

The big problem for Fresno State is that while the key skill position players return on offense, the offensive line allowed 24 sacks in six games last season. That really has to change in a big way for this team to beat San Jose State and Nevada in the West Division.

San Diego State Aztecs

Conference Odds: +1100
Division Odds: +400 (West Division)

As San Jose State and Nevada rise in the West Division, San Diego State has fallen. The passing game has become a significant liability, an albatross that has constrained the capacity of the offense. Coach Brady Hoke has to figure out this problem after the Aztecs went 4-4 last season, well below the program’s standards. Transfer Jalen Mayden will handle the duties at quarterback this season. He is a relative mystery. How he performs will have a significant effect on how well the Aztecs do in 2021.

Air Force Falcons

Conference Odds: +2000
Division Odds: +900 (Mountain Division)

The Falcons allowed more than 17 points to just one of their opponents last season. They gave up a grand total of just 90 points in their six games in 2020. Yet, they averaged under 25 points per game and could never really get untracked on offense, which is why they finished 3-3 and failed to wrest the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy from Army, losing a low-scoring game to the Black Knights in the battle for service academy football supremacy. Haaziq Daniels struggled at quarterback. He is a centerpiece of the season for the Falcons, who were great on one side of the ball (defense) and have to find a way to make big improvements on the other side (offense).

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Conference Odds: +2500
Division Odds: +1100 (West Division)

Hawaii went 5-4 in 2020 and dealt with its weaknesses well. Some teams would have collapsed in light of their flaws, but this team banded together and made the best of a difficult situation.

What was bad about 2020 is that the offensive line allowed 28 sacks, and the defense allowed over 210 rushing yards per game. Again, Hawaii did well to go 5-4 in spite of these realities. The Rainbow Warriors will need to make big improvements in those two statistical areas if they want to get better in a competitive MWC West Division.

Colorado State Rams

Conference Odds: +8000
Division Odds: +5000 (Mountain Division)

The Rams averaged 22.2 points per game last season, and quarterback Todd Centeio clearly struggled. The defense was respectable, but if the offense doesn’t pick up the slack this coming season, Colorado State won’t make gains in the Mountain West. This team was 1-3 last year in a shortened four-game schedule marred by COVID-19. Colorado State has huge weaknesses that need to be minimized at the least, and hopefully reversed if the program is going to bounce back.

Utah State Aggies

Conference Odds: +10000
Division Odds: +8000 (Mountain Division)

The Aggies were 1-5 last season and are trying to start fresh. They scored 93 points – averaging under 16 points per game – in 2020. They have a number of transfers coming in to provide help on the offensive side of the ball, but this feels like a patchwork effort under first-year head coach Blake Anderson, who comes to Logan, Ut, from Arkansas State University. This is a rebuild, a transition year, and generally an uphill battle for the Aggies.

New Mexico Lobos

Conference Odds: +15000
Division Odds: +10000 (Mountain Division)

The Lobos were 2-5 last season. They get Kentucky transfer, Terry Wilson, as their 2021 quarterback. Wilson is not an especially good passer but is an excellent runner. If he can make plays outside the pocket, the Lobos could have a better offense than many expect. New Mexico averaged just under 24 points per game last year, so there’s a lot of work to do to get this offense to a place of respectability.

UNLV Rebels

Conference Odds: +25000
Division Odds: +15000 (West Division)

The Rebels did not win a game last year, going 0-6 and scoring a total of 104 points, an average of under 18 points per game. If you used them for your college football picks at all, we’re sorry. Their defense allowed 38 points per game. Four different UNLV quarterbacks gained snaps last year. Second-year head coach Marcus Arroyo, who had to take over in the middle of a pandemic in 2020, gets a chance to establish his offensive system. If that project unearths a true starter who can take command of the offense, UNLV can improve this year.

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