2021 Mountain West Football Power Rankings
First set of power rankings for the ’21 season
Who starts at the top?
The end of the 2020 and the start of the 2021 college football season is still months away and probably won’t be a normal season either. Air Force has started spring football and others will follow suit in the coming months.
Here in this space, we will present our first set of rankings for the 2021 season now that the deadline has passed for players to declare for the NFL Draft and the transfer period is mostly stable.
Before we get to those rankings here is some background on what to expect for the 2021 season. First, returning production is a solid cue if a team is expected to improve or take a step back, in most cases. Some teams just reload like Boise State and to a lesser degree San Diego State over the past decade.
This returning production is from Bill Connelly of ESPN and he does not just plug and hit enter on his computer to spit out total yards returning or even just snaps.
It is a weighted formula, explained below:
My returning production formula looks at the most predictive key personnel stats — the numbers that have the most impact on improvement or regression from season to season. What percentage of your QBs’ combined passing yardage is returning? Your offensive line snaps? Your defensive tackles for loss? Returning production is weighted based on what correlates most strongly with year-to-year changes in SP+.
Returning QB passing yards: 29%
Returning RB rushing yards: 5%
Returning WR/TE receiving yards: 34%
Returning OL snaps: 33%
Returning tackles: 56%
Returning tackles for loss: 6%
Returning sacks: 7%
Returning passes defensed: 31%
Not all returning yards are equal which is why running back rushing yards is low as that position is usually not all that hard to find a suitable, if not better, replacement.
Below is the Mountain West and how they look in returning production.
Some of those numbers might be skewed due to opt-outs from the 2020 season plus there is always injuries to consider when good players do not play a lot but are key contributors. For example, Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier missed a pair of games likely due to COVID-19, and San Diego State’s quarterback situation is another with multiple players seeing time and a transfer in Carson Baker.
These returning production stats are a good place to start when trying to rank teams for 2021.
SP+ is another area to see what Bill C.’s formula indicates, and below are the three metrics that are included in these projections.
1. Returning production.
2. Recent recruiting.
3. Recent history.
This explains why Boise State, which is ninth in returning production but is at the top within the Mountain West. Their recruiting dominance and wins on the football field can make up for a lack of production.
Preseason SP+ projections for the Mountain West:
39. Boise State
78. Fresno State
81. San Jose State
84. San Diego State
93. Air Force
96. Colorado State
121. Utah State
124. New Mexico https://t.co/nyzlyRuU6v
— Mountain West Wire (@MWCwire) February 9, 2021
There are a few surprises in our staff rankings below and a few things that were expected. Boise State tops the initial rankings with the majority of the votes going to the Broncos which is no surprise as their reputation of just winning keeps them at the top, and they made it to the conference title game this past year.
San Jose State is getting a lot of credibility after last year’s amazing run by winning the Mountain West title for the first time over. Voters gave them the second-most first-place votes but not everyone was sold on the Spartans as the rest of their votes were either fourth or fifth.
Nevada which returns the most returning production on offense including the best QB-to-WR combo in Carson Strong to Romeo Doubs only got a single first-place vote but is second overall. The Wolf Pack also return second-team all-conference running back in Toa Tau and also one of the best defenders in the league is back in Dom Peterson.
One surprise is seeing San Diego State at No. 6 in these rankings. It could be due to the last part of the season where they were rotating quarterbacks, injuries at running back, and also finishing 1-3. Another concern for San Diego State is the lack of returning defenders but usually, that is not the case as the Aztecs seemingly reload every year. However, with no Rock Long for another year, it will be interesting to see if Brady Hoke can keep this defensive machine going.
MW WIRE POWER RANKINGS
1.Boise State (7 first-place votes)
2. Nevada (1 first-place vote)
3. San Jose State (4 first-place votes)
4. Fresno State
6. San Diego State
8. Air Force
9t. Colorado State
9t. Utah State
11. New Mexico