80. San Jose State – projected for 7.3 mean wins, 7% chance at 10+ wins, 9% to win the conference
Is F/+ underselling the defending Mountain West champions? It’s always difficult to follow a big leap forward with another, but that may be true considering the Spartans project better than 80th when offensive (71st) and defensive (F/+) are isolated. That projection, then, may speak more to a schedule without a lot of gimmes, but count the champs out at your own risk.
84. Nevada – projected for 6.9 mean wins, 3% chance at 10+ wins, 6% to win the conference
The Wolf Pack have received a lot of helium this summer as dark horse contenders for a New Year’s Six bowl spot thanks to star quarterback Carson Strong and a seasoned Air Raid offense around him, so this cool projection may be the biggest surprise of all.
Much of this comes down to a non-conference schedule that F/+ projects to be tougher than other prognosticators think. Nevada’s two Power 5 opponents, Kansas State and Cal, rank 48th and 68th in these same projections, so the takeaway might be to brace for some September disappointments before conference play gets underway.
89. Fresno State – projected for 6.2 mean wins, 2% chance at 10+ wins, 4% to win the conference
Within the Mountain West, only Boise State carries a rosier offensive F/+ projection than the Bulldogs, who are ranked 65th overall. However, the defensive outlook is more lukewarm (95th) and the team also projects to face the toughest schedule of anyone in the conference.
The upside? Fresno State also projects to have a 68% probability of winning at least six games, so bowl eligibility is a suitable floor for this contender.
94. Hawaii – projected for 7.1 mean wins, 6% chance at 10+ wins, 4% to win the conference
The Warriors are the last team on this list with a mean win projection that puts them at bowl eligiblity, so why are they ranked below both Nevada and Fresno State?
In a nutshell, one likely culprit for the mild forecast is a disagreement on just how good the Warriors defense was a year ago. Hawaii allowed their fewest yards per play since 2015 but underwhelmed in creating havoc, which could explain why they project just 107th on that side of the ball. If Hawaii can prove 2020 was no fluke, they’ll at least make good on their 84% probability to win six or more games and surprise some teams ahead of them here.