Mountain West Football: Which Team Has Had The Best Early Offseason?
It’s been a little over a month since the end of the 2021 Mountain West football season. How has each team fared in the weeks since?
Who has won and lost off the field so far?
If you can believe it, it has only been 38 days since the Air Force Falcons wrapped up the Mountain West’s football season with a victory over Louisville in the First Responder Bowl. So much has happened in the brief period of time which followed — a flurry of transfer portal activity, coaching turnover, and the second National Signing Day — that the actual games feel like they happened a whole season or two ago.
Now that (hopefully) most of the dust has settled and teams will turn their attention to preparations for spring practices in the near future, who in the Mountain West has had the best offseason so far?
There isn’t much need to rehash the ins and outs of the Todd Graham debacle at this point, but while the Timmy Chang hire and his subsequent moves to fill out the new coaching staff and incoming recruiting class have brought a much more optimistic vibe to the #Braddahhood, that grim narrative dominated the program’s early off-season. As a result, patience may be a virtue in turning the page and turning promise into results on the field.
According to 247Sports, Hawaii ended yesterday’s regular signing period with the worst recruiting class in the Mountain West, though that is buoyed by some potential impact transfers like quarterback Cammon Cooper and linebacker Wynden Ho’ohuli. Thankfully, Warriors fans have a lot more to which they can look forward and Chang will get the time he needs to rebuild the program.
Depending on who you ask, Wyoming putting out a “quarterback help wanted” tweet was either a sign of desperation or a shrewd reading of the rapidly evolving player movement landscape. His more recent comments about Wyoming’s passing game can read either as refreshingly honest self-assessment or as throwing departed players under the bus, too. Either way, the mass exodus of impact players that followed their Potato Bowl victory in December made for less-than-ideal optics at the time, even if they’ve since been able to shore up their ranks.
To Bohl’s credit, something in the culture he’s built must still work exactly as intended since the Cowboys just landed their best recruit ever in offensive lineman Deshawn Woods. He had offers from a litany of Power 5 programs and headlines what is overall one of Bohl’s best classes ever. This is still a program still in the midst of its most successful stretch since the mid-1990s, as well, so the reality of the program’s future may not be as harsh as it would have appeared to be a month ago.
10. Air Force
Slotting the Falcons here is a telling sign that “worst early off-season” is a relative term. Sometimes, it’s a function of unexciting business as usual since Air Force, unlike the two teams below them here, hasn’t had anything remotely approaching controversy so far.
Losing defensive coordinator John Rudzinski to Virginia stings, even if Troy Calhoun has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to identifying a replacement (though he probably won’t tell us right away). If there’s anything else you might consider a yellow flag, it’s that the Falcons have also lost a number of running backs to the transfer portal — including former three-star recruits like Kaden Meredith, Marcesse Yetts, and Tylan Hines — though the offense’s reliance on the fullback last year is proof enough that offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen and the triple-option offense can be more flexible than it seems.
The Wolf Pack are the conference’s best example of just how much can happen in such a short amount of time. After getting raided by Colorado State on all fronts (more on the Rams later), Nevada found its leader and began to fight back. Now, they find themselves the biggest mystery in the Mountain West, down bad in terms of returning production but suddenly full of intriguing imports.
New head coach Ken Wilson brought in a handful of players from his previous place of employment, Oregon, but also got commitments from Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth and Hawaii high school prospect A.J. Bianco among others. We’ll have to wait and see how it all comes together, but give the new staff credit for getting aggressive in their early days on the job.
The Rebels are still very much on the upswing, but some of the losses they’ve had this offseason could be difficult to replace: Defensive standout Jacoby Windmon left for Michigan State and offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas was lured away by Arizona State.
The upside is that Marcus Arroyo and his staff are continuing to recruit at a high level. Though they brought in just ten high school prospects, their average rating on 247Sports is fifth-best in the Mountain West. They’ve also continued as one of the conference’s more active teams in the transfer portal, too, bringing in six players to improve the roster’s depth.
7. New Mexico
The Lobos have taken a fair share of lumps on the field over the first two years of Danny Gonzales’s run as head coach, but there have been glimmers of hope if the fanbase can be patient. They invested on offense in their 2021 recruiting and were rewarded with promising efforts from the likes of Aaron Dumas, Luke Wysong, and Trace Bruckler, then flipped the script to do so on defense in 2022: Four of the top five recruits, according to 247Sports, will get to learn from Gonzales and Rocky Long.
The present downside, though, is that there have been a few more departures through the transfer portal than is probably comfortable. Dumas left for Washington and offensive linemen Cade Briggs and Leke Asenuga landed at Texas Tech and North Texas, respectively. That could slow the pace of the rebuild, but the first wave of their player foundation survived its trials by fire and that counts for something.