6. Boise State
After a down 2021, the Broncos have had an unusual offseason to date. On the one hand, they have had to replace four different coaches since December; on the other, they again brought in the highest-rated recruiting class in the Mountain West, headlined by linebacker Dishawn Misa and running back Ashton Jeanty. This ranking more or less splits the difference in doing what everyone expected on the recruiting trail while nodding toward the reality that more may need to be done later in the year to help the team’s chances of rebounding in 2022.
5. Utah State
Your defending Mountain West champion Aggies didn’t need an overwhelming offseason to keep their standing as a 2022 contender intact, but it’s to Blake Anderson’s credit that, after hitting the transfer portal heavily in his first year at the helm, he went out and hit the recruiting trail to put together one of the program’s best classes in recent memory, courting numerous in-state talents to provide the foundation for its future.
This is not to say, of course, that the Aggies ignored the transfer portal this time around. They did bring in quarterback Levi Williams from Wyoming in what amounted to a swap at the position (the Cowboys landed Andrew Peasley) and also landed other intriguing targets like wide receiver Xavier Williams, whose time at Alabama was marred by injuries, and safety Anthony Switzer.
4. San Jose State
Not content to lose ground in the West division arms race after an underwhelming 2021 and the imminent departure of some key veterans, the Spartans went out and courted some high-profile names from the transfer portal, like Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and Nevada wide receivers Elijah Cooks and Justin Lockhart, and put together the best recruiting class of Brent Brennan’s tenure (he even said as much himself). Sometimes, it’s as simple as how you respond when you’re at a crossroads.
3. Fresno State
The beginning of the Bulldogs’ offseason was fraught with peril, but after Jeff Tedford was brought back to replace Kalen DeBoer as head coach, things settled down pretty quickly and the program made moves to cement their standing as a strong contender.
First, quarterback Jake Haener decided to return after a brief flirtation with the transfer portal. Then, Jalen Cropper and Jordan Mims decided to come back, too, and Tedford stocked his new coaching staff with a number of well-regarded former Bulldogs with impressive resumes. Then, the Bulldogs signed another strong recruiting class by investing time up and down California and brought in some potentially important transfers, like former Hawaii cornerback Cameron Lockridge and USC linebacker Raymond Scott. All in all, Tedford’s second go-around as head coach seems to be starting from a much strong position than it did back in 2017 and the Red Wave is nothing but optimistic.
2. San Diego State
The main challenge facing the Aztecs heading into this offseason was replacing a number of top-shelf talents, like Matt Araiza and Cameron Thomas. While the team still has some questions to sort through once spring ball gets underway, it’s hard to argue that, so far this winter, they haven’t put themselves in a position to continue as a serious competitor for 2022 and beyond.
To wit, San Diego State’s newest recruiting class can boast the highest average individual rating of any team in the Mountain West (84.40, according to 247Sports). For the more immediate future, the Aztecs also brought in a handful of critical transfers, like quarterback Braxton Burmeister, defensive linemen Justin Tavai and Deven Lamp, and offensive lineman Cade Bennett, who could help the team reload and defend the West division title. They may not have grabbed many headlines, but Brady Hoke and company have simply continued to do what they’ve always done and that’s plenty to this point.
1. Colorado State
The Rams of recent vintage have proven willing to bet big on what they believe in. While that didn’t work out with Steve Addazio, doubling down to invest in Jay Norvell is another example of that modus operandi.
Norvell then went and raided his old program, Nevada, in a way that we hadn’t before seen in the Mountain West, bringing along everyone from offensive coordinator Matt Mumme to top quarterback prospect Clay Millen and offensive talents Tory Horton, Jacob Gardner, and Melquan Stovall. Oh, and his Rams also signed a rock-solid recruiting class with the third-highest average player rating in the Mountain West per 247Sports. There will be a lot to sort out throughout the spring and fall, but the program is in a much better position than it was at the end of the regular season.