Mountain West Football: 2022 Off-Season Winners And Losers
Now that college football season is a week away, we take a look at the Mountain West’s winners and losers at the end of the summer.
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Encouragements and letdowns from the off-season that was.
We are officially in Week 0, when four different Mountain West teams will help to kick off the college football season. That makes this the perfect time to look back at everything that has happened since late December and now to determine the biggest winners and losers from the off-season.
1. Colorado State
In terms of turning the page on the Steve Addazio era, pretty much everything has gone right for the Rams. They landed their head coach of choice, Jay Norvell, from Nevada, and then landed a wealth of talent from the transfer portal in addition to a pretty strong recruiting class.
On top of that, quarterback of the present and future Clay Millen has affirmed why he was first seen as such in Reno. It’s good vibes only at the new Fort Air Raid, so while we’ll have to wait to see how strong a likely rebound is, CSU fans should feel optimistic that the program is finally headed in the direction they envisioned it would go.
2. Utah State
The defending Mountain West champions haven’t received an overwhelming amount of respect this off-season, but after sifting aggressively through the transfer portal once again, the Aggies are in good shape to compete for another title.
The players they brought in that front weren’t the splashiest pickups in the conference — MJ Tafisi, Brian Cobbs, Daniel Grzesiak, Gurvan Hall — but each appears to be in a position to contribute as expected this fall. With one of the Mountain West’s best quarterbacks, one of its best running backs, a very experienced offensive line, and increasingly rare head coach/coordinators continuity all back in the fold, too, all that’s left is ensuring Utah State comes out and plays like the team which peaked in the second half of 2021 rather than the team which needed time to find its footing in the first half.
3. Air Force
While the Falcons didn’t get to enjoy the influx of transfer portal talent that every other team did, they also didn’t lose anything that they couldn’t easily replace. Backup quarterback Warren Bryan moved on, but the team is high on Zac Larrier. They lost a couple running backs but, well, they have plenty of those. Jordan Jackson got drafted into the NFL, but Jayden Thiergood and others are ready to step up.
While it remains to be seen how well Brian Knorr will replace John Rudzinski as defensive coordinator, his ascension to the role was another win for Troy Calhoun and continuity among his staff. Plus, they unveiled some sick alternate uniforms last week. A news desert is often good news in Colorado Springs, so there are plenty of reasons to feel good about the season ahead at the Academy.
1. UNLV’s defense
Good teams can often afford to lose good players, but teams further down the standings who lose good players have less margin for error in replacing them. That’s why, while the Rebels weren’t plundered in the transfer portal like others in the conference, UNLV could feel it more than most in the task of replacing Jacoby Windmon, who left for Michigan State, and holding their breath on Brennon Scott, whose status for 2022 is up in the air following a spring injury.
Other veterans left through the transfer portal, too, like Bryce Jackson and Tre Caine, which means that the Rebels are relying on a Utah State-esque coalescence of new faces to buck years of struggles. Even if the offense improves, UNLV could be looking instead at a season where they end up on the wrong end of a few shootouts because they lack havoc in the front seven.
The overarching message of the Wyoming off-season is that Craig Bohl and his coaching staff were betting on themselves and their track record of developing talent, which made their limited dabbling in the transfer portal a mild disappointment.
Most of the reason they land here, though, is personnel losses. In additional to their substantial departures through the portal, more recently the Cowboys also saw offensive lineman Latrell Bible leave the team and suffered two bits of rotten injury luck when Buck Coors and Gunner Gentry both went down with season-ending injuries during fall camp. Wyoming expects that judicious decision-making to restock at quarterback, cornerback, and the defensive line will help them hold the line in an increasingly competitive Mountain division, but that’s a parlay which may not completely land.
3. San Diego State skeptics
One of my favorite fun facts is that San Diego State has actually won more games than Boise State since the 2015 season, and while there’s context in that fact (COVID and bowl game cancelations meant a few less games overall for the Broncos), it speaks to a change in how we should perceive the football program. They aren’t building toward something anymore, they’ve arrived.
And now? Now the Aztecs are leveling up with a new home, Snapdragon Stadium, that’s received rave reviews from players and fans alike. They landed their quarterback of choice, Braxton Burmeister, from the transfer portal and, dare I say it, look like they might be a little more explosive overall on offense. They bring arguably more momentum into 2022 than anyone else in the Mountain West, no easy feat considering the optimism out of Fort Collins, the Hawaiian islands, and Boise.