Mountain West Football: Early 2023 SP+ Rankings Revealed
ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his early preseason projection of who could be among Mountain West football’s most efficient teams next fall.
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How does the conference measure up?
After unveiling how FBS teams stand in terms of returning production for the 2022 college football season, ESPN’s Bill Connelly dropped his early SP+ projections this morning.
SP+, which measures efficiency on both sides of the ball (success rate, explosiveness, and more) and is adjusted for tempo and quality of opponents, reflects returning production, overall recruiting and recent history into its ratings. So how does the Mountain West look in this early part of the off-season?
- 132. New Mexico — #132 offense, #103 defense
- 131. Hawaii — #125 offense, #127 defense
- 119. Colorado State — #129 offense, #77 defense
- 118. Utah State — #119 offense, #101 defense
- 108. UNLV — #99 offense, #112 defense
- 107. Nevada — #110 offense, #99 defense
- 103. San Jose State — #102 offense, #95 defense
- 101. Wyoming — #123 offense, #68 defense
- 80. San Diego State — #95 offense, #66 defense
- 77. Air Force — #118 offense, #31 defense
- 68. Boise State — #71 offense, #63 defense
- 67. Fresno State — #83 offense, #39 defense
If you thought last year’s early projection was rough, hoo boy. Four teams landed in the triple digits in Connelly’s first SP+ rankings last February, but eight teams do so this time around. That includes three teams who made it to a bowl game in 2022: San Jose State, Utah State, and Wyoming, all of whom have lost significant pieces like Elijah Cooks, Byron Vaughns, and Titus Swen in the early part of this off-season to the NFL and the transfer portal.
To make matters worse, the two teams who played in last year’s championship game, Boise State and Fresno State, are still just below the breakeven point of adjusted points per game, at -0.1 and -1.2, respectively. Might this suggest a conference race that may be more wide open than originally expected?
Another wrinkle of note is that San Diego State, ranked 80th overall, has a rosier projection on offense than they’ve had in a long while. Jalen Mayden’s emergence is a primary reason for that shift, while departures like C.J. Baskerville and Jonah Tavai have given the typically stingy Aztecs defense a projection closer to average.
Elsewhere in the conference, offensive issues may be something to watch since six different teams are projected 118th or worse on that side of the ball. The issues from which those rankings stem vary among that group: New Mexico had perhaps the worst overall offense in the country last year, Wyoming’s passing game petered out on occasion, Colorado State struggled to protect Clay Millen, Air Force finds itself having to replace both Brad Roberts and Haaziq Daniels this spring, while Utah State must do the same for Alfred Edwards and Brian Cobbs among others.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as one team finds itself in a much improved position from a year ago. However, it may not be the one you’d suspect: Nevada is up 13 spots from last February while in-state rival UNLV moved up just one.
Hawaii and New Mexico bring up the rear for the second straight February, the toughest news being that SP+ actually projects a slight decline from their position a year ago. The Warriors made strides in the second half of Timmy Chang’s first year at the helm but will need to find playmakers on defense while installing the run-and-shoot offense more completely, while the Lobos are undergoing something of a hard reset with so many transfer portal exits.
The silver lining, such as it is, is that the Mountain West as a whole still ranks eighth overall among the ten FBS conferences, ahead of Conference USA and the Mid-American.