Army Football Preview: Mountain West
We started this year’s preseason preview series last week by looking at Conference USA. This week, we talk Mountain West.
The Mountain West conference is arguably the most nationally competitive conference in the Group of 5. The American has had more Top 25 finishers over the last four years, but the Mountain West has had much better bowl success and solid success against the Power 5, too. The Mountain West put three teams into the Top 25 in 2018 — Boise State, Fresno State, and Utah State — and if 2019 doesn’t necessarily portend a repeat performance for all three, the conference has several other squads that could easily rebound and make a run in 2019.
Army plays three teams out of the Mountain West in 2019 — Air Force, San Jose State, and Hawaii. Of those, two are poised for breakout seasons.
San Jose State Spartans
ESPN’s FPI has SJSU favored in just two games this season, at home against FCS Northern Colorado and against New Mexico. FPI makes them a pick’em at home against Tulsa, as well. Though the Spartans are ranked considerably higher than the very worst teams in, say, Conference USA, they’re still potential roadkill in an otherwise very competitive Mountain West conference.
It’s tough to win without any sense of consistency, and SJSU was all over the place in 2018. They put up competitive games against Hawai’i, San Diego State, and even Oregon, but they also dropped their opener to FCS UC Davis and let the Black Knights run them out of their own building.
Who is this team?
That’s the problem.
Reality is that the Spartans just didn’t do anything well enough to build around last year. Their passing game was legitimately explosive, but they completed less than 58% of their throws, and they had no running game whatsoever. Their D-Line looked stout — occasionally — but they somehow gave up an average of 4.7 yards/carry and more than 41% conversions on opposing 3rd downs. Against talented in-conference competition, that’s just not going to get it done.
Until this team finds something to build on, they’re going to continue playing ugly football. With that, it’s hard to see how they get out of the conference basement.
— San José State Football (@SJSUSpartanFB) July 24, 2019
Coach Troy Calhoun’s Air Force Falcons have been inconsistent over the past several years, but in the years in which Calhoun has been able to field teams with veteran players, he’s done very well. Unfortunately for Zoomie fans, the Falcons have been short on experience since 2016’s 10-win campaign. This year, though, they look like they ought to get back on track.
Though the Falcons lost last year’s leading rusher over the offseason and several standout slotbacks and receivers to graduation, they return an experienced junior quarterback in 2019 along with a talented and experienced, run-stuffing defense. ESPN has them picked to win 9 games with a decent shot to get additional pick’em wins at Pac-12 Colorado and Hawaii.
Though winning their division remains a tough ask with Boise State looking as strong as ever, FPI thinks Utah State and Fresno State might be bound for regression years. Thus, anything less than a 10-win season represents a missed opportunity in 2019. That’s an historic anomaly but in line with what we’ve seen these last two seasons. For better or worse, Coach Calhoun has something to prove this season.
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) July 24, 2019
We all know what Hawaii’s offense can do. The questions for the Rainbows this season are all on defense.
Last year’s team was big but raw. They played stout against Army but then let San Jose State throw all over them and got absolutely destroyed in a home bowl game. Travel is always going to be an issue for the Rainbows, but if they can find a way to be more consistently productive along the defensive front and in their secondary, this is a team that could absolutely take the next step.
ESPN’s FPI has Hawai’i favored in 8 games, but that includes a lot of pick’ems. With some of last year’s best in-conference teams looking to regress while teams like San Diego State and Air Force look to get back into contention, a lot could happen in the Mountain West this year. Hawai’i has the potential to make some noise, and their defense won’t be one senior linebacker and a bunch of freshman. Still, last year’s late-season collapse doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Like San Jose State, it’s fair to ask who this Hawai’i team wants to be. Finding that answer will either set the program up for long-term success or relegate them to divisional doormat.
— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) July 23, 2019