College football: Boise State still expected to be key in Mountain West
The Broncos of Boise State were among the original BCS busters, winning big bowl games and forcing themselves into the national-title conversation.
That was under Chris Petersen.
Now, he’s gone and so is the BCS.
Filling Petersen’s shoes will be Bryan Harsin, the former Broncos player and offensive coordinator who will lead Boise State into the College Football Playoff era.
“There’s an expectation and a standard that’s been set here,” Harsin said. “I’d much rather come into that than inherit a rebuild, because your players know that. So we will embrace the past, but we can’t rely on that because it’s already happened. What are we going to do about it?”
Petersen had been at the helm in Boise since 2006 and put together the most successful run in school history, going 92-12 while winning a pair of BCS bowls before leaving this offseason to become the head coach at Washington.
To keep the momentum rolling, the school brought back Harsin, who helped create the Boise State juggernaut as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator from 2001-10. He spent two seasons as offensive coordinator at Texas and one as the head coach at Arkansas State before returning to his alma mater.
Harsin inherits a team that, by most accounts, underachieved last season, finishing 8-5 and out of the conference championship game.
The Broncos were picked to win the Mountain Division in the preseason media poll and return 13 starters, including eight on defense.
Here are 10 more things to look for when the Mountain West Conference kicks off its season on Aug. 28:
BULLDOGS IN THE WEST: Fresno State won the inaugural Mountain West championship game a year ago and is the favorite to get back. If they do get there, it will likely be along a different route. The Bulldogs lost all-everything quarterback Derek Carr to the NFL, but are loaded with quality defensive players, including don’t-dare-throw-it-his-way safety Derron Smith.
READY TO STEP UP? Division favorites Fresno State and Boise State have questions heading into the season, leaving the door open for someone else to rise up. Utah State and San Diego State could be those teams. The Aggies have quarterback Chuckie Keeton and a solid defense, while the Aztecs are loaded with offensive talent.
HEISMAN DARKHORSE: Utah State got an early start on its Heisman Trophy campaign for Keeton. It was probably a wise move. He threw for 1,385 yards and 18 TDs with two interceptions in five games before having his season cut short by a knee injury in the sixth game of the season. The senior was picked as the conference preseason player of the year for 2014.
BIG GAMES: Some of the top conference games of the season, ones that will likely have a huge impact on who plays in the MWC title game: Colorado State at Boise State, Sept. 6; San Diego State at Fresno State, Oct. 3; Fresno State at Boise State, Oct. 17; Utah State at Colorado State, Oct. 18; San Diego State at Boise State, Nov. 15; Utah State at Boise State, Nov. 29.
UNLV’S REBOUND: UNLV went into last season just hoping to win more than two games. The Rebels accomplished that by the fifth game of the season and went on to play in a bowl for the first time since 2000. UNLV could certainly pick up more wins this season.
LOBO RETURN SPECIALIST: Teams might want to think twice about kicking to New Mexico’s Carlos Wiggins. He was the FBS leader in kick return yardage last season, averaging 29.6 yards, and returned three for touchdowns to tie a conference record.
LARAMIE BUZZ: Football fans finally have something to get excited about in Wyoming. The Cowboys have had one winning season in the last nine, but return 17 starters and have a new coach in Craig Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three straight FCS National Championships.
FAJARDO RETURNS: The Mountain West lost some of its best quarterbacks from a year ago, which should give Nevada an edge with Cody Fajardo returning. He was hobbled by a sprained knee last season, but is the only active FBS quarterback to throw for 7,000 and rush for 2,000 career yards.
SCORING RAMS: With a lift from RB Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State made some huge strides scoring last season. Bibbs scored 31 TDs and the Rams set a school record with 26.2 points per game — 15 more than in 2012. Now, about that defense …
LOOKING TO REBOUND: Air Force and Hawaii were picked last in their respective divisions after struggling last season. The Falcons won two nonconference games before going 0-8 in the MWC to finish 2-10. Hawaii coach Norm Chow could find himself on the hot seat if the Warriors have another season like 2013, when they went 1-11.