Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Mountain West expert picks 2022: Projected order of finish, bold predictions, championship favorites

The Mountain West staked its claim as one of the best Group of Five conferences in college football last season with multiple major upsets pulled against Pac-12 squads. With several of the top talents in the conference back for another year, the league has another shot at national recognition. 

Utah State is back after a shocking run to the Mountain West championship in Blake Anderson’s first season. The Aggies jumped from one to 11 wins in a season, the biggest single-season improvement ever. However, voters think that Boise State will bounce back and win the league behind veteran quarterback Hank Bachmeier. Air Force could be a surprise factor after a 10-win season, while Fresno State also posted an impressive 10-win campaign of its own. 

The league in general should have surprisingly good quarterback play with a number of top passers back. Bachmeier and Utah State’s Logan Bonner are joined by Fresno State passer Jake Haener, who was a nearly unanimous pick for player of the year by our experts. Air Force got aggressive passing the ball last season with elite option QB Haaziq Daniels, while San Jose State’s Chevan Cordeiro and San Diego State’s Braxton Burmeister are transfers who could pop. 

Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the Mountain West ahead of the 2022 season. 

Bold predictions

  • Dennis Dodd: San Diego State will join what’s left of the Pac-12 at some point during the season, effective 2024. The Pac-12 needs to solidify its TV deal with its current membership — a challenge itself — before growing to 12. That’s assuming the 10 stay together. With a new stadium and solid years of football built up, SDSU is looking more and more like a Pac-12 team. This is its reward for years of preparation. 
  • Tom Fornelli: After not winning the conference in either of the last two seasons, Boise State will not only return to the mountaintop but go undefeated in conference play.
  • Chip Patterson: For the first time since 2014 and just the second time since 2000, UNLV will be a bowl team.  
  • Barrett Sallee: Fresno State will get the New Year’s Six bid out of the Group of Five. Quarterback Jake Haener will confirm his highly-touted status, and multiple star skill players will help produce one of the best offenses in the country. 
  • Shehan Jeyarajah: Air Force will make an unlikely run to an undefeated season and find a spot in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Unfortunately, the Falcons will fall just short thanks to a monster performance from Jake Haener in the title game. 
  • David Cobb: Fresno State will pull a stunning upset at USC on Sept. 17 in what amounts to a major setback for the Trojans under first-year coach Lincoln Riley. 

  • Jerry Palm: The Mountain West will have more teams in the final CFP Rankings than any other Group of Five conference but still not put a team in a New Year’s Six game.

Mountain West predicted order of finish

Mountain West champion

Boise State: Boise State finished 0-3 in one-possession games during a 7-5 season under first-year coach Andy Avalos in 2021. Seasoned by those close battles and with Avalos now having a season under his belt, the Broncos are poised to reassert themselves as the class of the Mountain West. Their two-deep is filled with veterans, including a productive quarterback in Hank Bachmeier. With an offensive line that is poised for a bounce-back season after a bad run with injuries, this should be the league’s most complete team. — Cobb (also Dodd, Fornelli, Palm)

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are set up to make a run not only to the Mountain West championship but into the national discussion as one of the top programs in the Group of Five. The combination of veteran Jake Haener taking the snaps, an extremely experienced offense and a schedule that sends San Diego State and San Jose State to Fresno makes a run to the championship game possible. More importantly, they can dictate the style of pretty much every game on their schedule … and styles make fights. — Sallee (also Patterson, Jeyarajah)

Mountain West player of the year

Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State: After throwing for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns last season while proving to be one of the grittiest players in the sport, Haener is poised to cap his college career with another productive year. While the Bulldogs are undergoing a coaching transition from Kalen DeBoer to Jeff Tedford, they return ample production at the skill positions. Also, Tedford was Fresno State’s coach when Haener first transferred from Washington, so there is familiarity there to pair with Tedford’s solid track record of developing quarterbacks. — Cobb (also Dodd, Patterson, Sallee, Jeyarajah, Palm)

Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State: Bachmeier was overshadowed in the Mountain West last season because he played in an offense that wasn’t as pass happy as others, but he was a solid and efficient option. An option I expect to take on a larger role in his fourth season at the helm in Boise. His success combined with the team’s success will push him to the top of the field in the MWC. — Fornelli

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