Saturday, August 15, 2015

Five Questions: Mountain West

19 days friends. That is all that separates us from the malaise of summer and real college football. Most of the major storylines in college football are covered (much better) elsewhere. Thus, I will focus on a few under the radar storylines for the five mid-major conferences. We'll begin in the Mountain West.

1. Can Tony Sanchez succeed at UNLV fresh out of high school?
Tony Sanchez is not literally fresh out of high school. By my estimation, he matriculated a little more than two decades ago. However, he is going from a high school coach to a head coach of an FBS program. To be fair, there are not many examples of coaches jumping from high school to the college ranks without a stop as a coordinator or position coach along the way. However, the few that do exist offer Faustian tales of caution. Still, it makes sense for UNLV to take a calculated risk on a local high school coach who enjoyed absurd success. Sanchez probably won’t turn the Titanic around in one season, but a competitive team could have the locals optimistic about something besides progressive jackpots.
Hey. I'm looking for Tom Walker. Have you seen him?

2. Can San Jose State capitalize on their SEC-esque recruiting rankings?
Ron Caragher’s seat is getting a little warm on the California coast. After debuting with a 6-6 mark, his Spartans fell to 3-9 in his second season, with losses in their final six games. Their statistical profile was interesting to say the least as their Yards Per Play numbers were befitting a team that should have won two or three more games in the Mountain West.
Alas, wins are the most important commodity in college football (and sports in general) so Caragher should probably refrain from touting those solid numbers at the next Spartan Club meeting. While wins are the most valuable commodity in college football, Caragher appears to be doing a great job of acquiring the second most valuable commodity – talent. His latest recruiting class ranked 58th in the nation and second in the Mountain West, hardly suitable for a team that is just 9-15 under his guidance. Will the reinforcement of talent (and some better luck) make the Spartans contenders this year? Furthermore, will Caragher be around to further coalesce and consolidate his talent if it does not pay immediate dividends?

3. Will Boise State fans forget Chris Petersen?
As far as debuts go, Bryan Harsin could not have asked for much more. While the Broncos were not able to take out another SEC heavyweight and despite an early season upset at Air Force, they played in a BCS New Year's Six Bowl for the first time since 2009. Their dramatic win against Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl gave them three such victories and raised the stakes for Harsin’s follow up. Under the new rules, one member from the Group of 5 (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) must be invited to play in a New Year's Six Bowl, so it may as well be Boise right? The Broncos were not quite on the level of vintage Petersen teams whether judging by the Simple Rating System (how many points better a team is than a hypothetical ‘average’ team on a neutral field) or Yards Per Play numbers, but they were good enough.
Can they improve and perhaps even join the conversation for getting in the actual playoff?

4. Can New Mexico make the leap from competitive ‘dust in your brakes’ to bowl team?
Bob Davie was (rightfully) given a great deal of leeway when he took over in Albuquerque. His predecessor won exactly two games in two and a half seasons before being fired for off the field reasons. Thus far, Davie has won a few more games, featured an exciting run-based offense, and not committed sexual harassment or had a teen arrested for DWI while driving his car (that we know of). Now would be a good time to start winning more. While the Lobos have not played in the postseason since the twilight of the George W. Bush administration, they were a consistent bowl team throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s. Another season of competitive play, but few breakthrough wins will not be enchanting for fans of the program.

5. Can Nevada survive without the services of Cody Fajardo?
While Fajardo did not quite have the college (and likely pro) career of his predecessor, he was a four-year starter who led the Wolfpack to three bowl appearances and accounted for over 13000 yards of total offense, and 101 touchdowns. Nevada continues to run the quarterback-friendly Pistol as installed by former coach and College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault, but after eight years of more or less uninterrupted quality quarterback play, the Wolfpack could learn how the other half lives in 2015.

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