Philadelphia, PA – The Mountain West Conference is a league in transition, especially with three new teams this year and more shuffling on the way in 2013. Furthermore, the top teams expected to battle for the league title return an average of only 10 starters.
Time now to take a team-by-team look at the conference with predicted SU overall and conference records for those wagering on over/unders for total victories.
10) UNLV (50-1 - All odds courtesy of 5Dimes) - The Rebels are 6-27-1 as road underdogs the last seven years.
Offense - The Rebels have averaged 20 ppg or fewer in five of the last seven seasons. Expect that to read six of the last eight after this year.
Defense - This unit has finished in the bottom five nationally each of the last two seasons. Only five of the top 12 tacklers come back in 2012 so another poor performance is in the cards.
Prediction - The Rebels have recorded just one victory over teams with a winning record since 2005. They also own a 3-39 SU road mark over that span. Look for more unimpressive SU and ATS finishes (1-12, 0-8).
9) NEW MEXICO (75-1) - The Lobos are 3-10 ATS in non-conference play the last three years.
Offense - The Lobos ranked dead last nationally in scoring, averaging 12 ppg (7 ppg in league play). This year's unit is much more experienced so look for a huge boost in production.
Defense - Last year in this spot I wrote "New Mexico has only one way to go after ranking last in the country in scoring." Well, the Lobos improved all the way to 119th. They might drop back to the basement this year with the loss of four of their top five tacklers.
Prediction - A much easier schedule will have New Mexico on the way up, both SU and ATS (5-8, 2-6).
8) COLORADO STATE (25-1) - The Rams are 0-4 as road favorites the last three years.
Offense - Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain takes over as head coach but he will find the going rough with an offense that averaged just 18 ppg in MWC play last year. If a decent quarterback cannot be found, opposing defenses will put eight in the box and shut down Chris Nwoke.
Defense - This unit was on the field for 499 conference plays last season - the most in the league. The defense also ranked last in rushing and total yards allowed. It is doubtful those numbers will improve with the loss of four of the top eight tacklers.
Prediction - This season looks to be a rebuilding one for the Rams so expect below .500 SU and ATS records (3-9, 3-5).
7) HAWAII (30-1) - The Warriors are 1-7 ATS in their last eight games.
Offense - The offense averaged 31.5 ppg last season despite just two returning starters and both of them now depart. Still, six starters come back this year so there's a good chance for another season above the 30 ppg mark.
Defense - Hawaii gave up nine more ppg (29) and 88 more ypg (422) in WAC play last season compared to 2010. Things could get even worse this year with the loss of seven of the top 11 tacklers.
Prediction - Not much is expected from the Warriors this season. In fact, their O/U win total is at 4.5. Go with the over at -110 (6-6, 4-4).
6) WYOMING (12-1) - The Cowboys are 12-3 as road underdogs the last three years.
Offense - The Cowboys averaged more points last year than in any season since 2004. Unfortunately, they won't have the luxury of playing two Football Championship Series (FCS) teams in 2012. They are also minus their top running back from last year. Look for a slight regression in total points scored.
Defense - Wyoming allowed just 22 ppg in league play last season compared to 31 in 2010. However, the defense gave up 19 more yards per game and a full yard more per carry. Expect a rise in points allowed inside the conference.
Prediction - The Cowboys should win six games but with the O/U at 5.5 and the under at +180, go with the under (6-6, 4-4).
5) SAN DIEGO STATE (20-1) - The Aztecs are 6-3 as road underdogs the last three years.
Offense - A pair of Pac 12 transfers (Ryan Katz and Brice Butler) should help after the club lost NFL draft picks Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman. Nevertheless, a less experienced offensive line will cause a drop off in production.
Defense - A very young front seven will prevent this unit from reproducing the quality numbers of the last two years. Furthermore, players who recorded over 70 percent of the team's sacks came back in 2011. This year, that number is below 30 percent.
Prediction - The Aztecs travel to Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State so don't forget about their 67 percent ATS winning percentage as road underdogs the last three seasons (6-6, 4-4).
4) AIR FORCE (20-1) - The Falcons are 2-10 as home favorites the last two years.
Offense - The Falcons return just three offensive starters. They went through this in 2008 and came away averaging just three points fewer than the year before. Look for them to hang tough once again and average around 30 ppg, which would be a five-point drop from 2011.
Defense - With eight starters back, the defense allowed seven more points per game than in 2010. Now the unit brings back only three starters. However, the Falcons return nine of their top 17 tacklers so a huge decline might not come to fruition.
Prediction - Air Force catches a break without Boise State, TCU, and Notre Dame on the schedule so an above ,500 record is possible (7-5, 5-3).
3) BOISE STATE (3-1) - The Broncos are 15-6 as road favorites the last four years.
Offense - This offense has averaged 36 ppg or higher in each of the last 10 seasons - with four different starting quarterbacks. The unit went for 44 last year so look for an eight-point drop in 2012.
Defense - Even though the Broncos return just one fewer starter than Air Force, only four of the top 16 tacklers are back in Boise. And it wasn't as if last year's defense was impenetrable as it allowed 21 ppg in league play.
Prediction - The Broncos went 5-8 ATS last year. The previous three times they finished 12-1 SU they were a combined 27-10 ATS. Those numbers shows how vulnerable they were in 2011. Bet against them on a weekly basis (8-4, 6-2).
2) FRESNO STATE (6-1) - The Bulldogs are 3-18-1 as home favorites the last six years.
Offense - Led by the top quarterback-running back combination (Derek Carr- Robbie Rouse) in the MWC, the Bulldogs have an offense that can match both Nevada and Boise State. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if Carr can reproduce last year's numbers without his top two receivers.
Defense - Seven of the top 10 tacklers return to Fresno. In addition, the secondary gets back Phillip Thomas who missed last season due to injury.
Prediction - Winning at Oregon, Nevada, Boise State, and Tulsa will be difficult but the rest of the schedule is a piece of cake (8-4, 6-2).
1) NEVADA (5-1) - The Wolf Pack is 7-12 as road favorites the last five years.
Offense - Don't expect a major drop off in production even with the loss of the top two rushers and receivers. Quarterback Cody Fajardo gained valuable experience last season and he'll lead the offense to improved numbers in 2012.
Defense - The defense led the nation last year in quarterback completion percentage at 48 percent. The secondary should remain strong but the front seven is weaker than last season.
Prediction - A very manageable schedule will have the Wolf Pack in the thick of the conference race. At 5-1 odds, Nevada is the top choice to win the MWC (8-4, 6-2).