After previewing the “West” of the Mountain West in our previous installment, we focus on the “Mountain” half of the loop, which features the only new head coach in the league, Colorado State’s Mike Bobo. Once again, teams are presented in order of predicted finish, with last year’s SU and pointspread records included...

When the smoke finally cleared after last season, it looked a lot like most recent years at Boise State (2014 SUR 12-2, PSR 8-6). Once again the Broncos hit double-digit wins for what would be the thirteenth time in sixteen seasons. Once more Boise State would win a bowl game, its tenth since 1999. And again the Broncos would succeed in the high-profile Fiesta Bowl, for the third time without a loss, in nine seasons.

Boise State also did it with its fourth different head coach during its glory era. Much as Dirk Koetter, Dangerous Dan Hawkins, and Chris Petersen had done before him, Bryan Harsin stepped in and the Broncos did not skip a beat. The formula for replacing coaches also stayed somewhat the same; while Harsin wasn’t promoted directly from the Boise staff as were his predecessors Hawkins and Petersen, he had significant Bronco roots, a part of Boise staffs before moving to Texas as offensive coordinator and one year at Arkansas State to cut his teeth as a head coach before being summoned home to replace Petersen. Harsin, a Boise grad and o.c. for some of Petersen’s best teams, including a pair of undefeated entries in 2006 and 2009, was a natural choice, and rewarded that faith with another characteristic big Bronco season.

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Along the way Boise would solidify itself as the pre-eminent “mid-major” in the country by netting the coveted at-large bid to one of the New Year’s Six bowls that is now reserved for the top team in a consortium of the Mountain West, Conference USA, American, Sun Belt, and Mid-American Conferences. But it also confirmed that barring some dramatic developments, the Broncos, no matter how good they might be, will likely be unable to crack the gridiron “Final Four” group. Which has rekindled some talk in the land of the blue carpet that the Broncos should continue to pursue membership in one of the major conferences, most likely the Big 12, which currently sits at ten teams. That, however, remains wishful thinking on the part of the Boise diehards, as the Big 12 does not appear interested in expanding anytime soon, and if it did so, would probably try to lure another regional entry, BYU, before making a call to Boise.

Whatever. Bronco fans should be thrilled that there is still a place at the big-boy table for their team, which once again appears to be one of the favorites to land a New Year’s Six spot.

2015 shapes up as another potentially big year in Boise, as a whopping 17 starters return from Harsin’s first edition that would beat Pac-12 Arizona, 38-30, in a dramatic Fiesta Bowl shootout. But it’s two that don’t return on the offensive side that have generated a bit of concern in Bronco-land.

Specifically, the main attack-end catalysts of last season’s success, QB Grant Hedrick and RB Jay Ajayi (a Miami Dolphins draftee), have departed. Moreover, o.c. Mike Sanford moved to Notre Dame after one season on the job. But we advise Boise fans not to fret, as a lot of players and coaches have been moving in and out of the program since Hedrick and Ajayi were in kindergarten...and the Broncos keep winning.

Harsin did not waste any time naming a new o.c., tapping TE coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who called plays for Harsin at Arkansas State in 2013. Drinkwitz thus becomes the program’s fifth o.c. in six years....and, as previously noted, those changes have not stopped the Boise momentum.

Nonetheless, Bronco fans have a right to be curious, especially about their new QB after spring work did not seem to provide concrete answers. Soph Ryan Finley, Hedrick’s backup last year who saw extended action only in the loss at Air Force, will enter fall camp as the favorite, though Harsin had yet to name his starter in mid-summer, theoretically keeping alive a competition that also includes soph Thomas Stuart. (Brett Rypien, a frosh from Spokane whose name should sound familiar--uncle Mark was a Washington State star and Super Bowl winner for the Redskins--is one of the top incoming recruits but is being targeted for a couple if years down the road.) As for Ajayi’s successor, it will likely be filled by a committee-like appraoch, with soph Jeremy McNichols, who played a WR/RB combo as a true frosh, getting first crack at the most carries despite missing most of spring work after hernia surgery.

The good news is that nine other starters are back on the strike force from an “O” that ranked ninth nationally in scoring at 39.7 ppg. Included is the entirety of a vet OL now comprised of juniors and seniors in the starting lineup, and the full squadron of wideouts from a year ago, led by 5-6 waterbug Shane Williams-Rhodes (68 catches in 2014) and electric jr. Thomas Sperbeck, who emerged as the Broncos’ next star wideout when gaining a team-high 877 receiving yards en route to MVP honors at the Fiesta Bowl.

Boise’s “D” was not quite as shut ’em down last fall as other Bronco stop units in recent memory, but the vibes are likewise good for a platoon that returns eight starters of its own and did flash moments of dominance a year ago. Big plays were a recurring headache for last year’s defense, forced in part by injury issues that forced LB Tanner Vallejo into the nickel role, limiting coverage options. Vallejo, who recorded a whopping 16.5 tackles for loss a year ago, is now back at his familiar MLB spot. There is also enhanced depth along the DL with three seniors who redshirted a year ago now in the rotation mix along with MW sack leader DE Kamalei Correa (12 sacks LY). The vet secondary is full of playmakers, with S Darian Thompson the MW interception leader in 2014 with seven (one returned for a TD) and sr. CB Donte Deayon off of a six-pick season with two returns for a TD.

Spread-wise, Harsin’s Broncos somewhat rekindled the old blue-carpet magic at now-named Albertson’s Stadium, covering four of seven at home (two spread losses vs. Fresno State, including the MW title game), but that modest success was not insignificant as Boise’s home spread mark had dipped in preceding years due to rampant pointspread inflation. Still, the wild home spread success the Broncos enjoyed for many years in the WAC has been elusive since the move to the Mountain West in 2011.

Boise will likely begin the season in the lower reaches of the Top 25, but has a chance to move close to the Top Ten by the end of September if it survives a tricky non-league slate that includes a visit by former HC Petersen and his Washington team in the opener, and subsequent trips to BYU and Virginia. The Mountain West slate misses West favorite San Diego State, but barring something unforseen, the Broncos figure to be favored in all of their league games.

For all of Boise’s recent successes, last year’s performance still rated as something of a surprise, as most MW insiders believed this would be the year that Harsin’s Broncos would resemble past powerhouses. The latter thought still holds as long as Finley can prove serviceable at QB.

Sustaining momentum after apparent overnight success is not the easiest thing to do in college football. Especially when the coaching architect of that resurgence decides to bolt soon after the winning commences. (Witness San Jose State and its quick dropoff the past two years after HC Mike MacIntyre moved to Colorado). But “sustainability” is the operative word at Utah State (2014 SUR 10-4, PSR 7-7) as the Aggies have kept on ticking since HC Gary Andersen left after back-to-back bowl seasons in 2011 & ‘12,

At the time of Andersen’s departure, some regional sources wondered if the Utags did the right thing hiring from within and promoting o.c. Matt Wells as the new head coach. Especially with the program making a jump up from the WAC into the Mountain West in 2013. But the Utags have kept flying at a nice altitude with Wells, winning bowl games each of the past two years and doing so a year ago despite a rash of injuries that had the offense, especially the QB position, more resembling a M*A*S*H unit.

Injuries, indeed. Altogether, the Aggies lost nine starters last fall to injuries, forcing changes not only in lineups but schemes as well. And at the aforementioned QB spot, three signal-callers went down with season-ending maladies, making last year’s success and third straight bowl win even more impressive.

Now, however, the QB position has become so well-stocked that Darrel Garretson, who relieved starter Chuckie Keeton each of the past two seasons and led by Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois in 2013, reckoned that he would be hard-pressed to get snaps this fall and has decided to transfer to Oregon State, where he joins former USU HC Andersen and reunites with last year’s o.c. Kevin McGiven, now the Beavers’ QB coach. (Garretson, who has to sit out in 2015, reportedly had Washington as his first choice, but that was vetoed by USU since the Huskies appear on this fall’s schedule.) The electric Keeton, who has been KO’d each of the past two seasons, playing in only three games a year ago as he tried to rush back from ACL surgery the previous season, is back for another go this fall, as is now-soph Kent Myers, who was the third reliever out of the bullpen to lead the Utags with some flair down the stretch and into the New Mexico Bowl win over UTEP, where he was named Offensive MVP. Crowding the QB situation further this fall is well-regarded Oregon transfer Damian Hobbs, whose presence might have been the final straw for Garretson, whose own 2014 campaign was cut short by a wrist injury after he passed for 1140 yards and 8 TDs in relief of Keeton, who has been touted as a Heisman Trophy longshot each fo the past two years.

Keeton, Myers, or Hobbs will be working with a new o.c., Josh Heupel, the QB of Oklahoma’s 2000 national title team and for the past decade a mainstay of Bob Stoops’ Sooner staff before getting thrown under the bus after OU’s late-season fade a year ago. Wells’ fingerprints, however, remain all over this offense, so expect little schematic change. Helping out will be an OL that returns four of five starters from last season and a collection of big-play wideouts led by srs. Hunter Sharp (66 catches last season) and the explosive JoJo Natson, used in a variety of roles the past couple of years and also a lethal special teams force with four return TDs to his credit.

A collection of capable backs likely share the load carrying the ball once again, with scooter LaJuan Hunt (548 YR) likely getting the first crack at carries. Juco transfer Devante Mays is a downhill threat and was the only back Wells signed in February, providing more size and power than the existing RBs.

Defense, however, has been a real staple in Logan the past few years with several nationally-ranked stop units, and Wells moved quickly to replace d.c. Bo Orlando, who left to join Tom Herman’s new staff at U of Houston, summoning Kevin Clune back to the Cache Valley from Hawaii, where Clune had moved to coordinate Norm Chow’s defense last season. Clune forged a significant turnaround of the porous Rainbow Warrior stop unit and is familiar with most of the personnel on hand at Logan from his last stint with the Utags thru 2013.

Utah State’s “D” will continue to operate out of 3-4 alignments with six starters returning from a year ago, though one of those that isn’t is key LB Zach Vigil, the Defensive MVP of the New Mexico Bowl and spending this summer in the Miami Dolphins camp. Zach’s bother Nick, however, returns for his junior season at an ILB spot after being named to the MW All-Conference team as a soph in 2014. Another OLB, Kyler Fackrell, has also earned All-MW honors, and the linebacker corps now boasts of significant depth after it was hit with the injury bug, much as the QB position, a year ago. OLB Torrey Green was the star of spring drills when the “D” mostly outplayed the “O” in scrimmages. Both starting CBs (Jalen Davis and Daniel Gray) also return, and while Clune must replace both graduated safeties, last year’s platoon rotated several players in the nickel and dime packages, so there is more experience than it would seem at those positions.

A pointspread force the previous two seasons when recording a sterling 20-7 mark vs. the line, USU regressed a bit last year and only covered 2 of 6 games at home, but given how the injury situation piled up a year ago, covering half of the 14 games was not a bad result. Keep in mind that the Utags were 8-2 vs. the line in 2012-13 as host, and were 18-8 in an underdog role between 2009-13.

As usual, USU will have a tricky non-league slate, featuring in-state Utah (at Salt Lake City) and BYU (which visits Logan at the end of the season), plus the aforementioned clash vs. Chris Petersen’s Washington at Seattle on September 19. But the only shock in Logan these days would be if the Utags miss out on a bowl, which appears very unlikely. Instead, there’s a better chance that the October 17 revenge match at home vs. Boise State will have a direct bearing on the Mountain Division title.

As the one and only Lee Corso might have said to those who believed Troy Calhoun had lost his magic touch as a head coach, “Not so fast, my friend.” For 2014 was a big-time redemption for Calhoun and Air Force (2014 SUR 10-3, PSR 8-5) after the Falcs had fallen off of the map in a 2-win train wreck the previous year. Coupled with the pending retirement of longtime AD Hans Meuh, who hired Calhoun to replace the retired Fisher DeBerry in 2007, many believed a changing of the guard was coming at the Academy.

But, as Corso would say, not so fast!

The Force had been absolutely decimated by injuries in 2013, to the point where Calhoun’s option-based offense was barely recognizable from previous editions late in the campaign, so badly had injuries rocked the troops. But the Falcs were back in the nation’s top ten in rushing last season while also rediscovering some of the defense that disappeared in 2013 when the Force rated among the nation’s worst stop units in numerous categories. Along the way Calhoun’s bunch also returned to the bowl scene and outran Western Michigan 38-24 in a lively Idaho Potato Bowl at Boise.

But it was the “D” that set the tone a year ago for coordinator Steve Russ, who was flying solo in his role for the first time after sharing duties in previous years. Russ’ Falc defenders were a hustling and violent group, cutting a whopping 115 ypg of of their rushing numbers and almost 16 ppg from 2013's awful allowance of 40 ppg as Russ reintroduced the attack mindset of the turnover-centric Falc stop units of the early Calhoun years. Calhoun also brought in a couple of experienced position coaches (former Maryland HC Ron Vanderlinden at inside linebackers, Tim Cross at defensive line) who would pay immediate dividends.

Now, Russ has seven starters to replace from a year ago, but the same reckless style will be preached. And the returnees are good ones, as the aptly-named SS Weston Steelhammer earned All-Mountain West honors when picking off six passes a year ago, while DE Alex Hansen and LB Connor Healy will be fourth-year starters. A potential concern is the status of CB Gavin McHenry, whose standing at the Academy has jeopardized his availability for the fall.

The efficiency of the "D" however could expect a slight drop-off after losing two linebackers Jordan Pierce and Spencer Proctor) responsible for 30 tackles for loss, as well as five of the top eight defensive linemen from last year’s overachieving platoon. Still, the starting lineup projects an all junior-senior look, as rotation pieces from a year ago will have a chance to step into more featured role

The option should be in good shape with QB Nate Romine, who started much of the aborted 2013 campaign and watched the now-departed Kale Pearson run the offense for most of last season but did manage to play hero off of the bench in the stirring 27-24 late November win over Colorado State.

Romine will also have most of Pearson’s skill weapons at his disposal, including big-play wideout Jalen Robinette (an Ernie Jennings-like 43 catches for 806 yards a year ago) and another homerun threat WR, sr. Garrett Brown. Though the run remains the staple of the Calhoun offense, the best Falcon options have been able to feature QBs (such as Pearson last season) who could get the ball downfield deep and surprise defenses massed against the run. Romine appears capable of the same.

The bread-and-butter for the Falcs remains the infantry, of course, and the RB corps is deep, led by north-south slasher Jacobi Owens (1054 YR in 2014), while fullback returnees Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson combined for 16 TDs a year ago. The usual attrition has hit the Falcon OL where only two starters return, but that is standard operating procedure in Colorado Springs, and vet OL coach Clay Hendrix is adept at filling in the gaps up front. Most importantly, the projected starters are again juniors and seniors, all seasoned in the Falcon option style.

Prior to last season, Calhoun’s Air Force had not had a winning spread record since 2009, and had really tailed off at Falcon Stadium. But the Force covered 8 of 13 a year ago and 5 of 6 in Colorado Springs, its best showing vs. the number at home since Calhoun’s first Falcon team was 5-0 vs. the line as host in 2007.

The Falcs, who reclaimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy last season, will be severely tested by Navy to turn that trick again, and there is also a road game at Michigan State, which we believe will cause Mark Dantonio more angst than it does Calhoun. True, the Force will not be sneaking up on anybody this fall, but another bowl trip (which would be the Force’s eighth in nine seasons for Calhoun) seems likely.

Wyoming (2014 SUR 4-8, PSR 4-8) has a lot more interesting football history than many would believe. Many of the coaches who have passed through Laramie (including Bob Devaney, Fred Akers, Pat Dye, Dennis Erickson, and Joe Tiller) have gone on to greater successes at other locales. The 1967 Cowboys would qualify for the Sugar Bowl under HC Loyd Eaton, with a team featuring RB Jim Kiick. But alums like Dick Cheney have also had to endure the missed coaching hires like Vic Koenning and Joe Glenn, the latter a big winner at the lower divisions just as current HC Craig Bohl was at North Dakota State before taking the job at Laramie amid much fanfare a year ago.

We mention the eventually-failed tenure of Joe Glenn because the more pessimistic among Cowboy backers might believe that Bohl is on the same path after last season’s rather disappointing 4-8 mark. But some factors conspired a year ago against the effervescent Bohl, not the least of which was a tough season to enter the Mountain West, especially in the Mountain half of the loop where four other teams would notch double-digit win totals. Bohl was also hamstrung at QB, forced to scale back his offense that was already going to be in adjust mode from the Dave Christensen spread years, after QB Brett Smith decided to leave school early and Jason Thompson transferred to Utah. Left with the limited Colby Kirkegaard to run last year’s atteck, Wyo struggled as most expected, ranking 107th in scoring, unable to keep pace with the higher-powered Mountain West offenses.

But, ahh, the winds of fortune might finally be blowing in Bohl’s favor. Transfer QB Cameron Coffman landed in Laramie last year after spending the previous few seasons at Indiana, where he passed for 2734 yards and 15 TDs as the starter n 2012. Now eligible, Coffman easily won the QB job in spring and seems well-suited to run Bohl’s pro-style offense that features a thunderous 1-2 RB combo of Shaun Wick and Brian Hill. Wick was well on his way to a 1000-yard season a year ago before breaking his wrist in the eighth game, which opened the door for Hill, who immediately rushed for 121 yards at Colorado State and then a whopping 281 in a 45-17 blowout win at Fresno State, the high-water mark for last year’s Cowpokes. The pair would combine for 1589 YR a year ago and are back for an encore this fall.

Coffman, however, probably wishes that last year’s top two receivers, Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne, had not graduated, but true frosh Justice Murphy is rated as a big-play threat who could make immediate contributions. Only two starters return along the OL as well, but all should be more familiar in the second year with o.c. Brent Vigen, who followed Bohl from North Dakota State.

Assuming improvement on the offensive end with an acknowledged upgraded QB situation is one thing, but anticipating better things from a defense that allowed almost 33 ppg a year ago is another matter. Especially since Wyo exited spring with a completely rebuilt secondary that was featuring four redshirt frosh starters when drills concluded (though one of those, SS Chaves Pownell, Jr., was the hit of the spring game with several big hits...including one that got him ejected from the proceedings!). Soph Robert Priester, who starred seven games at CB last year but missed spring due to injury, could eventually work his way back into the starting mix.

Bohl’s “D” will featured a seasoned DL highlighted by All-Mountain West DE Eddie Yarbrough, who recorded 10.5 tackles for loss in 2014 along with four sacks despite constant extra attention from opposing offenses. There are more questions at the LB spots, where OLB Lucas Wacha, younger brother of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha, is the only returnee with starting experience. But having a better feel for the personnel in their second years on the job, some of the personnel and position juggling by Bohl and Vigen could pay dividends.

Fortunately for Bohl, who brought a 24-game win streak from North Dakota State with him to Laramie, the non-conference schedule is not as demanding as a year ago when the Cowboys had to go on the road to top ten Oregon and Michigan State. Those heavyweights have been traded out for Eastern Michigan and Washington State, with Bohl’s old rival North Dakota and App State the other non-league foes. With New Mexico as the MW opener at the end of September, the Cowboys will have a shot at a fast start before the bulk of the MW slate begins in October.

We’re still bullish on Bohl, who probably deserved a mulligan last season. A minor bowl bid is probably the ceiling for Wyo, but it is reachable. Cowboys fans might be careful what they wish for, however, because if Bohl does start winning, rest assured the suitors will come calling. That’s what happens when coaches win in Laramie.

The tune has changed at Colorado State (2-14 SUR 10-3, PSR 8-5) , which managed to hit a homerun with its last coaching hire, Jim McElwain, who made a seamless transition from Nick Saban’s o.c. at Alabama to the HC role in Fort Collins in 2012. By McElwain’s second season it was apparent that the Rams had struck gold, but unlike in the ‘90s when stumbling upon Sonny Lubick, and managing to fend off all suitors for a decade, CSU was not going to be able to keep McElwain in the fold for very long. So it was no surprise when Florida came calling last December and whisked McElwain down to Gainesville after the Will Muschamp regime ran aground.

Looking to go the same SEC coordinator route to succeed McElwain, CSU tabbed Georgia o.c. Mike Bobo, a onetime Bulldog QB who has been running Mark Richt’s offenses in recent years. SEC sources believe that Bobo wanted to cut his head coaching teeth elsewhere to eventually give him the best shot to return to the SEC (perhaps alma mater Georgia?) as the boss. The Rams’ job looked better than an opening in the Sun Belt or C-USA, so Bobo was quick to jump at the opportunity following last season.

But the situation has been a bit more awkward than it should in Fort Collins, where a revolving door of athletic directors has finally landed upon Joe Parker, most recently the deputy AD at Texas Tech. The Rams’ AD job had been open since last August when Jack Graham was fired; interim AD John Morris, who oversaw the Bobo hire and was a candidate for the full-time position, left in February to take the AD job at Meredith Vieira’s alma mater Tufts (Tufts?). Thus CSU has a tricky arrangement on its hands with a new AD who had nothing to do with the hiring of the new football coach.

This is also no time for Ram football to regress from some of its recent advancements under McElwain, especially since CSU is now full-steam ahead to build its on-campus stadium to replace the aging Hughes Stadium, which sits in the foothills about five miles west. But the new facility is highly dependent upon outside sources for funding to complete the project, the sorts of donations that could become in jeopardy if football fortunes sag.

Bobo will be altering the McElwain offense, opting for more of a pro-style look with the traditional two backs, a tight end, and two wideouts. Problematic could be the departure of two of the cornerstones from last year’s offense, QB Garrett Grayson (NFL Saints draftee) and RB Dee Hart. Grayson, who started 35 games in his Ram career, and his 4006 YP and 32 TDs from a year ago might be hard to replace. Hart, who rushed for 1275 yards and scored 18 TDs last season after transferring for Alabama, also leaves big shoes to be filled.

The Bobo offense will be power-based and attempt to wear out the opposition while soph QB Nick Stevens learns the nuances which will include constant reads at the line of scrimmage. Big-play wideout Rashard Higgins returns after catching 96 passes for 1750 yards a year ago, but replicating his special rapport with Grayson might prove difficult. Former juco Treyous Jerrells ran for 450 YR as a complement to Hart last season and looms as the new featured back, though mighty-mite 5'9 Purdue transfer Dalyn Dawkins could emerge as a new running threat. Three starters return along the forward wall.

The defense has a new look and feel, too, as Bobo and new d.c. Will Friend have transitioned back to more traditional 4-3 alignments after running a 3-4 in recent years. Most Mountain West defenses opt for the 3-man fronts because of a shortage of quality defensive linemen in the league, but Bobo does not buy into that mindset, and believes his three returning senior starters up front (featuring DT Terry Jackson) should be able to handle the adjustment. The hub of the “D” will be OLB Cory James, who has 21 sacks over the past three seasons, and all four starters return in a veteran secondary led by FS Kevin Pierre-Louis.

Bobo didn’t completely discard the McElwain influence, as three coaches remain from last year’s staff, including special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt. But the new offensive and defensive strategies are a change from the past few years.

Spread-wise, the Rams were a dynamic force for McElwain, who covered the number in 21 of his last 29 games in charge before departing prior to last December’s Las Vegas Bowl, in which CSU was blown out 45-10 by Utah. Rams fans are hoping that negative vibes of tthat result vs. the Utes, with the absence of McElwain, does not carry over into 2015.

The CSU schedule is favorable, with Big Ten Minnesota visiting Fort Collins on September 12, and the annual grudge match vs. Colorado at Denver on September 19 being the highlights of the non-league slate. MW contenders Boise State, Air Force, and San Diego State all visit Hughes Stadium in a three-game midseason stretch.

But this is not going to be the same Colorado State team as we saw the past couple of years when the Rams had a future NFL QB piloting the offense. The likely dropoff at that all-important position, as well as all of the other changes authorized by the new Bobo staff, make us believe CSU slips this year and does no better than the most minor of bowls.

In reconstruction analogies, New Mexico (2014 SUR 4-8, PSR 6-6) HC Bob Davie might as well have been the football version of Ulysses S. Grant, trying to put together a remnant of a football program that had been ravaged, in gridiron terms, much as the South had been decimated in the Civil War.

When he left the ESPN booth to take the thankless Lobo job for 2012, Davie didn’t inherit a football program as much as he did a carcass from the preceding Mike Locksley regime, which won all of three games in three seasons. Moreover, Davie was left with a threadbare roster of barely 50 scholarship players, as only a handful of Locksley’s earliest recruits had lasted and were still enrolled. Davie’s first New Mexico edition would thus feature several fifth-year seniors who were holdovers from the end of the Rocky Long regime that preceded Locksley, and various newcomers that Davie hurriedly added to make a semblance of a roster for 2012.

It is within that backdrop that we must analyze Davie’s first three years on the job at Albuquerque and effectively give him a mulligan for each losing year. Indeed, given the circumstances, 4-9, 3-9, and 4-8 records aren’t too bad. The toxic residue of the Locksley years, however, has almost been scrubbed clean at University Stadium. After 11 wins in three years, Davie is now going to be expected to steward a move closer to .500, as no longer is the mess he inherited as much to blame for results. Lobo fans, notoriously demanding on the hoops side and now getting very anxious that their basketball program might be slipping, do not have infinite patience if their football team continues to lose, either.

We believe Davie has done the best he could under the circumstances, but it remains to be seen if he and his staff can change those circumstances for once to be in favor of the Lobos. After all, recruiting to New Mexico is not easy. “You can’t believe how many recruits we’ve met on the road who don’t know that New Mexico is a part of the United States,” Davie admitted at last summer’s Mountain West media days. Somehow, we don’t think Urban Meyer has those same problems at Ohio State.

Short of athletes on defense, Davie originally reckoned that his best alternative was to employ an option offense to slow down the game and work the clock and hopefully keep his defenses off the field. But the Lobo stop unit continues to rank in the triple digits in most relevant categories, which, even considering the talent disadvantage that Davie has had to endure, is a bit of a surprise to many Mountain West insiders who expected that Davie’s defensive expertise from his days as Notre Dame’s HC and defensive coordinator, and previous decorated coordinator stint at Texas A&M, could still translate to the present-day game despite the coach spending a decade in the broadcast booth.

Davis and d.c. Kevin Cosgrove, however, are going to adjust their tactics this season and employ a Rocky Long-inspired 3-3-5 defensive alignment, familiar to Lobo fans from Rocky’s decade-long stint as New Mexico coach. Against the many pass-centric MW offenses, the move to add an extra DB makes sense. Personnel-wise, Davie also believes it gives him the best chance to get his 11 best defensive athletes on the field. Moreover, what does Davie have to lose after last year’s defense ranked 124th in the country and allowed almost 520 ypg?

The rock of the defense, such as it is, will likely be MLB Dakota Cox, who led New Mexico in tackles with 116 last year despite missing the last three games with a knee injury. The healthy return of sr. NT Cole Juarez, who missed half of last season due to injury, should help the DL. But after allowing another whopping total of 36 ppg last season, Davie is again best advised to come up with an offensive gameplan to keep the “D” off of the field as much as possible.

Davie’s version of the Pistol offense, as interpreted by o.c. Bob DeBesse, has lacked the aerial component that the more-familiar Nevada style of the same offense has been able deploy in recent years. The Lobos can run; they’ve ranked fourth nationally in rushing each of the past two years. But we’re still not sure Davie has the proper QB to make the New Mexico Pistol really percolate.

Ahhh, quarterback. Which way do the Lobos turn? Strong runner Cole Gautsche had some bright moments the past few years, but proved too injury prone to stay in the lineup for any extended period of time and has been moved to tight end. Juco transfer Austin Apodaca, who began his college career at Washington State in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, passed for 2354 yards at Mesa (Az) Community College last year but, since he doesn’t run very well, would appear an awkward fit to run the Pistol. Holdover QB Lamar Jordan can run (612 YR in 2014) and execute the option fundamentals of the Pistol, but his passing is suspect. A hybrid of Jordan the runner and Apodaca the passer would provide Davie’s Pistol with the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, unless the Lobos offense morphs into a science fiction flick this fall, Davis is going to have to opt for one or the other.

But New Mexico scored 28 ppg last season without much of a pass threat and should do at least as well this year with four starters back along the OL and top rusher Jhurell Pressley (1083 YR in 2014) ready to motor once again alongside backfield mate Teriyon Gipson, who added 809 YR of his own last fall. The pair also combined for 20 TDs in 2014. No starters return among the wideouts, opening the door for a well-regarded frosh such as Savon Rollison from Dallas to make a quick impact.

Even with the roster shortcomings, Davie’s Lobos got close to a couple of breakthrough wins last season, blowing a second-half lead against Fresno State, and within a TD at both Air Force and Utah State. New Mexico also looked as if it was about to score a major home upset over Boise State until the combination of a defensive collapse and some horrendous calls by the officials (a hard-to-explain call reversal denied the Lobos an apparent first down on what could have been the game-deciding drive to a TD in the 4th Q) helped the Broncos to a 60-49 escape.

Spread-wise, Davie’s Lobos have actually offered some decent value lately, at least as a road dog, covering 7 of their last 9 chances in that role. Conversely, however, New Mexico is only 2-8 its last ten as a home dog, exhibiting a semi inside-out spread pattern.

The 2015 non-conference slate is not too demanding other than a trip to Arizona State, as the Lobos host Jerry Rice’s alma mater Mississippi Valley State, rebuilt Tulsa, and downtrodden state rival New Mexico State. The Lobos also miss West favorite San Diego State, which cycles out of the slate this fall, while Utah State, Colorado State, and Air Force all visit Albuquerque.

Davie, however, is not going to be able to get mulligans forever (only Bill Clinton is afforded that luxury on the golf course), and one of these years, ’ol Bob is going to have to win at least as many games as he loses and get to a bowl, or the natives are going to start getting restless...even in Albuquerque. It says here that if New Mexico can get to 3-1 in the non-league portion of its slate, 2015 might be that year.



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