Mountain West 2020 Preseason Superlatives
A conference run by one team appears headed that way again, but we've been surprised in the past. Boise State continues to run the Mountain West Conference, and the Broncos are set to run the table again in 2020. Another solid core of players returns, and it's tough to see that group faltering. With some of the players listed below, it's no wonder they're the team to beat, but that doesn't men other teams can't sneak up and surprise them. Given that the Mountain West (well, really Boise State) hasn't played in a New Year's Six bowl game since 2014, this could be the year they get back.
Best Offensive Player: QB Hank Bachmeier, Boise State
The former four star recruit can be an absolute stud when healthy. Priority number one remains keeping him upright and protected, something that didn't happen frequently enough last season. Bachmeier took a number of big hits from defenders, but his confidence never wavered. An argument can be made that he is the most poised passer in college football thanks to his ability to take a hit and still throw a dime to his receiver. He only threw nine touchdown passes in the eight games that he played, but a healthy Bachmeier makes the Broncos offense a force to be reckoned with on Saturdays.
Best Defensive Player: LB Justin Rice, Fresno State
Kalen DeBoer inherits a program that won a conference championship just two years ago, and has three in the last eight years. He'll have talent like linebacker Justin Rice to work with, and the defense will be in good hands with Rice running the show. He finished with a team high 112 tackles, and finish second in tackles for loss (7.0). This is a guy who knows where the ball is going and teams must scheme around if they want to be successful. Rice had eight games last year in which he produced 10 or tackles, so it's safe to say that at least one Bulldogs defender will be around to make a play.
Most Pressure to Succeed: Boise State
You could just put the conference on here too. The Mountain West continues competing with the AAC for the New Year's Six spot, and the AAC is starting to gain an advantage. Sure, you could look at head to head records or how the conference's do against Power 5 competition, but the New Year's Six is starting to go in the AAC's favor (4-1). Boise State is that one representative for the conference, and many are expecting the Broncos to do so again this year. The pressure comes from the need to go undefeated, and having a target on their back puts extra weight on their shoulders. The Mountain West can hang with the AAC and Power 5 competition, but the New Year's Six is an area where they must improve.
Newcomer: WR's Rico Bussey/Aaron Cephus, Hawaii
Bussey comes from the prolific North Texas offense, while Cephus arrives from Rice. Even with Jared Smart returning, Hawaii needed replacements for Jojo Ward and Cedric Byrd. Bussey and Cephus should fill those roles nicely. Cephus is a 6'4", 205 pound deep threat who found a way to catch 65 passes over the last two years in Rice's offense for 1,187 yards and 10 touchowns. The Rainbow Warriors go at a little faster pace than the Owls did, which fits Bussey's skillset perfectly. Just two years ago he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark along with 12 touchdowns. Hawaii might take a step back offensively, but it won't be too far.
Don't Forget About: CB/PR Avery Williams, Boise State
Williams seems kind of forgotten lately. Granted, his production in the return game as a freshman set a high standard, but he's evolved his game in other ways. An improving cornerback, he's trying to show that he's more than just a great returner, but he's doing so without sacrificing his greatness in special teams. Williams returns five career touchdowns as a returner, four via punt and one via kickoff. He gives the Broncos another threat in the third aspect of the game, something not many teams get, and he has a little bit of flare as a returner that's worth watching even if he doesn't get to run the ball back.
Breakout Player: QB Chevan Cordeiro, Hawaii
His career stats aren't anything flashy (1,291 yards, 14 touchdowns), but that's because he's been a backup to Cole McDonald the last two years. Now, it's his time to shine, and we've received glimpses of what he can do. Even in limited reps, Cordeiro proved that he's a reliable quarterback who can get the offense going. Last year when McDonald struggled early, Cordeiro came in and led a number of drives for the Rainbow Warriors. There's also the San Jose State game last year in which he threw for 309 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 74.2% of his passes. His new targets (listed above) give him experienced weapons, and it won't be a surprise when he's slinging the ball all over the field.
Best position group: Colorado State pass catchers
Boise State and Hawaii have something to say about this category, but it's the Rams that are the best. Warren Jackson and Dante Wright give Colorado State an elite 1-2 punch, returning a combined 1,924 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jackson's a 6'6" big man that can win physical matchups, while Wright is a short speedster that can burn teams in space. If defenses can find a way to stop both of them, that leaves the field wide open for tight end Trey McBride. It's pick your poison when facing this group, and teams need to get after the Rams quarterback in order to limit these three.
Sleeper Team: Wyoming
I'll say that I might be a little biased because I'm a big Craig Bohl believer, but the Cowboys aren't a team to overlook this year. Yes, Sean Chambers must elevate his game as a passer and will be challenged by former Houston committ Levi Williams. Chambers is the better runner of the two, but Williams can sling it. Both could be used this year after seeing time in 2019, and they'll be joined by one of the best backs int he conference. Xazavien Valladay returns after rushing for 1,265 yards in 2019, giving fans flashbacks of the Brian Hill days. Bohl also knows his defense has a few gaps to fill, but the defensive line should be elite while the new linebackers figure things out. Bohl's a winner, and the Cowboys will continue doing just that this season. It's always just a matter of how much.