For the prognosticators, the Mountain West may be the easiest conference to project.
Boise St. is the likely prohibitive MW favorite behind Vince Young clone Taylen Green and a terrific 1-2 punch at running back. They are a very real possibility as the G5 representative in the New Year’s Six. Likely challengers Fresno St. and Air Force will still be their usual difficult selves despite breaking in new starters at quarterback. Someone will come from out of nowhere to reach the upper echelon of their respective division. The challenge lies in figuring out who that team is, and Vegas is banking on gamblers not doing so. (Ironically, that includes UNLV.)
That’s a very convoluted way of saying that there are some lines that are not very enticing. UNLV Over 5.5 wins is -172. Boise St. Over 7.5 wins is -170. Wyoming Over 5.5 is -168. Those aren’t exactly the sexiest lines for bets that will take 3 months to pay out. And I completely understand if you think that betting the Over/Under win total for New Mexico sounds like an absolutely horrible way to spend your hard earned money. So allow me to offer you three bets that provide good value but also have a decent chance of making it to the pay window. (Lines courtesy of FanDuel as of July 16.)
Nevada Over 4.5 Wins (+104) – Coming off a 2-10 season that ended with 10 consecutive losses is not the way to instill confidence in an Over bet, but here we are. There is reason for optimism in that Nevada seems to be one of those rare G5 schools that can get right quick thanks to the transfer portal. They might have done so with a new quarterback likely starting in Brendon Lewis (Colorado) and running back Sean Dollars (Oregon). A school willing and able to take some Pac-12 talent has to have a shot in the Mountain West.
Looking at their schedule, if you are trying to find 5 wins, take a glance at their home slate. Idaho, Kansas, UNLV, New Mexico, Hawai’i and Wyoming all visit Reno. There might be 5 wins right there (with only Kansas highly unlikely). There are also road games at Texas St., Utah St. and Colorado St. that are not impossible. There’s no Boise St. and no Air Force and Nevada doesn’t even need to get to bowl eligibility for the Over to hit. I like this bet a lot.
San Jose St. Under 5.5 Wins (+126) – First the good news.
San Jose St. returns arguably the top quarterback in the conference in Chevan Cordiero and all-conference candidates at skill positions in WR Justin Lockhart and RB Kairee Robinson, along with four returning starters along the offensive line. Anytime you have that you have a puncher’s chance. And if they are able to replace the defensive line production that graduated in Cade Hall and Villami Fehoko, they have a chance to be really good.
Now the very, very bad news. You can still be good without it reflecting in your record.
At USC, Oregon St., Cal Poly, at Toledo, Air Force, at Boise St. That’s the first half of the Spartans schedule. It’s entirely possible that SJSU starts the season 1-5, even if 2-4 is more likely. From there, they have games against Fresno St. and San Diego St. at home and a season finale at UNLV that may determine their bowl fate (and the fate of the Over/Under win total).
San Diego St. Under 6.5 Wins (+110) – Don’t let their past success cloud what last year looked like for San Diego St. They were not great on offense, and on top of that, they had some pretty poor performances from their traditionally stout defense.
I vividly recall Boise St. absolutely gashed the Aztec defense during the second half of their September matchup last year. Now granted, the Bronco rushing attack is really good, but that has never been an issue for SDSU in the past. But the fact remains, they gave up at least 30 points in 4 of their 6 losses (Arizona, Utah, Boise St., Fresno St.) and are missing a lot from that side of the ball.
Ditto the offense, which does retain Jalen Maybin at quarterback, who was a revelation. But he will need help from the skill positions, which is also replacing a lot of graduates. The schedule does start with 4 of their first 5 at home against Ohio, Idaho St., UCLA and Boise St., with a road game against Oregon St. also in that mix. They also go to Air Force, Hawaii, Colorado St. and San Jose St. and host Fresno St.
Something feels off at San Diego St. Maybe there is a Snapdragon Stadium jinx. Maybe the Brady Hoke Experience is wearing thin. But this feels like a 6-6 team that needs a shot in the arm soon.
And finally, a little something for the sickos….
New Mexico Over 3.5 wins (-105) – I know, it might be less painful to just light your money on fire, but hear me out.
The Lobos have a real life quarterback in UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins who is willing and able to complete a forward pass, and will have some incoming transfers at receiver to throw to. With Hopkins comes the former Blazers offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent, who had the running game humming in Birmingham. There’s no DeWayne McBride on this squad, but he can figure it out.
On top of that, the schedule has home games against Tennessee Tech, New Mexico St., San Jose St., Hawai’i, UNLV and Utah St. Plug your nose and hope for 4 wins out of those 6. There are also road games at UMass and Nevada that offer a chance at victory. I’m not predicting a bowl or anything like that, but there is a path for at least four wins.