5 Mountain West storylines for 2015

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5. Where will the annual surprising Mountain West teams be hiding this season?

Last year, Air Force came out of nowhere with a 10 win campaign only a season after bottom feeding through a winless conference season. Going from 2-10 in one season to 10-3 was one of the better stories most folks didn’t hear much about in 2014. The season prior was UNLV, who came out of the cobwebs of a 2-11 2012 season to hang 7 wins on the board the following season. San Jose State and Utah State have both come into the conference and succeeded in their own right fairly quickly. The MWC is the land of resurrected teams almost overnight, and odds are there’s one lurking this season as well. A few to keep an eye on are Wyoming (one more year into Craig Bohl’s system) and New Mexico, with a high powered rushing attack and soft enough schedule that should see them get to bowl eligibility, their first since 2007.

4. Will the Mountain West West (written to show the obtuse silliness of the name) bring down the profile of the conference again?

The top returning record in the division belongs to San Diego State and Nevada, both of whom won a mostly flaccid seven games last year. The meat of the conference clearly lies in the Mountain West Mountain of the division. Entering a season where it’s reasonable that the conference has multiple teams that could chase rankings and one in Boise State that could make a national profile for itself, a strong conference is pivotal for perception. In one sense, rooting for your conference to be good is utter silliness. To others, it’s common sense. In mid major conferences, however, where you need the collective whole to be something other than bad to enhance your profile, having one division struggle across the board is an issue. Let me be clear: rooting for your in-conference brethren at the Power 5 level is insanity, but at the lower level, it’s needed for perception. The Big 10 was perceived as not strong last year, yet there was Ohio State hoisting all the marbles. It doesn’t matter at that level. It does at this one. The West was a combined 29-49 while the Mountain was 50-28.

3. Fresh starts in the Mountain West for familiar names from big programs

If you’re a genuine college football junkie, Mike Bobo and Josh Heupel have been household names in the offensive coordinator world (to be honest, if you have an offensive coordinator world, you probably at least need to look into rehab) and now are taking up their flag out west, Bobo as a head coach for Colorado State and Heupel as offensive coordinator at Utah State. Both probably took more criticism than necessary over the last few seasons, but part of that is because when you’re a big name program not meeting annual bloated expectations, people first want to take it out on the offense. In reality, both did a pretty good job, but were the shrapnel of fan angst for losing more games than expected. Both enter enviable positions to enhance their careers. USU needs health and some offensive line help, but could be electric. Colorado State was on the uptick, which is why their coach is now at Florida, and their new coach comes in from Georgia. The six degrees of program separation …

2. Can Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton finally stay healthy, and what is the Aggies’ ceiling if he does?

If there’s a default “Boise State is clearly the prettiest girl in the room, but if she comes out with a lousy personality, I’m taking that girl to the party,” it’s Utah State so long as Keeton can find the health he’s been missing the last two seasons. The kick in the shins of it all is that both USU teams looked like they had very high ceilings if Keeton could have stayed upright. Now, coach Matt Wells has a defense that will keep them around, but really, USU could be a top 20-ish type team if Keeton is healthy. Big if. And they get Boise at home. Another blow at the QB position would be Coyote Ugly, however.

1. Can an unbeaten Boise State play for a college football championship under the new playoff format?

During the BCS format, the Broncos went unbeaten in 2006 and 2009, as well as gave chase in 2010 and 2011. At no point in this seasons did anyone realistically think they had a shot to play for college football’s ultimate prize. They were middle management … sometimes invited on golf outings and into important staff meetings … but when it came to the inner sanctum stuff, no matter how hard they worked, they were on the outside looking in. The cart is firmly before the horse with this type of question, but with a decent out of conference schedule and the Mountain West still overall, very respectable, if they go unbeaten … could they finally get their shot at the big show? If not, the winds of format change will whistle harder.