Mountain West football power rankings and picks – Week 1

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi with his first weekly installment of his Mountain West football power rankings and picks for the Week 1 of the college football season. Look for this every week during the football season, and as always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Utah State: The defending Mountain Division champs get senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton back from a knee injury, and it may be a stretch to put the Aggies this high not knowing how good Keeton will be. But there is a proven backup behind him and a lot of good players on defense. This week: at Tennessee, 5 p.m. MT, Sunday (SEC Network). Of all the MW teams playing big-time programs this week, Utah State may have the best chance to win. But I am still going with the Vols in a close one. Tennessee 27, Utah State 24.

2. Fresno State: Not only do the Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Derek Carr, but they also lost some really good receivers. Still, there are players in the pipeline that can fill the void. This team will still be good. This week: at USC 5:30 p.m. MT, Saturday (FOX). Even with Carr and Co., Fresno State was blown out by USC in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl. USC has a new coach and has a mess on its hands with the Josh Shaw saga, but it still has enough to win. USC 31, Fresno State 20.

3. Boise State: The Bryan Harsin era begins, and one has to wonder if the Broncos will remain among the MW’s powers. They will, thanks to Harsin’s new wrinkles and what was built by former coach Chris Petersen. There are too many good players on that roster not to. This week: vs. Ole Miss, 6 p.m. MT Thursday (ESPN). The Broncos will go to Atlanta and pick up the league’s best win over a nonconference foe. Boise State 30, Ole Miss 23.

4. San Diego State: The Aztecs could overtake Fresno State in the West Division. They can run the ball, have experience at quarterback and you know coach Rocky Long’s team will play good defense. This week: vs. Northern Arizona, 5 p.m. MT, Saturday (CBSSN). Not much of a test for the Aztecs in Week 1, although there may be some tense moments early. San Diego State 34, Northern Arizona 17.

5. Colorado State: Can the Rams build off the momentum of their New Mexico Bowl win over Washington State last season? With experience on offense, they should, and a rivalry game to start things off will ensure they will be pumped up. This week: vs. Colorado, 7 p.m. MT, Friday (FOX Sports 1). Colorado does not want to lose to that other school up north, but even though the Buffs will be better, if the Rams are for real they win this game — and will in a close one. Colorado State 24, Colorado 23.

6. Nevada: The Wolf Pack will always have a chance with senior dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo, but does he have enough weapons around him and can Nevada improve on defense? If the answer is yes, watch out for this team. This week: vs. Southern Utah, 1:05 p.m, MT, Saturday (TBA). Not a lot of drama with this one as Nevada rolls. Nevada 44, Southern Utah 14.

7. UNLV: The Rebels played in a bowl game, and had a one-year bowl ban lifted this summer after poor a Academic Progress Rating score. A new starting quarterback in Blake Decker remains a concern, but there is a good offensive line and one of the best receivers in the MW in Devante Davis. This week: at Arizona, 8:30 p.m. MT (ESPN). Arizona won at UNLV 58-13 last season, and unfortunately for the Rebels the score will be similar this week. Arizona 49, UNLV 21.

8. Wyoming: The Craig Bohl era begins with a whole new way of doing things. Out is the spread offense, in is the pro-style. Out is whatever UW tried to do on defense the last few years and in is the 4-3. Excitement and optimism is high around the state and among the Cowboys’ fans, but we need to see more before moving the team up the rankings. This week: vs. Montana, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT). The Bohl era gets off to a good start. It won’t be pretty at times, but good enough for a win. Wyoming 24, Montana 20.

9. San Jose State: No David Fales at quarterback could spell problems for the Spartans. Starter Black Jurich threw just six passes last season. We will see how the rest of the program has progressed in Year 2 under coach Ron Caragher. This week: vs. North Dakota, 8 p.m. MT, Thursday (ESPN3). The Spartans get the win, but the schedule gets tougher next week at Auburn. San Jose State 31, North Dakota 13.

10. New Mexico: Coach Bob Davie is still trying to get the roster stocked up with depth across the board, but progress will be made this season. Quarterback Cole Gautsche needs to stay healthy, and weapons need to be found in the passing game. There will be progress, but it remains slow. This week: vs. UTEP, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Network — online). This is a rivalry game for both squads. The Lobos may not pick up many victories this season, but this will be one of them. New Mexico 35, UTEP 31.

11. Air Force: The Falcons went 2-10 and 0-8 in conference play last season. Hard to believe it will be that bad this season, but Air Force must prove it. Until then, it begins the season near the bottom of the rankings. This week: vs. Nicholls State, noon MT Saturday (ESPN3). The last time these two teams played, Air Force won 72-0 in 2009. It won’t be that lopsided this time, but still a blow out win for the Falcons. Air Force 42, Nicholls State 3.

12. Hawaii: The Ranibow Warriors can only go up after going 1-11 last year. But, they won their final game of 2013 so the momentum is rolling, right? OK, that was an unfair shot. There are five first-year coaches on Norm Chow’s staff, who is 4-20 in two seasons. Things better improve or Chow could be done. This week: vs. Washington, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). Things won’t begin well for Hawaii, although it will do some good things early in the game. Washington 38, Hawaii 13.