Mountain West: Boise Leads Way in Year No. 20

By PAT GRAHAM

AP Sports Writer

DENVER — Boise State could very well make this a memorable 20th season for the Mountain West Conference.

Extremely memorable, perhaps. Because if things go just right and break just so, the Broncos may be in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

That’s big preseason talk, but not out of the realm of feasibility given the return of seasoned quarterback Brett Rypien, a stalwart offensive line and a formidable defense. The strength of schedule is favorable as well, with games at Troy and Oklahoma State. They look like a major contender for the New Year’s Six bowl spot that’s saved for the best conference champion from outside the Power Five. Boise State earned that during the first year of the CFP when it went to the Fiesta Bowl and beat Arizona.

Still, Broncos coach Bryan Harsin is tapping the brakes on all the expectations surrounding his squad, which is the favorite to win the Mountain side of the division. There are plenty of potential pitfalls in the way, including resurgent Fresno State — the pick to win the West half of the league. Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford orchestrated quite a turnaround in 2017, taking a 1-11 Bulldogs team and turning it into a 10-4 squad that beat Houston in the Hawaii Bowl.

“From what I see and the competition we play and the league we’re in and the success our teams have, if you’re fortunate to win those games, you probably have a good shot,” Harsin said of an MW team reaching a big-time bowl game. “It’s exciting. We’re trying to compete in this league, in this division and make sure we take care of business here.

“If you do, you probably have a good shot at being mentioned in one of those games.”

PRESEASON AWARDS

Rypien was voted the conference’s preseason player of the year. He’s thrown for 9,876 yards and 60 TDs over 37 games.

Wyoming senior defensive back Andrew Wingard earned the preseason defensive player of the year nod for a second straight season. Wingard has 367 career tackles and is 88 tackles short of breaking the Mountain West record held by New Mexico’s Carmen Messina (2008-11).

On special teams, Boise State sophomore Avery Williams earned the player of the year nod. He had two punt returns for scores in 2017.

PREDICTED

ORDER OF FINISH:

Mountain Division

1. Boise State. 2. Wyoming. 3. Colorado State. 4. Utah State. 5. Air Force. 6. New Mexico.

West Division

1. Fresno State. 2. San Diego State. 3. UNLV. 4. Nevada. 5. Hawaii. 6. San Jose State.

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