Between now and the start of college football season on Sept. 1, we’ll preview every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an emphasis on futures odds. Each preview will include a look at favorites, long shots and a pick as well as the full list of odds for the conference.
(If you’re just getting started with sports betting and want to learn the terms and how it works, check out Sports Betting 101.)
We’ll start with the smaller conferences and work our way toward the top, finishing with the Southeastern Conference just before games kick off. By the time the season starts, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top division in college football.
Today is a look into the Mountain West Conference, which has maintained some membership stability, making it an outlier in the landscape of college football. The football-playing schools have been the same since 2013, and there are no plans to add or subtract any schools (at the exact moment of this writing, anyway; who knows when the Big 12 will approach Boise State or the Pac-12 will make eyes at, say San Diego State).
Boise State has been in contention annually since the Broncos joined the MWC in 2011, and Fresno State has mostly done the same since it joined in 2012. So it’s no surprise that those are your two division favorites. But it also looks like a wide-open race as it was last year, when neither the Broncos nor Bulldogs even made it to the title game. Let’s dig in to 2022.
Neither division race was decided until the final weekend, when Boise State lost to San Diego State and Utah State took care of New Mexico, allowing USU to win the Mountain Division over both Boise State and Air Force. The Aztecs, meanwhile, held off Fresno State for the West Division.
In the title game, Utah State won easily as an underdog, holding San Diego State to 2 of 18 on third and fourth downs and dominating the Aztecs 46-13. The Aggies, who beat Washington State early in the season, then went on to beat another Pac-12 opponent in Oregon State in the Los Angeles Bowl.
And USU wasn’t alone. The Mountain West quite frankly embarrassed the Pac-12 last year. Fresno State notched a signature 40-37 win over UCLA, San Diego State beat both Arizona and Pac-12 champion Utah (in three overtimes) and Nevada topped Cal. Even when you include some of the bottom-feeders’ results, the MWC was 6-4 against its big brother out west.
It only feels like Boise State wins this conference every year. In reality, the Broncos were doing that in the Western Athletic Conference, when they won eight titles in their last nine tries.
Since joining the Mountain West, Boise State (+200) has taken the trophy just four times in its first 11 years. But it is the favorite again, even after a disappointing 7-5 season that saw them not even play in a bowl game because of COVID-19 reasons. The Broncos have 17 returning starters, including quarterback Hank Bachmeier and running back George Holani. Unlike many Boise State teams of the past 20 years, the offense is more of a question mark than the defense.
In the West Division, Fresno State (+250) is handicapped as the most likely representative. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener had a spell as a media darling and fringe Heisman candidate early last season, and he’s back along with 14 other returning starters and coach Jeff Tedford, who won 26 games in three years in Fresno before taking a two-year break for health reasons.
The second choice in each division pays a little better. Start with Air Force (+450), which was a surprising 10-3 last year with a win over Louisville in the First Responder Bowl. As usual, the Falcons run the triple option and do it with elite efficiency behind running back Brad Roberts (1,356 yards) and quarterback Haaziq Daniels (1,184 yards passing; 734 yards rushing). The Falcons also get Boise State at home on Oct. 22.
San Diego State (+600) won the West Division last year despite a 30-20 loss to Fresno State, basically because the Aztecs won their other 11 games. This year, however, SDSU returns just nine starters — only three on offense. The Aztecs do, however, have Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister at quarterback to help out an elite defense.
The only reigning conference champion in the Football Bowl Subdivision with odds greater than +750 is Utah State (+1000), which was an unexpected winner of the league last year and would have to surprise again to be a repeat. That in and of itself is a headline, because the Aggies return 14 starters, including quarterback Logan Bonner, running back Calvin Tyler and four offensive linemen from a team that finished very strong last year. The issue is that despite a 6-2 conference record, Utah State only outscored opponents by an average of 4.4 points per game. That type of close-game performance, as we discussed last week in the MAC preview, is hard to replicate. Tread carefully here, though it’s worth noting that the Aggies have drawn two $1,000-plus long shot bets to win the national title; they open at Alabama, where a shocking win would be necessary for those to have a chance.
The odds get longer quickly after that. Wyoming (+1800) lost 12 starters, including several who starred on an elite defense. Colorado State (+2200) is trying to run an Air Raid offense with a new quarterback and coach Jay Norvell, who moved over from conference rival Nevada. San Jose State (+2500) won the MWC in 2020 and has improved defensively since then. But the Spartans regressed big-time on offense last season and drew a terrible conference road schedule, with trips to Wyoming, Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State.
Boise State and Fresno State are the clear division favorites here. The team with the better conference record gets home field in the championship game, and the Broncos have the pedigree and the advantage of hosting the Bulldogs in their regular-season meeting. Other than that, however, Fresno State has a favorable schedule, getting the rest of its toughest MWC games at home, plus the more proven quarterback in Jake Haener. Add in the fact that the West Division is generally easier, taking the Bulldogs at +250 is the way to go if you’re looking for a favorite.
Elsewhere, San Diego State’s defense might make a bet on the Aztecs at +600 worthwhile if you think they can finish the job from last year. But they must make trips to Boise and Fresno.
As for a long shot, Jay Norvell might have known what he was doing when he went to Fort Collins. Could Colorado State at +2200 be worth a shot? The price is tempting, especially because the Rams avoid both Fresno State and San Diego State from the West.
Full Mountain West odds and win totals
(From Caesars Sportsbook)
|Team||Division||Title odds||Win total|
|Boise State||Mountain||+200||8.5 (o-145)|
|Fresno State||West||+250||8.5 (o-125)|
|Air Force||Mountain||+450||8 (o-125)|
|San Diego State||West||+600||7.5 (o-125)|
|Utah State||Mountain||+1000||7 (o-125)|
|Colorado State||Mountain||+2200||5.5 (o-140)|
|San Jose State||West||+2500||5.5 (o-125)|
|New Mexico||Mountain||+20000||2.5 (u-125)|
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