From Week 0 through to the eve of Week 5 of the 2023 college football season, the Mountain West Conference has provided thrills, spills, and late-night drama.
Can the conference live up to the preseason hype of providing the Group of Five representation to the New Year’s Six? It can, but our updated Mountain West Power Rankings have seen a shift in who that team might be.
Mountain West Power Rankings 2023
Our Mountain West Power Rankings for the 2023 college football season take into account several factors. Overall record is a consideration, but roster talent and depth, coaching staff, strength of schedule, plus offensive and defensive efficiency are taken into consideration in our latest update.
12) Nevada Wolfpack
Preseason Ranking: 11th
Winless Nevada prop up the Mountain West Power Rankings after a difficult start to the 2023 college football program. We said in our preseason edition that this team might need more than another year under Ken Wilson until it returns to the level of success it saw in recent seasons.
That looks just as much the case now as it did before a ball was even thrown in anger.
The early schedule was always going to cause problems, with a trip to USC in Week 1 having the expected result. The same can be said for the Week 3 loss to Kansas. What wasn’t expected was the Week 2 loss against Idaho, one of a handful of FBS losses to FCS opposition.
The offense is struggling, and the defense has given up more than 30 in every single game.
11) New Mexico Lobos
Preseason Ranking: 12th
Four games into the 2023 college football season and the New Mexico Lobos already have as many wins as they did in the whole of the 2022, 2020, and 2019 seasons. In one of those games against non-FBS opposition, Danny Gonzales’ team managed to overcome UMass in the first-ever encounter between the two teams.
While that might not seem like an achievement, don’t forget the Minutemen beat a New Mexico State team that handed the Lobos one of their two defeats this season. The arrival of Dylan Hopkins has been a real boost for the New Mexico offense.
The Lobos are averaging more points per game than in any season since 2016. Clashes with Nevada and Hawaii are still to come.
10) Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Preseason Ranking: 10th
For a minute, quarterback Brayden Schager led the nation in passing yards. That’s not the only accomplishment for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors five weeks into the 2023 college football season, but it feels like something worth mentioning.
Also worth mentioning is that despite a 2-3 record, they’ve played two Power Five opponents — Vanderbilt and Stanford — quite close.
While the battle down the bottom of our Mountain West Power Rankings is a close-fought affair where you could make an argument for any of the teams, Timmy Chang’s team has the upper hand against a common opponent, having beaten a New Mexico State team who dished out a defeat to New Mexico.
The defense needs to step up and help out the offense a little down the stretch.
9) San Jose State Spartans
Preseason Ranking: 3rd
One of the questions that dogged the San Jose State Spartans during the preseason was how they were going to mitigate the loss of their best defensive players. The answer came quickly, they weren’t going to be able to.
In three of their five games, they’ve given up 40+ points, including in their first Mountain West game – and defeat – to a rampant Air Force team.
While the defense has struggled, the offense has been able to make some big plays but not with enough consistency. It’s an offensive depth chart packed with top-tier talent, but the season is slipping away from them rapidly.
A road trip to Boise and a home clash against the much fancied Fresno State team makes bowl eligibility a difficult task after their start to the season.
8) Utah State Aggies
Preseason Ranking: 8th
In one of the fastest-moving and developing sports, the Utah State Aggies are a rare commodity that has held firm from our preseason edition of the Mountain West Power Rankings. Blake Anderson’s team are 1-3 ahead of Week 5, with an FCS win the only one on their résumé.
However, look behind that overall record, and there are some positives to take away.
They steamrolled said FCS opponent. Furthermore, two of their defeats were a lot closer than you might have predicted ahead of the season.
The Aggies went toe-to-toe with a JMU team who are amongst the best at the Group of Five level. They also put up 14 on a solid Iowa defense. In QB McCae Hillstead, they have a legit talent, with RB and WR rooms to match.
7) Colorado State Rams
Preseason Ranking: 9th
“Year two under Jay Norvell has to be better.”
That’s the way we started the Colorado State segment of our preseason Mountain West Power Rankings, and through three games of this campaign, they’ve been better enough to earn a two-spot increase in the latest edition.
They have, of course, been helped in that regard by falling teams, but their on-field play has helped cement a small rise in the rankings.
After a week of antics brought significant national attention to the program, Norvell’s team proved they could mix it with the big boys during an enthralling, back-and-forth, matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes.
They followed up with a first win of the season against MTSU. The Rams have the offensive power to stick around with anyone if the defense can hold up their end of the bargain.
6) San Diego State Aztecs
Preseason Ranking: 7th
It’s a small rise up the Mountain West Power Rankings for Brady Hoke’s team after an interesting start to the 2023 college football season. The Aztecs secured a Week 0 win over Ohio, somewhat assisted by the lack of Bobcats quarterback Kurtis Rourke for the majority of the game.
A win over FCS Idaho State took them to 2-0, but three straight losses followed.
There’s no shame in any of those losses, especially to two Power Five opponents. They also played Boise State closer than anyone expected, putting up the highest point total of a year from an offense that hasn’t excelled in running up a score.
After losing several defensive players in the offseason, there are still some unanswered questions on that side of the ball.
5) UNLV Rebels
Preseason Ranking: 5th
UNLV enters Week 5 of the 2023 college football season with a 3-1 record and a sense of excitement around the program. Sure, they started last year 4-1 before going on a losing streak that cost head coach Marcus Arroyo his job.
However, there’s a different feeling around this UNLV program under former Missouri head coach Barry Odom.
That feeling starts with an improved offense that, aside from facing a Michigan defense up there with the best in the business, has run up 40+ in every victory.
They’ve got a Power Five victory under their best after winning a shootout with Vanderbilt, and their Mountain West schedule begins with two teams down the wrong end of the power rankings. Bowl eligibility is possible.
4) Wyoming Cowboys
Preseason Ranking: 6th
It’s possible that we under-valued Wyoming in the preseason Mountain West Power Rankings. Further still, we may be under-ranking them even now.
Craig Bohl’s team has been extremely impressive through five weeks of the season, with only a loss to Texas as the blot on their copybook. That defeat was also closer than the 31-10 scoreline suggests.
The Cowboys are built for bully ball, with a defense that is jam-packed with talent from front to back. Special teams took a turn in the spotlight in the win over Appalachian State, with the first-ever blocked field goal returned for a score.
In that same game, Harrison Waylee showed that he could carry this offense to victory.
3) Boise State Broncos
Preseason Ranking: 1st
You could make an argument that running back Ashton Jeanty is the best football player in the Mountain West right now.
The sophomore Bronco is brutalizing defenses right now, and you could argue that without him, Boise State would already have a one-game loss in the conference to go with the two out-of-conference losses suffered against Washington and UCF.
While the Washington loss was expected, as a preseason favorite to win the Mountain West, I thought the Broncos might take it to the Knights in Week 2.
Their inability to put away an opponent, combined with a 2-2 record and a defense that has been a shadow of what made this Boise State team so good last season, sees them take a slight drop in the latest power ranking.
2) Air Force Falcons
Preseason Ranking: 4th
Troy Calhoun has raised the bar for Air Force football in the last two seasons, but this year, he’s thrown the bar away, and now there’s no ceiling for the Falcons to fly under. They’ve been an unstoppable force on offense while being a dominant unit on defense.
They’re on course for a spot in the title game as the number two team in our updated Mountain West Power Rankings.
No Brad Roberts? No problem. Emmanuel Michel has emerged in the fullback role, while John Lee Eldridge III carves up defenses for fun. As other service academies move away from traditional option offenses, Air Force is holding firm and dominating.
No one in the conference comes close to their scoring and total defense.
1) Fresno State Bulldogs
Preseason Ranking: 2nd
“They’ve been featured in the AP Poll rankings at some point in three of his four seasons at the helm, and it would be foolish to bet against them making another appearance in 2023—especially if they can get a win over Power Five opponents Purdue and Arizona State early in the season.”
Well, Fresno State did get those wins over Purdue and Arizona State. They went into Tempe and stole the souls of the Sun Devils with a crushing 29-0.
Lo and behold, the Bulldogs penetrated the AP Poll Top 25 and currently look to be the best bet to represent the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six. Great offense, great defense, two Power Five wins.
That’ll get you to the top of the Mountain West Power Rankings ahead of conference play. The talent all over the roster should be enough to keep them there.