MOUNTAIN WEST PROJECTIONS

The new Mountain West looks a lot like the old Western Athletic Conference, before half the league broke away to form the MWC.

The reconfigured conference has teams that were in the WAC last year (San Jose State and Utah State), and teams that were expected to be in the Big East this year (Boise State and San Diego State).

It has 12 teams, three California schools, two divisions and a football championship game.

And if all goes well for the league, the inaugural title game will match two teams (Fresno State and Boise State) competing for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

To the predictions.

Mountain Division

  • 1. Boise State: The class of the division but perhaps not the conference, in part because of a road schedule that features Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State. That will make winning the league — to say nothing of sneaking into the BCS -- a supreme challenge.

  • 2. Utah State: Matt Wells' transition from offensive coordinator to head coach (replacing Gary Andersen) should be fairly smooth thanks to the return of quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The first-half schedule is brutal, but the wins should pile up in November.

  • 3. Wyoming: Forecast based on the return of quarterback Brett Smith and fifth-year coach Dave Christensen's proven ability to avoid back-to-back losing seasons. The defense returns seven starters, which might not be a good thing.

  • 4. Air Force: The Falcons must replace many of their top playmakers from '12, including quarterback Connor Dietz. But they don't play Fresno State or San Jose State and, given good health and a few breaks, could very well finish higher than fourth place.

  • 5. Colorado State: Plenty to like about the Rams this season, from their experience to the schedule (with the exception of the trip to Alabama). But it's all offset by the uncertainty at quarterback: When you have three QBs, you really have zero.

  • 6. New Mexico: Hold tight, Lobo fans. Basketball season is just two months away. Oh, and good luck with the football finishing stretch: Fresno State and Boise State, back-to-back on the road.

    West Division

  • 1. Fresno State: The Bulldogs return 16 starters, including quarterback Derek Carr (37 touchdowns last season). They also get Boise State at home and -- if you're looking for one -- qualify as a dark-horse candidate for the BCS.

  • 2. San Jose State: The expectations are high for SJSU under first-year coach Ron Caragher, who inherits a top-tier quarterback in David Fales. The Spartans won't be outclassed in their new conference; they have five wins over MWC teams in the past two years.

  • 3. San Diego State: The combination of a veteran defense and the return of tailback Adam Muema (1,458 yards last year) should help quarterback Adam Dingwell in his first year as the full-time starter.

  • 4. Nevada: At least first-year coach Brian Polian has a proven quarterback at his disposal in Cody Fajardo, a smaller version of Colin Kaepernick. But the schedule will keep Nevada from ever gaining traction: San Diego State, Boise State, UCLA and Florida State, all on the road.

  • 5. Hawaii: A tough first season for coach Norm Chow (3-9) could be followed by more losing, especially in the first six weeks. But if UH gets to midseason with its confidence and starting lineup intact, look for a strong finish.

  • 6. UNLV: Sure, the Rebels have 18 returning starters. They also have a 6-32 record under Bobby Hauck. Track record trumps experience.

    Follow Jon Wilner on Twitter at twitter.com/wilnerhotline and catch his College Hotline blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports/