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September 20, 2018

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Countdown to college football: Picking every team’s win total, part 1

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Boise State Broncos safety Kekaula Kaniho (28) is joined by safety Jalen Walker as he skips through the end zone after scoring against Oregon during the Las Vegas Bowl Saturday, December 16, 2017, at Sam Boyd Stadium. Boise State clinched their fourth Las Vegas Bowl with a 38-28 win.

Bets are flying. Debates are raging. Anticipation is mounting.

It’s football time in local sports books. The season officially starts in almost exactly a month, on Aug. 25 when Colorado State hosts Hawaii in the first game between Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

But there’s a lot of preparation to be done before then for gamblers hoping to be successful this season. Talking Points plans to publish its homework, as the blog will preview the upcoming season by going through all 130 FBS teams and handicapping their over/under win totals.

Picks will be labeled into three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — and are to be revisited at the end of the year. The series starts today with the Mountain West Conference, to coincide with the league’s media days getting under way at the Cosmopolitan.

Read below for picks on all 12 Mountain West Conference teams’ win totals.

Air Force

over/under: 4.5 wins (minus-130, Even)

Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

The Falcons haven’t failed to become bowl eligible in back-to-back years since 2005-06, a consistency that must be part of the reason the price on their over flew upwards after opening at minus-110. But a trend of recovering from past down seasons doesn’t guarantee success after last year’s disappointing campaign. Air Force was one of only four teams in the nation that gave up more than 7 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. There’s not much to indicate the Falcons’ defense will improve this year — they haven’t even named their coordinator yet. Perhaps more important, they have one of the toughest schedules in the conference and could close the underdog in nine games.

Lean: Under 4.5 wins at Even money

Boise State

over/under: 10 wins (Even, minus-120)

Last Year: 11-3 straight-up, 9-5 against the spread

You know that Oregon offense everyone is going gaga over? Boise State pretty well neutralized it in an upset Las Vegas Bowl win last December, with virtually the same defense that will return this year. The rest of the Mountain West is going to have its hands full with a Broncos' stop unit that returns 10 of 11 starters, including a pair of all-important, standout edge rushers in Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier. Oh, and the offense should also be the best in the conference behind four-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien. There’s a slight red flag with Boise State’s fortunate plus-13 turnover margin last year, but this team’s floor looks like 9-3.

Play: Over 10 wins at Even money

Colorado State

over/under: 5.5 wins (minus-120, minus-110)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 4-9 against the spread

The excitement on Colorado State went a little overboard last year, as gamblers steamed the Rams up to a nearly 2-to-1 favorite to go over 7.5 wins. Despite a senior-laden roster, Colorado State failed to justify the betting attention and lost four of their final five games to make the season go down as a failure. That creates a post-hype situation to capitalize on this year. The Rams have the fewest returners in the conference but still plenty of talent. Coach Mike Bobo has recruited well to stock the roster with breakout candidates, including sophomore deep-threat Warren Jackson, and added several graduate transfers, highlighted by former Washington quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels. Colorado State could quietly and unexpectedly wind up better than last year.

Lean: Over 5.5 wins at minus-120

New Mexico

over/under: 4 wins (minus-105, minus-125)

Last Year: 3-9 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread

After making back-to-back bowls in 2015 and 2016, New Mexico plummeted last season and was inundated with off-field issues in the offseason. Coach Bob Davie was suspended for a month, but ultimately retained. He’ll now be thrust into one of the most volatile situations in college football, as his job security seemingly matches his roster’s talent level — low. The Lobos have run the ball consistently well under Davie and made an exciting offensive coordinator hire in Calvin Magee, but they’ll need a lot to go right in order to climb out of the Mountain division cellar.

Guess: Under 4 wins at minus-125

Utah State

over/under: 7.5 wins (minus-110, minus-120)

Last Year: 6-7 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

The Aggies come into the year with no discernible weaknesses. They also come into the year with no eye-popping strengths. It should make for a nondescript competence that has defined coach Matt Wells’ five-year tenure in Logan, Utah. It also makes their win total one of the hardest to handicap, though it’s worth nothing they’ve lost six straight games decided by a touchdown or less over the last two years. At some point, their luck in close games should even out.

Guess: Over 7.5 wins

Wyoming

over/under: 6.5 wins (minus-120, minus-110)

Last Year: 8-5 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

Say this much for Josh Allen: He unfailingly inspires debate. Even with the quarterback now departed from Laramie, Wyo., he’s still the central discussion point of this year’s preseason. The question is if Wyoming could possibly improve despite losing the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft. Regardless of Allen’s pro prospects with the Buffalo Bills, there should be no argument over the fact that he didn’t perform like a seventh overall pick last season. The Cowboys’ offense was dreadful, ranking in the nation’s bottom 10 with 4.4 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Improvement is virtually guaranteed, regardless of whether Tyler Vander Waal or Nick Smith succeeds Allen. It’s going to be harder to sustain a defensive effort that ranked in the nation’s top 10 in giving up only 4.6 yards per play and benefited from a national-best plus-24 turnover margin.

Guess: Under 6.5 wins

Fresno State

over/under: 8 wins (minus-105, minus-125)

Last Year: 10-4 straight-up, 11-2-1 against the spread

Fresno State was an aberration last season, going from 11 losses to 10 wins to mark the biggest turnaround in the nation in coach Jeff Tedford’s first year. They beat their win total by five games, which also tied for the best in the country, and enter this season on a five-game against the spread win streak. Now it’s time to see how the Bulldogs respond when pressure is high. They’ve moved past San Diego State as the favorite to win the West Division, a stark contrast to last year when they were picked last. A big step forward is typically followed by a moderate step back, and there are some indicators that the Bulldogs are headed in that direction. They suffered few injuries last year, went 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and must replace the majority of an impactful defensive front seven.

Lean: Under 8 wins at minus-125

Hawaii

over/under: 3.5 wins (minus-120, minus-110)

Last Year: 3-9 straight-up, 1-10-1 against the spread

Well, there’s nowhere to go but up in sports books after Hawaii finished as the worst team in the nation to bet on in 2017. The Warriors haven’t covered a game since Week 1 of last season, when they won on the road at Massachusetts as 3-point underdogs. Some improvement can be expected, despite a mass exodus of transfers that makes the depth chart look a little short. A year ago at this time, many hailed Nick Rolovich as a promising young coach destined to turn Hawaii into a contender. One bad season doesn’t render him clueless. A bettor can’t possibly buy lower than this, considering Hawaii plays 13 games so over/under 3.5 wins is an even smaller bar than it first appears.

Play: Over 3.5 wins at minus-120

San Diego State

over/under: 8.5 wins (minus-130, Even)

Last Year: 10-3 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

The Aztecs have won at least eight games in five of coach Rocky Long’s seven seasons, including in each of the last three. There’s no reason to think it’s going to stop now, not with all that San Diego State is returning. The Aztecs bring back their entire offensive line — a significant indicator for success that’s often overlooked — and linebacking corps. Their modus operandi is pushing conference teams around, and they’re more set up for that than ever before. They lose Mountain West Player of the Year Rashaad Penny, but understudy running back Juwan Washington was just as efficient — much like Penny was to Donnel Pumphrey two years ago. The only tricky part is a schedule that has the Aztecs clear underdogs in three spots — at Stanford, at Boise State and at Fresno State — but they look like the most talented team in the conference behind Boise State.

Guess: Over 8.5 wins at minus-130

San Jose State

over/under: 2.5 wins (minus-120, minus-110)

Last Year: 2-11 straight-up, 5-7-1 against the spread

To eclipse their win total, the Spartans only need to defeat UC-Davis and Hawaii at home while pulling one additional upset. And even that feels like a lot to ask considering San Jose State’s 2017 campaign. Conference opponents outscored San Jose State by 28 points per game, and it gave up 2 yards more per play than it gained on the season. There’s a reason why any reputable set of power rankings placing all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams has San Jose State and UTEP in a race to the bottom. The Spartans aren’t quite ready to be competitive.

Guess: Under 2.5 wins at minus-110

UNLV

over/under: 6 wins (minus-135, plus-105)

Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread

Coach Tony Sanchez boosted UNLV from two to three wins in his first season. He notched four victories in his second year. Then five last season. So six? That certainly appears to be this year’s most likely landing spot, with the Rebels returning what looks like their best offense in recent memory but still fielding a deeply flawed defense. The season may come down to the effectiveness of new defensive coordinator Tim Skipper, who’s tasked with fixing a unit that hasn’t excelled in any area over the last couple seasons. It feels like a pivotal year for Sanchez, and the Rebels certainly have a favorable schedule, but it’s tough to pay a premium on a program to reach a record it’s only managed once in the last 17 years.

Guess: Under 6 wins at plus-105

UNR

over/under: 6 wins (plus-115, minus-145)

Last Year: 3-9 straight-up, 6-6 against the spread

Go ahead and bank on the season-ending Fremont Cannon game having the highest total in series history. Both teams in the Silver State look like they’ll score in bunches, but struggle to stop opponents from doing the same. The Wolf Pack’s offense positively exploded late last year, as senior quarterback Ty Gangi had them at nearly 7 yards per play over the second half of the season. But a strong finish — the Wolf Pack won two of their final three games, including a second straight victory over UNLV — often inflates expectations for the next season, and that might be what’s happening here. A three-win leap in a single season feels presumptuous.

Lean: Under 6 wins at minus-145

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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