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The 2022 college football season kicks off on Saturday with a Week 0 slate that features five Mountain West teams in action.
While the Rams do not play on Saturday, four of the MW teams playing this weekend are on Colorado State’s schedule this fall. Three of them, Hawaii, Nevada and Wyoming, returned less production from 2021 than any other teams in the country. And the fourth team, Utah State, won the conference last season after a dramatic turnaround.
The majority of the country may be using Saturday as an opportunity to get some last-minute chores done around the house before the real fun begins in Week 1, for Ram fans though, this is actually an opportunity to get a good look at some of CSU’s upcoming opponents without the fear of missing other nationally relevant games.
The biggest national game of the weekend is Nebraska vs. Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland. Fortunately it kicks off at 10:30 a.m. MT, so you should be able to watch a decent amount of quirky matchup with very little overlap of the MW games.
With all of this in mind, here are a few things for Ram Nation to keep an eye on during this weekend’s slate.
How does Nevada’s run game look?
The Wolf Pack are going to look completely different under HC Ken Wilson this fall as Nevada shifts away from the Air Raid.
As Chris Murray of Nevada SportsNet covered earlier this week, UNR has not had a running back rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 2016, but hopes to change that this fall.
With running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee both electing to remain with the team, a duo that’s combined for about 4,400 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns over the years, the position group is probably Nevada’s deepest on offense.
The big question mark is how the offensive line holds up with five new starters on Saturday. Offensive tackle Aaron Frost was tabbed as one of the league’s best returning offensive linemen in 2022, unfortunately he suffered a “significant injury” in training camp and will miss extended time.
New Mexico State is not projected to be a strong team this season. Most national outlets have them labeled as one of the worst teams in the FBS. But they do have the benefit of playing at home in this one. Plus NMSU does return nine defensive starters from 2021, so even though they are transitioning to a new scheme, maybe the experience of the unit will allow them to keep things tight.
Does Utah State cover?
The Aggies shocked everyone with an 11-3 campaign under HC Blake Anderson in 2021 and their explosive passing offense was a big reason why.
After losing seven offensive starters and the team’s three leading receivers though, it’s going to be interesting to see if Utah State is still as dangerous in 2022.
QB Logan Bonner Sr. is back after throwing for just shy of 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago. Running back Calvin Tyler Jr. is also still in the mix after transferring over from Oregon State in 2021. And the Aggies added a pair of power five transfers at wide receiver, so it’s not as if the team will be working with a bare cabinet.
However, after essentially catching lightning in a bottle last season and winning the league in a really odd year, I’d be somewhat surprised to see the Aggies replicate the success with a tough 2022 schedule, especially after losing so many key pieces on offense and four of their five leading tacklers from that special 2021 run.
While it may be a tougher year for the Aggies overall, Las Vegas has a lot of faith in the Aggies to blow out the UCONN Huskies at Maverik Stadium. DraftKings Sportsbook has Utah State listed as 26.5 point favorites as of Friday morning, so the expectation is for them to roll.
UCONN’s defensive coordinator Lou Spanos recently left the team with a leave of absence, so Jim Mora won’t even have his whole staff in his debut as head coach.
With a Week 1 trip to Alabama looming, we’ll see if the Aggies can spark some early momentum with a blowout win over the lowly Huskies at home.
What does Wyoming’s offensive approach look like?
Wyoming steamrolled CSU up in Laramie last season. The thing is they lost essentially every major offensive contributor from that win. QB Levi Williams left for Utah State, running back Xazavian Valladay transferred to Arizona State and wide receiver Isaiah Neyor is now a Texas Longhorn.
Andrew Peasley is Wyoming’s starting quarterback after transferring over from Utah State. In limited action he’s proven to be a guy that can use his legs to improvise and he’s completed 54% of his 130 pass attempts over the years.
If Wyoming is going to be competitive this season, most likely it will be because of a stout defense and a strong rushing attack with RB Titus Swen. But I just wonder if the Pokes will be balanced and explosive enough to score enough points in what is shaping up to be a deep Mountain Division.
A Week 0 trip into Big Ten country is a tough way to begin the year. DraftKings has Illinois listed as 13 point favorites in the game, we’ll see if the Pokes can make things interesting.
How competitive is Hawaii?
Outside of the Nebraska-Northwestern matchup, the Hawaii-Vanderbilt nightcap may actually be the game that national CFB fans are most intrigued by.
Vandy is listed as 9-point road favorites over the Warriors, which I guess makes sense considering the mass exodus that Hawaii experienced prior to the firing of Todd Graham and hiring of Timmy Chang. Honestly, though, my money would be on the Warriors to cover in front of a sold out crowd.
I fully expect Hawaii to struggle this season, as it’s a total rebuild for Chang and Co. But as any CFB supporter knows, traveling to the island is one of the most unique road trips a team can go through. Typically when teams are not experienced with how to handle that travel process, jet lag really ends up taking its toll on the road team. It’s why the Warriors win 67% of their home games and almost always have a winning record at home, even in years where they struggle.
In 2021 Hawaii went 6-7 overall, but finished 4-2 at home, including a 50-45 win over the Rams. The home losses were to San Jose State (17-13) and San Diego State (17-10) — both by a single possession — again demonstrating that even when the Warriors are outmatched, they keep things close in their own building.
We’ll see if the Warriors can build on all the positive momentum they’ve established by bringing back Chang to lead the program with a competitive showing against the SEC in his debut.
Get your popcorn ready, Ram Nation. Football is officially back.