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Top Odds & Picks for College Football Conference Champion Futures: Mountain West (2022)

by August 2, 2022
Jake Haener

As the College Football season approaches, today we will look at the always action-packed and unpredictable Mountain West Conference, which has produced a new champion for four straight years.

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(Odds courtesy of FanDuel)

2021 Results

The 2021 season ended with Utah State dominating San Diego State 46-13 to secure their first Mountain West Championship in school history. Utah State had average efficiency numbers (69th SP+ Offense, 62nd SP+ Defense). They excelled in explosive plays where they ranked 8th in standard downs explosiveness, 50th in offensive rushing explosiveness, and 10th in offensive passing explosiveness. This boom or bust mantra led them to a 7-2 conference record and a bowl win over Oregon State 24-13. On the other hand, San Diego State followed its motto of defense, first ranking 12th in SP+ defense. There will be negative regression from both teams in 2022 as both were extremely lucky in one-score games, 6-0 for San Diego State and 4-0 for Utah state. Both teams will come into 2022 losing some significant production and have obstacles to overcome if they want a repeat campaign.

Fresno State (+300)

Fresno State brings back QB Jake Haener (4096 passing yards, 8.4 yards/attempt, 33 TDs, and 9 INTs). His 78.9 PFF Off Grade ranks 5th in the Mountain West. He did lead Fresno State to a 2021 ranking of 27th in SP+ Offense. The next highest team in the Mountain West was Nevada, ranking 54th in SP+ Offense. From a returning production standpoint, Fresno State will be one of the best in the Mountain West. They rank 82nd in offensive returning production paired with a 2021 ranking of 27th in SP+ Offense and rank 50th in defensive returning production paired with a 2021 ranking of 50th in SP+ Defense. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like elite levels, but the Mountain West has abysmal returning production across the board. UNLV is the only team with a top 30 offensive returning production ranking, and that comes from the 116th SP+ offense. Defensively San Jose State is the only team in the top 40 in defensive returning production. Let’s dive a little deeper into the underlying advanced metrics on both sides of the ball for Fresno State.

Offense:

  • 27th in Offensive Standard Downs Success Rate
  • 119th in Offensive Rushing explosiveness
  • 8th in Offensive Pass Success Rate
  • 94th in Offensive Pass Explosiveness
  • 25th in Offensive Front 7 Havoc Allowed
  • 26th in Offensive Pass PPA (points per attempt)

To put this in context, Fresno State moved the ball well but lacked in chunk plays. Haener commanded a very efficient offense but lacked in the big plays to move this unit to an elite level.

Defense:

  • 18th in Defensive Stuff Rate
  • 31st in Defensive Front 7 Havoc
  • 25th in DB Havoc
  • 20th in Defensive Standard downs success rate
  • 117th in Defensive Pass Explosiveness
  • 11th in Defensive pass success rate

This unit’s only weakness is giving up explosive pass plays. Everywhere else, they are elite. They will regress to some extent in Front 7 Havoc bringing back a returning production ranking of 95th in pressures. Their secondary will look to improve with a returning production ranking of 48th in passes defended.

Fresno State has all the tools to make a run at a Mountain West Championship and will look to return to its 2018 form.

San Jose State (+3000)

I know you are saying, “+3000? That’s insane.” This is more than just a flier; there is much to like about this San Jose State team. Let’s start at the top. There will be a gigantic upgrade at Quarterback. Chevan Cordeiro transfers from Hawaii to take over. Cordeiro posted an 82.2 PFF passing grade last year to rank 28th overall. The only other QB in the Mountain West in the top 30 in Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier (82.9 PFF passing grade). The QB upgrade is seen in the extreme underlying metrics. San Jose State was 109th in offensive passing success rate and 79th in offensive passing explosive rate. The main reason is that Nick Nash and Nick Starkel struggle to push the ball downfield. Nash would have been slated to start this year if it wasn’t for Cordeiro’s transfer. Let’s look side by side at what San Jose State is gaining.

Nick Nash PFF grades:

  • 120th in PFF Passing Grade
  • 112th in BTT (Big time throws 20 plus yards)
  • 87th in QB Rating in Deep passing

Chevan Cordeiro PFF Grades:

  • 28th in PFF Passing Grade
  • 9th in BTT
  • 27th in QB Rating in Deep Passing

As you can see, this is a massive upgrade across the board. San Jose State brings back an underrated returning production profile, ranking 51st in offensive returning production paired with the 102nd SP+ Offense and 35th in defensive returning production paired with the 56th SP+ defense. Let’s dive deeper into both units.

Offense:

  • 23rd in Receiving yards returning production
  • 79th in OL Snaps% returning production
  • 61st in Rush Yards, returning production

We have already gone over how the offense will be an instant upgrade with Cordeiro. This will also be bolstered by the elite receiving yard returning production. This offense will improve in every area, from explosiveness to standard downs success rate.

Defense:

  • 100th in Defensive Stuff Rate
  • 30th in Defensive Front 7 Havoc
  • 2nd in DB Havoc
  • 83rd in Standard downs success rate
  • 1st in Defensive rush explosiveness
  • 33rd in Defensive pass explosiveness
  • 127th in Turnover margin (-12)
  • 9th in overall Havoc Rate

The most significant outlier on defense is that San Jose State ranked 9th in overall Havoc Rate but 117th in takeaways with 12 total. The average total takeaways for a team in the top 30 in Havoc last year was 21.5. That is a massive difference!! Not to mention San Jose State is bringing back defensive production that will look to replicate those numbers (25th in pressures, 16th in stops, and 89th in passes defended). San Jose State will likely not finish top 10 in overall havoc again, but they can easily finish top 30 and will have positive regression in the takeaway and turnover margin departments.

All these factors for a team at +3000 provide incredible value.

Thanks again, and come back for the next article on the often forgotten but always intriguing Sun Belt conference.

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