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Mountain West Conference Betting Preview

Mountain West Conference Betting Preview

Mountain West Conference Betting Preview -- Boise, Fresno expected to meet in first MWC title game
By: Larry Hartstein

The Mountain West Conference nearly plunged off a cliff.

But Boise State and San Diego State stayed, Utah State and San Jose State joined and the MWC split into two divisions, enabling the league to attract more TV cash and create yet another conference title game. The MWC championship game will be played Dec. 7 at the division winner with the higher BCS ranking.

Boise State, coming off an 11-2 “down year,” is favored in the easier Mountain Division. Fresno State, led by David Carr’s little brother, quarterback Derek Carr, is expected to take the West.

Cantor Gaming set the OVER/UNDER on Boise State’s regular-season wins at 9.5, one lower than Fresno State, because the Broncos play a tougher schedule. Boise State visits Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State.

Last season’s best ATS teams

Fresno State, 11-2 ATS (9-4 SU); San Diego State, 8-5 ATS (9-4 SU)

Oddsmakers never caught up with the Bulldogs – until the Hawaii bowl, that is. Fresno tied for third nationally in ATS winning percentage (84.6), finished 18th in ATS differential (+5.7) and covered seven double-digit spreads in the regular season. Fresno was getting 34.5 points on its Week 2 trip to Oregon, a 17-point loss, and then laid just 15 to pathetic Colorado a week later. Carr threw for 300 yards and five TDs in the 69-14 massacre of the Buffs, one of the year’s easiest covers.

Bettors who came aboard for the bowl game got burned. Fresno, which entered plus-17 in turnovers, committed four and allowed two interception returns for TDs and a safety in the 43-10 loss to SMU as 13-point faves.

That poor final impression, however, could preserve some value on Fresno early in 2013. The Bulldogs return 16 starters from a team that outgained conference foes by an MWC-best 172 yards per game.

The conference’s newest teams – Utah State (11-1-1 ATS) and San Jose State (11-2 ATS) – proved just as profitable as Fresno. Only Northwestern (12-1 ATS) cashed more tickets.

Last season’s worst ATS teams

Air Force, 3-10 ATS (6-7 SU); Nevada, 4-9 ATS (7-6 SU)

The Falcons finished 2012 on a 1-8 ATS skid, including five straight losses to end the season. They posted their first losing SU season since Fisher DeBerry’s last year in 2006. But the secondary (68 percent completions allowed) should improve with seven of the top eight returning. And Air Force would have to be really unlucky to produce another minus-13 turnover margin.

The Wolfpack lost Chris Ault to the NFL, and bettors aren’t convinced new coach Brian Polian, son of former NFL GM Bill Polian, will succeed right away. He’s never been a head coach, or even an offensive or defensive coordinator. Nevada hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since 2010.

When Cantor Gaming opened Nevada’s regular-season win total at 6.5, bettors hammered the under, moving the juice from -115 either way to -185 on the under.

What’s new?

New MWC member San Jose State lost miracle worker Mike MacIntyre to Colorado, replacing him with former San Diego coach Ron Caragher. Troy Aikman’s backup at UCLA, Caragher went 44-22 at San Diego and should continue the success started by MacIntyre.

He has a potential first-round NFL pick in senior QB David Fales (6-3, 220 pounds). Fales set school records for TD passes and total offense in a season last year as he completed 72.5 percent of his throws for 4,193 yards and 33 scores with nine INTs.

Fellow newcomer Utah State, which came within six points of going undefeated last year, lost coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to Wisconsin. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells takes over and will benefit from the return of All-WAC first team QB Chuckie Keeton, an outstanding front seven and a schedule missing three of the West Division’s top four teams.

Trends to watch

Boise State is 29-16 ATS in nonconference games and 33-23 ATS on the road since 2003. … The UNDER is 12-3 in Utah State’s last 15 games; the Aggies open the season at Utah as 4.5-point dogs (no total has been set). Utah State is 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings. … Hawaii, a 21.5-point home dog to USC on Aug. 29, is 2-8 ATS in its last 10 home games.

Air Force is 3-14 ATS as a home favorite the last three seasons. … UCLA is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games against MWC foes; the host Bruins are laying 14.5 to Nevada in their opener. The Wolfpack are 2-7 ATS in their last nine overall. … Since 2009, the UNDER is 20-13-1 when Colorado State is a dog.

View from Vegas

“Only two teams have a chance to win this conference,” LVH SuperBook assistant manager Ed Salmons told The Linemakers on Sporting News. “Boise and Fresno are so much better than everyone else, it’s a joke.”

The Broncos went 11-2 last year despite a steep drop-off in quarterback play, Salmons noted. Kellen Moore’s replacement, Joe Southwick, threw 10 TDs and seven INTs in the first nine games. In the last four, Southwick hit 70 percent of his passes for 888 yards and nine TDs without a pick.

Salmons thinks Fresno State will be a slight favorite when the Bulldogs host the Broncos on Friday, Sept. 20 – the first of two possible meetings.

The second tier consists of San Jose State, San Diego State and Air Force, Salmons said, stressing none is a contender.

“San Jose State -- their coach left so they’re definitely going to have a drop-off, plus going from the WAC to the Mountain West is a huge jump in class,” he continued. “San Diego State so overachieved last year, so they’ll come back down this year.”

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