LAS VEGAS — It didn’t take Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton long to respond when asked which team he was looking forward to playing most as newcomers to the Mountain West Conference.
“Boise State,” Keeton said emphatically Monday. “If both of us handle our business, we could both go into it undefeated and that could determine who wins the Mountain Division. It’s going to be wild, I can guarantee that.”
Utah State joins the Mountain West this fall, along with San Jose State. It has six games, including a game with national power USC, before hosting the Broncos on Oct. 12. But the fact that the Aggies are already circling the game against Boise State on their calendar comes as no surprise.
The Broncos were tabbed Monday by the media that covers the conference as the preseason favorites to win the Mountain West Mountain Division.
It’s the sixth consecutive year that the Broncos were picked by the media to finish first in their conference, although it comes with a twist.
With the debut of the Mountain and West divisions this fall, the media picked winners for each division instead of one overall winner.
Fresno State was predicted to win the West Division.
The last time Boise State wasn’t picked to finish first was 2007, when Hawaii was the preseason WAC favorite and went on to win the league title.
And as is apparently the case with Utah State, the Broncos figure to have plenty of teams gunning for them again this fall.
“There’s always going to be that target on our back and we know it,” Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick said. “Now it’s about going out and putting the work in. We know for sure when we play everybody in the Mountain we’re going to get everyone’s best shot.
“Everyone wants to have their best game against us to try and knock us off and as a bunch of competitors, we wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what I love about the group of guys we got. We’re going to compete and we’re going to fight. We’re going to be ready.”
The Broncos received 40-of-41 first-place votes in the Mountain Division and finished with 245 points. Utah State, which received the other first-place vote, finished in second place with 204 points after going 11-2 and finishing last season ranked in the top 25.
Air Force was predicted to finish third in the Mountain Division, followed by Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico.
The winners of the Mountain and West divisions will play in the first Mountain West Championship Game at the site of the higher ranked BCS team on Dec. 7. And if Monday’s preseason poll turns true, Boise State and Fresno State would meet once in the regular season (Sept. 20) and again in the title game.
“You know, same old, same old,” said Boise State offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. on again being the preseason favorite. “But honestly we’re not worried about that right now because it’s just preseason. What we care about is the real champion at the end of the year.”
Fresno State returns several key weapons at skill positions including likely NFL draft pick Derek Carr at quarterback. The Bulldogs received 39-of-41 first place votes in the West Division.
San Diego State, which beat Boise State on The Blue last season, received one first-place vote in the West Division and finished in second. League newcomer San Jose State also received one first-place vote and was third, followed by Nevada, UNLV and Hawaii.
Boise State also landed three players on the media’s preseason all-Mountain West team, released Monday: Leno Jr., center Matt Paradis and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence, predicted by several preseason publications, including Lindy’s, as the defensive player of the year, wasn’t a choice on the ballot because Boise State didn’t nominate him. The junior had two single game suspensions last year, including the bowl game against Washington.
Wide receiver Matt Miller, the only other Boise State choice on the ballot, was not picked for one of the two wide receiver spots.
“For some reason all the preseason media people always want to hype up our team and not our individuals, which is fine,” Southwick said of the lack of Broncos on the list. “It’s all preseason hype anyways. Obviously I think he’s very deserving to be on that list. Do I think he’s one of the best receivers in the conference? Absolutely. I think he’s proven that.
“But that doesn’t matter so much to us. What matters is when we start playing games for real and then we can look back at those lists and probably laugh a little bit.”
Boise State opens fall camp Aug. 5 and their season opener is Aug. 31 at Washington.