Mountain West on upswing behind heavyweight Boise State

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) When Jim McElwain bolted for Florida, longtime Georgia assistant Mike Bobo knew Colorado State was the perfect place to try his hand as a head coach.

The Rams are coming off their first 10-win season since 2002, feature a star-studded roster led by super receiver Rashard Higgins and will be moving into a new on-campus stadium in a couple of years.

It's the competition that really drew Bobo's attention.

The Mountain West Conference is on the upswing behind heavyweight Boise State and a bunch of solid challengers in Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, Nevada, Air Force and CSU.

''I didn't have to rejuvenate the fan base. I didn't have to re-energize the football team,'' Bobo said.

And he didn't have to worry about starting on the bottom rungs of non-Power Five leagues, either.

''Where I came from, it's all relative to the team you have and who you're playing. When I turn on tape of the Mountain West, I see teams that are very well coached, teams that have very good athletes and one team that's probably more physical than anybody else in Boise State,'' Bobo said.

''That's why they probably won the conference. We're trying to become physical and where we can play hard for four quarters. You have four teams on our side that won 10 games. I don't care what league you're playing in, it's hard to win 10 games in college football. That right there tells you the level of coaching and the level of talent is high in this conference.''

Some things to watch in the MWC this season:

BIG, BAD BOISE: The Broncos sport a half-dozen players on the preseason all-conference team, including senior O-linemen Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo. They're joined by junior D-lineman Kamalei Correa, junior linebacker Tanner Vallejo and senior DBs Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson. All six were either first- or second-team all-conference in 2014.

FACKRELL RETURNS: Utah State gets a boost with the return of senior linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who missed all but one quarter of the 2014 season. He blew out a knee in the Aggies' opener at Tennessee. In 2013, Fackrell collected 82 tackles, including 13 for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

HIGH ON HIGGINS: Wide receiver Rashard Higgins was named the Mountain West preseason Offensive Player of the Year. It's believed to be the first time a Colorado State player has been so honored. Higgins led the FBS with 1,750 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns - both school records - and 18.2 yards per catch last year. However, QB Garrett Grayson, the MWC's Male Athlete of 2014-15, is now playing for the New Orleans Saints, so Higgins will be catching passes this season from either Nick Stevens or Coleman Key.

BIG ON BOYD: UNLV wide receiver Devonte Boyd is the only sophomore listed on the MWC preseason all-conference team, joining seven juniors and 17 seniors. Boyd was named all-league as a freshman.

AZTECS ACE: San Diego State sports the league's top place kicker in senior Donny Hageman, who in his first season last year converted 20 of 25 field goal attempts and was perfect on 37 PATs. Hageman also has a strong leg on kickoffs, averaging 62.7 yards.

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Predicted order of finish:

MOUNTAIN - 1. Boise State, 2. Colorado State, 3. Utah State, 4. Air Force, 5. Wyoming, 6. New Mexico

WEST - 1. San Diego State, 2. Fresno State, 3. Nevada, 4. San Jose State, 5. Hawaii, 6. UNLV

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Title game winner: Boise State.

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed. Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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