LAS VEGAS • Brody Bagnall keeps watching the videos, and his linebacker coach keeps sending them.
The reels show Ron Vanderlinden’s apprentices at Penn State and Air Force. Each play highlights an aggressive linebacker driving through a blocker or ball carrier and wreaking havoc.
“We’re watching that constantly,” said Bagnall, ready to break into that mix of starters under Vanderlinden. “We want to make those plays.”
The predictions released on Tuesday at the Mountain West Media Summit were, predictably, glum for Air Force. The Falcons were picked to finish fifth in six-team Mountain Division, as Boise State and Fresno State were the choices to meet in the championship game. Air Force, coming off a 5-7 campaign, was also shut out of individual honors as it failed to place a player on the preseason all-Conference first team.
Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien took the league’s top preseason honor on offense, Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard was the top pick defensively and Boise State returner Avery Williams was the pick on special teams.
Air Force’s representatives at the gathering at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas spent no time talking about those prognostications, but focused on how they’re going to flip that script.
“Play like Jordan Pierce,” said Bagnall, who was at the prep school when Pierce, playing under Vanderlinden, helped Air Force turn from 2-10 in 2013 to 10-3 in 2014. “You just have to destroy the man across from you. You’ve got to win the one-on-ones. I don’t think we did that enough last year. That’s a big emphasis — manhandle the guy across from you, and you’ll make plays.”
Air Force’s defense ranked dead last nationally against the run last year, giving up 5.93 yards per carry. That was with 10 new starters. This year the unit will have the advantage of experience — except at the two critical inside linebacker spots.
But Bagnall and the new crew have been sent piles up example videos so they can visualize themselves making the plays so desperately needed for a turnaround.
“In the past we had been a little more rule-oriented, gap-oriented,” Bagnall said. “But (Vanderlinden) has progressed to more of allowing us to take risks and make plays. He’s really pushing that.”
Offensive lineman Griffin Landrum, a carryover from another problematic position group from a last year, expects more cohesion in the second year under offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke. Also, Landrum knows the mindset needed to turn things around, having learned under the Class of 2017 that was largely responsible for it.
“We were raised on that,” Landrum said. “So that’s what we’re trying to mimic.”
2018 MOUNTAIN WEST FOOTBALL PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Boise State (22) 132
2. Wyoming 95
3. Colorado State 82
4. Utah State 78
5. Air Force 52
6. New Mexico 23
1. Fresno State (16) 126
2. San Diego State (6) 116
3. UNLV 78
4. Nevada 72
5. Hawaii 45
6. San Jose State 25
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
QB: Brett Rypien, sr., Boise State
WR: KeeSean Johnson, sr., Fresno State
WR: McLane Mannix, so., Nevada
RB: Alexander Mattison, jr., Boise State
RB: Lexington Thomas, sr. UNLV
OL: Ezra Cleveland, so., Boise State
OL: John Molchon, jr., Boise State
OL: Aaron Jenkins, sr., New Mexico
OL: Keith Ismeal, so., San Diego State
OL: Tyler Roemer, so., San Diego State
TE: Dax Raymond, jr., Utah State
DL: David Moa, sr., Boise State
DL: Curtis Weaver, so., Boise State
DL: Youhanna Ghaifan, jr., Wyoming
DL: Carl Granderson, sr., Wyoming
LB: Jeffrey Allison, jr., Fresno State
LB: Jahlani Tavai, sr., Hawaii
LB: Malik Reed, sr., Nevada
DB: Tyler Horton, sr., Boise State
DB: Dameon Baber, sr., Nevada
DB: Tariq Thompson, so., San Diego State
DB: Andrew Wingard, sr., Wyoming
P: Ryan Stonehouse, so., Colorado State
PK: Dominick Eberle, jr., Utah State
RET: Avery Williams, so., Boise State
Offensive Player of the Year: Rypien
Defensive Player of the Year: Wingard
Special Teams Player of the Year: Williams