*This is the start of my look at the 2012 MWC season. A full team-by-team countdown will begin soon. More details will be coming soon. 

With media days done and the football season just around the corner, the Nevada Wolf Pack make the jump to the Mountain West Conference. And, head coach Chris Ault is looking to help lead the team to a successful first season. The preseason polls picked the Wolf Pack to finish second in the conference, behind Boise State. But, don’t be fooled. This is anyone’s game.

Much will depend on how far quarterback Cody Fajardo develops.We all know the Union is going to be solid. And, though the team will now face a new season without the likes of Mike Ball and other former running backs from the past like Vai Taua, Nevada has a few waiting to take up the mantle. Stefphon Jefferson is the one I’d bet on to get most of the carries, but similar to when the Wolf Pack had three rushers run for more than 1,000 yards, don’t be surprised to see Nick Hale and even redshirt freshman Tony Knight get in on the action. The receivers will also be a big unknown, with Brandon Wimberly returning to the field.

But, Fajardo, last year’s WAC Freshman of the Year, must show progress. I need to see Fajardo develop into a true leader, to be able to run this offense with confidence. We know he can run, being the third leading rusher on the team last season. But, despite completing 68 percent of his passes, he had as many interceptions as passing touchdowns (six). Fajardo must take the next step in the passing game. If he can, he could be Colin Kaepernick good.

The defense has a lot of questions as well after losing defensive end Brett Roy, linebackers Brandon Marshall and James-Michael Johnson and cornerback Isaiah Frey. That being said, the defense will likely take a step or two down from last season, but let’s face it, defense hasn’t been the true strength of this team in recent years.

What am I saying? Nevada is full of questions. But, the potential is there for this team to make some very big waves this season. And, the Broncos are replacing tons of talented players, including running back Doug Martin and quarterback Kellen Moore. That means they’re throwing a brand new quarterback into the fire. For the first time in a while, Boise shouldn’t be considered the runaway favorites. Several other teams in the MWC have potential to break out, but have some questions facing them as well. But, expect teams like Fresno State, Hawaii and San Diego State to contend as well. Meaning, the MWC may be split in terms of team quality, but who finishes on top? That’s a crap shoot. A lot of these teams have issues facing them that could derail their seasons. That should mean we’re in for an entertaining season, but one that will be incredibly hard to predict.

Wyoming, New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State all have serious issues and are unlikely to contend. Air Force just lost so many starters, it’s hard to see them contending.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.