The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 15, 2010

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

Go to where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!


2010 Mountain West Conference Preview


The best of the non-BCS conferences will undergo a change next year, as Utah leaves for the newly named Pac-12.  Boise State will move here from the WAC and continue a great rivalry with TCU.  It wouldn’t shock us to see the Horned Frogs and Broncos meeting for a third consecutive season in a bowl, and it isn’t impossible for that bowl game to be the last one of the year!

The only mystery for this season’s race is who will finish second.  TCU will win the league and should go undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row.  There is no clear-cut second best team as five teams could wind up in the runner-up spot.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.


Pos Team MWC Overall
1 T C U 8-0 12-0
2 Utah 6-2 8-4
3 Air Force 5-3 7-5
4 B Y U 5-3 7-5
5 Wyoming 4-4 6-6
6 San Diego State 4-4 7-5
7 U N L V 3-5 5-8
8 Colorado State 1-7 2-10
9 New Mexico 0-8 1-11


BCS Bowl—T C U

Las Vegas Bowl—Utah

Poinsettia Bowl—B Y U

Independence Bowl—Air Force

New Mexico Bowl—San Diego State

Armed Forces Bowl—Wyoming


Team By Team Breakdown


Team Air Force Falcons
Head Coach Troy Calhoun
Colors Royal Blue and Silver
City Colorado Springs, CO
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
PiRate Rating 102.0
National Rating 52
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5


Offense: The Falcons have a feast/famine tug of war on this side of the ball.  Coach Troy Calhoun has molded three fantastic offenses in his first three seasons in Colorado Springs, and we believe the string will continue despite Calhoun having to start almost from scratch up front.

Right guard A.J. Wallerstein started one game at left guard last year, and that represents all of the starting experience for this season’s offensive line.  It isn’t a complete disaster though.  Air Force frequently has a lot of turnover because traditionally, there has been a reliance on seniority.  Also, because the Falcons utilize the option offense, the blocking schemes rely heavily on double team blocks and leaving other defenders unblocked so the quarterback can read and option them.  We are not concerned with the new starters, but there is an issue of depth.  None of the next five are ready to play at this level.

The rest of this offense is loaded and lethal.  Returning quarterback Tim Jefferson went 4-1 as a starter last year.  He connected on 57% of his passes with five touchdowns against two interceptions.  Jefferson connected on longer passes than the two other quarterbacks, and his ability to throw the ball downfield will open more running lanes for a great stable of back.

All the contributing ball carriers return this season.  Fullback Jared Tew and tailback Asher Clark teamed for 1,835 rushing yards and 16 scores.  Z-receiver Jonathan Warzeka added 267 yards on the ground running misdirection plays.

Kevin Fogler benefitted greatly from having Jefferson under center.  He averaged 22.7 yards per catch and scored a touchdown every fifth time he caught a pass.  Warzeka added 18 more catches.

Air Force has averaged 29 points and 380 yards per game in Calhoun’s tenure.  There is no reason to believe those stats won’t be continued again this year.

Defense: The defensive line is a cause for concern with just one of the three regulars from last year returning.  AFA is a little small at Defensive tackle in their 3-4 alignment, so opponents will be able to run the ball up the gut on them. 

The four-man linebacking crew welcomes back both of the outside defenders, Andre Morris and Wale Lawal.  The two combined for 9 ½ stops for loss, but the Falcons will have troubles replacing their two excellent inside linebackers.  John Falgout and Justin Moore finished one-two in tackles.

Only TCU has a better MWC secondary than Air Force, and the Falcons may have a better pair of cornerbacks than the Horned Frogs.  Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert picked off 10 passes and knocked away six others.

Air Force gave up just 15.7 points and 288 yards per game in 2009.  Those numbers will go up this year.  Expect the Falcons to give up 21-24 points and 320-350 yards per game.

Schedule: The schedule gives the Falcons a leg up on competing for number two in the league.  After an easy opener with Northwestern State that should allow the new offensive line to gain confidence, AF hosts BYU.  The Cougars have run defense issues this year, and we believe Air Force will win that game.  The following week, the Falcons visit Oklahoma, who is loaded this year. 

As usual, AF plays Army and Navy, and we feel that they will win at least one of those games.  The key to the season comes in back-to-back weeks in October.  They face TCU in Ft. Worth on the 23rd, and then they host Utah a week later.  If they have anything left after the TCU loss, they could give the Utes a great game.  We feel that as the season progresses, the lack of depth in both trenches will hurt them.  Call it a repeat of 2009: 5-3 in league play and 7-5 overall before the bowl.

Team Brigham Young Cougars
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
Colors Navy and White
City Provo, UT
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
PiRate Rating 103.2
National Rating 50
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5


Offense: 2010 will be a rebuilding season in Provo.  Brigham Young lost too much talent on this side of the ball, and there will be a substantial drop in production.  The Cougars lost a multi-year starting quarterback (Max Hall) who finished second all-time in passing yards at a school with a dozen excellent former QBs.  Also gone is the school’s career leader in rushing yards; Harvey Unga rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He was dismissed from school and became a supplementary NFL pick.  2009’s top receiver, tight end Dennis Pitta, is now in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens after he led the team with 62 receptions (30 more than any other player).

It could be a blessing or a curse that BYU has two quarterbacks still competing for the starting nod this close to the first game.  They have totally different styles, and according to Coach Bronco Mendenhall, neither player has separated himself from the other.  Jake Heaps is the prototypical straight drop-back passer in the Peyton Manning mode.  He has all the physical tools to be the next in a long line of great passers here.  However, he is a true freshman.  Riley Nelson is more of a scrambler who can pass well on the run.  He saw very limited action last year, but he has starting experience from his days at Utah State.

BYU has no answer at tailback with the loss of Unga.  Unga rushed the ball 208 times last year, and the top reserve ran the ball just 55 times.

Without Pitta, BYU will once again concentrate on throwing the ball to wide outs and less to tight ends.  We believe O’Neil Chambers will emerge as the breakout star of this group.  Chambers caught 32 passes last year.

The one ray of sunshine on this side of the ball is the return of four starting offensive linemen.  Tackle Matt Reynolds has first round NFL draft potential.

BYU has topped 30 points and 425 yards per game for five straight years, but this streak will more than likely end this year.  Call it 25-28 points and 380-420 total yards per game.

Defense: There is more rebuilding to do on this side of the ball than on the other side.  The Cougars lost seven of their top 11 tacklers from 2009, including six starters.  Just two of the front seven return, so BYU will have a tough time against the run and rushing the passer.  It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Cougars give up 150 points in the first four games this year (see schedule below).

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is an experienced secondary.  Three starters return including leading tackler, free safety Andrew Rich.  Rich also tied for the team lead with four interceptions.

The Cougars lost their two best pass rushers, leaving outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton as the only quality sack man.  Pendleton had three sacks and three other tackles for loss.  He is a quality pass defender in the short zones as well.

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, BYU has a decent space-occupier in nose tackle Romney Fuga.  He won’t make 50 tackles, but he will command double team blocks, giving the linebackers a chance to be heroes.

BYU may not give up too many more points this year than last, because opponents will eat the clock running the ball much better this year against them.  Expect the Cougars to yield 22-25 points and 325-350 yards per game.  However, also expect the defense to be on the field for more plays this year.

Schedule: The month of September will be a back-breaker for the defense.  BYU opens with Washington and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Jake Locker.  Then, they must travel to Air Force, where their newly rebuilt defensive front seven will struggle against the option.  A week later, they will melt in Tallahassee against Florida State.  They close out the month with Nevada coming to Lavell Edwards Stadium.  It looks like a 1-3 start for this team.  After the annual first October Friday game (precedes the Church’s National Conference) with Utah State, BYU faces three of the league’s other four expected bowl-eligible teams—San Diego State, at TCU, and Wyoming.  By this point, we expect the Cougars to be out of the conference race just trying to salvage a winning season.  November gives them a chance for three quick wins before closing the season at Utah.  We will call it a seven-win ceiling this year.  And, you can take the Las Vegas bowl off the schedule for the first time in six years.  A trip to San Diego might be a nice alternative.

Team Colorado State Rams
Head Coach Steve Fairchild
Colors Green and Gold
City Ft. Collins, CO
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 3-9
PiRate Rating 85.8
National Rating 96
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10


Offense: After starting the season 3-0 with wins over Colorado and Nevada, it looked like the Rams were primed to make a bid for a second consecutive bowl game.  Then, the bottom fell out.  CSU lost their final nine, including an embarrassing loss to a New Mexico team that went 1-11.  With only four starters returning on this side of the ball, don’t expect the Rams to match last year’s three-win season.  They will take a step backwards this year.

CSU lost both of their contributing quarterbacks, and the replacement will be one of two freshmen competing for the job.  There is a third quarterback on the roster that could eventually emerge as the starter sometime during the season; Junior Klay Kubiak is the son of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.  Klay missed all of last season with an injured shoulder that required surgery.

The quarterbacks won’t have much opportunity to star, because there is very little talent at receiver.  CSU lost its top two pass catchers, who combined for 74 receptions.  Additionally, the Rams lost three receivers since spring that were expected to contribute including a possible starter.  Expect true freshman tight end Crockett Gilmore to see immediate action.

Things look rosier at the running back position.  CSU has enough quality backs to flirt with running an old-fashioned two-back pro-set. 

Raymond Carter was a highly-touted recruit at UCLA.  He becomes eligible here this year and could supplant last year’s two-man platoon of Leonard Mason and John Mosure (a combined 1,416 rushing yards and nine scores).  Watch out for true freshman Tony Drake, who we believe could be a difference maker with his breakaway speed.  His size will keep him from being an every down back.

The offensive line lost four starters.  There is a little starting experience returning, but the Rams will field the weakest interior in the conference.

With a raw quarterback passing to inexperienced receivers and having to run for his life due to weak pass protection, expect Colorado State to struggle to score points and to turn the ball over more this season.  A negative turnover margin is a virtual given.  Look for about 14-18 points and 300 total yards from this side of the ball.

Defense: CSU had a lot more experience scheduled to return on this side of the ball, but the Rams lost both returning defensive ends (one to injury/one to academics), a defensive back expected to see a lot of time, and several reserves in the back seven.  This looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

The one bright spot is at linebacker.  Will linebacker Mychal Sisson will compete for 1st team All-MWC honors after leading the Rams with 91 tackles, six sacks, and 9 ½ other tackles for loss.  He knocked down five passes too.  Coach Steve Fairchild welcomes back Sam linebacker Ricky Brewer who was suspended last year.

The front four will now have four new starters, and it will be the weakest in the conference.  Expect teams to run the ball at will on the Rams and exploit their lack of a pass rush with play-action passes to keep Sisson occupied.

The secondary will be overwhelmed due to the fact that there will be so little pass rush.  Free safety Elijah-Blue Smith led the Rams with three interceptions and knocked down five others, but teams will throw away from him. 

The statistic is not kept, but we have a suspicion that CSU will finish dead last number 120 in scrimmage play differential.  They were -6 last year, and they could easily be -10 to -15 this year.  Expect this defense to give up 200+ yards rushing and 200+ yards passing while surrendering 31-35 points per game.

Schedule: By the time UNLV comes to Ft. Collins for homecoming on October 16, the Rams could be 0-6 and figure to be no better than 1-5.  Outside of league play, they face Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver, play at Nevada and Miami of Ohio, and host Idaho.  They open MWC play with TCU at home and Air Force on the road.  They have two chances to win a conference game—the homecoming game with UNLV and the revenge game at home with lowly New Mexico.  We will call for a 1-7 league finish and 2-10 overall.  If Fairchild can coax four wins out of this team, he deserves a raise.

Team New Mexico Lobos
Head Coach Mike Locksley
Colors Cherry and Silver
City Albuquerque, NM
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
PiRate Rating 81.3
National Rating 107
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11


Offense: Lobo fans wanted someone else to coach this team after watching Rocky Long’s teams play conservative football and simply go to bowl game after bowl game.  So, they forced him out.  They got Mike Locksley’s new offense—the one that gained 315 total yards and scored 16 points per game.  We hope they enjoyed what they got.

Locksley may only last one more season in Albuquerque, because this year’s offense could make last year’s look like Boise State.

A true freshman will open up at quarterback.  Tarean Austin is a speedy multiple-threat player who could lead the team in rushing as well as passing.  Let’s hope he can run enough to avoid the oncoming slew of defenders shooting through the line.  Austin’s backup will be another freshmen—Darain “Stump” Godfrey.

New Mexico returns their top three running backs from last year.  None of them will be confused for DonTrell Moore.  The trio combined for 987 yards and five touchdowns last year, and with an even weaker offensive line, they may not equal that mark this season.

The receiving corps has some experience returning, but like the running game, Hank Baskett won’t be walking out on the field.  Ty Kirk led the Lobos with 36 receptions and 427 yards. 

The offensive line will struggle.  Two starters return, and there is much less experience here, but last year’s regulars were not world-beaters.  This year’s unit cannot be much worse.

Look for UNM to average about 14-18 points and 280-320 yards.   

Defense: As weak as the offense was last year, the defense was worse.  Without the defensive genius of Long, the Lobos gave up 13 more points and 83 more yards per game in 2009.  If the offense could hold onto the ball, the defense could show a little improvement this year.

The Lobos have strength in numbers up front.  Three starters return to the four-man line, including one of UNM’s two potential 1st Team All-MWC performers.  End Johnathan Rainey finished second in the league (to the great Jerry Hughes) in sacks with 9 ½.  He added six more tackles for loss for good measure.  When he was busy dealing with double teams, counterpart Jaymar Latchison found time to pick up 4 ½ sacks and four other tackles for loss.

The other potential 1st Team All-MWC performer would be repeating that feat if he made it again this year.  Middle linebacker Carmen Messina led the country with 162 tackles and eight for loss.  He will have two new partners on either side of him.

The secondary gave up 254 yards per game and 63% completions last year, even with the great press rush.  The Lobos need to find two new safeties.  Both cornerbacks return, but they were the two weakest corner starters in the league.

The defense will be a little more talented, but it may not show in the stats.  Because opponents emptied the bench early in five of their games last year, and New Mexico figures to be in these games a little longer this year, expect opponents to leave their starting offense in deeper into the game.  The result—opponents will still score a lot of points.  Expect 31-35 points and 400-425 yards allowed once again.

Schedule: The Lobos have a chance in two of their non-conference games, and we think they will win one of the two.  Expect an 0-2 start with a road game against Oregon and a home game with Texas Tech.  After losing at home to Utah and on the road at UNLV, the Lobos get UTEP at home and travel to New Mexico State.  If they are 0-6 at this point, then they will end up 0-12.  We believe they will be lucky once and finish 1-11 again this year.  Locksley won’t be so lucky.

Team San Diego State Aztecs
Head Coach Brady Hoke
Colors Scarlet and Black
City San Diego, CA
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
PiRate Rating 92.8
National Rating 80
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5


Offense: Second year head coach Brady Hoke has the Aztecs on the right path, and he could soon replicate here what he did at Ball State.  Hoke’s 2010 Aztecs are going to be much improved on this side of the ball, and with a little bit of help from the other side of the ball, San Diego State could be playing a 13th game in December.

Look for SDSU to move to a two-back pro-set and use the West Coast Offense this year.  The Aztecs are stocked anew in the backfield, and they will force defenses to stop the run first.  Brandon Sullivan moves from tailback to fullback after leading the team in rushing in 2009.  Last year’s number two rusher, Walter Kazee, may have trouble getting on the field this year.  Two outstanding freshmen may get most of the reps at halfback.  Ronnie Hillman is a blazing runner who can take a simple pitch and turn it into a long gain.  Ezell Ruffin moves to halfback from wide receiver in high school.  He is almost as speedy as Hillman, but at 205 pounds, he packs some brute force punch in his game.  The Aztecs could double their running production after rushing for less than 80 yards per game.

If the running game takes some heat off the passing game, then SDSU will have a potent attack.  Quarterback Ryan Lindley could challenge for 1st Team All-MWC accolades.  With very little running game to supplement last year’s offense, Lindley passed for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns.  If he can cut down on his 16 interceptions of a year ago, he could challenge Andy Dalton for top honors in the league.

Lindley has a surplus of talent at receiver where two fine wide outs return.  DeMarco Sampson caught 62 passes for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, while speedy Vincent Brown added 45 receptions for 778 yards (17.3 avg.) and six scores.  There is depth behind these two.  For a West Coast offense to click, the tight end must be a pass catching weapon, and Alston Umuolo is that.  He grabbed 22 throws a year ago, and that number will improve to 30+ this year.

SDSU’s offensive line welcomes back four starters, and the new starter is a quality junior college transfer.  Expect much improved numbers in the running game and better protection for Lindley.

We believe San Diego State can improve from 23 to 28-31 points per game this season and from 342 to 375-400 yards of offense.

Defense: New Mexico’s loss was the Aztecs’ gain.  Rocky Long took over as defensive coordinator last year, and SDSU improved on defense by almost as many points and yards as New Mexico worsened.  With the entire three-man line returning up front, look for improved play against the run and a better pass rush.

Neither B J Williams nor Ernie Lawson proved to be a dominant pass rushing end last year, but with a better secondary this year, quarterbacks could be forced to hold onto the pigskin a bit longer.  Expect their sacks totals to rise.

The one suspect part of this defense is at linebacker, where two of last year’s three starters are gone and one other linebacker has been moved back one level. 

The back line of the 3-3-5 defense is loaded with talent and experience.  The aforementioned player that moved from linebacker is Andrew Preston.  He will man the “Aztec” position, a third safety that plays closer to the ball than a regular safety.  Preston played enough last year to record 46 tackles with four for loss. 

Expect more defensive improvement in the stat sheet this year.  We anticipate this team giving up 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: San Diego State scheduled well this year.  They should win three non-conference games, and they could stay surprisingly close in the one they lose.  Nicholls State will provide SDSU with an excellent chance to work out the kinks in game one.  A trip to New Mexico State should move the Aztecs to 2-0.  The following week, they could put a scare in Missouri at Columbia, but we expect them to lose by less than two touchdowns.  A home game with Utah State should give them a third win before MWC play begins.

The Aztecs host Air Force, Colorado State, Utah, and UNLV, while they go to BYU, New Mexico, Wyoming, and TCU.  They could be as good as 6-2 in the league or as bad as 3-5.  We’ll call for them to go 4-4, which will make them bowl-bound for the first time since 1998.

Team T C U  Horned Frogs
Head Coach Gary Patterson
Colors Purple and White
City Ft. Worth, TX
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1
PiRate Rating 124.1
National Rating 6
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0


Offense: Nine starters return to an offense that amassed 38.3 points and 457 yards per game last year.  That offense was quite balanced, churning out 240 rushing and 217 passing yards.  TCU will be virtually unstoppable on this side of the ball this year, and it wouldn’t surprise us any if the Horned Frogs challenged for 45-50 points and 500+ yards per game!

It all starts with the league’s top quarterback.  Andy Dalton will compete for the Heisman Trophy in his senior year.  As a junior, Dalton completed 61.6% of his passes for 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 512 (600+ without the sacks) yards and three more scores.

The leading rusher from last year has graduated, but TCU uses a running back-by-committee approach, and the Horned Frogs return several quality backs this year.  Expect another season of 200+ yards per game running, maybe as much as 275.

The receiving corps is downright scary and could be as good as Houston’s group of stars.  The top four receivers are back.  Jermey Kerly led with 44 catches and 532 yards.  Jimmy Young had 33 receptions for 517 yards.  Antoine Hicks caught just 23 passes, but he averaged an eye-popping 20.8 yards per catch with six scores.  Bart Johnson caught 33 more.  To this fine quartet, add two exceptionally talented youngsters.  Redshirt freshman Josh Boyce and sophomore Skye Dawson will see considerable playing time, and it wouldn’t surprise us if both finished with more than 25 receptions.  Dawson is even faster than Hicks and can turn a line of scrimmage bullet into a 75-yard touchdown.

Throw in the best offensive line in the league and possibly one of the five best in the nation, and you have an offense that will move the ball in every game.  Tackle Marcus Cannon has first round NFL draft potential.  Center Jake Kirkpatrick should make it to a pro roster next year as well (assuming there is a next year in the NFL).

The only drawback in trying to predict the points and yardage for this team is determining how often the bench warmers will be playing for long stretches in their games.  We’ll go with 42+ points and 500+ yards per game.

Defense: Here is the even scarier news: TCU’s defense is even better than their offense.  There is no weakness anywhere on this side.  All three units rank among the best in the nation.  Coach Gary Patterson’s Frogs have given up 12.3, 18.7, 11.3, and 12.8 points in the last four seasons, and it is not impossible for this year’s team to give up single digits in points per game.  The Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense last year by holding teams to 80 yards rushing and 159 yards passing. 

TCU utilizes a 4-2-5 defense, and they have both quality and depth at every position.  Up front, three starters return including two all-conference performers, tackle Cory Grant and end Wayne Daniels.  Even with the loss of All-American Jerry Hughes, this team won’t miss a beat.  His replacement, either Braylon Broughton or Stansly Maponga, will not record 11 ½ sacks, but the other three starters will make up for that lost amount.

The linebacking duo features 1st Team All-MWC Tank Carder.  Carder is one of the best all-around linebackers in college football.  In 2009, he made 89 tackles with 10 for loss.  In pass coverage, he batted away 10 passes and picked off one.  Look for him to compete for a spot on the All-American team this season.

The back five feature a trio of great safeties, but it is the two new cornerbacks that could be the best defenders in the secondary.  Greg McCoy and Jason Teague saw a lot of action last year and combined for four interceptions and seven knocked down passes.

It is tough to improve on number one, but TCU can get better statistically on this side of the ball.  We are going to guess they will give up 10-12 points and 185-225 yards per game.  They could lead the nation in both categories.

Schedule: TCU opens with Oregon State on September 4 at the Cowboys’ Stadium in nearby Arlington.  The Beavers are good and could contend for a Rose Bowl berth, but they are usually a slow-starting team.  We believe TCU will win this game by double digits and continue to roll from there.  They could lead Tennessee Tech by 50 points before halftime.  Game three at home with Baylor will be interesting, and the Bears will be pumped for this game, but the Horned Frogs should score a 17 or more point win.  Game four at SMU comes on a Friday night, and the battle for the Iron Skillet will be heated.  The Mustangs need a little more defense before they can make a game of it with TCU.  The only conference team that could give them a scare is Utah.  The game comes November 6, and it will be at Salt Lake City.  We expect the Horned Frogs to win convincingly in a game that should be on national TV, and it just could propel them into one of the top two spots in the BCS.

We believe there is an outside chance that TCU and Boise State could hook up for a bowl rubber match.  Two years ago, it was the Poinsettia Bowl, and TCU won 17-16.  Last year, it was the Fiesta Bowl, and Boise State exacted revenge with a 17-10 win.  This year, both could return to Glendale, but this one would be for all the marbles.  The SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten champions must all lose one game after October 1 for this to happen, but if it does, it should be the most talked about national championship game in decades.  It could do for the NCAA what the New York Jets’ Super Bowl victory over Baltimore did for the NFL.

Team U N L V  Rebels
Head Coach Bobby Hauck
Colors Scarlet and Gray
City Las Vegas, NV
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
PiRate Rating 94.1
National Rating 78
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-8


Offense: New head coach Bobby Hauck comes to Las Vegas from Montana, where he guided the Grizzlies to the FCS Championship Game three times.  His arrival in Vegas comes at the right time, because former coach Mike Sanford left him a full cupboard on this side of the ball.

UNLV will transition from a shotgun spread offense to an old-fashioned quarterback under center offense.  Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, a former walk-on, comes back for his third season as starter after topping 60% in completions last year.  We believe he will improve his yards per attempt and cut down on interceptions this year.  Backup Mike Clausen saw a lot of action last year, as he is a better runner than Clayton.  Clausen suffered an ankle injury in early fall practice, but he should be okay for the season.

The Rebels had three productive receivers last year, and two of them return this season.  Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson teamed for 101 catches and eight scores.

UNLV returns the two running backs that saw most of the game action last year.  While neither is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, C J Cox  and Channing Trotter will get the tough yards—three yards on third and two.  Redshirt freshman Bradley Randle is more of an outside threat, and we believe he will become part of the rotation this year.

Four starters return to the offensive line.  The tackles, Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal, rank near the top in the league.

Hauk’s first Vegas attack should average 25-28 points and 360-380 yards per game.  If the Rebels can cut down on turnovers, they could surprise a few teams.

Defense: This is the reason Mike Sanford was let go.  He could never mold together a decent defense, as UNLV gave up more than 32 points per game the last two seasons, while falling one win short of bowl eligibility both times.

The Rebels will be more of an attacking defense this year.  They may give up an occasional big play, but they should force more turnovers as well.  Six of the two-deep from the defensive line return this season.  Tackle Ramsey Feagai tips the scale at 350 pounds!  He won’t get to the quarterback, but he should plug the inside just by holding his ground.  His counterpart at the other tackle is “puny 300-pounder”  Isaako Aaitui.  Opponents will not run many line plunges between their tackles, but the Rebels will continue to search for pass rushing answers, and they will probably resort to a lot of blitzing on passing downs.

Two linebackers return to the starting lineup, and they could finish one-two in tackles this year.  Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo teamed up for 126 stops a year ago.

The secondary is the strength of this unit.  All four starters come back for another season, and they absolutely must improve on last year’s poor showing when they gave up 236 yards and 65% completions.  They combined for just two interceptions.

Expect immediate improvement in this defense, especially in yards allowed.  We’re looking for the Rebels to give up 25-30 points and 380-420 yards.

Schedule: If they had a couple more patsies, we might be inclined to call UNLV a sleeper team.  The out-of-conference schedule is too difficult.  The Rebels host Wisconsin and Nevada and play at Idaho, West Virginia, and Hawaii.  They should be 2-3, 3-2 at best.  They are better than Colorado State and New Mexico and should win those two games.  We think they could pull one upset, maybe over Wyoming or Air Force and finish with five wins for the third consecutive season.

Team Utah Utes
Head Coach Kyle Whittingham
Colors Crimson and White
City Salt Lake City, UT
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-3
PiRate Rating 104.0
National Rating 47
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4


Offense: This will be Utah’s last year in the Mountain West, as they move to the Pac-12 next year.  They should go out with a bang and not a whimper thanks to a strong offense.

Coach Kyle Whittingham welcomes back two experienced quarterbacks this season.  Jordan Wynn will get the nod over Terrance Cain.  Wynn started the final five games of the year, and Utah averaged 34 points in those games. 

Wynn lost his top receiver, David Reed and his 81 receptions for 1,188 yards.  Jereme Brooks caught 56 passes and led with seven touchdowns, while earning 2nd Team All-MWC last year. 

The running game will be special this season with the return of Eddie Wide.  Wide rushed for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning 1st Team all-league honors.

Like several of the other top teams in this league, the Utes have a talented and experienced offensive line returning.  Four starters are back including two who made all-conference.  Center Zane Taylor and guard Calb Schlauderaff will hear their names called early in the next NFL draft.

Utah averaged 30 points per game for the season, and we expect that number to top 35 this year.  We also expect total yards to top 400.

Defense: Here is the reason Utah will not give TCU a serious challenge for the title.  The Utes regressed on this side of the ball last year, and they don’t look any better this year.  In fact, we expect them to be even more generous with the loss of their top four tacklers.

Three of four defensive line starters are back.  Tackle Sealver Siliga had 49 tackles with 6 ½ for loss, while getting his hand on four passes.

The linebacking corps has been decimated by graduation.  Rover J J Williams had one start last year and made 20 tackles.  Keep an eye on true freshman V. J. Fehoko, who could emerge as a starter at some point in the season.  He is one of the highest-rated recruits Utah has had.

The secondary has just one starter returning, and that is lightning fast cornerback Brandon Burton.  Burton knocked down 10 passes and intercepted one other last year.  Justin Taplin-Ross saw considerable action at strong safety last year, but he has been shifted to free safety.

Utah will surrender 20-24 points and give up 320-340 yards per game this year, and that will be just enough to keep them from competing with TCU. 

Schedule: Utah opens the season with Big East runner-up Pittsburgh on a Thursday night at Eccles Stadium.  Other non-conference games include road games at Iowa State and Notre Dame and a home game with San Jose State.  The Utes could win all four games, which would help TCU’s strength of schedule when the Frogs come to SLC.  Utah could also lose three of those four and struggle to reach eight wins in their final go around in the conference.  We will call for a 2-2 non-conference record and 6-2 league mark.

Team Wyoming Cowboys
Head Coach Dave Christensen
Colors Brown and Prairie Gold
City Laramie, WY
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
PiRate Rating 95.6
National Rating 71
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6


Offense: Dave Christensen inherited a veteran club from Joe Glenn and guided the Cowboys to a 7-6 record and bowl win in his first season in Laramie.  His second team should be as good as his first, and his second attack squad should be better.

Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors last year.  He completed 59% of his passes for more than 1,950 yards and ran for more than 600 yards when you factor out almost three dozen sacks.  His specialty was pulling victory out in the last minutes of games.  Christensen developed Chase Daniel at Missouri, and he Carta-Samuels should rapidly improve in his second season.

The Cowboys had one great receiver and six average ones last year.  Fortunately, the great one returns for his senior year.  David Leonard grabbed 77 passes last year, many of them in tight quarters, as Wyoming was a five yards and cloud of dust passing team.

The running attack had a freshman leading the way in 2009, as Alvester Alexander ran for 640 yards and seven scores. 

The offensive line lost two seasoned veteran starters last year, but two of the three returnees could earn postseason honors.  Guard Sam Sterner is the second or third best in the league at his position, while tackle Clayton Kirven could sneak onto the All-MWC team.

The Cowboys should top 20 points per game for the first time in four years and 325+ yards per game for the first time in five years.

Defense: Seven of the team’s top eight tacklers return this year, so Wyoming’s defense should improve more than the offense.  The strength on this side is the secondary, where all four starters return.  The quartet of Marcell and Tashaun Gipson at cornerback and Shamiel Gary and Chris Prosinski at safety combined for six interceptions and 22 passes broken up.  Prosinski led the Cowboys with 140 tackles, and I am sure Christensen would prefer he wouldn’t have to make so many this season.

Christensen has made a courageous move up front.  Because all three defensive linemen graduated, he took his two outside linebackers and moved them to end and switched to a 4-3.  Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns recorded 193 tackles with 14 recorded for lost yardage. 

Middle linebacker Brian Hendricks becomes the lone holdover in the second line with the moving forward of his two comrades.  Hendricks made 116 stops last year.  Ghaali Muhammad made 21 tackles in a reserve role last year and will start at one linebacker spot.  The other will probably go to Keith Lewis, who has three years of reserve experience.  Freshman Devyn Harris could see as much time at that spot.

Look for a little more consistency out of the Wyoming defense this year.  We believe they will give up around 25-27 points and 375-400 yards again this season, but they play a tougher schedule.

Schedule: The Cowboys face three teams that went undefeated in the regular season last year—Boise State at home and Texas and TCU on the road.  Other non-league games include Southern Utah at home and Toledo on the road.  The key to the season are the two games that come after Texas and Boise State and precede TCU.  Wyoming hosts Air Force on September 25 and goes to Toledo the next week.  They must win both of these games and sit at 3-2 at this point in order to get to six wins.  We believe they can do it.  Their two new defensive ends with past linebacker experience just may be able to shut down the option game, and their improving offense should be able to score enough points at the Glass Bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: We begin breaking down the BCS conferences.  First up: The Big East Conference—Five teams have a shot at the conference title.

August 31, 2009

2009 Mountain West Conference Preview

2009 Mountain West Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

In the last in our series of non-BCS conference previews, we take a look at the Mountain West Conference, the most successful of the non-BCS leagues.  Last year, Utah ran the table for the second time in five seasons and won a BCS Bowl in convincing fashion.  We believe the league has the best shot at placing yet another team in a BCS Bowl in January, 2010.  However, it won’t be Utah.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, When Utah hosts BYU or vice versa in the “Holy War,” there really isn’t much home field advantage for either team.  However, if Utah hosted Boston College on a Thursday night after BC played at Miami just five days earlier, then Utah might receive a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.


Mountain West Conference Preseason Ratings



Prediction *





    T C U








    Brigham Young




    Air Force




    Colorado State




    San Diego State




    U N L V




    New Mexico













*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but


on expected changes to rating during the year


T C U: The Horned Frogs have flirted with a BCS at-large bid in recent years, falling one game short last year and falling one game short of possibly playing in the Fiesta Bowl for a chance at a number three finish in 2005.  This year, TCU has possibly the best chance of any non-BCS team of running the table and crashing the BCS party.  Out of the league, they will have to win at Virginia and Clemson just two weeks apart with a breather against Texas State in between.  We think they will win just one of those two games, and Coach Gary Patterson’s team could finish 11-1 and sit on the bubble.

The vaunted Horned Frog defense led the nation last year allowing just 11.3 points and 218 total yards per game.  Even the national title game participant Oklahoma couldn’t run the ball against their front line.  That defense took a major graduation hit with seven players departing.  One of those four holdovers is All-American end Jerry Hughes.  The future NFL star dropped enemy QBs an NCAA-best 15 times and was credited with 4 ½ other tackles for loss; he intercepted a couple of passes to boot.  The three new starters on the line will benefit from all the double teams on Hughes. 

The news is worse in the second line of defense, where both starting linebackers and the top reserve have picked up their sheepskins.  Jason Phillips, Stephen Hodge, and Robert Henson were also the team’s top three tacklers.

The five-man secondary returns three starters, including two excellent cornerbacks (Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders) who batted away 22 enemy passes and picked off three more.

We know the defensive statistics will be off compared to last year, but fret not Frog fans.  TCU will give up less than 20 points per game for the fifth year in a row, and they will allow only 280-320 total yards per game.  Now, for even better news: the offense is going to be just as good if not better than last year, and it was a record-setting unit in Ft. Worth.  TCU averaged better than 200 yards both rushing and passing while scoring almost 34 points per game.

Quarterback Andy Dalton should top 2,500 passing yards with 15-20 touchdowns this year.  Considering that TCU usually tries to run the ball into the end zone when they get into the red zone, that number is impressive.   

Dalton’s top receiver is Jimmy Young.  Young narrowly missed 1,000 receiving yards last year, and if he stays healthy this year, he should top that mark.

The running game returns three of the four backs who rushed for 380 or more yards return this year, led by Joseph Turner, who is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards. 

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but both tackles return this year.  Marcus Cannon and Marshall Newhouse will compete for All-MWC honors.

Will 11-1 earn TCU an at-large BCS bowl?  It’s 50-50.

Utah:  The Utes ran over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl like a herd of elephants on the rampage.  Don’t expect a return trip to a BCS bowl this year, because too many key players have run out of eligibility.

The offense lost six starters, including MWC Offensive Player of the Year Brian Johnson.  The former QB passed for 2,972 yards and 27 touchdowns with just nine picks.  True Freshman Jordan Wynn has apparently won the starting job this year, so expect the team’s passing numbers to drop from 244 to possibly less than 200 yards per game.

Making things more difficult for Wynn is the fact that the top three receivers from last year have moved on.  David Reed is the leading yardage returnee, and he only caught 25 passes for 427 yards.  He is a deep ball threat.

The running game will carry a much bigger share of the offense this year.  Three very good offensive linemen return, including tackle Zane Beadles, and leading rusher Matt Asiata is back after rushing for 707 yards and 12 scores.  Look for him to get more touches this year and possibly top 1,000 yards.

The defense should be about as strong this year as they were last year, when the Utes surrendered 17.2 points and 289 total yards per game.  Seven starters return including the top four tacklers.  The linebacker trio of Nai Fotu, Mike Wright, and Stevenson Sylvester has no equal in the MWC.

Up front, Koa Misi is a multi-talented end.  He can get to the enemy QB or running back in the backfield, and he can play pass defense like a good linebacker.

The strength of the secondary will be the safeties.  Free safety Robert Johnson is the type of player coaches want as the last line of defense.

The schedule includes out of conference games against Utah State and Louisville at home and Oregon and San Jose State on the road.  The TCU and BYU games are both on the road, and a road game against UNLV could be tough as well.  There are too many chances for losses this year, so we think Utah could lose three times.

Brigham Young: A team noted for super offenses may succeed due to defense this year.  The Cougars suffered heavily to graduation on the attack side.  One of the four returning starters is quarterback Max Hall.  Hall just missed passing for 4,000 yards and hit pay dirt 35 times.

One player Hall will miss is Austin Collie, who caught 106 passes for 1,538 yards and 15 touchdowns.  BYU always has able replacements waiting to assume starting duties, but Collie’s contribution will not be equaled.  Dennis Pitta returns after grabbing 83 passes for 1,083 yards; he’s the top pass-catching tight end in college football.

It’s not well known, but BYU has had some running success the last few years.  Harvey Unga topped 1,100 yards rushing last year, making it three 1,000 yard rushers in four years.  Unga may have a hard time matching those numbers this year, as four starters need to be replaced on the offensive line.

The defensive line could have been dominating, but tackle Russell Tialavea decided earlier this summer to go on a mission for the church.  End Jan Jorgensen should continue to dominate after contributing 8 ½ tackles behind the line.

BYU is set at linebacker, where the starters all return after combining for 223 tackles and 11 sacks.  Behind that unit, the secondary returns two starters. 

One intangible to factor in early in the season is a rash of minor injuries to key players.  While none of the starters should miss much game time if any, they are missing practices.

The schedule does not allow Cougar fans to think BCS Bowl this year.  BYU opens with Oklahoma at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium.  Maybe punter Tyler Holt can hit the jumbotron.  A home game with Florida State could give the Cougars a chance to score an upset.  In MWC play, BYU hosts both Utah and TCU, as well as Air Force.  The one tough road game is at UNLV.  If the Cougars can shore up their offensive line and come up with a couple of good receivers to compliment Pitta, they could pull off the conference championship.

Air Force:  The service academies usually have high football graduation losses every year, so when Air Force returns six starters to both sides of the ball, it has to be considered a glut of experience.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson earned Freshman of the Year honors in the league last year even though he didn’t post gaudy statistical numbers.  When he passed the ball, he completed 55% of his passes and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt.

Six backs saw significant action last year, and five return.  There may not be a star among the group, but they know how to make the option go.  The Falcons averaged 4.5 yards per rush in 2008, and that average should head north of five this year.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the blocking schemes in this offense make it easier than average for new starters to become competent.

The Falcon defense is strongest on the back line.  The secondary returns three starters who combined for 216 tackles, five interceptions, and 13 passes broken up.

The one weak spot is the defensive line, where two of the three starters this year are new to the lineup.  Nose tackle Ben Garland could make the All-MWC team.

The linebackers all have prior experience, led by Ken Lamendola, who topped AFA in tackles last year with 118.

The schedule includes the usual other two service academies plus Nicholls State and Minnesota out of conference.  While the Falcons won’t win the conference title, they should take home the Commander-in-Chief Trophy.  Expect to see the Falcons playing in a bowl for the third consecutive season.

Colorado State:  The Rams were a small surprise in Steve Fairchild’s first year as coach in Ft. Collins.  CSU broke even in the regular season and won the New Mexico Bowl game over Fresno State.  They will be lucky to repeat that feat this season.

Only five starters return on defense, and only two of them play in the front seven.  CSU surrendered 30.2 points and 410 total yards per game in 2008, and those numbers will get worse this year.  Look for a jump to 35-40 points allowed and 430-450 total yards allowed per game.

The secondary has some experienced talent returning, but they will be forced to cover receivers longer per play.  The pass rush should be much weaker. 

Mychal Sisson is the one bright spot on the stop side.  The weakside linebacker led the Rams with 105 tackles including eight behind the line.

The offense should still have some firepower even though a new quarterback and running back must be found.  As of this writing, Fairchild hasn’t officially named a starter, but we believe that choice will be Grant Stucker. 

The new starter behind Stucker is John Mosure.  He won’t remind Ram fans of Gartrell Johnson, who rushed for 1,476 yards and 12 scores last year.

The top two receivers from last year return to start at wipeout.  Dion Morton and Rashuan Greer teamed for 114 receptions and 1,973 yards last year.

The offensive line welcomes back four of the five starters from a year ago, so we expect the Rams to improve in the running game and remain strong in the passing game—if Stucker can take over the controls without short-circuiting.

The Rams open up with Colorado yet again, but this game will be played in Boulder instead of Denver.  After hosting Weber State, they host Nevada and venture to BYU.  TCU and UNLV must be played on the road, while Utah and Air Force come to Hughes Stadium.  It looks like the Rams will come up a bit short this year and win no more than five times.

San Diego State: Brady Hoke worked wonders at Ball State, and he begins his tenure on the West Coast in a great situation.  The Aztecs are going to improve immediately in his first year, and if the ball bounces right, SDSU could even challenge for bowl eligibility.

Seven starters return to both sides of the ball, and most of the key special teams players are back as well.  Quarterback Ryan Lindley didn’t play like a freshman last year, and now as a sophomore he could top 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air.

When Lindley passes, he will have one of the league’s best set of receivers running under the ball.  There are numerous capable hands on the roster, but none of them have breakaway potential. 

The running game has much room for improvement after averaging just 73 yards per game last year.  Atiyyah Henderson led SDSU with 490 yards on the ground.  He’ll run behind an offensive line about as talented this year as last.

For the record to move toward .500, the Aztecs must improve their defense against both the run and pass.  They gave up 461 yards and 37.2 points per game in 2008.  They must come up with a way of stopping the run, and it all begins up front, where three starters return from last year.  In the second line of defense, Luke Laolagi and Andrew Preston are the leading returning tacklers.

The secondary has been weak for two consecutive seasons, and it will be the weak point again this year.  Cornerback Aaron Moore broke up six passes a year ago.

Hoke’s best recruiting efforts were in the choosing of his staff.  Former New Mexico coach Rocky Long is the new defensive coordinator with former Ball State DC Mark Smith coming along as linebacker coach.  The Aztecs will come with many different types of blitzes this year and come up with some big plays.  Al Borges, the former offensive coordinator at Auburn, back when the Tigers had an exceptional offense, takes over in the same position here.  Former Cleveland Browns QB Brian Sipe will coach the QBs here.

The out-of-conference schedule could give SDSU three wins.  A probable loss at UCLA in the opener is the one tough game before conference play.  With New Mexico, Wyoming, New Mexico State, and Southern Utah coming to Qualcomm Stadium, and with a road game scheduled against Idaho, the Aztecs can win five games in year one of the Hoke era.

U N L V: The Rebels came within one game of becoming bowl eligible in 2008, and this should be the year they break through and earn a bowl bid. 

Junior quarterback Omar Clayton missed three games last year but still managed to pass for 1,894 yards and 18 scores versus just four interceptions.  With a strong supporting cast, Clayton should pass for 2,800 to 3,000 yards.

Wipeout Ryan Wolfe is the league’s leading returning receiver after catching 88 passes for 1,040 yards and six touchdowns.  Joining him are two promising receivers who can turn short passes into long gains.  Phillip Payne and Jerriman Robinson both averaged more than 15 yards per reception in 2008 and could combine for 100 receptions in 2009.

The only fly in the ointment for this offense is a solid running attack.  C. J. Cox is the leading returning rusher, and he had just 191 yards rushing last year.

The offensive line has three returning starters, including probable all-MWC tackle Matt Murphy. 

The defense returns seven starters, plus a former starter from 2007, to a unit that gave up 33 points and 423 yards per game.  Three players with starting experience return at linebacker, and three more start in the front line.    Linebackers Jason Beauchamp and Ronnie Paulo are the stars of this team.  Look for the duo to combine for 200-230 tackles.

While the secondary loses three starters, Coach Mike Sanford went the JUCO route to find adequate replacements.

The schedule gives the Rebels multiple chances to pull off an upset or two along the way.  After opening at home with Sacramento State, Oregon State and Hawaii visit Vegas.  Consecutive road games against Wyoming and Nevada precede consecutive home games with BYU and Utah.  TCU and Air Force are road games as well. 

New Mexico:  After guiding New Mexico to five bowl games in six years (a 6-5 record in the year they failed to earn a bid), former Coach Rocky Long was dismissed after posting one losing record.  Enter Mike Locksley, former offensive coordinator at Illinois.  Locksley may find the going rough for a few seasons, as he is making sweeping changes to the offense and defense.  The players to run those systems are not there.

On offense, the Lobos transform from a run the ball up the gut to set up the play-action pass to a no-huddle, spread passing attack.  Quarterback Donovan Porterie was not having a great year early in 2008, but it became much worse when he was lost for the season.  It allowed three other signal callers to see action, and they all return this year.  However, we don’t expect to see spectacular passing statistics.  In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more interceptions than touchdown passes from this group, a lower than expected completion percentage, and a relatively low yardage per pass attempt (maybe as lower than last year’s 5.4).

The running game will suffer immensely with this new offense.  Losing 1,110 yard rusher Rodney Ferguson will make matters worse.  The UNM running game could drop from 208 yards per game to as low as 85-100.

There’s ample experience at the receiver positions, but the talent is not up to the standards set by the upper division teams.  There will be more receptions, for sure, but there will also be considerably more incomplete passes and interceptions.

The defense is switching from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3 this year, and it doesn’t help that there isn’t any experience or much depth in the defensive line.  No starters return, and since the passing game will create more total plays, this green unit will be exploited all year.  We could see opponents rushing for 160-180 yards per game with an average per rush well over four.  Also, the pass rush will not produce as many sacks or hurries.

Only one starting linebacker returns, but he’s the best defensive player on the team.  Clint McPeek led the Lobos with 103 tackles.  He’s not just a run-stuffer; he’s probably the best pass defender on the team as well.

The secondary returns a couple of able safeties, but both cornerbacks must be replaced.  The Lobos gave up 214 passing yards per game, and that number was actually impressive because it came against the likes of Arizona, Tulsa, and New Mexico State out of conference, as well as the usual pass-happy conference opponents.  This year, New Mexico adds Texas Tech to the schedule, so the Lobos could give up 250-275 passing yards per game.

We just don’t see many opportunities for this team to win this year.  The home game against rival New Mexico State may be their best and only shot.  The other games where they have a chance are on the road. 

Wyoming: Joe Glenn was never able to turn the corner in Laramie, and he’s now history.  His replacement is Dave Christensen, the former offensive coordinator at Missouri.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to bring Chase Daniel, Derrick Washington, and Jeremy Maclin along to suit up.  He does have a lot of returning talent from a team that wasn’t all that bad at times.

The spread offense will sputter somewhat in year one.  Junior college transfer Robert Benjamin will begin the season as the starter, taking over for former starter Karsten Sween.  Benjamin fits the mold to run Christensen’s offense, and if he can hold onto the job, he should rush for 600-750 yards and pass for 2,500-2,750 yards with a nice TD/INT ratio.

Wyoming lost 1,300 yard blazing rusher Devin Moore and bruising Wynel Seldon (637 yards rushing).  Benjamin is likely to be the leading rusher, and we expect the average yards per game to drop from 178 to 120-130.

Benjamin will have some quality receivers to pass the ball.  Tight end Jesse Salyards gives him a big target over the middle and on delayed release routes.  Defenses will have to respect him, and that will allow wipeouts Greg Bolling and Brandon Stewart to get open more.  Stewart can burn a secondary for a quick six, and he should score a lot more than once (his ’08 stat).

The offensive line welcomes back three starters plus a fourth player with starting experience.  They should provide a formidable pass protection for Benjamin.

Eight starters return to a defense that yielded just 330 yards per game in 2008.  All three defensive line starters from 2008 return, and the three Cowboys aren’t that far behind the lines of TCU and BYU.

Half of the four-man linebacking crew returns this year, led by inside ‘backer Gabe Knapton. 

The secondary returns three starters, and all three are capable of landing on the all-MWC team.  Chris Prosinski and the brothers Gipson (Tashaun and Marcell) teamed to knock down 29 passes last year.

Wyoming opens the season at home with preseason #9-ranked in the BCS Weber State.  The Cowboys should begin the Coach Christensen era on a winning note before facing Texas at home the following week.  A visit down US 287  to Boulder to take on Colorado should be the tell-tale sign of how improved this team will be.  If they can be competitive and pull off the upset in this backyard brawl, the Cowboys could flirt with a winning record and be the big surprise of the West this year.  We think the chances are slim, and CU will win that game handily, so Wyoming will take their lumps this year and compete with New Mexico, Colorado State, and San Diego State for sixth in the league.

Next up: A look at the first of the BCS conferences, The Big East.  It should be an interesting race and a possible death watch for a coach.

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