The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 17, 2013

2013 Mountain West Conference Football Preview

2013 Mountain West Conference Preview

 

The Mountain West Conference expands to 12 teams this year and divides into two divisions with a championship game to be held on December 7 at the home field on the division winner with the higher BCS ranking.

 

The divisional split here is geographical in an east/west split, but the divisions are named, Mountain and West.  All Mountain teams reside in cities in the Mountain Time Zone, while all West Teams resided in cities in the Pacific Time Zone, or in the case of Hawaii, in the Hawaii Time Zone (2 hours behind the Pacific Time Zone).

 

Last year, Fresno St., San Diego St., and Boise St. tied for the conference title.  Throw in two new teams (both 11-2) that finished in the top 25 in last year’s final poll, and the league should be stronger this season, but not as strong as when TCU was in the league.

 

We expect a little changing of the guard this season.  We suspect Boise State to experience a rebuilding season and have their worst season in a decade.  It is the first time our ratings have not listed BSU as the top-rated team in their league since 2005.

 

This league has produced multiple BCS Bowl qualifiers, and we believe there is a good chance that one more team could challenge for a spot this season.  An October 26 road game against San Diego St. and a November 29 road game against San Jose St. and a win in the inaugural MWC title game are the three crucial games that must be victorious for Fresno St.  If the Bulldogs win those three games, they should be 13-0.  Our ratings have FSU favored in every game.

 

Additions: San Jose St. and Utah St. move from the now football defunct WAC.

 

Departures: None

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

 

Mountain West Conference

Mountain Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Utah St.

0-0

0-0

100.9

92.5

101.1

Boise St.

0-0

0-0

100.0

102.3

101.7

Colorado St.

0-0

0-0

90.3

94.4

90.8

Wyoming

0-0

0-0

85.8

85.6

85.9

Air Force

0-0

0-0

81.3

87.7

81.2

New Mexico

0-0

0-0

78.8

83.9

79.4

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Fresno St.

0-0

0-0

104.0

101.4

105.0

San Jose St.

0-0

0-0

100.3

94.9

100.7

San Diego St.

0-0

0-0

98.6

98.3

98.8

Nevada

0-0

0-0

88.5

96.2

89.5

U N L V

0-0

0-0

85.7

92.0

86.3

Hawaii

0-0

0-0

82.0

82.4

82.4

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

91.4

92.6

91.9

 

 

Official Pre-season Media Poll

Mountain Division    

Pos

Team

Points

1st Place

1

Boise St.

245

40

2

Utah St.

204

1

3

Air Force

143

0

4

Wyoming

116

0

5

Colorado St.

90

0

6

New Mexico

63

0

       
West Division    

Pos

Team

Points

1st Place

1

Fresno St.

243

39

2

San Diego St.

181

1

3

San Jose St.

172

1

4

Nevada

135

0

5

U N L V

71

0

6

Hawaii

59

0

 

     

 

2013 MOUNTAIN WEST FOOTBALL PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
Offense      
QB Derek Carr * Sr. Fresno State
WR Davante Adams * So. Fresno State
WR Noel Grigsby Sr. San José State
RB Kasey Carrier ** Sr. New Mexico
RB Adam Muema ** Jr. San Diego State
OL Charles Leno ** Sr. Boise State
OL Matt Paradis * Sr. Boise State
OL Weston Richburg Sr. Colorado State
OL Austin Wentworth * Sr. Fresno State
OL Tyler Larsen Sr. Utah State
TE Marcel Jensen Sr. Fresno State
       
Defense      
DL Demarcus Lawrence * Jr. Boise State
DL Tyeler Davison * Jr. Fresno State
DL Brock Hekking ** Jr. Nevada
DL Travis Raciti Jr. San José State
LB Jake Fely ** Jr. San Diego State
LB Keith Smith Sr. San José State
LB Kyler Fackrell So. Utah State
DB L.J. Jones Sr. Fresno State
DB Derron Smith * Jr. Fresno State
DB Nat Berhe ** Sr. San Diego State
DB Bené Benwikere Sr. San José State
       
Specialists    
P Ben Skaer Sr. New Mexico
PK Austin Lopez So. San José State
Ret. Chase Clayton Jr. New Mexico
       
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Derek Carr, Sr., QB, Fresno State
       
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Derron Smith, Jr., DB, Fresno State
       
Preseason Spcl Teams Player of the Year: Chase Clayton, Jr., KR, New Mexico
       
* – member of the 2012 All-Mountain West first team.
** – member of the 2012 All-Mountain West second team.

 

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100         A+

86-92           A

79-85           A-

72-78           B+

65-71           B

58-64           B-

51-57           C+

44-50           C

37-43           C-

30-36           D

0-29             F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Mountain Division

Team

Utah St. Aggies

               
Head Coach

Matt Wells

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Logan, UT

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-0 (in WAC)

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

67

Pass Offense

63

Run Defense

75

Pass Defense

61

               
Ratings              
PiRate

100.9

Mean

92.5

Bias

101.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

53

Mean

93

Bias

50

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

8-5 (Lose MWC Championship Game)

 

 

Team

Boise St. Broncos

               
Head Coach

Chris Petersen

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Boise, ID

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

59

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

63

Pass Defense

69

               
Ratings              
PiRate

100.0

Mean

102.3

Bias

101.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

58

Mean

49

Bias

47

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

 

Team

Colorado St. Rams

               
Head Coach

Jim McElwain

               
Colors

Forest Green and Gold

               
City

Ft. Collins, CO

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

55

Pass Offense

55

Run Defense

51

Pass Defense

59

               
Ratings              
PiRate

90.3

Mean

94.4

Bias

90.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

91

Mean

86

Bias

91

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

 

Team

Wyoming Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Dave Christensen

               
Colors

Brown and Gold

               
City

Laramie, WY

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

41

Pass Offense

69

Run Defense

40

Pass Defense

68

               
Ratings              
PiRate

85.8

Mean

85.6

Bias

85.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

103

Mean

114

Bias

105

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Air Force Falcons

               
Head Coach

Troy Calhoun

               
Colors

Blue and Silver

               
City

Colorado Springs, CO

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

69

Pass Offense

28

Run Defense

43

Pass Defense

50

               
Ratings              
PiRate

81.3

Mean

87.7

Bias

81.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

115

Mean

107

Bias

114

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

New Mexico Lobos

               
Head Coach

Bob Davie

               
Colors

Cherry and Silver

               
City

Albuquerque, NM

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

66

Pass Offense

26

Run Defense

45

Pass Defense

44

               
Ratings              
PiRate

78.8

Mean

83.8

Bias

79.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

120

Mean

117

Bias

119

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Fresno St. Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Tim DeRuyter

               
Colors

Cardinal and Blue

               
City

Fresno, CA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

 

Pass Offense

 

Run Defense

 

Pass Defense

 

               
Ratings              
PiRate

104.0

Mean

101.4

Bias

105.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

44

Mean

56

Bias

43

               
Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-0 (win MWC title game)

 

 

Team

San Jose St. Spartans

               
Head Coach

Ron Caragher

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

San Jose

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-1 (in WAC)

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

39

Pass Offense

83

Run Defense

63

Pass Defense

69

               
Ratings              
PiRate

100.3

Mean

94.9

Bias

100.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

56

Mean

85

Bias

55

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

San Diego St. Aztecs

               
Head Coach

Rocky Long

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

San Diego

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

62

Pass Offense

56

Run Defense

76

Pass Defense

63

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.6

Mean

98.3

Bias

98.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

66

Mean

66

Bias

65

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Nevada Wolf Pack

               
Head Coach

Brian Polian

               
Colors

Blue and Silver

               
City

Reno, NV

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

 

Pass Offense

 

Run Defense

 

Pass Defense

 

               
Ratings              
PiRate

88.5

Mean

96.2

Bias

89.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

97

Mean

80

Bias

96

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

U N L V Rebels

               
Head Coach

Bobby Hauck

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Las Vegas

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

2-11

               
Grades              
Run Offense

55

Pass Offense

62

Run Defense

31

Pass Defense

51

               
Ratings              
PiRate

85.7

Mean

92.0

Bias

86.3

               
Rankings              
PiRate

104

Mean

95

Bias

103

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

               
Head Coach

Norm Chow

               
Colors

Green, Black, and Silver

               
City

Honolulu

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

27

Pass Offense

62

Run Defense

39

Pass Defense

53

               
Ratings              
PiRate

82.0

Mean

82.4

Bias

82.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

114

Mean

120

Bias

113

               
Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

 

August 20, 2012

2012 Mountain West Conference Preview

The Mountain West Conference is a continuing league in transition.  Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii have left the WAC and joined this league.  Boise State joined last year, but the Broncos will leave for the Big East next season, taking San Diego State with them.  Utah State and San Jose State will come in next year.  Also gone this year is perennial MWC champion TCU.

 

While many expect Boise State to dominate this season, the PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings believe there will be an exciting race for first this season with two or possibly three teams in contention.

 

Here is the preseason media poll from MWC Media Days:

 

 

Mountain West

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Boise State

27

296

2

Nevada

0

244

3

Fresno State

2

231

4

Wyoming

0

213

5

San Diego State

1

173

6

Air Force

0

170

7

Hawaii

0

116

8

Colorado State

0

111

9

U N L V

0

63

10

New Mexico

0

33

 

Note that Boise State received two second place and one third place vote.

 

The PiRate Ratings have cut three touchdowns from Boise State’s beginning rating for 2012.  Still, the Broncos rank first in the preseason.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Mountain West

PiRate

1

Boise State

103.1

2

Nevada

97.6

3

San Diego State

92.0

4

Wyoming

91.8

5

Fresno State

91.7

6

Colorado State

86.9

7

Air Force

85.9

8

Hawaii

82.9

9

New Mexico

79.4

10

U N L V

77.5

  The PiRate Vintage Ratings show this race to be much closer.

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Mountain West

Vintage

1

Boise State

103

2

Nevada

101

3

Air Force

97

4

Fresno State

95

5

San Diego State

94

6

Colorado State

92

7

Wyoming

89

8

Hawaii

87

9

New Mexico

83

10

U N L V

80

 

 

Team

Air Force Falcons

               
Head Coach

Troy Calhoun

               
Colors

Royal Blue and Silver

               
City

Colorado Springs, CO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

85.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

The service academies tend to play a large amount of upperclassmen and frequently graduate more starters than they return.  Air Force has twice in the last four years returned fewer than half of their starters.  This year takes the cake, as only five starters return from 2011, three on both sides of the ball.

 

Tim Jefferson proved to be one of the best passing quarterbacks in the option scheme at the academy.  Connor Dietz is expected to replace him under center, but keep an eye on Kale Pearson, who could emerge as the surprise starter.  Whoever ends up taking the snaps, he will not replicate the production of Jefferson.

 

The Falcons must replace tailback Asher Clark, who rushed for 1,110 yards last year.  Fullback Mike DeWitt is one of the returning starters on this side of the ball.  DeWitt gained 567 yards and scored 12 times.  He is one of the best downhill runners in college football, and he can be counted to pick up a yard when it is needed.

 

The top four receivers must be replaced, and the leading returnee, Drew Coleman, caught just seven passes last year, and he has been held out of practice with an undisclosed injury.

 

The offensive line returns two starters, but in this offense, run blocking can be effective with limited experience.

 

Air Force averaged 35 points and 455 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will not be approached this year.  Expect something in the order of 26 points and 360 yards.

 

The defense has been decimated with graduation losses and additional unexpected losses to four players expected to contribute (three who were expected to start).  Eight of the top nine tacklers are gone.

 

Alex Means is the lone star in the 3-4 defense.  The outside linebacker sacked enemy QBs six times in 2011, and he recorded 77 tackles.  

 

The secondary is hurting at the safety position where both projected starters will not be around in 2012, and the defensive line is undersized to successfully control opposing offensive lines.  The lone returning starter up front is nose tackle Nick Fitzgerald, and at 255 pounds, he is about 45 pounds too light to be effective in the 3-4 defense.

 

Air Force surrendered 28 points and 386 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will head north in 2012.  However, there are six or seven beatable teams on the schedule, and it would not be all that surprising if the Falcons find a way to become bowl eligible.

 

Team

Boise State Broncos

               
Head Coach

Chris Petersen

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Orange

               
City

Boise, ID

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

103.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

53

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-3

 

It has been six years since the Broncos lost three or more regular season games.  Since that time, Boise has a cumulative record of 73-6!  We expect Coach Chris Petersen to lose three times this regular season because the Broncos return just five starters from last season.

 

The losses on the defensive side are the greater concern.  Boise gave up less than 19 points and just over 320 yards per game, which was a decline from the year before that.  Nine of the top 10 tacklers are missing from last year.  Only linebacker J. C. Percy, who did not start, returns from among the top 10 tacklers, and he registered just one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Cornerback Jamar Taylor is the only returning starter on this side of the ball, but fellow cornerback Jerrell Gavins would have been the star of this unit had he not missed 10 games due to injury.  The secondary will be more than adequate.

 

Up front, no starters return, but the four new starters have talent.  Tackles Michael Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe saw considerable action as key reserves last year.

 

The first replacement to be made on the offense is the most important position.  Kellen Moore departs as the all-time leading passer in Boise.  Moore put up incredible stats last year that may never be replicated, completing better than 74% of his passes for 3,800 yards and 43 touchdowns!  He averaged 8.7 yards per attempt. 

 

Joe Southwick has withstood a strong challenge from Nick Patti in preseason practice, and Southwick should be named the starter before the Broncos play at Michigan State in the season opener.  Southwick completed 23 of 30 passes for 198 yards over the course of seven mop-up assignments.

 

The Broncos still have some quality talent at receiver.  Matt Miller, Mitch Burroughs, and Geraldo Boldewijn teamed up to catch 130 passes with 12 touchdowns, but Boldewijn is suspended for the first four games.

 

The loss at running back is almost as harmful as the loss at quarterback.  Doug Martin moves on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading BSU with almost 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago.  D. J. Harper has the potential to become the next 1,000 yard rusher at the field of blue, but Harper must find a way to stay healthy.

 

The offensive line returns two starters.  Guard Joe Kellogg is the best on this unit after earning 2nd team All-MWC honors last year.

 

The Broncos face Michigan State in East Lansing to open the season.  They host Miami of Ohio and BYU and venture to Hattiesburg to face Southern Mississippi.  Boise could lose two of those four games.  In conference action, BSU must face Nevada and Wyoming on the road, while Fresno State and San Diego State will be tough outs even at Bronco Stadium.  Look for the Broncos to suffer through a rebuilding season, where they lose as many as three times.

 

Team

Colorado State Rams

               
Head Coach

Jim McElwain

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Ft. Collins, CO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

86.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

 

Jim McElwain arrived in Ft. Collins with an impressive resume.  Sure, being the offensive coordinator at Alabama is a bit like being the batting coach of the New York Yankees, but McElwain did an excellent job working for Nick Saban.  His Crimson Tide offenses set records in Tuscaloosa. 

 

McElwain welcomes back 14 starters, seven on offense and seven on defense, from a team that has struggled through three consecutive 3-9 seasons.  The Rams lost four close games last year, and with just a little more offense, they could have been bowl eligible.

 

McElwain should provide a little more offense.  Garrett Grayson will begin the season under center as the starting quarterback.  As a freshman, Grayson proved to be a decent runner and passer in limited action, running for 193 yards and passing for 542 yards in three games played.  Senior M.J. McPeek has never played in a game since transferring from Kansas State, but he has risen to number two on the depth chart.

 

The Rams have depth and experience at receiver with five of their top six pass catchers returning.  Crockett Gilmore and Lou Greenwood teamed up for 74 receptions and six scores.  Deep threat Thomas Coffman is expected to miss the opener against rival Colorado, following emergency abdominal surgery.

 

The Rams have the top running back in the league in Chris Nwoke.  Nwoke rushed for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns, while catching 23 passes out of the backfield.  He averaged close to six yards per rush.

 

The offensive line is strongest inside where center Weston Richburg and guard Jordan Gragert earned 2nd team All-MWC honors last year.

 

Look for CSU’s offense to improve immediately under McElwain.  We see this team scoring about 25 points and gaining 375-400 yards.

 

How much the defense improves will determine if the Rams can win enough games to play in December.  The Rams proved to be better against the pass than the run last year, but teams found it so easy to run, they didn’t have to throw as often.

 

The Rams will implement a 3-4 defense, and with the loss of their top pass rusher, expect the passing numbers to take a step back.  John Froland and Zach Tiedgen will man the terminal positions, with Curtis Wilson in the middle.  The trio combined for just 2 ½ sacks last year, but only Froland was a starter.

 

The new four-man linebacker crew will have all three returning starters from last season’s 4-3 alignment.  Shaquil Barrett led the team with 99 tackles, and James Skelton was close behind with 91.  Unfortunately, too many of those 190 tackles were far beyond the line of scrimmage.

 

The back line of defense has potential to excel if a decent pass rush can develop up front.  Cornerback Momo Thomas picked off a pair of enemy passes last year, and fellow cornerback Shaq Bell batted away five passes.

 

CSU surrendered more than 31 points and 413 yards per game last year, and the key to a successful season is chopping those numbers down.  With too many questions on this side of the ball, we see them coming up a bit short.

 

Team

Fresno State Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Tim DeRuyter

               
Colors

Cardinal and Blue

               
City

Fresno, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4 (WAC)

Overall

4-9

               
PiRate Rating

91.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

91

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

84

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

 

Coach Tim DeRuyter steps into a good situation in Fresno.  The Bulldogs underachieved last year, and a lot of quality talent returns in 2012.

 

The offense will make some major changes, as DeRuyter hired Dave Schramm away from Utah.  The Bulldogs will use a hurry-up spread offense this year.

 

Quarterback Derek Carr (David’s younger brother) has an excellent chance to be the top signal caller in the league.  He averaged close to 300 passing yards per game last year and had an excellent TD/Int ratio of 26/9.

 

Carr’s top receiver is Josh Harper, who has a great pair of hands.  Harper caught 35 passes last year, and he should top 50 this season.

 

The Bulldogs have an excellent, albeit undersized running back in Robbie Rouse.  Rouse led the WAC with 1,549 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, but the MWC has better defenses.  At 5-7 and 185 pounds, he will need relief this year.  Look for Milton Knox and Michael Harris to see more reps this season.

 

Center Richard Helepiko and tackles Austin Wentworth and Cody Wichmann lead an experienced offensive line.  Last year, the Bulldogs’ offensive line allowed 20 sacks protecting Carr in a drop back passing offense.  In the new offense, the sack total could drop into the teens.

 

Fresno State has historically been one of the more balanced teams offensively, and Bulldog fans can expect more of the same this year.

 

Defense was where the Bulldogs dropped the ball last year.  FSU surrendered more than 35 points per game and proved easy to run and pass against.  DeRuyter is a defensive specialist, and you can expect immediate improvement here in the new 3-4 alignment.

 

Linebacker is a team strength.  The Bulldogs have both quality talent and depth in the second line of defense.  It starts with Travis Brown, the team’s leading tackler from 2011.  Brown picked up 8 ½ tackles for loss, and he proved effective in pass defense as well.  Jeremiah Toma and Patrick Su’A are back after starting last season.  Karl Mickelsen and Kyle Wilson are ready to contribute this season, and we expect an immediate overall improvement in the defensive numbers.

 

A couple players that missed last season return to the front line.  Anthony Williams will provide a big presence at the nose, while Nikko Motta has become academically eligible and will provide a strong complement to returning regular Matt Akers at end.  Andy Jennings will supply quality depth both inside and outside.

 

Two potential stars play on the back line.  Cornerback L. J. Jones finished second in the WAC with 16 passes defended.  Safety Phillip Thomas missed last season with an injury, and if he can return to his 2010 form, the Bulldog secondary should be much improved.

 

We tend to believe the new spread offense will be immediately successful in its first year.  How much the defense improves will determine how far the Bulldogs go in their first season in the Mountain West.  If they are slightly improved, then Fresno State will get six wins and be bowl eligible.  If they are considerably improved, the Bulldogs will win eight games and qualify for a better bowl.  If they are greatly improved, then Boise State and Nevada better watch out.  Yes, Fresno State could conceivably be a contender in the MWC race, but alas, the Bulldogs face both heavyweights on the road.  So, we will choose the eight-win option.

 

 

Team

Hawaii Warriors

               
Head Coach

Norm Chow

               
Colors

Green and Black

               
City

Honolulu, HI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4 (WAC)

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

82.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

After many years as an offensive coordinator at BYU, North Carolina State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Utah, and the Tennessee Titans, Norm Chow finally gets the opportunity to be the CEO of a team.  One of his first moves was to hire Thom Kaumeyer as his defensive coordinator.  Kaumeyer was the DC at Kentucky in 2008 when the Wildcats had their best defense this century.  He helped put together the “Darkside Defense” at San Diego State in the early 2000’s, and in those seasons, the Aztecs had their best defenses prior to the arrival of Rocky Long.

 

The Warriors need to rebuild on defense, as seven starters must be replaced and two others expected to start this year will not be available.  Questions abound with all three defensive units. 

 

Only one starter returns up front.  End Paipai Falemalu tied for second with 4 ½ sacks last year.  In the second line of defense, Art Laurel was the top pass rusher.  He recorded nine sacks and 14 ½ total tackles for loss with an additional five QB hurries.

 

The last line of defense features two reliable pass defenders.  John Hardy-Tuliau and Mike Edwards teamed up for 26 passes defended with four interceptions.

 

Expect a modicum of improvement on this side of the ball in 2012, but there are too many liabilities to call this edition of Warriors tough defensively.

 

Hawaii fans may not recognize the offense when the Warriors take the field this season.  The run and shoot offense used in Honolulu for many years is now a thing of the past.  Chow brings with him the multiple pro-set offense.  Tight ends and fullbacks will be used again, and the play-action pass will return to the playbook.  The old offense had maybe four or five different running plays, and the new offense will have at least double that number.

 

Two graduate transfers from Duke have entered grad school here and earned both scholarships and starting jobs.  Quarterback Sean Schroeder’s knowledge of the multiple pro-set offense and his ability to command respect in the huddle allowed him to leapfrog over the rest of the depth chart.  Former Blue Devil tight end Ryan Hall has become the starter and should give Schroeder a welcome target in the middle of the field.

 

Schroeder will have several quality receivers in addition to Hall.  Billy Ray Stutzmann earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors last year after catching 78 passes.  Jeremiah Ostrowski added 65 receptions.  Former quarterback David Graves moves to wideout and will provide backup.

 

The running game was only a decoy in the run and shoot, but the Warriors will need to develop a ground attack this year.  Joey Iosefa will see time at both fullback and tailback; he can get the tough yards in short yardage situations.

 

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but guard David Lefotu is one blocker Chow can rely on.  Utah transfer Kapua Sai should help make this unit better.

 

A difficult schedule includes games at Southern Cal, BYU, San Diego State, Colorado State, Fresno State, and Air Force.  Hawaii is likely to go 0-6 and at best 1-5 on the road.  They face Boise State and Nevada at home, and it isn’t likely they will win either one.  So, another losing season is in the offing for the Warriors.

 

 

Team

Nevada Wolf Pack

               
Head Coach

Chris Ault

               
Colors

Navy and Silver

               
City

Reno, NV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2 (WAC)

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

97.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-2

 

Two seasons ago, Nevada pulled off a major upset as a two touchdown underdog to Boise State, which made the Wolf Pack the WAC Champions.  Last year, playing on the field of blue, Boise State got their revenge.  2012 is setting up to be a year where the rubber game could be very interesting.

 

Nevada’s first season in the Mountain West Conference comes at a time when Coach Chris Ault has the pieces in place to return to the success of 2010.

 

Quarterback Cody Fajardo had a rough freshman season, but he proved to be more than adequate as Colin Kaepernick’s replacement—until he got injured.  Fajardo threw for 1,707 yards and ran for 694 in eight games, but he was knocked out of five of those games and sat out the Boise State game on his own decision.  He must prove to be more resilient this year.

 

Fajardo’s favorite target is Aaron Bradley.  Bradley caught 28 passes as a freshman, but that number could possibly triple in 2012.  Tight end Zach Sudfeld gives Fajardo a basketball-sized target at 6-7.  He and Kolbe Arendse form the best tight end tandem in the league.

 

Ault plans to pass more out of the pistol offense this year, so the running backs will be seeing fewer chances.  That could be a good thing, because none of the backs on this roster appear to have 1,000-yard potential.  Stefphon Jefferson and Nick Hale should see the bulk of the reps behind Fajardo, while true freshman Chris Solomon could get some immediate playing time.

 

The reason why the offense will move the ball at will again this season is a highly-talented offensive line that will open holes for the running game and protect Fajardo when he passes.  Guard Chris Barker and tackle Jeff Nady both made the All-WAC team last year, and they should do the same in the MWC.

 

Nevada averaged 32 points and more than 500 yards of total offense per game last year.  It is conceivable that the yardage will fall but the points will rise.

 

The defense took a small turn for the worse last year, as the Wolf Pack proved to be easier to run against.  However, they were one of the toughest in the nation to pass against.  Ask Boise State, as the Broncos could only muster 160 yards through the air.

 

UN has the best secondary in the league this year.  Khalid Wooten, Duke Williams, and Marlon Johnson should all receive some form of all-conference recognition.  The trio combined for 19 passes defended in 2011.

 

The three-man linebacker trio includes a tough pass defender in Jeremiah Green, and a tough run-stopper in Albert Rosette.  Up front is where Nevada has some questions.  The Wolf Pack have to find another pass rusher like Brett Roy, who led the WAC as a senior with 10 sacks.  Junior college transfer Cortez Woods should provide immediate help at the end and team with tackles Jack Reynoso and Rykeem Yates to make a formidable run defense.

 

The schedule could not be more beneficial for this team.  UN opens at California, and the Bears should be better this year, but they are beatable.  The Wolf Pack ends the season at home against Boise State on December 1.  Their 10 games in between are all winnable.  There is a slight chance Nevada could run the table this year, and we see them winning at least 10 games.

 

Team

New Mexico Lobos

               
Head Coach

Bob Davie

               
Colors

Cherry and Silver

               
City

Albuquerque, NM

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

79.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

117

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-11

 

New Mexico had a good thing going for multiple years with Rocky Long.  He suffered one poor season after consistently winning in a state that produces few recruits, and he was shown the door.  The Lobos paid by suffering through three consecutive 1-11 seasons and a lot of turmoil.

 

Former Notre Dame coach and ESPN analyst Bob Davie takes over the helm in Albuquerque.  The Lobos will not be juggernauts in 2012, but they should win more than one game.

 

Davie has an unexpected concern with his expected starting quarterback.  Senior B. R. Holbrook missed several days of practice with shortness of breath and chest pain, something that always has to be taken seriously.  It has been diagnoses as chest inflammation, and for now true freshman Cole Gautsche is taking the bulk of the first-team practice snaps.

 

For a team that averaged a measly 12 points per game last year, the Lobos have depth and value at the receiver positions.  Ty Kirk, Lamaar Thomas, and Quintell Solomon caught 74 passes last year, and the trio should raise that combined total to 125 or more this season.  Tight end Lucas Reed should contribute 30 to 35 receptions as well.

 

Kasey Carrier and Demarcus Rogers will split the duties at running back.  Neither will remind Lobo fans of DonTrell Moore, but they should give Davie more balance on offense this season.  UNM could top 120 yards rushing for the first time since Long was let go.

 

Davie is a defensive-minded coach, and the Lobo defense the last two years has looked like it had no mind at all.  UNM gave up 42 points and close to 500 yards per game last year and more than 44 points per game in 2010.  Davie will shore up the stop troops, but he is no miracle worker.  Expect an improvement of maybe a touchdown per game this year.

 

Davie will use a 3-4 alignment, and the front three will be the most talented unit.  Nose tackle Ugo Uzodinma and ends Reggie Ellis and Jacori Greer.  There is some quality in the backups as well, and true freshmen Gerron Borne, Darian Allen and Paytron Hightower could all immediately contribute this season.

 

A pair of talented linebackers headlines the second line of defense.  Dallas Bollema could challenge for All-MWC honors, while former Maryland linebacker Javarie Johnson should be an immediate upgrade at this position.

 

The secondary can only improve, because it is almost impossible to go the other way after giving up a 72.6% completion rate and 8.8 yards per attempt in 2011.  What’s worse is the Lobos only intercepted three passes, and the players that picked off two of those have departed.  Safety Dante Caro is the lone returnee to have picked off a pass.

 

The journey of 1,000 miles must begin with the first step, and New Mexico has 1,000 miles to go before they are respectable once more.  Davie will take that first step this season, and New Mexico just may double their win total from last year.  Of course, the Lobos get a 13th game this season, so they could lose 11 for the fourth straight season. 

 

 

 

Team

San Diego State Aztecs

               
Head Coach

Rocky Long

               
Colors

Scarlet and Black

               
City

San Diego, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

92.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

Losing Brady Hoke to Michigan did not prove to be a killer last year, as longtime MWC coach Rocky Long guided the Aztecs to eight wins.  While the Aztecs will not contend with the big two or three, SDSU should be among the best of the rest this season.

 

Long has a reputation for developing strong defenses.  His first team in San Diego took a small step backwards, but he had to replace six starters.  This year, five starters must be replaced, and the Aztecs could be due for a similar outcome—25 points and 390 yards allowed.

 

The star on the stop side is middle linebacker Jake Fely.  Fely can blitz and clobber a quarterback; he can stop a running back for negative yardage; and he can cover receivers like a glove.  He is the only returning starter to this unit, so he will need to improve on his outstanding freshman numbers of last year.

 

The back line of defense in SDSU’s 3-3-5 alignment features a 1st team all-conference cornerback and a potential all-conference “Aztec” (part linebacker/part safety).  Leon McFadden intercepted a couple of passes and broke up 15 others last year and earned 1st team All-MWC awards.  The Aztec is returning leading tackler Nat Berhe.

 

Up front, keep an eye on Sam Meredith at nose tackle.  He’s a bit undersized to be a typical middle man in an odd front defense, but Meredith may be the best pass rusher on the team.

 

The offense suffers some heavy losses this year.  Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,711 yards and 19 touchdowns, and the Aztecs will try to replace him with a two-headed monster.  Adam Muema and Walter Kazee could team up for about 1,500 rushing yards, but they could average about the same amount of yards per attempt as Hillman.

 

Also gone is career Aztec passing leader Ryan Lindley.  Ryan Katz appears to be the heir apparent.  The senior saw action at Oregon State and has an accumulated full season of starting experience.  Katz has some fine receivers to hook up with.  Colin Lockett led the Aztecs with 58 receptions and 970 yards last year.  Tight end Gavin Escobar added 51 receptions and 780 yards.  Dylan Denso added 49 receptions a year ago, but his status is up in the air as of this writing after he suffered a broken finger in practice.  He will need surgery.  Southern Cal transfer Brice Butler figures to be a key receiver this year.

 

There is some rebuilding to do in the offensive line, where three starters must be replaced.  Center Alex Johnson is among the best in the league.

 

This looks like a slight regression year at State.  Still, the schedule gives Long and company a good shot at bowl eligibility.  Call it a 6-6 or 7-5 season.

 

 

Team

U N L V  Rebels

               
Head Coach

Bobby Hauck

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Las Vegas, NV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

77.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-10

 

Montana has proven to be a Football Championship Series powerhouse, but when its successful coaches have moved up to FBS, their results could not be duplicated.  Joe Glenn never got the Wyoming program moving, and now Bobby Hauck is struggling in Vegas.  After two seasons at the helm, UNLV has just four wins, and last years team was somewhat weaker than Hauck’s first edition.

 

Hauck has enough experienced players returning to avoid a third consecutive two-win season, and if he cannot improve on the record, he may not get a fourth try.

 

There should be an upgrade at quarterback this year.  Caleb Herring started last year, but he will probably be supplanted by redshirt freshman Nick Sherry.  Sherry has been a little inconsistent in August practices, but he has the best arm and the most potential to direct the UNLV offense.  The Rebels could only produce 1,315 passing yards last year, and that number could improve by 50% this season.

 

The Rebels received welcome news when running back Dionza Bradford returned to the team after leaving for personal reasons earlier in the year.  Bradford will back up starter Tim Cornett, after the two split the running duties last year and tallied more than 1,300 yards.

 

The Rebels are a little iffy at receiver, but Sherry should make the new starters’ transition much easier.  Marcus Sullivan and Jake Phillips should emerge as key pass catchers.

 

The defense is not as fortunate as the offense.  The Rebels surrendered more than 40 points per game last year after giving up close to 40 the year before.  There isn’t hope for a lot of improvement here as just four starters return to this side of the ball as well as another player expected to start this season.

 

The one bright spot is at linebacker, where two starters and one promising newcomer look to try to provide a base on which to build upon.  John Lotulelei made 60 tackles last year with three going for losses.  Tani Maka added 54 tackles and three tackles for loss.  Princeton Jackson played at the same junior college as Cam Newton, earning Juco all-American honors.  He will compete against Tim Hasson for the vacant spot.

 

Up front, Tyler Gaston is the only holdover from last year.  Gaston is the only returning defensive player with more than one sack.  He is a tackle that plays like an end.  Joining him up front will be untested but promising junior college transfers James Boyd and Jordan Sparkman, a former tight end. 

 

Sidney Hodge is the only experienced defensive back.  He did not intercept a pass last year, but he did break up eight.  The Rebels’ secondary will be picked apart by the better quarterbacks on the schedule.

 

UNLV has a chance to win five or six games if every break went their way.  They could also lose 11 games if they don’t catch a break.  We can only endorse two games as almost certain wins, which is exactly what this team has won the last two seasons.

 

Team

Wyoming Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Dave Christensen

               
Colors

Brown and Prairie Gold

               
City

Laramie, WY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

91.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

Wyoming is the least populated of the western contiguous states, yet the Wyoming football team always seems to come up with enough talent to compete in the Mountain West Conference.  One reason is that the state is one of the best places to live (coming from a former Coloradan that frequently spent time 90 miles up north).  Fourth year coach Dave Christensen has enjoyed his time in Laramie, and he should continue to do so this season.

 

The Cowboys won eight games last year with a freshman quarterback.  Brett Smith took over as the starter when Austyn Carta-Samuels left.  Smith passed for 2,622 yards and 20 touchdowns, becoming the MWC Freshman Player of the Year as well as a 2nd Team Freshman All-American.  Smith has three talented receivers on hand in Chris McNeill, Robert Herron, and Dominic Rufran.  The trio combined for 129 receptions and nine scores last year, but none of them are true breakaway threats.  Wyoming will move the ball with the passing game equivalent of three yards and a cloud of dust.  Jalen Claiborne could emerge as the deep threat.  Herron should emerge as the top receiver of the four and could top 70 receptions this year.

 

Smith led the Cowboys in rushing last year, and he should do so again this season.  There is no standout running back, and Wyoming could rely on a three-back platoon with Brandon Miller, Shaun Wick, and Zaquoya Parham.

 

The offensive line is average for the MWC, but center Nick Carlson is among the top at his position.

 

On the defensive side, the Cowboys should fare about the same this year as last when they surrendered 28 points and 430 yards per game.  The new star on this side of the ball could be linebacker Korey Jones.  He could emerge as the top tackler on the team after finishing with 59 stops with four sacks and six total tackles for loss last year.  

 

The Cowboys hope to shore up their run defense, but only one starter returns in the trenches.  Tackle Mike Purcell is the only experienced veteran.  The Cowboys have liabilities at end.

 

The secondary has a couple of potential stars.  Cornerback Blair Burns earned Freshman All-American honors as a part-time starter, while safety Luke Ruff made the MWC 2nd Team.

 

The schedule this season is a bit tougher, as the Cowboys make road trips to Texas, Nevada, and Fresno State and face Boise State, Air Force, and San Diego State at home.  We think the Pokes will find a way to become bowl eligible once again, but eight wins is not a reasonable goal this year.

 

Coming Tuesday Afternoon, August 21: A preview of Conference USA.

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

If only…  If only Brigham Young and Utah had chosen to stay in this conference, and TCU would not have announced their departure after 2011-12, this conference would have leap-frogged over at least one and maybe two automatic qualifying BCS leagues.

 

Imagine a league with Boise State, TCU, BYU, Utah, and Air Force as its top tier and with San Diego State and Colorado State frequently displaying enough talent to beat teams from the “Big Six” conferences.  This league would have had the potential to state its case for inclusion in the AQ conferences.  With the Big 12 on the precipice of breaking up, who knows?  Maybe the MWC could have taken in the leftovers from that league and assumed an automatic qualifying position.

 

2011 should still be an interesting season in this conference.  TCU must still play one more year here, and then the top three teams from the WAC (Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State) will join Boise State in this league.

 

Boise State

The Broncos dominated the WAC like no other team has dominated a conference since Alabama dominated the SEC in the 1970’s.  BSU posted a WAC record of 69-3 in their last nine seasons in their old league (Alabama went 64-4 in the SEC from 1971-1980; Oklahoma went 64-6 in the Big 8 in that same time frame).

 

Will Coach Chris Petersen’s Broncos dominate the MWC like they did the WAC?  It looks like they will in 2011.  Boise returns just enough talent to make another run toward an undefeated season.

 

Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.  The quarterback is already the leading passer in school history.  Last year, he completed better than 71% of his passes at better than 10 yards per attempt.  His TD/Int ratio was 35/6, and there is no reason to believe he cannot duplicate or improve upon those numbers this year.  He is a bit small for the NFL’s likes, but he should still be a second day draft choice next year.  Backup Joe Southwick is more than capable of running the team should Moore go down with an injury.

 

Moore loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Titus Young and Austin Pettis were gems, as they both grabbed 71 passes and teamed for 19 touchdowns.  Both were high draft picks, so there will be a drop-off in talent at this position.  However, Boise might still have the best receiver in the league.  Tyler Shoemaker proved to be a breakaway threat when he averaged better than 18 yards per reception last year.  Tight end Kyle Efaw should see more balls thrown his way this year after grabbing 24 passes and scoring five times in 2010.

 

Another pass-catching threat is running back Doug Martin.  Martin had 28 receptions last year to go with 1,260 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns.  He’s always a threat to break open any run or reception.

 

The offensive line returns three starters; foremost among them is tackle Nate Potter.  The former two-time 1st Team All-WAC should become a 1st Team All-MWC and contend for All-American honors as well.  Center Thomas Byrd is likely to join Potter on the all-conference squad.

 

Maybe the biggest loss on this side of the ball is offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.  Harsin is now the OC at Texas.  Former Houston Oiler quarterback Brent Pease is the new OC after serving as the receivers’ coach here for multiple seasons.

 

We look for Boise State to continue dominating with an explosive offense this year, but we seriously doubt the Broncos will match their 2010 numbers of 45 points and 520 yards per game.  Call it about 38 points and 450 yards per game, as Moore will have to rely a little more on the short passing game.

 

The Bronco defense played one poor half all season.  Unfortunately, it came against Nevada, and it ended the 24-game winning streak.  They allowed just 11 points and 232 yards per game in the other 12 contests.  Expect more of the same in 2011, as the Broncos are strong from front to back.  Their defensive line could be one of the top five in the country.

 

BSU forced 49 sacks last season, and it should be another stellar year for rushing the passer.  Three starters return to the front four, and the new starter saw considerable action last year.  We would not be surprised if all four players earned some form of post-season honors.  Tackle Billy Winn will be a high draft choice next spring.  He comes off a 2010 season that saw him make four sacks and 9 ½ total tackles for loss, while driving blockers away from the linebackers.  End Shea McClellin led the team with 9 ½ sacks and tied for the lead with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  New starting end Tyrone Crawford finished second on the team last year with seven sacks and tied McClellin with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  Chase Baker added 4 ½ sacks from his tackle spot.

 

The linebacker position is not quite as strong as the front four, but it is still a big plus.  Both starters from 2010 are back.  Byron Hout and Aaron Tevis combined for 80 tackles a year ago.

 

The five-man secondary returns just two starters, but the new starters will receive a lot of help from having the best pass rushers in the league up front.  The Broncos did not intercept many passes in 2010, but they made up for it with excellent coverage.

 

Another key loss to the team this year is punter/kicker Kyle Brotzman.  Brotzman may be remembered for missing the critical field goals against Nevada, but he was one of the best combo kickers in the nation.

 

The new schedule finds a couple of possible bumps in the road, but we tend to believe Boise is capable of running the table and challenging for a spot in the National Championship Game.  Once again, Boise must travel 2,000+ miles to the east for their opening season game.  This time, the Broncos face Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  If they get by the Bulldogs, then they should be 8-0 when TCU comes to Bronco Stadium.  TCU will not be as strong this year as they have been in recent seasons, and we see Boise winning that one.  So, an opening win over Georgia would more than likely send Boise to a 12-0 season with hopes that there are not two undefeated teams from the AQ conferences.

 

T C U

13-0 and a 3rd place national finish following a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin is a hard act to follow.  The Horned Frogs enjoyed their best season since the 1938 squad won the national title and tiny quarterback Davey O’Brien won the Heisman Trophy.

 

2011 looks like a rebuilding year, but Coach Gary Patterson should be able to coax another winning season and bowl bid out of his troops.

 

The bigger rebuilding job must take place on the offensive side of the ball.  Quarterback Andy Dalton may wish he was still in college rather than be the starting quarterback for the most mismanaged team in the NFL.  Dalton left as the all-time leading passer in TCU history.  This position will take a major hit, because the expected starter, Casey Pachall, has an injured shoulder.  An MRI turned up negative, but a sore shoulder does not lead to a great passer.  If Pachall is not 100% ready to start the season, TCU will be in a heap of trouble.  Behind him are two untested backups.  Matt Brown and Trevone Boykin both have the potential to be excellent dual threat quarterbacks, but both are freshmen; Boykin is a true freshman.

 

Three of the top four receivers from last year have also used up their eligibility.  That leaves Josh Boyce as the only holdover from among that quartet.  Boyce caught 34 passes and averaged an eye-popping 19 yards per reception with six touchdowns.  Antoine Hicks saw limited action and caught 13 passes, but he has the potential to be a big-play receiver.

 

The backfield is the strong spot on this team, and we look for the running game to be featured more often this season.  Last year, the Horned Frogs ran the ball 64% of the time, and that number could approach 70% this year.  Ed Wesley ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns, while chief backup Matthew Tucker contributed over 700 yards and seven scores.  3rd teamer Waymon James saw enough action to rush for more than 500 yards and five scores.  All three return, as well as fourth teamer Aundre Dean, who led the team in yards per carry at 7.0.

 

The biggest problem area is the offensive line.  Only one starter returns.  Among those missing is 1st Team All-American and Rimington Award winner Jake Kirkpatrick and 1st Team All-MWC tackle Marcus Cannon.  The OL gave up just nine sacks all season.  Look for a considerable gain in this negative statistic this season.

 

TCU averaged almost 42 points per game while rushing for close to 250 yards and passing for more than 225 yards per game last year.  The Frogs won’t jump that high this season.  Look for a regression to about 28-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

There is rebuilding to do on the defensive side of the ball as well, only not as much as on the offensive side.  Of course, there is nowhere to go but down after the team finished first nationally in points and yards allowed.  The definite strength of the defense is at linebacker where both starters return after garnering All-American honors last year.   Tanner Brock and Tank Carder are future NFL stars.  The duo teamed up to record 166 tackles with 15 ½ tackles for loss, while they found time to record 10 passes defended.

 

The front four is not as talented as Boise State’s great quartet, but they are better than any other MWC team.  End Stansly Maponga earned 2nd Team All-MWC accolades last year.  The other end spot may eventually go to sophomore Jon Koontz over senior Braylon Broughton.  D.J. Yendrey and Ray Burns make a capable pair of tackles.

 

The secondary shows promise, but it is not going to be up to the standards set by last year’s team.  For the second year in a row, TCU allowed fewer than half of enemy passes to be completed, but we expect that streak to end this season.  Cornerback Greg McCoy intercepted a couple of passes and knocked away six others.  New starter Jason Verrett will replace all-conference CB Jason Teague.  At Safety, only one of the three starters returns.  Tekerrein Cuba is a sure thing at one spot, but Patterson has been switching players around at the other two positions. 

 

The schedule is manageable this season.  An opener at Baylor followed by a trip to the Springs to take on Air Force in week two will be a great indicator for this team.  A 2-0 start could give TCU a chance to visit the field of blue with a 9-0 record.  Of course, this team could lose one or both of those first two games.  We believe the Horned Frogs can earn another double-digit win season, but only if Pachall stays healthy, and the new offensive line gels quickly.

 

Air Force

If Boise State had not joined the league, Air Force would have been listed as a co-favorite in the Mountain West this year.  The Falcons have a lot of experience returning from their best team since 1998.  At the military academies, 14 starters are unheard of.  In fact, it has been many years since AFA has returned that 14 starters.

 

The Falcons gave up 21 points and 350 yards per game last year, which was very respectable but nothing like what they did in 2009 (15.7 ppg/288 ypg).  The stop troops may be as good as the 2009 edition, but even so, we do not expect the Falcons to five up less than 18 points per game in 2011 with the schedule they have.

 

Eight starters and eight key reserves return to this side of the ball, so the Falcons will definitely be improved.  As you must have to succeed in this league, Coach Troy Calhoun has a dynamite secondary.  Safety Jon Davis finished second on the team with 93 tackles and tied for first with three interceptions.  Calhoun would like to see his tackles go down and his interceptions go up.  Often, he had to make tackles on running plays after backs broke through the first line of defense.  Cornerback Anthony Wright knocked down six passes and intercepted two others, as the AFA passing game gave up just 148 yards per game last year.

 

The Falcons are equally strong at the linebacker positions.  Calhoun used three and four linebacker sets last year, and he has a full stable of experienced players back this year.  Jordan Waiwaiole led the Falcons with 96 stops with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  Brady Amack added 82 tackles, while Patrick Hennessey got in on 60 stops with 10 for loss.

 

The one weak spot on this side of the ball is the defensive line.  The Falcons were too generous against the run last year, giving up more than 200 yards per game.  TCU rushed for 377 yards in a 38-7 pasting.  The Falcons have no 300-pound linemen, so they will always be vulnerable in the trenches.  Using a 3-4 defense places a large amount of pressure on the nose tackle, and at 260 pounds, Ryan Gardner is at a disadvantage.  Gardner made only 29 tackles in 10, 2010 starts.  End Zach Payne is the star of the front wall.  He came up with 6 ½ stops behind the line.

 

We are optimistic that Air Force will once again feature an exciting and efficient offense.  The main reason is the return of quarterback Tim Jefferson.  Removing sacks, Jefferson rushed for more than 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He passed for 1,459 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging better than nine yards per pass attempt.

 

The running game is in great hands with running back Asher Clark joining Jefferson in the option attack.  Clark led AFA with 1,031 rushing yards.  Two fullbacks that combined for more than 1,000 yards must be replaced, but Calhoun never seems to have a lack of talent ready to plug in here.  The new fullback is Wesley Cobb, a seldom used backup the last two years.  Mike DeWitt will back him up.

 

When your leading pass receiver had 18 receptions, it’s hard to call his return a major asset.  However, Jonathan Warzeka is the perfect academy flanker/slot.  His 18 receptions went for 406 yards (22.6/rec) and three touchdowns.  Warzeka provided excellent ability to run on the perimeter when Jefferson pitched him the ball; he averaged 7.6 yards on his 41 carries.  Zack Kauth grabbed 16 passes and averaged 17+ yards per reception, so the Falcons should once again burn defenses that put eight in the box to try to stop the option attack.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, but there is some concern here with expected starting guard Jordan Eason out with a knee injury and backup center Jeffrey Benson, who was expected to slide over to guard to replace Eason, also suffered a knee injury.  Thus, Calhoun will have to do more shuffling.  One player sure to star wherever he ends up on the line is A. J. Wallerstein, a 1st Team All-MWC performer last year.

 

Air Force averaged 31 points and 425 yards per game last year.  There is no reason to believe they will not equal or better those numbers in 2011.  The schedule sets up nicely for the Falcons.  A relatively easy opener with South Dakota is followed by a visit from TCU.  If the Falcons can get revenge on a rebuilding Horned Frog team, they could be headed to their first double-digit win season this century.  If not, a repeat of last year is within their grasp.

 

San Diego State

2010 was a memorable one at Qualcomm Stadium, as the Aztecs won nine games, including a 21-point win over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl.  It was SDSU’s first winning season since 1998 and first nine-win season since the 1977 team went 10-1-0 (Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox was a member of that team).  However, the main force behind the turnaround has moved to the “Big House.”  Coach Brady Hoke is now pacing the sidelines at Michigan.

 

All is not lost.  Rocky Long is the new head man after serving as Hoke’s defensive guru the last two years.  Long won at New Mexico; look at what happened to the Lobos since his departure.

 

This year’s Aztec squad will not be as strong, but there is enough returning talent to send SDSU back to a bowl game.  However, Long was faced with an epidemic to one part of his offense, and it could sink the Aztecs’ bowl hopes.

 

The injury bug hit his receiver corps—big time.  Expected starters Jay Waddell and Dominique Sandifer both suffered season-ending knee injuries.  Incoming freshman Anthony Sheffield failed to qualify academically.  Then, possible replacement starter Larry Clark suffered a knee injury.  Not even Oklahoma could lose four key players at one position and not suffer.  San Diego State was already looking at having to replace their top three receivers from last year.  Now, tight end Gavin Escobar is the only returning receiver that caught at least 10 passes last year.  His backup, Hunter Hewitt, has been suspended for the start of the season, so the Aztecs have a lot of work to do disguising this weakness.  Walk-on Dylan Denso and Marcus Russell may see considerable playing time.

 

Quarterback Ryan Lindley will give the new receivers a chance to become successful.  Outside of Kellen Moore, he is the next best quarterback in the league.  Lindley will leave SDSU as the all-time leading passer if he can pass for about 160 yards per game this year.  He passed for close to 300 yards per game last year, so barring injury or just downright pitiful play at the receiver position, he should own that record by October or early November.

 

Long’s coaching style resembles Woody Hayes more than Mike Leach, so expect the Aztecs to run the ball more this season, especially with the liability at wide receiver.  Both of last year’s key backs return.  Sophomore Ronnie Hillman led the conference by a large margin with 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns, which beat Marshall Faulk’s freshman records.  Backup Walter Kazee added 320 yards and three scores.

 

One place that the Aztecs don’t have to worry is the offensive line.  Four quality starters return from a year ago, and they should open holes for the running backs to sneak through for five yards.

 

After averaging 35 points and almost 460 yards per game last year, expect a reduction in both areas.  Long’s game plans usually seek to control the ball on extended scoring drives and not go for the quick score.  Look for about 28 points and 380-400 yards.

 

The defense has a bit of rebuilding to do.  An already raw defensive line took an extra beating when starter to be Neil Spencer was declared academically ineligible.  Larry Gibbs was expected to compete for Spencer’s end spot, but he suffered a broken foot in Spring drills.  That leaves nose tackle Jerome Long and end J. J. Autele as the only experienced holdovers from last year.  Long, an undersized nose tackle in the 3-3-5 alignment, got in on 30 tackles with 6 going for losses last year.  Autele posted 15 tackles as a backup.

 

The strength of the defense is the three-man linebacker unit.  All-conference star Miles Burris returns to the Sam linebacker position after leading the team with 80 tackles.  He led the conference with 9 ½ sacks and 20 tackles for loss. 

 

The secondary will miss free safety Brandon Davis for the first couple of games.  That will leave cornerback Leon McFadden as the lone returning starter until the third game.  McFadden was the star of last year’s secondary with 14 passes defended (led the conference).

 

The schedule presents SDSU with seven or eight win opportunities. We believe they will get to six, maybe seven wins and go bowling once again.

 

Colorado State

The Rams have suffered through back-to-back 3-9 seasons after going bowling in 2008.  Fourth year head coach Steve Fairchild may begin to feel the heat in Fort Collins, if the green and gold go 3-9 again this season.  Fairchild has enough tools to build a winner this year, but like San Diego State, the Rams have been plagued with a rash of problems in one area.

 

That area is the offensive line.  It started when projected starting guard Connor Smith chose to take his sheepskin and enter the workforce rather than use his final year of eligibility.  Then, key reserve tackle Justin Becker was ruled academically ineligible.  To make matters worse, three more offensive linemen suffered injuries in one week of preseason drills.  The other expected starting guard Jake Gdowski had knee surgery and will more than likely miss the start of the season.  Jason Baird and Mason Hathaway are sidelined with ankle injuries.  CSU is now razor thin here, and any chance for a winning season will hinge on the success of their offense.

 

If the Rams can provide any pass protection, they have no worries at quarterback.  Sophomore Pete Thomas put up some amazing numbers as a freshman.  He completed 64.7% of his passes for 2,662 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.  He did toss 13 interceptions, but almost half of those came in September.  Thomas has the ability to pass for 3,300 to 3,500 yards this year, as the Rams move to more of a pro-style passing attack like those used by the New England Patriots.

 

The Rams have two receivers capable of topping 50 receptions this season.  Lou Greenwood and Byron Steele teamed up for 54 receptions and 787 yards last year.  The Rams have depth here with the return of five backups that registered 15 or more receptions.

 

The running back position is not what it used to be in the Sonny Lubick days.  Nobody on this roster is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, but this offense will not need that to succeed.  If Fairchild can find a back that can consistently pick up three yards on 3rd and two and can punch it in from the two yard line, the Rams will be okay at this position.  Raymond Carter saw limited action here last year after transferring from UCLA.  Carter, at one time a 4-star recruit from Los Angeles, has never lived up to his press credentials, mostly because of multiple knee injuries.  If he can remain healthy, he is capable of rushing for 100 yards against the weaker defenses, but we have to question his durability.  He should be limited to about 15 touches a game.

 

The offense averaged a meager 16.5 points and 335 yards per game in 2010.  If the problems in the offensive line can be solved, CSU will easily surpass these numbers in 2011.  If the OL stays as it is as of mid-August, Thomas could be running for his life rather than running downfield to congratulate his receivers.

 

The defense is much healthier, but it is not as talented as the offense.  The secondary is suspect after giving up nearly 70% completions last year and finishing 3rd to last in passing efficiency defense.  Cornerbacks Elijah-Blue Smith, Momo Thomas, and Shaq Bell have the potential to be good, but only if they get a little help from the pass rush.  The trio combined for just one interception and one pass defended, which is completely unacceptable at this position.

 

The strength, if you can call it that, on this side of the ball will be at linebacker.  Mychal Sisson is a probable 1st team all-conference player after making the 2nd team two years in a row.  He finished second in the league with 15 tackles for loss and recorded 95 total tackles last year.

 

The front four is another liability, and Fairchild could use more 3-4 alignments this year trying to hide the liability and take advantage of more talented linebackers.  The Rams posted just 21 QB sacks, and the chief instigator, Guy Miller, graduated.  Ends Broderick Sargent and C. J. James combined for just 3 ½ sacks.  Davis Burl can play a hybrid position (end/lb), and he has the quickness to pursue across the field and get into the backfield.

 

The Rams were generous a year ago, giving up 35 points and 425 yards per game.  Without an improved pass rush, don’t expect much improvement this year.  However, their schedule will actually give them a chance to challenge for bowl eligibility, especially if Thomas can help the Rams outscore the opposition in 38-35 style games.

 

Games against New Mexico, Northern Colorado, Colorado, Utah State, and San Jose State could actually give the Rams a chance to start 5-0 before enjoying a week off to prepare for Boise State.  The second half of the season includes games with UTEP, UNLC, and Wyoming.  This gives CSU eight winnable games, and we believe they can win at least six of them, but only if the offensive line can protect Thomas.

 

Wyoming

Dave Christensen came to Wyoming after serving as Gary Pinkel’s offensive coordinator at Missouri.  He immediately produced big results in his first season in Laramie in 2009, winning seven games, including the New Mexico Bowl.  In year two, the Cowboys didn’t catch the breaks they caught the year before and finished 3-9.  Both years, Wyoming was outgained and outscored, so the question remains: can Christensen turn this program around and produce a consistent winner?  Wyoming has a storied history in college football, and even though it is the smallest state by population, the ability to recruit all over the Rockies gives this school a chance to succeed.  One look at the lovely campus at more than 7,100 feet in elevation is a great recruiting tool to big sky country (Disclaimer: the photo montage screen saver on the computer typing this preview includes a lovely picture of Laramie, WY, taken by our founder when he lived in the Rockies and frequently hiked in Curt Gowdy State Park just a bit to the east of Laramie).

 

Wyoming will have a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback this year after averaging just 19 points and 286 total yards per game in 2010.  Former Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon produced some stellar passing teams, especially with Tyler Sheehan at quarterback.  Brandon finds the QB cupboard almost bare.  Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred to Vanderbilt when his former OC left for Cal.  Emory Miller was expected to compete for the starting job and given a 50-50 chance of winning it, but he quit the team.  That leaves true freshman Brett Smith as the starter.  Look for Brandon to keep things simple for Smith.  Wyoming will throw short and try to spread the field and cut down on mistakes.  Smith’s completion percentage could be over 60, but his yards per attempt could be under six.

 

The Cowboys lost their top two receivers, leaving Chris McNeill as the leading returnee.  But, he averaged just 9.2 yards per reception last year.  When UW uses a tight end, T. J. Smith can get open in the seams of zones.  He caught just eight passes last year, but he averaged nearly 22 yards per catch.  Look for him to more than double his amount of touches this season.

 

The Cowboys are just fine at the running back position.  Alvester Alexander returns after leading the team with 792 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  We believe he has 1,000 yard potential, and he could become an important weapon in the short passing game.  In fact, it would not surprise us to see him lead the team in rushing and in receptions.

 

The offensive line is the real strength of this offense, and it will give Smith a chance to learn without fearing continual turf poundings.  After giving up 31 sacks last year, the OL should chop that number by at least 10.  Tackles Kyle Magnuson and John Hutchins create a solar eclipse when they stand up straight.  They will protect the flank and open holes for Alexander.

 

If Smith can just have an average year as a freshman, Wyoming’s numbers will improve on this side of the ball.  We are looking for a typical stat line of 17-27 for 175 yards against an average opponent.  Throw in 150 yards rushing, and Wyoming would average about 20-25 points per game this year.  That would be an enormous improvement; UW has not averaged 20 or more points per game since 2006.

 

There is good news and bad news on the other side of the ball.  Wyoming needs more good news after giving up more than 30 points and 400 yards per game last year.  The Good news is the return of the entire starting front four from last year.  There will be improvement on the 20 sacks and 200+ rushing yards allowed.  End Josh Biezuns led the team with 6 ½ sacks, while his counterpart Gabe Knapton added four.  The healthy return of Mark Willis gives the outside quality depth.

 

Now the bad news: Wyoming must rebuild its back seven line of defense.  Only two starters return here, and the unexpected loss of middle linebacker Oliver Schober is likely to be a major factor in why the Cowboys will not improve much if any on this side of the ball.

 

Brian Hendricks is the lone holdover at linebacker.  He finished third on the team with 80 tackles, but he did not get into the backfield, nor did he cover well on passing plays.  Backup middle linebacker Devyn Harris saw considerable action in 2010, so he has a chance to partially fill the void left by Schober.

 

The secondary performed admirably last year considering there was very little pass rush, and the safeties had to make a lot of stops on running plays.  Cornerback Tashaun Gipson could vie for all-conference honors this year.  He defended a dozen passes last year, intercepting three.

 

It will be hard to hold opponents under 30 points per game this year with the weaknesses in the back seven.  The schedule offers the Cowboys a chance to top last year’s win total, but we do not see this team getting to six wins.  4-8 or 5-7 is about the peak for this season.

 

U N L V

Bobby Hauck replaced Joe Glenn at Montana and in seven seasons, guided the Grizzlies to seven conference championships.  His last team included future Pro Bowl rookie kick returner Mark Mariani. 

 

In his first season in Las Vegas, Hauck’s Rebels finished 2-11, only six fewer losses than he experienced in seven years at Montana.  Glenn left Montana to take a job in the MWC at Wyoming, but he never turned the program around and was dismissed after six seasons.  Is the Montana position a lot like the Boise State position has been?  You can win big at Montana, but don’t try to let the chips ride for bigger stakes?

 

Only time will tell, but in year two in Vegas, Hauck may wish that what happens at Sam Boyd Stadium, stays in Sam Boyd Stadium.  The Rebels will have a hard time improving on the woeful 2-11 season of last year, and they could even win 50% fewer games if they cannot defeat New Mexico.

 

Hauck comes from the three yards and a cloud of dust offense school, and he does not have the horses to make it run.  The current roster was recruited to play in the spread offense, and what talent there is was recruited for speed over girth.

 

Trying to improve on 18 points and 274 yards per game, the first order of business is finding a new quarterback.  Omar Clayton has left the building after finishing second in school history to Randall Cunningham in passing yards.  Caleb Herring should line up under center when the season opens on September 1.  He completed half of his 56 passes last year with four touchdowns and three interceptions (the latter stat too high to win in this league).

 

We expect improvement in the Rebels’ running game this year, but it would be hard to go downhill from last year’s weak results (103 rushing yards per game). Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle teamed for just 655 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but both have looked solid so far in August drills.

 

UNLV has experienced depth at the receiver positions, but the leading receiver from 2010 will miss the start of this season.  Phillip Payne led the Rebels with 40 receptions, while proving to be the only breakaway threat on the team.  He is still recovering from a broken foot.  Payne has the potential to be an all-conference player.  Replacing him until he is ready to go will be tall and lanky Kurt Davis.  Marcus Sullivan has the potential to give the Rebels a solid one-two punch on the perimeter.

 

The offensive line is still a major liability, and expected starting tackle Allen Carroll has been a spectator in practices so far.  The transfer from Washington would be the one true talent on this line, but he has yet to suit up after being medically cleared.  Redshirt freshman Cameron Jefferson is well undersized to play tackle, but he will start at the all-important left tackle position.  Jefferson is 6-6 and only 265 pounds having been a basketball star more than a football star in high school.

 

With an inexperienced line and inexperienced quarterback, defenses may be able to choke off the running game and stop the Rebels’ offense again this season.  We are a little pessimistic on their prospects in year two of the Hauck regime.

 

The defense makes the offense look good.  UNLV had no defense last year.  The Rebels surrendered 40 points and 450 yards per game.  There was no pass rush; enemy backs enjoyed career days; and the secondary played like matadors.  Maybe having major graduation losses on this side of the ball is not such a bad thing.

 

There is one man among boys on this side of the ball.  Linebacker Princeton Jackson comes from Blinn Junior College (Cam Newton’s school) where he was a legitimate superstar in the Juco ranks.  Jackson is quick and strong, and he can make a tackle on either sideline.  He will immediately be the star on this side of the ball and team with Nate Carter and Tani Maka to give the Rebels respectability at this position.

 

You know things are not well when your leading returning sack master recorded just 1 ½ sacks.  UNLV only dumped QBs 12 times in 13 games last year.  B. J. Bell tied for the lead (with a defensive back) with just 1 ½ sacks.  The other starting end, James Dunlap, never touched a QB.  In the interior, Hauck has a couple of beefy bulldozers coming in at 300+ pounds, but there is very little experience or depth here.

 

The secondary might have been an asset this year, but the Rebels’ projected starting strong safety Chris Jones decided to quit playing the game.  The news is a little better at cornerback with the return of the top three players with starting experience.  Will Chandler and Sidney Hodge (the other player with 1 ½ sacks) combined to stop 10 passes last year with Chandler intercepting five of those.  Former starter Quinton Pointer returns after missing 2010 with a knee injury.

 

The schedule does no favors for UNLV.  The Rebels open the season with road games against Big Ten power Wisconsin and improving Washington State.  Then Hawaii comes for a visit.  Game four finds the Rebels hosting a dangerous FCS team in Southern Utah; the Thunderbirds are capable of pulling off the upset.  In conference play, UNLV faces the other two weakest teams on enemy turf, so this could be a very long season in Vegas.  The chances for an 0-12 season are there, but we believe the Rebels can find a way to win two times.

 

New Mexico

How many times have you seen something similar to this story? A publicly traded company has a history of turning a modest profit most quarters with an occasional loss but never a big loss.  The board decides the modest profit is not enough and brings in this promising assistant from one of the Dow Jones 30, and the modest quarterly profits all of a sudden became incredible losses, threatening to make the company the next Eastern Airlines.

 

New Mexico’s most influential supporters were not satisfied with Rocky Long’s typical six and seven-win seasons in a state that just does not have any recruiting base to expect anything more.  Long won nine games in 2007, and he should have been given a lifetime contract.  Instead, a rebuilding season in 2008 brought a 4-8 record and his dismissal. 

 

How do you feel about that now you influential supporters?  You traded five bowls in six years for back-to-back 1-11 seasons and with no prospects for much improvement if any. 

 

New Mexico’s most recent 1-11 season was much worse than the 1-11 season the year before.  The Lobos averaged 16 points and 266 yards (last in the nation) per game while giving up 44 points and 470 total yards per game last year.  Among the losses was a second consecutive defeat to rival New Mexico State, a team that finished 2-10.

 

Third year coach Mike Locksley has appointed two new coordinators, but that is not the problem.  As a popular commercial once made popular, “Where’s the Beef?”  There are not enough FBS-caliber players on the roster, and Vince Lombardi couldn’t win six games with this team.

 

There is talent on offense, but none of it as in the line.  Two starters return to the blocking corps, and this group may be weaker than last year.  Last year’s line gave up 27 sacks and opened holes for just 108 rushing yards at less than three yards per rush.  The top lineman, tackle Darryl Johnson, missed Spring practice.

 

The Lobos went through four quarterbacks last year, and two return for more pain and suffering.  Either B. R. Holbrook or Tarean Austin will start against Colorado State in game one, but with the lack of protection, it would be no surprise if true freshman Dustin Walton is starting at some point during the season.  Holbrook and Austin combined for 1,017 passing yards with a 51% completion rate and a 4/10 TD/int ratio.

 

The top two receivers from last year are back, giving the Lobos a chance to have a little better passing yardage this year.  Ty Kirk and tight end Lucas Reed teamed for 71 receptions and 936 yards.  New wide receiver Lamaar Thomas has world class sprinter’s speed; he started his career at Ohio State, and he could become the top receiver here.

 

Kasey Carrier and James Wright both return to the backfield.  The two gained 677 yards on the ground and scored four touchdowns last year, but it could be harder for them to gain yards with the raw offensive line.

 

It looked like the defense had a chance to improve quite a bit, but major defections/injuries/suspensions have put a major crimp in the trenches of the 4-2-5 alignment.  The big loss is tackle Calvin Smith, who was a big-time recruit.  He transferred to Purdue.  End J. J. Hugine transferred as well.  End Omar Castillo was dismissed from the team, while end Johnathan Rainey broke a bone in his neck and will miss the entire season.  Two juniors who played sparingly a year ago will be counted on to lead the front line.  Joe Harris and Reggie Ellis will join Jaymar Latchison as the only experienced players in the trenches.

 

UNM has some talent at linebacker.  Carmen Messina, Joe Stoner, and Javarie Johnson, and Spencer Merritt give Locksley a decent two-deep.  Messina led the Lobos with 115 tackles with six tackles for loss.  He batted away four passes as well. 

 

The secondary returns four starters from a year ago, but unless the line develops some threat of a pass rush, it will be hard for this quintet to improve by much.  Free safety Bubba Forrest made way too many tackles last year (100).  If he records triple digit stops again this year, the Lobos will be looking up at the rest of the MWC in the standings.

 

The schedule gives UNM a chance to win four times.  Colorado State is vulnerable in the opener due to their offensive line issues.  Sam Houston State visits on September 24, and if the Lobos lose that game, Locksley could be out.  New Mexico State visits Albuquerque the following week, and the Lobos have dropped the last two games to the Aggies.  On November 12, UNM hosts UNLV in a game that could decide which team avoids the basement.

 

New Mexico has so much room to make up on the rest of the league, it is really hard to predict that they will win any of these four winnable games.  We believe that lightning will strike at least one time—again.

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

Blog at WordPress.com.