The Pi-Rate Ratings

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

 

Advertisements

August 15, 2010

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com 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.

Predictions

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.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.