2009-10 Mountain West Conference Football Predictions
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 9/1/2009
The Mountain West, long the thorn in the side of the BCS conferences since forming after a split from the WAC in 1999, continues to maintain the firepower at the top of the conference as some of the major BCS leagues out there. Notably, teams like Utah, TCU and BYU have proven themselves in non-conference games, bowl games and even in conference games, staging some must see TV on Thursday night football.
Of course, what is keeping the Mountain West from joining the Big Six is the overall depth that the conference provides. The BCS hopes of the conference rest squarely on the shoulders of the Utes, Horned Frogs and Cougars.
College football can learn a lot from the Mountain West. If most other conferences or teams scheduled their games like the Mountain West, college football will be a lot better off. With non-conference games scheduled against Oklahoma, Florida State, Virginia, Clemson, Oregon and Louisville (and those are just from the big three) the Mountain West will remain in the national discussion long into December.
2009-10 Mountain West Conference Predictions:
Deservedly, BYU enters the season as the favorite. It could very easily get white washed in the opening week at Oklahoma but with Max Hall back orchestrating this explosive attack, the Cougars have the best offense in the conference. Having TCU come to Provo, Utah, does not hurt either.
After losing playmaker Austin Collie to graduation Hall will quickly find his two new favorite targets will be O'Neill Chambers and McKay Jacobson. In the ground game Harvey Unga (with a name like that where else can you play?) returns. Unga has amassed 2,368 yards in his career and 25 touchdowns. He is a very impressive running back and he will be running behind and even more impressive line that is as big as it is explosive.
The one thing, albeit a major thing, separating BYU from waltzing to a Mountain West title is its defense. At times it shined last season (shutting out UCLA and Wyoming in back-to-back weeks and holding New Mexico to a field goal) but down the stretch the defense allowed points by the boatload. In back-to-back losses to close out the season at Utah and at Arizona BYU allowed an average of 40 points per game, not to mention the 42 points Colorado State scored on them or the 35 UNLV put up. Eight starters return on that unit.
To say TCU's defense is BCS conference-caliber would be an injustice. Year in year out the Horned Frogs defense is nearly NFL-caliber. Five players were lost to the NFL last season from the top defense in college football. Gary Patterson's formula at TCU of a nasty defense, steady offense and best special teams this side of the Mississippi has been a formula for success. Last year marked the fourth time in six years TCU posted an 11-win season.
And TCU's schedule is not heavy on cupcakes either. This year the Horned Frogs will travel to ACC land twice, with a season opener at Virginia and then a road game at Clemson just 14 days later.
Where the schedule will hurt them is playing BYU on the road, but TCU will get a revenge game against Utah at home Nov. 13. Last season a fourth quarter meltdown cost the Horned Frogs a chance at the Mountain West title.
On offense TCU may not have any household names in the backfield but its offensive line will be the real story. Offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse will headline the strong line. Newhouse has started in 26 consecutive games for TCU. Junior quarterback Andy Dalton could prove to be a surprise player in the conference. The two-year starter has already thrown for 4,701 yards in his career for an offense that was ranked 24th in college football last season.
The Wild Card
It would take a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" for Air Force to contend for the conference title, but the pieces are in place and the Falcons may turn more than a few heads this season. Troy Calhoun is settled into his head-coaching job now entering his third season at the helm. Five starters are back on offense.
Tim Jefferson (44-80 for 655 yards) is battling for the quarterback position he held last season with Asher Clark (132 rushes for 588 yards). If Clark's numbers look like running back stats that is because they are. Calhoun is experimenting with moving Clark under center.
Whoever the quarterback is will have Kyle Halderman, Kevin Fogler and Josh Cousins to throw to. Those three accounted for nearly all the Air Force passing yards last season.
If the defense, which returns seven starters, can keep the Falcons in games, Air Force could pull off a few upsets in conference play. The schedule does Air Force no favors as it must travel to Utah and BYU but it does get to host TCU.
On The Way Down
This category is the last place you would expect to see a Utah team that some felt deserved votes for a national championship last season after a perfect season and a trouncing of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But this is a new year and this is certainly a new Utah team.
Only four starters are back on offense and none of them are named Brian Johnson (2,972 passing yards in 2008) or Darrell Mack (541 rushing yards). The passing game will take a hit not only with the departure of Johnson but also with the loss of his three biggest targets.
David Reed, who caught 25 balls for 427 yards last season, is back and could develop into a major offensive weapon.
The defensive front seven is where the strength of this team lies but the secondary could prove to be susceptible with key losses to graduation at the corners.
Last season was an incredibly impressive campaign for Utah, the only Division I-A team to go undefeated. However, many forget the close calls along the way. Utah only beat a sad Michigan team by two, snuck past Air Force by a touchdown and beat Oregon State, New Mexico and TCU by three points each.
If Utah finds itself in close games like that again this year, it will have a much harder time finding a way to win.
On The Way Up
Could this finally be the year UNLV remains competitive for the duration of its schedule? Probably not, considering the Rebels' luck the past few seasons. However, if they do not win this year UNLV will have no one to blame but itself.
The talent is there with 14 returning starters including quarterback Omar Clayton, who has really embraced the new spread offense attack. He threw for 1,894 yards last season. Wide receiver Ryan Wolfe, a potential NFL prospect, caught 88 balls last season (yes 88) for 1,040 yards. He is also back.
If there is such thing as a quality loss last season then UNLV had them. It lost by a point against Air Force and at BYU lost by a touchdown. The Rebels also knocked off Arizona State, 23-20, in a game they were 26-point underdogs in.
Gone are nearly 4,500 yards of total offense with the departure of quarterback Billy Farris and Gartrell Johnson III. The voids will be hard to fill but senior wide receiver Dion Morton could prove to be just as explosive as Johnson if he can get the ball in his hands.
The offensive line is not going to be an issue but finding a quarterback and running back will. Defense has been optional at Colorado State the past few seasons and this year should be no exception. Six starters are gone from last season, but that could be a good thing as the Rams allowed 34 or more points seven times last season.
Mike Locksley should find out just how hard it will be to run his spread option without the athletes he had at Illinois. A bowl game appears out of the question as New Mexico has a non-conference schedule littered with tough games including road trips to Texas A&M and Texas Tech and a home game against Tulsa. Playing two of its toughest conference games on the road, at Utah and at TCU, will not help matters either for Locksley's bunch.
Battle for the Basement
San Diego State
We should see improvement this season from the Aztecs but that should be expected from any team fresh off of a 2-10 campaign. The schedule is much easier this season and nearly the entire offensive production from a year ago returns. Quarterback Ryan Lindley threw for 2,653 yards and leading rushers Atiyyah Henderson and Brandon Sullivan are back, too. The bad news is that the both combined only ran for 675 yards. In hopes of a quick fix new coach Brady Hoke switched to a 3-3-5 defense that should improve over last year's D that allowed conference foes New Mexico and Utah to score 70 and 63 points, respectively.
The Cowboys struggled straight up going 4-8, struggled against the spread going 2-9, and struggled on offense scoring only 12.7 points per game and on defense where 30-40 point performances were commonplace even though opposing teams called off the dogs early into games.
New coach Dave Christensen (what is it with all the bottom feeders in the Mountain West getting new coaches?) will have eight starters back on defense and seven on offense but also a schedule that includes Texas. Can you say +60?
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