MOUNTAIN WEST 2009 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Marc Lawrence • PLAYBOOK.com
Just in case you missed it last year… a geography refresher: Ranging in altitudes from 7 feet to 7,220 feet, the MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE looks to be growing to new heights.
Utah is perched atop and, off last year’s perfect season, is ready to reclaim its position in the Conference pecking order. Meanwhile BYU and TCU just might have something to say about who sits where in the MWC this year. The bottom line is this mini-Conference is scaling to new levels.
Here is my take on the MWC for 2009. Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).
Here is my take on the MWC for 2009.
Coming up next: the PAC 10 CONFERENCE. Enjoy…
AIR FORCE – *6 / 7
Team Theme – TWO THUMBS UP
With 17 wins in two seasons, Troy Calhoun marks his spot in service academy annals with the 2nd winningest record of head coaches in their first two years at a military helm. Ironically all three military teams managed to win a game last year without completing a pass. That’s what can happen when you manufacture the majority of your yardage on the ground. Because of its preference for ground warfare, the Force has finished in the Top 10 in rushing offense 21 years in a row. Playing 12 consecutive Saturdays in 2009 shouldn’t bother the disciplined Falcons. After all, they are 9-3 SU and ATS in their final six games of the season under Calhoun. The Falcons might not make many highlight reels but, like Siskel and Ebert, we like Calhoun. PLAY ON: vs. Utah (10/24)
BYU – *4 / 8
Team Theme – THE PERFECT STORM
The Cougars fell short of their goal of playing in a BCS bowl game last season. A season ending loss at Utah sealed their fate. Still, a third straight 10-win effort puts them in elite company as only Boise State, Florida, Ohio State and Oklahoma own more victories over the same span. Three key players from the offense are back, including QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga and WR Dennis Pitta. Hall was the nation’s 6th ranked passer in 2008 (330 of 477 for 3957 yards and 35 TD’s) while Unga has rushed for 2380 yards and 24 TD’s the last two seasons. Pitta, who had 83 receptions for 1083 yards last year, softens the loss of star WR Austin Collie. Perfect at home the last three years for the first time in school history, the Mormons should be stormin’ once again in ’09. PLAY ON: vs. Utah (11/28)
COLORADO STATE – 7 / 5
Team Theme – WHY NOT?
When most teams lose their starting quarterback and a pair of 1000-yard rushers, it’s generally a time to panic. Such is not the case in Ft. Collins. 2nd year head coach Steve Fairchild committed his team to a strong off-season conditioning program and is actually excited about his chances this year. “What we needed to define us last year was establishing a toughness, a work ethic, an accountability… now I’d like to start aiming at something. And if we don’t get there this year, so be it. But at least we aimed high,” said Fairchild. Ever the optimist, Coach Fair backed his words up with results in his first season with the Rams last year, winning a bowl game after inheriting a 3-win squad. Yes, the foundation is in place. As the team media guide says, ‘Why not Colorado State?” PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Nevada
NEW MEXICO – *6 / 3
Team Theme – ROCKY ROAD
The new slogan in Albuquerque says it all, “New Era, New Energy, New Mexico.” Out, after 11 years as head coach, is Rocky Long (65-69). In is new blood Mike Locksley, the offensive coordinator at Illinois the last four years. Locksley brings 17 years of coaching experience and he’ll need to rely on all of it. That’s because he takes over a team that was just saddled with a 3-year NCAA probation, resulting in 5 lost scholarships each year. Amazingly, the Lobos have been the only team in the country with a 1000-yard rusher every year since 2002. The bad news is that none of last year’s starting running backs return. QB Donovan Porterie is back but he started only 4 games before being sidelined with injuries last year. With just about everything new this year, the Lobos are, indeed, starting over. PASS
SAN DIEGO ST – *8 / 7
Team Theme – BRADY’S LEAP
After spending cold winter months in Muncie, Indiana the past six years, Brady Hoke decided it was time for a change of scenery. Like Jed Clampett, he packed up the family and headed to the hills, of scenic San Diego. He has relieved Chuck Long of his coaching duties with the Aztecs, where a failed three-year experiment resulted in a 9-27 effort. The truth be known, Hoke’s flight to sunny San Diego was mostly due to the departure of QB Nate Davis, who improved on the Cardinals’ record in each of his 4 years as the signal caller at Ball State. Hoke will turn to SO QB Ryan Lindley who started 11 games and finished No. 24 in the country in passing average last year. Remember, it took Hoke four years to turn the Cardinals into a winning team. He should have a nice tan when it finally happens here. PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCLA (9/5)
TCU – *6 / 4
Team Theme – TWO LEGS UP
When you are able to hold 10 opponents to season-low yardage marks, don’t be surprised if you lead the nation in total team defense. That’s the reason why 10 of 11 TCU starters landed a spot on the All-MWC team in 2008. It didn’t stop there, either. Last year’s offense established a school record for points scored and TD’s. It’s been quite a run for the Frogs under head coach Gary Patterson. TCU has enjoyed five 10-win seasons in the last seven years. In fact, the Horned Frogs’ 26-13 record on the road over the last six years is better than Florida and Oklahoma. It’s where TCU handed the Sooners their only home loss since 2002. In closing, keep this thought in mind: The Frogs are 30-2 in games when they hold foes to less than 333 yards. Both of the losses were versus Utah. PLAY ON: vs. Utah (11/14)
UNLV – *6 / 8
Team Theme – REBELS WITH A CAUSE
Here’s head coach Mike Sanford’s take on last season… “The victories at Arizona State and against Iowa State were tremendous. Then we had a very disappointing and frustrating loss at the end of the season (San Diego State). We had an opportunity to do a lot more in 2008, but fell short. It serves as a motivating factor. Now we have to get it done.” While the Rebels just missed bowl-eligibility with a sobering loss to the Aztecs, they did snap a three-year run of 2-victory seasons in 2008. When he was hired at UNLV, Sanford’s “To Do” list included: a winning record, a bowl game and a league title. Behind an offense that tied Ohio State as tops in the land in red-zone scoring efficiency last year and with seven home games on the slate, we believe his wish list will be shortened this season. PLAY ON: vs. San Diego State (11/28)
UTAH – 4 / 7
Team Theme – RINSE CYCLE
Some said the Utes were out of their element – their league! Because there is no playoff system, all they ended up being out of was a No. 1 ranking. Despite its brilliant 13-0 season, Utah was hung out and left to dry. It’s time for the NCAA to wake up and smell the coffee! This year the Utes’ offense faces the daunting task of replacing the MWC Player of the Year at QB, three wide receivers, the starting RB, two starting OL, the OC and the OL coach. Then again, the WR position is loaded with talent and game experience, the 2nd-string RB led the team in rushing last year and three of the best O-linemen in the conference return. QB Corbin Louks played in 19 games the past two seasons and appears ready to take the reins. Choose your spin. PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. UNLV (10/17)
WYOMING – 7 / 8
Team Theme – GO WITH THE FLOW
In the end, it all came down to Joe Glenn’s inability to win conference games. After a decent start with the Cowboys, Glenn bottomed out like Liquid Drano, going 9-27 in his last four and a half years, including a clog-busting 1-18-1 ATS the final twenty games. Enter Dave Christensen, the offensive coordinator at Missouri the last eight years. “He’s going to take that program to levels it’s never seen,” said Chase Daniel, former Tiger QB. “What he’s going to bring is an offense that’s just insane.” To which Christensen said, “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be given the opportunity to lead the Wyoming football program. The opportunity to be a head coach is something I’ve been preparing for my entire life. I know we will win here.” We don’t doubt for a minute that Dave will have the victories flowing in short order. PASS
Note: Marc Lawrence is a 30-year veteran handicapper. He finished No.1 in the nation (88-63 +25.7 Net Units) in MLB during the 2007 season as documented by Sports Watch in Las Vegas.
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