Mountain West Preview

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TCU TRIES AGAIN...
UTAH ON THE WAY OUT

TCU made a great run at an undefeated season last year before losing 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl for the 'national championship of mid-majors.'A soft schedule will allow the Horned Frogs to make another run at greatness. The fact that they couldn't beat Boise State last year will probably keep them out of a true national championship game even if they manage the feat.

Standing in their way is a November 6th road game at Utah. In terms of strength of schedule, that's their ONLY challenging road game all year. BYU comes to Forth Worth. A season opener with rebuilding Oregon State will be held in the Dallas Cowboys new stadium on September 4th.

For it's part, Utah would love to send a parting message to the Mountain West as they leave for the Pac 10. Utah helped make the Mountain West a 'seventh'BCS conference with stellar bowl performances. They want to show the Pac 10 they'll be getting somebody special.

We kick off our look at the mid majors today with key numbers from Mountain West. We'll discuss the WAC and Boise State Saturday. If you missed our reports on the six BCS leagues, please check the archives to get caught up!

We'll spend a couple of days Sunday and Monday to get caught up in Major League Baseball. Then, Tuesday, we'll return to conference previews in the mid majors.

We start the Mountain West with TCU, a team well positioned to stay in the headlines all season long.

TCU
Athlon Ranking: 11
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 7 on offense, 1 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It isn't often that a college team will have lower numbers in its stat rankings on both sides of the ball than it does for its returning starters! We've done a lot of these stat boxes over the years. That's just a staggering accomplishment. Now, much of that is because TCU really bullied bad teams last year. They knew they had to win huge to impress pollsters, and they didn't call off the dogs until well after the mercy rule should have been instituted. Still...this was a solid unit by any measure.

You can see that most of the contributors are back for head coach Gary Patterson. Andy Dalton returns at quarterback. The defense is schematic heavy and recruits athletes for that side of the ball. For the most part, the debate is going to continue. Is TCU really great by overall standards...or would a promotion to a better league expose weaknesses that aren't so ready visible. TCU did lose to Boise State 17-10. They struggled to score in a 14-10 win at Clemson.

As we mentioned often last year, we're not ready to put them in the same class as Alabama and Florida yet, or whoever the 'true'top 3-5 teams are in a given season amongst the BCS. Make them play an SEC schedule before you assume they deserve to play an SEC team for the national championship.

UTAH
Athlon Ranking: 39
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 54 on offense, 19 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Obviously the big issue is defense, where only three starters return from a very effective stop unit (though the team did allow 55 points to TCU and 27 in the bowl game with Cal). Hosting TCU isn't going to mean much if you can't hang with them at the point of attack.

Jordan Wynn and Terence Cain will battle for the QB position, and both contributed when taking snaps in the past. Coach Kyle Whittingham has done an excellent job of following in Urban Meyer's footsteps. We're interested to see how he embraces the challenges this year. He has to rebuild a defense, and he has to keep his players focused on 2010 rather than dreaming about Hollywood and the move to the Pac 10 next year.

The season opener September 2nd vs. Pittsburgh will be fun to watch. A rare November visit to Notre Dame should get the juices flowing. Definitely some volatile potential for this program in a transitional year. We'll be watching very closely.

BYU
Athlon Ranking: 44
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 21 on offense, 28 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It's easy to forget that BYU was getting a lot of BCS hype at one time last year. They upset Oklahoma to start the season (helped by an injury to Sam Bradford, but the Cougars were playing well before the injury). Since they were hosting both TCU and Utah, they were seen as a team that could run the table and play in a BCS bowl.

Then Florida State obliterated them 54-28 in Provo...and BYU's reputation was shot. This was an FSU team that was struggling with nobody's in September. In late October, TCU went to Provo and won 38-7. Ball game. No matter what BYU did vs. anyone else, they were obviously a pretender by national contender standards.

This year's team loses half its starters, must find a new quarterback, and has to play on the road at Flordia State, TCU, and Utah (and Air Force too for that matter!). Clearly the deck is stacked in a way it hasn't been recently against coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Clearly most everything will hinge on the production of the new quarterback. If he's acceptable, then BYU is a team you can take against the weak sisters of the MWC, or as a value underdog if the public disrespects them. If he struggles...it's a brutal schedule to maneuver. We could easily have 3-4 big plays in BYU games this year.

AIR FORCE
Athlon Ranking: 52
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 66 on offense, 11 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: We're surprised Air Force is getting so little respect in the preseason rankings. This is a team that took Navy to overtime, took Utah to overtime, gave TCU it's toughest regular season battle of the year with a three-point loss, then obliterated Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. That's an 8-5 record that could have been much better. And, quarterback Tim Jefferson returns at full health to run the offense.

We wouldn't be shocked if the Falcons soared past BYU this year (particularly if the new BYU QB is shaky). Catching Utah isn't out of the question if the Utes lose some focus. Note that Air Force plays BYU very early this year (week two), and it's a home game. Should they play well there, we'll probably look to go against Air Force the next week at Oklahoma in a letdown spot against a physical power.

Road games with TCU and OU will probably be out of reach. Air Force will have a shot in everything else. Definitely a team to watch.

In 2009, Jim Hurley's college dogs bit the bookmakers to the tune fo 26-6-2! Get on board for our Blue Ribbon Football Club and be ready to hit your man hard off the ball in September!
 

WYOMING
Athlon Ranking: 83
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 107 on offense, 81 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: The stat rankings don't do justice to how much Wyoming CARED about football last year. New coach Dave Christensen got the most out of the limited talent that was on the roster. Vegas oddsmakers were very slow to notice this. Wyoming would go 9-3 against the spread last year even with those ugly stats...including an outright win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.

We expect improvement this year with QB Austen Carta-Samuels returning, and a new enthusiasm all over the program. A September 11th visit to Texas could get ugly. And, that's followed by a home game against Boise State. Actually, Games 2-7 are BRUTAL! The weak sisters of the WAC finish out the schedule over the last four games. Quite a challenge for Christensen...but several opportunities for value bets if Vegas continues to ignore what's happening here.

SAN DIEGO STATE
Athlon Ranking: 86
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 86 on offense, 74 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: San Diego State's kind of the opposite of Wyoming. To watch them play was to generally be appalled with what they brought to the table. A 4-8 record included wins over Southern Utah, New Mexico, and New Mexico State (the two New Mexico's were abysmal last year). There were occasional flashes of competitiveness. But, it was mostly a disaster. Coach Brady Hoke did have success at Ball State. He hopes his second year here is much better than the first.

COLORADO STATE
Athlon Ranking: 89
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 79 on offense, 78 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: We have to admit that there's so little quality at the bottom of the Mountain West right now that it's hard to know how to tell the teams apart. Colorado State lost its last nine games, and managed to make San Diego State, New Mexico, and UNLV look decent in the process. The Rams played more like a team ranking in the 90's on both sides of the ball during the last two months, after some decent September results. Now they have to rebuild, and start from scratch at the quarterback position.

Season openers with Colorado and Nevada will be a challenge for the new signal caller. There's just not much here to be optimistic about at the moment.

NEVADA LAS VEGAS
Athlon Ranking: 103
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 78 on offense, 115 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: New coach Bobby Hauck has quite a rebuilding project on his hands. Last year's defense was a special kind of horrible. The offense has some weapons (particularly quarterback Omar Clayton), but will have to win shootouts every week because the defense can't tackle anybody.

Hauck gets thrown into the deep end right off the bat with a home game vs. Wisconsin, followed by a road trip to Utah. It's scary to think what Wisconsin can do at the point of attack against the wimpy Rebels.

NEW MEXICO
Athlon Ranking: 105
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 103 on offense, 103 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It's a crime what's happened to football in New Mexico. Both programs collapsed simultaneously (you'll read about New Mexico State tomorrow in the WAC). You get the sense that both teams would struggle even if they stepped down in class. Head coach Mike Locksley will be training a new quarterback for a September start that includes Oregon, Texas Tech, and Utah. Lotsa luck with that!

Well, you can see why the top Mountain West teams get hurt so badly in strength of schedule! The bottom of the league really is a joke. Next year, Boise State comes in to replace Utah, which does nothing to help the depth of the league.

We're certainly very interested in watching TCU, Utah, and BYU this year. Air Force has potential top step up. Wyoming is a program you can root for at least. Hopefully the other cellar dwellers will follow the Wyoming model in the very near future.

See you tomorrow for the WAC. Don't forget that early bird rates are available for JIM HURLEY'S football at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on baseball when you call. Game day baseball plays or early bird football packages can be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

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