Boise State still team to beat in MWC
Broncos eye another title before joining league's mass transition
The Mountain West has lost three teams, gained three new ones. It will swap out two schools for two more next season. Four new coaches will take over this year.
With all that jumbling, of course the favorite to win the title won't be around next season.
Boise State, despite losing six players to the NFL draft, is the overwhelming pick to win the conference title before it heads off to the Big East next year.
"I'm an honest guy; Boise State is the best team in the league," San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. "It's going to be tough for the rest of us to catch up and maybe beat them, but they're not unbeatable. Now you take all the rest of us, put us all in a hat and flip it up and the first one to hit the ground is the winner, that's the way I see the rest of us."
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The rest of them are what's left after college football's massive conference realignment.
TCU, last year's Mountain West champion, is gone, off to the Big 12. BYU left the conference after the 2010 season and Utah bolted for the Pac-12 last year.
Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference this year after leaving the WAC and two more teams, Utah State and San Jose State, will be on board in 2013, when Boise State and San Diego State are expected to leave for the Big East.
Yeah, it's been a little tough to keep up with and this year's race, despite the predictions of blue Bronco dominance, could be just as hard to figure.
"The first thing that jumps out at me is just a lot of true parity" Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "When you try to analyze who's got an upper leg on anybody, there's truly a handful-plus teams that can do some very good things."
AIR FORCE -- Key players: LB Alex Means, QB Connor Dietz, RB Wes Cobb, RB Mike DeWitt, S Anthony Wooding Jr. Returning starters: offense 3, defense 2.
Notes: The Falcons don't have many returning starters and will have to replace Tim Jefferson, who has more wins than any other academy quarterback, and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Asher Clark. ... Dietz doesn't pass as well as Jefferson did, which will make Air Force even more predictable. It may not matter, though; the Falcons' scheme is hard to stop, ranking them among the nation's top rushing teams pretty much every year since the 1980s. ... Air Force was one of the worst teams at stopping the run and will have a new defensive coordinator in Charlton Warren and numerous new starters.
BOISE STATE -- Key players: WR Matt Miller, RB D.J. Harper, TE Gabe Linehan, T Charles Leno Jr., G Joe Kellogg, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Jerrell Gavins. Returning starters: 5 offense, 3 defense.
Notes: The Broncos have some big holes to fill in replacing QB Kellen Moore and RB Doug Martin, but return most of their offensive line and have a solid group of receivers, led by Miller. ... Taylor and Gavins make up one of the conference's best cornerback tandems, anchoring a defense without much experience. ... The Broncos have been hurt by missed kicks in the past and are still searching for someone who can consistently put the ball through the uprights. ... Boise State has a difficult opening game, playing at Michigan State on Aug. 31.
COLORADO STATE -- Key players: RB Chris Nwoke, QB Garrett Grayson, TE Crockett Gilmore, LB Shaquil Barrett, LB James Skelton, OL Weston Richburg. Returning starters: offense 4, defense 4.
Notes: New coach Jim McElwain gets his first shot at a head coaching job after serving as the offensive coordinator during Alabama's national championship run last season. ... Nwoke is the conference's top returning rusher after running for 1,130 yards and nine TDs last season. ... Nordly Capi, the 2011 Mountain West sacks leader, and LB Mike Orakpo, the team's leading tackler, were kicked off the team in the spring after being charged with disorderly conduct following an off-campus brawl in April. ... Pass protection and run defense are the Rams' two biggest areas of concern.
FRESNO STATE -- Key players: RB Robbie Rouse, QB Derek Carr, WR Rashad Evans, LB Travis Brown, LB Patrick Su'a, S Phillip Thomas. Returning starters: offense 3, defense 4.
Notes: Fresno State should have a different look offensively under new coach Tim DeRuyter, who will switch the Bulldogs from their pro-style scheme to a no-huddle spread. ... Carr, whose older brother, David, plays for the New York Giants, is one of the conference's top NFL prospects after throwing for more than 3,500 yards and 26 TDs last season. ... Rouse gives the Bulldogs one of the conference's best offensive tandems, adding more than 1,500 yards and 13 TDs on the ground a year ago. ... Fresno State's conference title chances will likely hinge on road games against Boise State and Nevada.
HAWAII -- Key players: WR Billy Ray Stutzman, RB Joey Iosefa, QB David Graves, LB Art Laurel, LB John Hardy-Tuliau, DL Paipai Falematu. Returning starters: offense 6, defense 4.
Notes: Norm Chow could have a tough first season in his return to the islands. A three-time national champion as an assistant coach, Chow got his coaching start at a Hawaii high school, but faces a rebuilding project with the Warriors in their move to a much tougher conference. ... Graves was the front-runner to take over for Bryant Moniz, but wasn't always sharp in the spring, opening up a chance for transfers Jeremy Higgins and Sean Schroeder. ... Chow is known for his offensive schemes, but has put an emphasis on creating more pressure defensively.
NEW MEXICO -- Key players: QB B.R. Holbrook, WR Ty Kirk, RB Demarcus Rogers, LB Dallas Bollema, DL Reggie Ellis, DL Joseph Harris. Returning starters: offense 3, defense 5.
Notes: The Lobos have nowhere to go but up after going 3-33 the previous three seasons. Charged with turning the program around is Bob Davie, the former Notre Dame coach who hasn't been on the sidelines since 2001. ... Holbrook, a fifth-year senior, probably won't face much competition for the starting job, but may have to make some adjustments as Davie and coordinator Bob DeBesse switch to a Pistol offense. ... New Mexico is loaded with seniors, but doesn't have much depth thanks to NCAA sanctions that reduced scholarships.
NEVADA -- Key players: QB Cody Fajardo, WR Brandon Wimberly, DB Duke Williams, OL Chris Barker, T Jeff Nady, RB Stefphon Jefferson. Returning starters: offense 5, defense 5.
Notes: QB Cody Fajardo was the WAC freshman of the year after taking over for do-everything Colin Kaepernick last season, throwing for over 1,700 yards and six TDs despite battling injuries. ... The Wolf Pack are thin at some of the skill positions, but have some talent back on the offensive line and are always among the nation's offensive leaders. ... Coach Chris Ault, in his 28th season with the Wolf Pack, signed a two-year contract extension during the offseason. ... Nevada has played in a bowl seven consecutive seasons.
SAN DIEGO STATE -- Key players: QB Ryan Katz, TE Gavin Escobar, DB Leon McFadden, WR Colin Lockett, RB Walter Kazee, DB Nat Berhe, OL Alec Johnson. Returning starters: offense 5, defense 5.
Notes: The loss of Ryan Lindley, the school's all-time pass leader, should have been a big blow. Katz, a transfer from Oregon State, could soften it. ... The Aztecs will likely spread the ball around on the ground after Ronnie Hillman, the school's third all-time leading scorer, left for the NFL. ... McFadden looks like a future pro, but San Diego State has some holes to fill up front and at linebacker. ... The Aztecs had a solid first season under coach Rocky Long, winning eight games and just missing a win in the New Orleans Bowl.
UNLV -- Key players: QB Nick Sherry, QB Caleb Herring, RB Tim Cornett, LB John Lotulelei, DE James Boyd. Returning starters: offense 3, defense 6.
Notes: The Rebels have won two games each of the past two seasons and appear to still be in rebuilding mode in coach Bobby Hauck's third year. ... UNLV has been one of the nation's worst passing teams and has struggled defensively, too, ranking 105th out of 120 teams last season. ... Herring was the starting QB last season, but is being pushed by Sherry. ... Cornett is a hard runner who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season. ... Boyd made the switch from QB to DE in the spring and was dominant at times.
WYOMING -- Key players: QB Brett Smith, WR Chris McNeill, OL Nick Carlson, WR Dominic Rufran, SS Luke Ruff, DL Mike Purcell. Returning starters: offense 6, defense 5.
Notes: Smith was superb as a true freshman last season. He is the top returning passer in the Mountain West after throwing for 2,622 yards with 20 TDs, and also added more than 700 yards and 10 TDs rushing. ... Smith has a solid line in front of him and a decent receiving corps, but the Cowboys will need to generate a running game to keep teams off him. ... Chris Tormey, a former head coach at Idaho and Nevada, takes over as defensive coordinator and is expected to use multiple formations to help the Cowboys slow teams down.