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2010 Mountain West Conference Preview
TCU Favored to Repeat
So, do you still think non-BCS conferences can't make a difference? That's exactly what Texas Christian University did last year by finishing the regular season undefeated and playing in the Fiesta Bowl against fellow unbeaten Boise State. They look poised to repeat as Mountain West Conference Champions. BYU and Utah will try and thwart their plans.
If you're curious to see how the oddsmakers see the 2010 MWC race, consider this. TCU has current odds of 18/1 to win the BCS Championship this year. The only other teams from the Mountain West Conference listed on the big board to win it all, at most sportsbooks, are Utah and BYU. Both are listed at odds of 125/1 to win it all. In otherwords, according to the oddsmakers and those betting into those odds, TCU has a somewhat realistic chance to do some damage this year, while the rest of conference has no shot. Are they right?
Let's take a look at the MWC for 2010!
TCU Horned Frogs - 2009 Coach of the Year Gary Patterson accomplished much last year leading this team to a 12-0 regular season record. They had three strong wins against Clemson, BYU, and Utah. We think that TCU has been the best non-BCS school in the past two years despite the effectiveness of Boise State. With 9 starters back on offense and 7 returning on defense the Horned Frogs could be even better in 2010.
Senior Andy Dalton returns at QB after passing for 23 TDs and 2756 yards last year. He is the all time leading passer at TCU with 7,457 yards, but he is also an effective runner. Dalton rushed for 512 yards and 3 TDs last year. The running backs on this team look solid despite losing 2009's top rusher Joseph Turner. Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley are back. They combined for 1,314 yards and 12 TDs last year. The offensive line returns almost completely intact and will see just one new starter in redshirt freshman RT John Wooldridge. The WR corps look like the finest that TCU has had in some time. Skye Dawson is one of the fastest WRs in the NCAA and he will be a force for TCU this year.
The Horned Frogs look good on offense, but even better on defense. Despite losing 3rd team All American SLB Washington it looks like this team has one of the best LB groups in the nation. The DBs have a chance to finish in the top 10 in the NCAA for the 5th straight year, but they don't appear as good as last year. Still, they are VERY strong. The special teams unit looks to be the best in the MWC. The schedule looks pathetically easy. The only tough games for this team will come against Oregon State, BYU, and Utah. They hold an excellent chance of finishing the regular season undefeated again.
Utah Utes - The 2008 Sugar Bowl winners bring back 8 starters on offense and 4 on defense from a team that finished 2009 with a record of 10-3. Jordan Wynn should be better as a sophomore this year after splitting time with Terrance Cain last year. Wynn passed for 1329 and 8 TDs last year. The running backs return Matt Asiata for a sixth season and Eddie Wide is back for his senior year. They combine to make the best RB tandem in the MWC. Three of the top four WRs from 2009 are gone, but they have comparable talent replacing them. Don't expect too much off a fall off in that area.
The defense for Utah could pose a problem. The LBs and DBs lost a lot of firepower and will be starting unproven players. The defensive line looks above par though. 6-4 290 lbs freshman defensive lineman James Aiono is a huge addition. We would rate the schedule for Utah as above average. They must open the year against Pittsburgh and play BYU and TCU during MWC play. Don't expect an unbeaten record, but the Utes have the firepower to finish 10-3 again. A big plus for the Utes is getting BYU and TCU at home this year. Always a contender.
BYU Cougars - Last year was a great run for BYU who finished 11-2 and won the Las Vegas Bowl over Oregon State. This year will be very different. Top returning player RB Harvey Unga has left the team after violating BYU's honor. It is suspected that he engaged in premarital sex. Without Unga, who powers the offense, things could be rough for the Cougars. They have Jake Heaps taking over at QB as a freshman. With only 5 starters back on defense and the loss of Unga combined with a freshman QB its tough to imagine BYU winning the MWC.
Having said that, it's still BYU and it's still Bronco Mendenhall, who has a record of 49-15 over the last 5 years. They have lost no more than 2 games in each of the last 4 seasons and despite losing some key players, still have a few veterans in the mix. 2010 will be a challenge, but don't sell BYU short. Circle September 18th and October 16th on the schedule. BYU lost two games last year, and by large margins, to Florida State TCU. Revenge is always sweet in college ball.
Air Force Falcons - This service academy finished 2009 with a record of 8-5. They run a powerful run based offense that brings back only 5 starters. The defense returns 6. Starting QB Tim Jefferson will improve as a junior after passing for 848 yards and rushing for 358 more last year. The Falcons return 7 guys that rushed for at least 200 yards last year. 2nd Team All MWC DE Rick Ricketts is back to power the defensive line. Of their 3 losses a year ago, 2 of those were by a field goal, one being in overtime. This is a competitive team that's hard to prepare for as that triple option still gives teams fits.
Finishing the season with a record of 10-2 is a lofty goal for this team, but they can expect at least 8 or 9 wins in 2010. Air Force is once again a contender.
San Diego State Aztecs - This team returns 9 starters on offense and 7 on defense after going 4-8 last year. QB Ryan Lindley looks to be improved as a junior after passing for over 3,000 yards and 20+ TDs last year. He has a great target in WR Vincent Brown who didn't enter the NFL Draft despite picking up 778 yards on 45 recs last year. WR Demarco Sampson is also returning after scoring 8 times last year. The Aztecs have one of the best WR corps in the MWC. A winning season isn't out of the question.
They still need to prove they can play with the big boys on their schedule. The "good" teams they faced had very little trouble with San Diego State. Until we see a schedule with some 3 point losses and a big upset win or two, it's hard to give the Aztecs much respect. Returning a good number of starters is only helpful if that bunch was already competitive. Not so here.
Wyoming Cowboys - This team had a surprisingly good 2009 campaign finishing 7-6 and winning the New Mexico Bowl. With 8 starters back on offense and 7 returning on defense they will have high hopes for 2010. With a tough schedule that includes Texas and Boise State they probably can't do as well this year. Within the MWC, Wyoming needs to get over the hump and beat one of the top teams. Last year they had a stretch where they dropped 4 out of 5 games. Those losses were to Utah, Air Force, BYU and TCU. The cream of the crop in the MWC. Once again they have a stretch of games this year where they will face those same 4 teams all within a 5 game stretch. Their success this season can be found within those games. To improve and move the program forward, and build off of that New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State last year, they'll need to win at least one of those games against the MWC Elite. Look for an upset!
Colorado State Rams - Very rarely do bad teams improve drastically in one year in college football. Generally you look for a team that lost several games by close margins a year ago. A team that maybe pulled an upset along the way and kept their losses within a TD against the better teams they faced. That's the type of team you circle and look for spots to step in and make a few plays on the following year. But when you look at Colorado State's dance card from a year ago, there's not much to sink your teeth into. They opened the season 3-0 a year ago, but then proceeded to lose the rest of their games. The closes they came to a good team was a 24-17 loss to Utah. They even lost to New Mexico, the Lobos only win of the year!
The Rams need to crawl before they can walk. Don't be surprised to see them be a little more competitive this year. They made add a couple of extra wins this year, and may even pull an upset along the way, but a .500 season would be an accomplishment.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels - The Rebs bring back 8 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters from a team that ended up 5-7 last year. This team is another example of a team that just couldn't come close to the big boys a year ago. Look at the margins in some of their losses. 63-28 to Nevada. 59-21 to BYU. 35-15 to Utah. 41-0 to TCU. 45-17 to Air Force. You know you have your work cut out for you when you're losing by 3 or 4 touchdowns to the top teams in your conference.
Writing these previews is part of the handicapping process for us, for the upcoming year. We're always looking to uncover a few teams that are perhaps under the radar. Teams that may be worth investing in, particularly early in the new season. We're looking for teams that were close but not over the hump a year ago. Teams that don't look great judging by their record last season, but look good when you take a closer look. For example, a team may have been 5-7 a year ago, but may have lost 5 or 6 of those games by a TD or less. Perhaps they were competitive all the way through, but just couldn't get the W's.
Well, UNLV is not one of those teams. They need to close the gap against the conference elite before we are willing to take them seriously. Don't expect to see UNLV as a Key Release any time soon.
New Mexico Lobos - 11 combined starters return from a 1-11 squad in 2009. They can't hope for much better this year. Tough games against Oregon, Texas, and Utah to start the year will do them in.
To recap it looks like TCU and Utah will slug it out for the top spot in the MWC yet again. If somehow BYU is able to retain Harvey Unga (very unlikely) then they could compete. TCU has a great chance to go undefeated again and win the MWC. The Horned Frogs are our top selection to win the MWC. Air Force could surprise and is likely to compete, and Wyoming looks poised to get over the hump against the big boys and improve this year. All in all it looks like another year of the "usual suspects" slugging it out in the Mountain West Conference.
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