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2011 Mountain West Spring Preview
TCU LB Tank Carder
TCU LB Tank Carder
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 19, 2011


The big questions, the top position battles, the early buzz, and the attitudes for every Mountain West team going into spring practices.


2011 M-West Spring Preview

Click on each team for the 2011 Spring Preview
- Air ForceBoise State | Colorado State | New Mexico
- San Diego State | TCU | UNLV | Wyoming

2011 Mountain West Spring Preview
- 2011 Mountain West Team-By-Team Schedules 
- 2011 Mountain West Composite Schedule & Week Rankings 
- 2011 Mountain West Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 Mountain West Big Spring Questions 
- 2011 Mountain West Early Buzz 
- 2011 Mountain West Positions To Watch 
- 2011 Mountain West Spring Rankings 

Air Force
Spring Practice Begins: February 23  Game: NONE


The early spring buzz ... Normally, Air Force goes into each season with massive turnover in key spots, and the results are always positive with new guys plugged into the system and producing. This year, there’s reason to get really, really fired up with eight starters back on defense and six on offense, and there’s reason to think that this year might be a bit different with the experience in place to expect a win or two over the big boys. Without Utah and BYU to deal with anymore, there’s TCU, Boise State, and non-conference games against Navy and Notre Dame. There shouldn’t be too many problems with anyone else, so the excitement is there that this might be the year when Troy Calhoun’s program takes another step forward.

The big spring question is ... Can the run defense be any better? That the Falcons were so good last year was impressive considering the defensive front was such a disaster at times. There was no pass rush, no push into the backfield, and little production against the run allowing 202 yards per game compared to allowing 134 per outing in 2009. With LB Jordan Waiwaiole leading a promising front seven that needs to show more this spring, the key to the season could be a wee bit of improvement.

The most important position to watch is ... Fullback. The biggest hole to fill is at once corner spot with Reggie Rembert gone, but the rest of the defensive backfield returns intact. Offensively, two starters are gone off the offensive front and a go-to target needs to be found for the passing game, but a steady fullback has to emerge with all the regulars, including Jared Tew, gone. All of a sudden, the spotlight will be on Wesley Cobb and Mike DeWitt to see if they can handle the work. The freshmen will get their shot this fall, but for now, the more Cobb and DeWitt can do, the better.

Spring attitude... Win the Mountain West. The defense has enough playmakers returning to expect another strong season, and the offense should rock if QB Tim Jefferson can stay healthy and a few receivers can emerge. Now the goal has to be to win the conference title and come up with the upsets needed to improve upon a great 2010 season. 9-4 and a bowl win over Georgia Tech were nice, but the Falcons were in the game against Oklahoma, should’ve beaten San Diego State, and battled with Utah. A ten win season is possible, and the attitude has to be that this really can be the year to win the conference championship.

Boise State
Spring Practice Begins: March 7  Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Welcome to the Mountain West. Granted, the loss of Utah and BYU makes Boise State’s new boss appear to be the same as the old boss, but there’s still a perceived jump up in class and level. It’s going to be business as usual for the program that’s used to being talked about for the BCS Championship, and things aren’t changing. The big question mark will be the changes, if any, on offense with new offensive coordinator Brent Pease taking over. If there’s a dip in production this year, the blame might go to the new guy unless the Broncos keep on rolling like normal.

The big spring question is ... Is Trevor Harman ready to take over all the kicking duties? The offense will be just fine with Kellen Moore working behind a strong offensive front, and he defense is loaded with good players to build around. The difference between another good season and a BCS run could be in the kicking game where Kyle Brotzman is gone after handling the punting and placekicking duties. Hiccup against Nevada aside, Brotzman was a solid field goal kicker and wasn’t a bad punter the few times he got his chance. Sophomore Trevor Harman has a bigger led than Brotzman, and the pressure will be on to see if he can handle himself.

The most important position to watch is ... Wide receiver. Kellen Moore might be a great player and a Heisman talent, but he looked good thanks to NFL receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young coming up with big catch after big catch. The running game will be great (especially if D.J. Harper is back from a torn ACL) and the line will be solid, but the real question will be whether or not Tyler Shoemaker can look like a No. 1 target and is Kirby Moore and Geraldo Hiwat are ready to shine.

Spring attitude... Georgia, Georgia, Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. Much will be made about the move to the Mountain West, and the showdown against TCU will be one of college football’s biggest games of the year, but the Bronco dreams, goals, and season will all go up in a puff without a win over the Bulldogs n Atlanta on September 3rd. For a program used to being in the argument for the national championship, being out of it in the first week of September will sting.

Colorado State
Spring Practice Begins: March 24   Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Can Steve Fairchild finally put it all together? The Ram head coach started out his hot with a good first season in 2008, and then the wheels came off as the offense hasn’t worked over the last few years and the defense has been a disaster. The buzz around this spring surrounds Pete Thomas, the true sophomore who got his feet wet last year and now has the program in his hands. This spring is when he has to take the team by the horns and make it truly his, and for Fairchild, who put the pressure on from the moment he set foot on campus, he’s going to ramp up the intensity that much more and demand even more from his veteran team.

The big spring question is ... Will the offensive line be any better? Fairchild got off the bus a few years ago preaching about Colorado State being more physical and doing more with the power running game. Last year, the Rams were 103rd in the nation in rushing and was 118th in sacks allowed. Four starters return to the offensive front that’s experienced, relatively athletic, and is in place to do far more. Job One: Keep Pete Thomas upright. Job Two: Create some semblance of a ground attack.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive tackle. The Rams have a ton of problems on offense, while most of the defensive issues came from being unable to stop anyone from pounding the ball. The defensive ends, juniors C.J. James and Broderick Sargent, are back for the outside, but tackles Ty Whitteir and Guy Miller are gone on the inside. Miller was a decent veteran on the nose, but it’s not like the Rams produced much with him anchoring the front seven. Spring ball will be about coming up with a rotation for the middle that actually works.

Spring attitude... Do what Fairchild was hoping for and get nasty. Fairchild wants his team to be intimidating and he wants it to flatten opponents on both sides of the ball, but there hasn’t been anything to worry about when facing the Rams over the last few seasons. CSU has to find one thing it can do well on a regular basis, and if it’s up to Fairchild, it would be to run the ball down someone’s throat.

New Mexico
Spring Practice Begins: March 22 Game: April 16

The early spring buzz ... Mike Locksley is still the New Mexico head coach, and this might be his last spring if there’s another 1-11 season. Through the scandal of 2009 and the disaster of 2010, Locksley has been able to stick around, but there’s going to be even more of a sense of urgency going into this spring considering the Lobos were three points away from a winless season. The program has been building towards this season and it’s loaded with veterans. Now the pressure is on. Really on.

The big spring question is ... Can the Lobos actually move the football? The Mountain West was full of miserable offensive teams, and it took something special to be the worst of the lot. New Mexico took things to another level and was dead last in the nation in total offense averaging a mere 266 yards per game. The defense was awful, too, ranking second-to-last in the nation, but it’s the offense that needs to find something that works and it desperately needs to find players. Experience has to translate into production now.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Offensive line is a major issue with three starters gone from a bad, bad group, but getting solid quarterback play is the biggest step towards any semblance of team improvement. It’s a muddled mess of various talents with B.R. Holbrook a tall passer, Stump Godfrey the starter over the second half of last year, and now-true

Spring attitude... Time to take a step up. There aren’t any excuses at this point with 18 starters back and with Locksley getting two years to work his recruiting magic. With former head coach Rocky Long taking over at San Diego State, to remind Lobo fans of the recent good old days of winning seasons, Locksley has to show that he can at least make New Mexico competitive. He has his players in place and this is his program. This spring, the urgency will be there and the production has to follow.

San Diego State
Spring Practice Begins: March 5  Game: March 20


The early spring buzz ... Brady Hoke is in Michigan just as San Diego State was finally, finally turning the corner, and now it’ll be up to Rocky Long to show that he can be more than the Point A to Point B guy he was at New Mexico. The defense should be fine, Long’s teams always bring the lumber, and there will be a running game with Ronnie Hillman pounding away, but all the talk is about whether or not the program can keep moving forward. Now Long has to show that turning down the defensive coordinator gig at Michigan was the right move.

The big spring question is ... Will things change all that much under Long? Not necessarily. Brady Hoke might have been a great offensive head coach, but coordinator Andy Ludwig is going to keep things the same, for the most part, even though Long enjoys using more of a power running game. The difference might be more of an emphasis on defense as Long will try to get more out of his veteran group with seven starters returning. Hoke was the main reason the program came up with a great season, but Long and Ludwig had a big part of it.

The most important position to watch is ... Wide receiver. The offensive line is in plays with four starters back, quarterback Ryan Lindley should be among the nation’s better talents, and Ronnie Hillman is one of the Mountain West’s brightest backs. Now Hillman needs someone to throw to with Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson taking their talents to an NFL camp. There are some big, strong prospects waiting to shine, primarily Dominique Sandifer, but it’s asking a lot to be Brown and Sampson.

Spring attitude... Keep winning the games you’re supposed to. The bowl win over Navy was big, and it was also one of the few wins over a team with a pulse. Air Force was a strong victory, but the other seven wins came against Nicholls State, New Mexico State, Utah State, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, and UNLV. That’s fine, but now the Aztecs can’t blow the layups. Under Long, the idea this spring has to be to keep the same confidence of last year against the mediocre teams, while taking the nobody-believes-in-us rant when it comes to battling for the Mountain West title.

TCU
Spring Practice Begins: March 4   Game: April 2


The early spring buzz ... Considering the national title spotlight is on now, all the non-Big East talk is about the schedule. Why didn’t TCU decide to take on Wisconsin in a Rose Bowl rematch? It’s because of the Badgers wanted the Horned Frogs to come to Madison and weren’t going to travel down to Fort Worth to return the favor, but TCU had a chance to make a major statement early on and backed out. However, TCU was also on the other end of a dumping as Texas Tech ducked out of a scheduled date. That means the only chance to make any sort of a non-conference statement will come against Baylor to open the season and in Cowboys Stadium against BYU. The other non-conference dates are against ULM, Portland State, and SMU. That’s not exactly going to move the needle.

The big spring question is ... Can the Horned Frogs handle the bull’s-eye? The coaching staff isn’t planning on doing anything differently, but things have changed. 2011 will be a true test of the system and the coaching staff with six offensive starters and five defensive starters gone from last year, and most of the lost veterans were the top playmakers like QB Andy Dalton, WR Jeremy Kerley, Rimington Award-winning center Jake Kirkpatrick, and OT Marcus Cannon. It’s asking a lot to keep the production going at the same high level with all the turnover, but there won’t be any excuses made this spring.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Left tackle will be a focus and receiver will be an issue with so much lost production, but TCU doesn’t get to or win the Rose Bowl without Andy Dalton, and he’ll be sorely missed after running the program for the last four years. Also gone is one-time promising talent, Yogi Gallegos, who left the program. Sophomore Casey Paschall was the No. 2 man last year, and he’s a big, tall talent with a little bit of experience, but redshirt freshman Matt Brown is a star dual-threat prospect who’ll get every shot at the starting gig. It’ll take something special to knock Paschall out of the top spot, but Brown will be worth the watch.

Spring attitude... And welcome to the holding pattern. Things couldn’t be better right now for the program coming off a cheeky Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, a perfect season and the respect that came with it, and a clean slate from the recent Sports Illustrated article pointing out all the criminal records of the top college football teams. But it’s all about 2012 for TCU as it gets to go big-time with a move to the Big East, and now, this spring, head coach Gary Patterson is going to try to keep the positive we-can-hang-with-anyone attitude while still working and doing the things that go TCU to the lofty status it’s currently at.

UNLV
Spring Practice Begins: Feb. 28 Game: April 2


The early spring buzz ... There’s a chance the secondary could be much better in a big hurry. The pass defense wasn’t always awful last season, mostly because everyone ran the ball on the Rebels, but the secondary was 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Getting top corner Quinton Pointer back from a knee injury should be an instant jolt, while the recruiting class went after defensive backs with JUCO transfer Kenneth Spigner looking to be a factor by the end of fall camp. Already in place are two promising young players in free safety Eric Tuiloma and corner Sidney Hodge, who went through the fire as true freshmen.

The big spring question is ... Can Hauck get better line play? You don’t go 2-11 without having problems all across the board, but the biggest problem for the Rebels were the lines that were among the worst in college football. The offensive front didn’t generate any push whatsoever and got the quarterbacks beaten up, while the defensive line was 115th in the nation in sacks and 118th in tackles for loss. Several true freshmen were in the mix on the defensive line last year and have to step up and shine, while the offensive line loses three starters and has to hope that the true freshmen of last year are ready to step up in key roles at left tackle and center.

The most important position to watch is ... quarterback. Omar Clayton is gone after an interesting and quietly productive career, and UNLV is going to have a long, drawn out battle for the No. 1 spot that should go through the summer and well into fall camp. Sophomore Caleb Herring was the No. 2 last year, but Sean Reilly is the JUCO transfer brought in to potentially be the savior. Redshirt freshman Taylor Barnhill will get his cuts, but it’ll be a disappointment if the 6-4, 210-pound Reilly isn’t the man.

Spring attitude... Get things moving. Second-year head coach Bobby Hauck wanted to quicken up the tempo and the pace when he took over last year, but the problem with doing that when you can’t produce on offense is that the possessions are very, very short. This year, Hauck is going to push his team a bit more after trying spending last spring just trying to get everyone in place and implementing his systems. This spring, UNLV is going to try to do things with more energy, but with so many new players entering the mix, the pace will be dictated by production.

Wyoming
Spring Practice Begins: March 5 Game: April 9


The early spring buzz ... All of a sudden, Wyoming football isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy under head coach Dave Christensen. After going 3-9 in a disappointing season, the program is taking on an angry, clamp-it-down look and it’s starting from the top with Christensen as spring practices closed off to the media and fans after about a half an hour in order to try to get the team more focused. The pressure is on to try to turn things around, and spring ball is going to be serious in Laramie.

The big spring question is ... Can the Cowboys generate any more offense? With top quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels transferring, the offense is looking for new playmakers. Actually, the offense is looking for any playmakers as the offense was disastrous last season finishing 116th in the nation and without any pop until the 44-0 season finale against Colorado State. Outside of Carta-Samuels and the top two targets, David Leonard and Zach Bolger, everyone else is back on offense and there’s no excuse to not be stronger.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. The Cowboys have to find a leader and a steadying hand to build around, and while Carta-Samuels did a little bit of everything for the attack, it’s not like he lit up the Mountain West. With top backup Dax Crum also gone, the fight is going to be between Emory Miller, a redshirt freshman who was the No. 3 last year, and top recruit Brett Smith, who’s getting to camp early to compete for the give. Miller is a 5-11, 195 all-around player, while Smith is a bit of a passer. On the way is Adam Pittser, the team’s top-ranked recruit.

Spring attitude... Keep on building. Experience has to translate into production with eight starters coming back on each side of the ball, and while Christensen is looking for results right not, the team has light years to go before it can be any sort of a challenger for the Mountain West title. However, of the nine losses last year, the Cowboys lost three by six points or fewer and hung around with San Diego State. You don’t lose to New Mexico and UNLV and have a good season, and if UW can beat the dregs of the league, they’ll be in the hunt for a bowl game if the team can find its leaders and some playmakers early on in spring.