2012 Spring Preview
M-West - Air Force to Hawaii
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2012 Mountain West Pre-Spring Preview
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- M-West Spring
Preview & Thoughts - Nevada to Wyoming
Air Force has the same issue every year, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Few football programs rely more on upperclassmen with the Falcons taking a few years to season their players to be ready to step in and shine when it's their time, but last year was supposed to be different. There wasn't that much turnover; key veterans and playmakers were in the important spots; and everything was set up for a big year. The Air Force formula doesn't work, though, when injuries hit, and in 2011 there was a problem staying healthy and it proved costly. This offseason, Air Force has a ton of work to do with eight starters gone from both sides of the ball, but on the plus side, the reserves are ready. The schedule was tough last year, and it wasn't quite the dream season hoped for with so many returning starters, but the team still went to a bowl. Air Force is in a nice position; it's succeeding, but there's still room to improve.
- Big concern No. 1: quarterback. The offense will always crank out big numbers for the ground game, but replacing the effective passing of Tim Jefferson. Senior Connor Dietz was given another semester and will be in his fifth season. He knows the offense and he knows what he's doing as a leader, but he's going to have to fight off Tucker Tipton, Kale Pearson and Mitch Griebel for the job.
- Big concern No. 2: the secondary. Yes, the Air Force pass defense finished sixth in the nation, but that's partly because everyone was running so much on the porous front seven. Anthony Wooding is back, but unearthing playmaking defensive backs are a must.
- The punting game was an issue last year. Field position is always at a premium for the Falcons, and the team needs more out of David Baska and the coverage team. However, Baska is playing baseball this offseason and others will get a shot at the gig.
- Even with the loss of three starters, the O line should be a positive. Jason Jons and Jordan Eason aren't big, but they're good pieces to start with.
No major program – and Boise State is a major program – will have a more important spring session. It's Boise State, so it's good enough to roll out of bed and win ten games, but few teams have to make more replacements and have to do more rebuilding, while still having a legitimate shot at going to the BCS. If the Broncos can get by Michigan State in the opener, another rebuilding team, the toughest teams left on the schedule are BYU at home, Nevada on the road, and a reloading Southern Miss on the road. That's it, and for a team dreaming about the BCS, that's not bad. San Diego State has to come to Boise; TCU is gone to the Big 12; and the Broncos are a year away from taking off for the Big East. So now all Chris Petersen has to do is replace college football's all-time winningest quarterback, the four starters in the secondary, four starter on the D line, four starters on the O line, and NFL running back Doug Martin. But it's Boise State. Pencil in another double-digit win season.
- Kellen Moore might have been deadly accurate and a killer of a winner in the clutch, but Boise State is used to getting great production out of unassuming quarterbacks. Joe Southwick will be just fine. If he's not, then Grant Hedrick will be solid. If he's not, then Jimmy Laughrea will be terrific.
- D.J. Harper's return for another senior year will make all the difference for the offense. He might not be quite the same after his knee problems, but he's a talented veteran who'll ease the transition at quarterback.
- The D line might take a hit, but it's going to get bigger in the interior with the 313-pound Mike Atkinson and the 303-pound Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe playing bigger roles.
- Last year's concern will turn out to be a major positive. The receiving corps was made better by Moore, but this year it'll make the new quarterback shine.
- The biggest loss might not be Moore, or Martin, or corner George Iloka, watch out for the loss of left tackle Nate Potter to really, really hurt. Faraji Wright isn't all that big at around 6-3 and 275 pounds – about 20 pounds lighter than Potter – but Rees Odhiambo is a 300-pounder who'll get a shot.
Can Jim McElwain be the one who finally makes Colorado State a player again? The heyday of the Sonny Lubick era is long gone, and former head coach Steve Fairchild was never able to recapture the magic by trying to get back to the power, tough-guy style that worked so well in the 2000s. McElwain isn't going to be a finesse head coach coming over from Alabama, but he might have to get creative with the lines in desperate need of patching. More than anything else this spring, McElwain has to find playmakers. He needs to quickly identify who key parts are to rebuild around while also solidifying the infrastructure up front on both sides. It's going to take more than 15 spring practices to do it.
- Over 250 pounds? Want to hit someone? Then Colorado State might have a place for you on its offensive line. McElwain is holding an open casting call for linemen to try to beef up the depth up front.
- Pete Thomas seemed like he'd be the quarterback who'd bring the program back to glory, but he took off to NC State after McElwain was hired. Is Garrett Grayson ready to be McElwain's guy? The spotlight will be on.
- The Rams have GOT to stop someone's running game and there have to be more plays in the backfield by someone other than Nordly Capi. Fairchild tried to make the Rams more physical, didn't, and now he's gone because of it.
- There's no excuse to not flirt with six wins in the watered down Mountain West. Boise State, Nevada, and maybe Colorado are the only two teams the Rams shouldn't be able to hang with.
- The Rams have had just one winning season since 2003, but this season might be a step back to take a big leap forward. The opportunity will be there to dominate the new Conference USA-Mountain West merging next season.
Fast, fast, fast. New head man Tim DeRuyter wants his team to play fast, move fast, and think fast in the spread attack he wants to run. The defense is going to be even more aggressive and will look to make more tone-setting plays with an up-tempo style that'll put a premium on swarming around the ball. Now it's going to take every practice to get everyone to go in the same direction at the same speed, and DeRuyter and the coaching staff are stressing conditioning, speed, and moving. Part of the fun will be putting the right parts of the puzzle together, and all of the offseason will be spent getting the great-looking returning skill stars to get in sync as soon as possible. If nothing else, Fresno State will be an X factor. The athleticism and talent have been in place, and now the coaching staff should bring the renewed energy the program needed.
- With Derek Carr, Robbie Rouse, and Jalen Saunders, the Bulldogs can boast, arguably, the best QB-RB-WR combination in the new Mountain West.
- Watch out for Carr to take another step forward. He'll show off more of his mobility and he should be in for a terrific season once he gets the new offense down. He has the release and the smarts to make the attack shine.
- PK Kevin Goessling is gone after hitting just 10-of-17 field goals last year, and Curtis O'Neill has had problems early in practice. Don't expect the kicking situation to be settled until just before the start of the season.
- Defensive tackle could be the biggest sore spot early on. Replacing Logan Harrell on the inside is tough, but nose tackle Tyeler Davison is a 305-pound body for the middle and Andy Jennings has promise. They have to be great for the Bulldogs to be aggressive on the outside.
- The defensive back seven should be terrific. The linebackers will be turned loose, and they're good enough put up huge numbers. Travis Brown should be a killer on the outside.
This should work. If there was any coach with the résumé to run the Hawaii program, it's the Honolulu-born Norm Chow, who knows passing games and knows how to get them going. Okay, so it didn't exactly work at UCLA, and his one year at Utah was just okay without Jordan Wynn, but he's the right fit for the right program at the right time. Hawaii's passing game was good last year, but it needs to go back to being devastating, and with a little time, Chow should make that happen. But will the team improve right away? The receiving corps should be stronger, but a steady quarterback has to emerge and the defense needs some retooling. Now a part of the Mountain West, Hawaii should be a thorn on a bigger stage.
- Hawaii put up the passing numbers last year, but the offense was way too inefficient. There might not be more downfield passing under Chow, but if everything works correctly the yards after the catch should start flowing.
- The offensive line has to be far better. It's almost never a rock because of all the pass attempts, but it was a particular problem last season. Quick-hitting passes will help the cause, but the tackles need to be stronger and more consistent.
- Hawaii at USC to open up the season. The storylines will be interesting with Chow going back to where his offense was so successful, but it won't be pretty.
- The focus might be on the quarterback derby, but finding linebackers to replace Aaron Brown and Corey Paredes will be one of the biggest concerns.
- The Warriors need to find a steady kicker. It was a sticking point at times last year, and it could be a fight between Tyler Hadden and Kyle Niiro for the next several months.
- M-West Spring
Preview & Thoughts - Nevada to Wyoming