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Preseason Lookaheads - Mountain West
Why each team should be excited, grouchy, and what each team needs to work on.
The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings.
2006 Record: 11-2
Why to get excited: Nine starters return to the Mountain West's
best defense, and the return of ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz should
have the rest of the league shaking. While the loss of a quarterback
like Jeff Ballard would seriously hurt most teams, TCU has talented
Marcus Jackson waiting in the wings to keep the offense rolling. The
return of PK Chris Manfredini makes the rich even richer. Schedule-wise,
there's a national statement game at Texas along with winnable dates
against Baylor, Stanford and SMU. 11-1 and a BCS slot is an attainable
Why to be grouchy: Just enough talent is gone from the offense to
hurt a bit. OT Herb Taylor was one of the best in the league and
receivers Michael DePriest and Quentily Harmon were dangerous. Yeah, the
defense is loaded, but safety Marvin White is a huge loss.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. Bryan Cortney was
good at putting the ball inside the 20, but he didn't exactly air it
out. Likely new starter Derek Wash has to get the overall net average to
up over 40.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Herb Taylor
Biggest defensive loss: S Marvin White
2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: QB Brian Johnson is back after taking a year
off following a major knee injury, and he has a loaded offense to make
him shine with all the top receivers returning and four starters coming
back on the offensive line. All the top linebackers are back after doing
a fantastic job throughout last year against the run, while Louie Sakoda,
who helped Utah lead the nation in net punting, is also back.
Why to be grouchy: There's work to be done on defense losing
three key starters up front along with safety Casey Evans and
All-American CB Eric Weddle. While the Utes will be good enough to play
with most teams, a non-conference schedule that has road trips to play
top 25 caliber Oregon State and Louisville teams, and a home date with a
top-ten caliber UCLA, isn't a plus.
The number one thing to work on is: The overall pass defense.
Even with Weddle and Evans, the Utah secondary was able to be dinked and
dunked on to death. There weren't a slew of sacks and there could've
been more overall pressure on the passer, but the defensive backs have
to do more.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Tavo Tupola
Biggest defensive loss: CB Eric Weddle
Why to get excited: Bronco Mendenhall certainly has the program
back on the right track. Unlike the Gary Crowton era, this doesn't
appear to be a fluke in any form as Mendenhall and his staff are the
real deal. Class-wise, this was a relatively young defense last year and
it was still one of the best in the Mountain West. Four starters return
on the offensive line to help ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the new skill position players. QB John
Beck, TE Jonny Harline, and RB Curtis Brown were special, and there's
not a lot of experience ready to immediately fill the void. Not only is
Beck gone, but so it backup Jason Beck meaning it'll be between Jacob
Bower and Max Hall to try to keep the machine rolling. Neither has taken
a D-I snap.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting the experienced front
seven to generate more pressure. The Cougars didn't get to the
quarterback nearly as often as it should've and wasn't great at making
plays behind the line. Big deal, the team finished tenth in the nation
in scoring D, but more sacks would make things a lot easier.
Biggest offensive loss: QB John Beck
Biggest defensive loss: LB Cameron Jensen
Wyoming 2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: Karsten Sween. The
sophomore-quarterback-to-be might not have been consistent and struggled
late, but he showed a spark at times and looked like the type of player
to build the offense around for the next few years. The team played too
often like a young group that needed seasoning, and now it's experienced
with all the key parts returning on offense. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the nation's No. 9 defense loses a ton. SS
John Wendling was special, three defensive linemen are gone, and FS
Dorsey Golston was sound. Three starters have to be replaced on the
The number one thing to work on is: Keeping the quarterbacks
upright. The young quarterbacks often held on to the ball too long and
were dropped after trying to run, but the offensive line did an awful
job in pass protection allowing 40 sacks. Sween could grow into
something special if he gets more time.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Chase Johnson
Biggest defensive loss: SS John Wendling
New Mexico 2006 Record: 6-7
Why to get excited: Last year was supposed to be a bit of a
rebuilding year, and the Lobos still went to a bowl. Eight starters
return to the offense with QB Kole McKamey expecting to get another year
of eligibility. Even if he's back, he might have a hard time fighting
off star sophomore-to-be Donovan Porterie. The defense gets ten starters
back and should be far better.
Why to be grouchy: There might not be many personnel losses, but
they're big ones with OG Robert Turner, LB Quincy Black, and PK Kenny
Byrd among the best in the Mountain West as their positions. Offensive
coordinator Bob Toledo took off to be the head man at Tulane meaning the
Lobo attack has its third different offense in three years.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. The stats
are a bit skewed since the mobile Lobo quarterbacks got tackled enough
behind the line to crank up the sacks allowed total, but the gigantic
tackles have to be far, far better at keeping the passers clean. More of
a push for a lousy running game would be nice.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Robert Turner
Biggest defensive loss: LB Quincy Black
Colorado State 2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited:
RB Kyle Bell should be back from a knee injury to finally provide some
semblance of a ground game after the Rams averaged just 76.5 yards per
game. Nine starters return to both the offense and defense, and it's
now-or-never time for Sonny Lubick to turn things around. The team will
be well motivated.
Why to be grouchy: The offensive line was awful last season, and
now it loses the starting tackles. Part of the problem was the youth at
guard, but there needs to be a 180-degree turnaround in production.
There wasn't a win over a bowl-bound team, and the seven game losing
streak to close things out is still too fresh.
The number one thing to work on is: Besides the offensive line
play, the offense has to start scoring more. The attack crashed and
burned over the second half of the year with only 20 points or more over
the final six games. Being able to do one thing well would be a plus.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Clint Odenburg
Biggest defensive loss: LB Luke Adkins
Air Force 2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: For those Falcon fans looking for a bit of a
shakeup and a change after the last few seasons of mediocrity under
Fisher DeBerry, new head man Troy Calhoun will make things more
interesting and add a bit more to the passing game. Shaun Carney is a
veteran quarterback and a decent passer who should be able to provide a
little stability, while the defense can't help but be better with eight
Why to be grouchy: Are the pieces there to make big changes right
away? It's not like the Falcons are going to start chucking it all over
the place and loses top receiver Victor Thompson. Because of the way Air
Force grooms underclassmen, there's always some big turnover, but losing
four starters off the offensive line will still hurt. Steady PK Zach
Sasser is gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield.
Obviously starting to get in tune with the new coaching staff is a big
key, but the Falcons have to start doing more defensively and that
starts with generating pressure after only cranking out 19 sacks and 46
tackles for loss.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Robert Kraay
Biggest defensive loss: CB Chris Sutton
San Diego State
2006 Record: 3-9
Why to get excited: Things can't be any worse than last year.
They likely won't be with most of the key starters returning along with
all the key skill players. The likely return of RB Lynell Hamilton makes
a potentially nasty running game even better, while quarterbacks Kevin
Craft and Kevin O'Connell are experienced and good enough to kick-start
the attack. No way, now how a Chuck Long offense is going to average 270
yards and 14 points a game again.
Why to be grouchy: Can the defense actually stop someone? Losing
DE Antwan Applewhite to the NFL a year early doesn't help a D that only
generated 15 sacks, while the secondary, one of the team's bright spots
last year, has to replace three key starters. While the offense should
be better, it has a long way to go to be merely decent.
The number one thing to work on is: Besides scoring more and
generating more of a pass rush, getting some pop to the return game
would be nice after averaging just 5.76 yards per punt return and 17.5
yards per kickoff return.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Nick Smith
Biggest defensive loss: DE Antwan Applewhite
UNLV 2006 Record: 2-10
Why to get excited: Things can't be much worse. Most of the key
skill players return including QB Rocky Hinds and the top five wide
receivers. The passing game might not have been efficient, but it
cranked out yards in chunks (at least in the fourth quarter after the
outcomes had already been decided). The pass rush might not be too bad
with Jeremy Geathers and Jacob Hales back at end.
Why to be grouchy: The Mike Sanford spread offense hasn't been
light out over the last two years, while the team is nine points away
from being winless against D-I teams. All three D-I wins under Sanford
have come by three points, and now the offense has to replace four
starters up front. Corners Eric Wright and John Guice are gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Figure out how to get going
early. Too often the Rebels were done before the game hit halftime. The
offense has to figure out how to put up points in the first quarter,
some semblance of a running game would be nice, and Hinds has to play up
to his potential.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Marco Guerra
Biggest defensive loss: CB Eric Wright