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Preseason Lookaheads - Mountain West
Posted Jan 23, 2007

Why each team should be excited, grouchy, and what each team needs to work on.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

23. TCU   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 goal.
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 

47. Utah   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  

52. BYU   2006 Record: 11-2
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  

70. 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 offensive line.
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  

74. 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 

87. 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     

97. 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 starters returning. 
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

99. 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  

101. 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