2007 Spring Preview - Analyzing the M-West
AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli
Posted Feb 21, 2007

Before spring ball 2007, here are the big questions, the most important positions and the attitudes for each Mountain West team.

By Pete Fiutak 
- 2006 Mountain West Spring Analysis
2007 Preseason Lookaheads - Mountain West 

Air Force  Spring Practice Begins: March 6  Game: April 14
The early spring buzz ... For the first time in 27 years, someone other than Fisher DeBerry will be running the program. Former Falcon Troy Calhoun has taken over the reins after serving as the offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans and will end the era of the ultra-successful (at least until the last few years) triple option attack. Expect more of a premium on the running back than the quarterback, but the QB will have to do a little of everything and needs to run well. Therefore ...
The big spring question is ... ... does Air Force have the right personnel to make it happen? Shaun Carney might be the perfect transitional quarterback because of his experience, but Calhoun will likely try to fold in some new passers into the mix to be prepared for 2008. Air Force tried to mess around with the offensive formula over the last few years to get more diverse, so the new attack isn't completely coming out of the blue, but for a coach who likes to spread the running game around ...
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Maybe. Chad Hall is back after leading the team in rushing, and Ryan Williams showed flashes throughout last year, even though his role diminished after the first few games, and Chad Smith has some experience. Step one will be to find who fits the best in the offense.
Spring attitude... Patience. Rice was able to make an immediate change with tremendous results, and Air Force is undergoing a similar transformation of offenses. Even so, in the tough Mountain West, it might take at least a year before Calhoun gets things rolling like he'd like to. After losing six of the final seven games of last year, anything positive this off-season will be welcomed. 

The early spring buzz ... Much will be made out of the loss of key offensive players John Beck, Jonny Harline and Curtis Brown, but flying under the radar could be one of the bigger losses: offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to Colorado. Four starters return to a line that was average at best, so the faster all things jell up front with the new coach, the better the new skills guys will be.
The big spring question is ...
How fast can the program rebuild? Beck was a tremendous quarterback and great leader who never received enough national attention for the way he ran the offense. The same goes for LB Cameron Jensen on the defensive side. While the key leaders are gone, the building blocks are in place on the lines and in the secondary to keep from needing a complete overhaul, but the difference between a second straight Mountain West championship and the third spot behind TCU and Utah might be ...
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. The best quarterback on the team is the position coach, Brandon Doman. Jacob Bower left the program after being told he'd be the number three man if he didn't want to become a linebacker meaning Max Hall and Cade Cooper will be in the battle to be the new triggerman. The early line is on Hall to win the job.
Spring attitude... Win it again. The offense got all the headlines, but the defense and special teams were all strong enough to carry the team through the magnificent season. It's not like the offense is going to go in the tank, and the defense should be almost as productive, so anything less than another Mountain West title will be unacceptable.

Colorado State  Spring Practice Begins: March 24  Game: April 21
The early spring buzz ... No one's saying it out loud, but this is a make-or-break year for Sonny Lubick and the program. After a tremendously disappointing second half of last year, and also-ran status in the Mountain West, the veteran team has to come through with a big season and be alive and kicking in the conference race. Expect a sense of urgency this spring.
The big spring question is ... How's Kyle Bell? Expected to be one of the new stars after a fantastic 2005, Bell was knocked out for the year with a knee injury four days before the opener and the ground game went into the tank finishing 113th in the nation. He likely won't be back until August meaning other backs will get one more shot to prove they belong in the rotation. The Rams need second and third options, but even though Gartrell Johnson and Michael Myers have potential, they won't go anywhere unless there's improvement from the ...
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive line. If you're looking for why 2006 was a disaster, look to the Ram front five that got no push for the running game and nearly got QB Caleb Hanie killed. Now the experience, with the interior returning along with a slew of decent new options at tackle, has to turn into production. To be fair, defenses were able to pin their ears back and rush the passer since the Rams weren't running, but CSU's offense has to dictate the action this year and that starts up front.
Spring attitude... Build off the positives, and there were positives despite finishing with a seven game losing streak. The defense improved from 2005 and Hanie, despite being under constant pressure, showed a few flashes of being a playmaker. With one of the most experienced teams in the Mountain West, the potential is there for a huge turnaround as long as there's more offensive pop and the D doesn't have to carry the load every game.

New Mexico  Spring Practice Begins: April 16  Game: May 2
The early spring buzz ... The quarterback situation went from one of the best in the Mountain West to a bit of a concern after Kole McKamey announced he wouldn't take a medical redshirt to come back this year. That means it's Donovan Porterie, and Donovan Porterie. While the sophomore is one of the league's bright young stars, it'll now be up to untested senior Bryan Clampitt or true freshmen Brad Gruner, Kevin Chavez or Blair Peterson to be ready in reserve.
The big spring question is ... Will the running game be back up to New Mexico snuff? The loss of a back like DonTrell Moore would hurt anyone, but Rodney Ferguson proved to be a more-than-solid replacement. Even so, the Lobos averaged a mere 111 rushing yards per game with defenses daring Porterie and former part-time starter Chris Nelson to throw. The line is huge, the passing game should be a bit better, and Ferguson has experience. Now it's time to start pushing people around.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive guard. 322-pound Bo Greer and 308-pound all-star Robert Turner are the only major losses off the offense. Some shuffling will be done to fill in for Turner on the right side, while the versatile Bart Miller will likely get the first look on the left. The reemergence of the running game depends on the line coming together immediately this spring.
Spring attitude... Major optimism. The team is loaded with experience only losing a few starters off the offensive line and linebacker Quincy Black off the defense. For being a relatively young team last year, the Lobos won a surprising amount of close games highlighted by a shocker over Utah. If that group could go 6-7 with a bowl loss, this one will be expected to make a serious push into the top three of the Mountain West.

San Diego State   
The early spring buzz ... After a lousy first year under head coach Chuck Long, there's hope for things to change in the long haul after a good recruiting class. Long didn't have time to pull in much of a class after he was first hired, and now he and his staff went to build for the future by loading up on the offensive line. Unfortunately for those looking for an immediate turnaround, that might not happen with this year's recruits. Wait two years.
The big spring question is ... Is the offense going to be any better? Long was supposed to make the offense rock, but quarterback injury issues and star back Lynell Hamilton once again wasn't healthy. The problems showed as the Aztecs averaged a mere 270 yards and 14 points a game. For good and bad, almost all the key players come back, so if everyone is healthy, and the line is better, expect a night-and-day improvement. It all starts this spring needing to be crisper and more consistent from practice one.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Kevin O'Connell was the man when he wasn't sitting out with an injury thumb. Darren Mougey got knocked out with a shoulder injury, and Kevin Craft simply wasn't ready to make the offense explode. Top recruit Ryan Lindley is seen as the future of the program and will likely be redshirted, but he'll get his chance this fall to make a case for the starting job. Someone has to show this spring that the gig isn't open.
Spring attitude... Be the sleeper. All the preseason publications will have the Aztecs battling with UNLV for the Mountain West basement, but if everyone can stay healthy and if the experience turns into production, this could quickly turn into one of the league's most dangerous teams. After years of disappointment, anything positive out of the program would energize the long-suffering fans.

The early spring buzz ... Along with Boise State and Hawaii, TCU will be the hot mid-major going into 2007 after finishing last year with an eight-game winning streak. As good as the team was before, it should be even better with nice defensive prospects coming in from the JUCO ranks so shore up a D returning nine starters and all the depth. This is definitely a team worth watching for a BCS spot, and the coaching staff and players seem to know it.
The big spring question is ...
What can the offense do to become even more devastating? That might be a hard thing to find out early considering a bit of a shakeup in the coaching staff with Justin Fuente taking over as running backs coach, Mike Schultz going from running backs to quarterbacks, and long-time Horned Frog Dick Winder retiring. The offense was fine last year, but it has the potential to be even better. With the defense certain to be amazing, TCU won't be beaten if the offense is almost as good. That even includes Texas.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Jeff Ballard was terrific over the last two years, but Marcus Jackson might be even better. He's big, accurate and mobile, and if he can be consistent, the offense should fly. However, it's one thing to be the backup when things are going well; it's another to be the man. Redshirt freshmen Zack Eskridge and Andy Dalton will battle to be the number two man, which will be a prized position considering TCU might be involved in several blowouts.
Spring attitude... BCS or bust. It might be enough to win the Mountain West and hope everything falls into place, but the team is good enough to shoot for more. While there'll be plenty of attention on the early game at Texas, if the Horned Frogs win the games they should, 11-1 might be good enough to get into a big money game. As long as all the preseason attention doesn't go to its head, TCU should be amazing.

UNLV  Spring Practice Begins: March 19  Game: April 20
The early spring buzz ...
It's not exactly do-or-die time for head coach Mike Sanford, but after going 4-19 in two years in the post-John Robinson era, with the three wins over D-I teams coming by three points each, there needs to be a few signs of life. The talent is there to be far better in the passing game, and the defense can't go anywhere but up, so there is hope for the team to be more competitive. With Todd Berry, the former Army head coach and Miami quarterback coach, taking over the offense and quarterback coaching, more has to come from Rocky Hinds and the offense.
The big spring question is ... Will the offense actually work? Head coach Mike Sanford was supposed to be an offensive wizard, but his shotgun spread has gone nowhere when games are on the line. Just as important is a defense that's been miserable over the last two years failing to come up with enough first half stops to make the games interesting. With all the top receivers coming back, along with Hinds, there's no reason there can't be more consistent production. One problem ...
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Hinds is coming off a torn ACL and won't be practicing this spring. That might not be a bad thing since it'll make Hinds work more on the mental side of the game. However, someone else has to step up into the quarterback role to provide depth, if not more options to work with this fall.
Spring attitude... Relax. There's just enough offensive talent to have a puncher's chance against everyone in the Mountain West. No, a title isn't on the horizon, but after the last several years, just getting a few wins would be enough to turn the program around into the right direction. The program has to stop trying to be the Mountain West champion overnight and try to make the baby steps needed to just be average.

Utah  Spring Practice Begins: March 13  Game: April 21
The early spring buzz ...
The recruiting class should fill in the holes. The coaching staff went after specific needs from the JUCO ranks for a quick fix, so anyone who wants a job has to shine in spring ball before everyone hits campus later this summer. Defensive back, backup quarterback and running back got a big infusion of immediate talent. Life will be interesting around practices as the new talent is folded in to the mix.
The big spring question is ... Who'll step up on defense to fill the leadership role? Eric Weddle was a heart-and-soul type of a playmaker the coaching staff could revolve the entire defense around, but losing safety Casey Evans and tackles Paul Soliai and Kelly Talavou will hurt just as much. The secondary has to be better and the D needs to be tighter against the better teams. That all starts this spring.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Utah got a little bit of production from several places, including Weddle, to balance out the offense. Darryl Poston was the leading rusher and improved as the season went on, but the coaching staff would like more speed, power, and options from the backfield. JUCO transfer Matt Asiata might be that kind of a player,
Spring attitude... The team is close. It might just take a little bit of tweaking to be back to the Mountain West title status. It took a miraculous play from John Beck for BYU to get by the Utes in the regular season finale, while the overall inconsistent play might stop with a bit more from the offense. As strange as that might sound considering the Utes averaged 28 points and 368 yards per game, there wasn't enough game-in-game-out production. With quarterback Brian Johnson back after missing last year rehabbing an injured knee, there's reason to be excited.

Wyoming  Spring Practice Begins: March 19  Game: April 14
The early spring buzz ...
Expect Wyoming to be left out of the preseason discussion for much of anything, but that might be how the program will like it. Now it gets to sneak up on everyone after a 6-6 season losing four games by a touchdown or less including two in overtime and one in a hard-fought battle with Boise State. With a little bit of improvement, this could be the sleeper team in the Mountain West mix.
The big spring question is ... Will the holes be patched up in time to make a big move in conference play? While most of the other Mountain West teams are loaded with experience, Wyoming has to replace several key players on defense, hurt most by the loss of safety John Wendling, and both offensive tackles. The recruiting class didn't go for the quick fix, so several of 2006's backups have to shine right away in spring ball.
The most important position to watch is ... Safety. Wendling led the team in tackles, while Dorsey Golston was fourth. With the two of them gone, juniors Quincy Rogers and Michael Ray have to go from decent backups to shining stars. Since three of the team's top four tackles were in the secondary, there will be plenty of opportunities.
Spring attitude... Keep living through the mistakes. QB Karsten Sween is a keeper and Wynel Seldon has the potential to be among the league's best backs. These two are the type of players to build an offense around, and the faster they improve, the better Wyoming will be. The rest of the problems, especially on defense, will take care of themselves.


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