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2007 CFN Mountain West Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 19, 2007


It should be TCU's Mountain West world with everyone else taking up space, but the league is better from top to bottom. Just about anyone can upset Tommy Blake and the Horned Frogs. Check out the predictions, All-Mountain West team, unit rankings and more in the 2007 CFN Mountain West preview.

2007 CFN Mountain West Preview

Team Previews
Air Force | BYU | Colorado State | New Mexico
San Diego State | TCU | UNLV | U
tah | Wyoming

- CFN All-Mountain West Team & Top 30 Players
- Mountain West Team-by-Team Capsules

-
Mountain West Unit Rankings

- Mountain West Schedules & Predictions

By Pete Fiutak

Whose turn is it this year?

Over the last three seasons, the Mountain West has been dominated by one of the big three: BYU, TCU and Utah. The Utes went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl under Urban Meyer in 2004, the Horned Frogs joined the conference in 2005 and ripped through it on the way to an 11-1 season, and the Cougars dominated last season.

TCU, your number is up again.

Gary Patterson’s program has been Boise State without the underground swell of national attention despite going 22-3 over the last two seasons and with four ten-win campaigns in the last five. Led by the dynamic defensive end tandem of Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, the Horned Frog defense will dominate, while the offense will be efficient enough to lead a run to a possible BCS game.

Utah won’t be far behind, but it’ll have to wait until 2008 for its turn to once again own the league. The return of star QB Brian Johnson after letting his injured knee heal last season, along with the best receiving corps in the conference, will make the offense hum. Across the state, BYU will be fine, but it has to replace way too many key starters, most notably QB John Beck, to repeat.

Oh yeah, the rest of the league.

It’s better, but there’s no one to seriously pose a threat to the big three quite yet. Wyoming is on the horizon with an emerging young team and an exciting quarterback in Karsten Sween to build around (if he can hold off JUCO transfer, Ian Hetrick). Colorado State gets top running back Kyle Bell back from a knee injury and should be more formidable if it can quickly forget about last year’s collapse. New Mexico is New Mexico; it’ll be solid, end up in a bowl, and lose. Those three form the second tier, with any one of them likely to rise up and take the number three spot behind TCU and Utah if things break the right way.

The bottom three has improved. Air Force is without Fisher DeBerry for the first time in 23 years, and new head coach Troy Calhoun is tinkering with the offense trying to add more passing. UNLV is hoping to finally show a sign of life under Mike Sanford after two awful years, and as long as QB Rocky Hinds can return healthy, and better, it should. The wild card is Chuck Long’s San Diego State team, with the offensive skill players to match up with anyone in the league. Now they all have to stay healthy (particularly RB Lynell Hamilton) or else Long will be on the toasty seat watch list next year at this time.

Improvement in the league will come when the class system starts to change a little bit and the lower teams start to do more. Until then, root hard for TCU on September 8th, Mountain West fans. A win in Austin might get your league some BCS money.

Team That'll Surprise

Air Force – It’ll take a little while with a rough early part of the schedule facing Utah, TCU, BYU and Navy in September, but the offense will soon figure out what it’s doing and will go on a nice roll with all the bad boys of the Mountain West over and done with. Expect a nice finish winning four of the final five games.

Team That'll Disappoint
Colorado State – Many will think it’s a turnaround year with the Rams rolling early with Kyle Bell leading a good, balanced offense, and then the meat of the slate kicks in playing Utah, at BYU and at New Mexico to kill bowl hopes for yet another season.

Offensive Player of the Year
QB Brian Johnson, Jr. Utah – If he’s healthy, it won’t even be close. He has a dizzying array of fast, talented wide receivers to work with, and he’s itching to get back on the field after spending an entire year rehabbing and learning the system even better.

Defensive Player of the Year
DE Tommy Blake, Sr. TCU – It might be right to have him split the award with Chase Ortiz. Certain to be on everyone’s All-America list, Blake won’t disappoint with a dominant season that might thrust him into the first round of the 2008 NFL draft.

5 Big-Time Players Who Need a Bigger Spotlight ...
RB Rodney Ferguson, Jr. New Mexico
LB Joe Jiannoni, Sr. Utah
DB Quinn Gooch, Sr. BYU
WR Ryan Wolfe, Soph. UNLV
DB Klint Kubiak, Jr. Colorado State   

Coach on the Hot Seat
Mike Sanford, UNLV – 4-18 isn’t exactly what Rebel fans had in mind two years ago. How bad have things been? The Rebels are nine points away from going winless against D-I teams. The offense has to be more consistent, and the defense has to start coming up with stops in the first 15 minutes. 

5 Non-Conference Games the Mountain West opponents had better take, very, very seriously
1. TCU at Texas, Sept. 8
2. UCLA at Utah, Sept. 15
3. Virginia at Wyoming, Sept. 1
4. New Mexico at Arizona, Sept. 15
5. California at Colorado State, Sept. 8

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Tommy Blake, Sr. TCU
2. DB DeAndre Wright, Jr. New Mexico
3. DE Chase Ortiz, Sr. TCU
4. OT Jason Boone, Sr. Utah
5. OL Sele Aulai, Sr. BYU

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Max Hall for John Beck, QB BYU
2. Sean Smith for Eric Weddle, CB Utah
3. Kelly Poppinga for Cameron Jensen, LB BYU
4. Michael Ray for John Wendling, SS Wyoming
5. Marcus Jackson for Jeff Ballard, QB TCU

5 Bold Predictions
1. TCU will win the Mountain West title and it won’t even be close. Nine starters return to the nation’s number two defense; no one’s running on this bunch. While the loss of QB Jeff Ballard will hurt early, Marcus Jackson is a more-than-capable playmaker. The running game, led by Aaron Brown, will carry things anyway. If that wasn’t enough, Chris Manfredini is back after connecting on 12 of 14 field goal attempts.
2. Brian Johnson will be a superstar. Not just a Mountain West star, but a national player who’ll get plenty of attention as one of the most dynamic players in college football. The hype will be through the roof for 2008 with Heisman talk, All-America honors, and the attention that was missing when Alex Smith was running the show a few years ago.
3. It’ll be TCU, BYU and Utah and six other teams, again. If BYU can’t quickly reload, then it’s possible New Mexico or Wyoming could finish third, but the overall talent gap between the top three teams and the other six is widening.
4. Three teams will just miss out on bowl eligibility. Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming will pick each other off and all will finish up 5-7. New Mexico, will likely need seven wins to get in thanks to a date with Sacramento State.
5. San Diego State’s offense will be night-and-day better. Four starters return to the offensive line, QB Kevin O’Connell is healthy, and RB Lynell Hamilton is way overdue for a little bit of luck.

What Will Happen
- It’s a three-game season. TCU plays Utah on October 18th and goes to BYU on November 8th. It’ll win both of those and roll through the rest of the slate. Utah will get revenge for last year’s last-second, miracle loss to BYU, while the Cougars will be on a seven-game winning streak in November before dropping two of its final three games.
-  New Mexico will beat UNLV in the final week of the season to become bowl eligible, and will go on to lose its fifth post-season game in a row under Rocky Long.
- Wyoming will start out well going 5-3 before losing its final four games. Three are on the road (San Diego State, Utah, and Colorado State) to go along with a home date against Utah.
- BYU, TCU, Utah and New Mexico will go bowling.

  

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