Mountain West Spring Football Previews
2007 Mountain West Spring Analysis
2008 Early Lookaheads -
2008 Mountain West Insider Spring
Questions & Answers
Spring Practice Began: March 4 Spring Game: April 12
The early spring buzz ... Head coach Troy Calhoun’s hiring in 2007
flew way under the radar, but perhaps no first year coach accomplished
more in his first year. The Falcons were plus-five in the win
department and came within a whisker of winning the Armed Forces Bowl
over Cal after getting up early. So, where to go from here, Coach?
Expectations have been heightened given last year’s success, and the
pressure on Calhoun will be more intense now that the success is
supposed to continue. Teams will have had all year to study the
complexities inherent within the Air Force offense, so Calhoun and
company won’t be sneaking up on anyone this fall. The radar is focused
squarely on Colorado Springs.
The big spring question is ... Who can fill Chad Hall’s shoes? The
diminutive star averaged over 200 yards total offense per game last
season and became the focal point of the offense by year’s end. It’s
imperative that the Falcons find a replacement for Hall in 2008 to take
some pressure off of a first-time starter at quarterback. Senior Ty
Paffett is supposed to take over, but it’s asking a lot for him to do
everything Hall did. Speaking of replacing a star …
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Four year
starter quarterback Shaun Carney will graduate this spring leaving a
gaping hole and a major battle to take over. The decision making in
Calhoun’s offense is of the utmost importance and Carney became a whiz
by the end of the season. Shea Smith is first on the depth chart and
has the most experience, followed by Eric Herbort. A slew of young
players, including a real, live pro-style passer in Nick Green, will get
a shot at the gig.
Spring attitude... With only three starters returning on offense
and five on defense, Calhoun and his staff have their hands full this
spring. The skill players on offense may not be a huge concern, few
programs can plug in the cogs like this one, but there are huge holes.
Every spring practice will be vital to put the pieces in place.
Spring Practice Begins: March 17 Spring Game: April 12
The early spring buzz
... Boise State in 2006. Hawaii in 2007. BYU in 2008? Is it BYU’s
turn at the BCS buffet table this season? It’s become an annual ritual
in college football that one of the non-BCS teams will make a run at a
BCS bowl game, and BYU has the talent, the coaching, and the make up to
do it. The Cougars finished the season 11-2, including a narrow win
over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, and return nine starters on offense,
including quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga. So, the
question becomes “is BYU ready to take that step?” Boise State took the
step, as did Hawaii. There’s no reason to shoot for anything lower.
The big spring question is ... How will new defensive coordinator
Jaime Hill replace three starting linebackers? First team All-MWC
linebacker Bryan Kehl, Kelly Poppinga and Markell Staffieri graduate
from a defense that was tenth in the nation, and while BYU always seems
to find productive players, losing these three will hurt. Fortunately,
one starter remains - David Nixon, who returns on the weakside, but the
remaining holes must be filled by the time the Cougars finish spring
practice. This is the one area that could keep this from being a special
The most important position to watch is ... Secondary. The back
four was nearly as decimated as the linebacking corps losing three
starters and returning only free safety Kellen Fowler. Whoever takes
those positions will get some help from one of the best pass rushers in
the league, Jan Jorgensen, but no unit will have a larger bullseye on it
this season with so much inexperience.
Spring attitude... A team in this situation can go one of
two ways. The pressure can mount quickly and the team will crumble
under the weight. Or, the team can rise to the occasion on a weekly
basis, winning games in different ways and sometimes earning an ugly W.
Both Boise State and Hawaii fell into the latter category (conference
foe TCU fell into the former), but what does BYU do under the bright
lights of expectation? Can Bronco Mendenhall temper the expectations to
keep the program from falling into the abyss? Or, can the Cougars have
a season to remember? It goes without saying that it’ll be Mendenhall’s
biggest test as head coach.
Spring Practice Begins: March 25 Spring Game: April
The early spring buzz ... The Sonny Lubick era is over and while it
was a great run, the program needed a change and a breath of fresh air.
New head coach Steve Fairchild is that kick-start and he’ll put his
stamp on this program from day one. After spending the last seven years
in the NFL, Fairchild returns to Fort Collins where he was once Lubick’s
quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. As such, no Mountain West
player, administrator or coach will be more in the spotlight.
The big spring question is ... Can Fairchild find a quarterback?
Three-year starter Caleb Hanie has graduated, and while he was
inconsistent, he had his moments. Or, putting a positive spin on the
situation, Farichild has the opportunity to shape this team with his
selection of the man under center. Billy Farris is the only Ram
quarterback who has thrown a pass in a game, but was injured for the
last two games of the 2007 season. Grant Stucker and Nick Neuenfeldt
will enter the competition as well, but neither has played in a
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive line. The
Rams lost 107 career starts in three seniors – Jesse Nading, Blake Smith
and Erik Sandie. Looking for able replacements for these three must be
priority one on a defense that was 81st in the nation in
total defense. Add in the fact that the Rams were 107th in
the nation, giving up 207.3 yards per game on the ground, and finding
replacements for the line might be the most important goal for this
Spring attitude... Miracles aren’t, and can’t be, expected,
especially with a team that has to fill major holes in the defensive
line and at quarterback. However, a new voice and a clear vision will
help the Rams take the next few steps. Fairchild is the prodigal son
who has returned home with plenty of experience to draw upon. It won’t
be easy, but it’s not impossible, either, considering how little
tweaking might need to be done. This isn’t the SEC or the Pac-10, but
it’s still the best non-BCS conference in the nation.
Spring Practice Begins: April 10 Spring Game: April 26
The early spring buzz ...
The Lobos have won nine games or more only four times in school
history: 1964, 1982, 1997, and last season. So, on the heels of a big
year and a New Mexico Bowl victory over Nevada, it’s imperative that the
program builds on the success and gets in the hunt for the MWC
Championship. Head coach Rocky Long has established a solid program
that has reached annual bowl status, and is typically one of the top
four teams in the league, but it’s all about doing more. Long has
already gone from point A to point B.
The big spring question is ... Can Donovan Porterie keep
progressing and improving playing behind four new offensive line
starters? The Lobos’ signal caller is one of the most talented players
in this conference, accounting for over 3,000 yards passing, but he lost
80% of his line and his two star receivers. Even though Porterie has
plenty of experience, his patience and pocket presence will be tested,
and now he has to make everyone around him better. He’ll need a good
spring session to gain some level of comfort behind his new line.
The most important position to watch is ... Wide Receiver. Senior
Bowl attendee and All-MWC receiver Marcus Smith and fellow receiver
Travis Brown exhausted their eligibility, creating a huge hole in the
talent level. Each receiver accounted for over 1,000 yards receiving
and provided the perfect to a running offense. Roland Bruno had 21
receptions in 2007 and should hold down one spot, but the other is wide
open for competition.
Spring attitude... The Lobos followed each of the first three
nine win seasons with three, six and three wins respectively; not
exactly capitalizing on prior year success. The 2008 Lobos can change
that in a big way, but must find the offensive line to help protect
Porterie to do just that. With Porterie returning, along with All-MWC
running back Rodney Ferguson, the Lobos have the backfield to push for a
top three position. It’s time to make the jump.
Spring Practice Begins: March 25 Spring Game: April 26
The early spring buzz ... It might appear as though the past two
years haven’t been fruitful for head coach Chuck Long with three wins in
2006 and four in 2007, but the Aztecs have shown some improvement, even
if it hasn’t been noticeable. Is it enough to make it to seven wins and
get to a bowl game? A .500 record would be a nice start, and getting
the heat off Long, which will build if this is another down year, would
be a real plus.
The big spring question is ... How does offensive coordinator Del
Miller fill four spots on the offensive line? Although the loss of
signal caller Kevin O’Connell will be a major problem, the more pressing
issue will be up front of the O won’t progress. On the plus side, it’s
not like last year’s front five was that great. The running game wasn’t
there and the pass protection was mediocre. Speaking of a new
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Three-year
starter O’Connell is out of eligibility after he carried the offense for
long stretches. Two untested redshirt freshmen, Kelsey Sokolski and Ryan
Lindley, will need to be ready early on, and Long made it a priority to
find a JUCO QB who could come in and play right away. Drew Westling
could be the answer with the maturity to be the man, but at least there
are a few options and Long can coach quarterbacks.
Spring attitude... With so little experience on the offensive side
of the ball, the defense must set a tone in the spring that it can carry
this team on into the fall. It’s a relatively young unit took its lumps
in 2007, but returns seven starters this year. The offense will need
the spring to gel and find the right quarterback and a capable O line,
while the defense needs to find some help up front and at the safety
position. However, the Aztecs have made nice strides the past couple of
seasons; Long and his staff and should continue moving forward this
spring even with the retooled lineup.
Spring Practice Begins: March 18 Spring Game:
The early spring buzz ... The promising 2007 season that was
supposed to be a storybook trip to the BCS turned into a nightmare which
started before the season even began. The Tommy Blake situation seemed
to take the joy out of the season and the air out of a pre-season big
bowl contender, and while there was a little bit of a rebound to win the
Houston Bowl, it was still an overall downer. Not to mention, Gary
Patterson’s bunch didn’t even win the MWC Championship, so now the goal
is to produce while flying in under the radar. Seven wins won’t cut it
for a program that had back-to-back eleven win seasons in 2005 and 2006.
The big spring question is ... Where is the pressure going to come
from? Blake and Chase Ortiz were bookend defensive end/edge rushers who
started for much of the past three years. Although Blake was a shell of
his former self last season, and didn’t play for a long stretch, Horned
Frog opponents still had to respect these two off the edge. Jerry
Hughes and Matt Panfil started at various times throughout last season,
but keep an eye on Allen Christopher and Braylon Broughton as well.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. If Aaron
Brown is healthy, running back could the team’s strongest position. The
2007 MWC Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year was on the shelf for a
significant portion of the season thanks to injuries, but the running
game didn’t lose much production (nearly 170 yards per game). The top
seven rushers are back this season, including leading rusher Joseph
Turner. Add in a healthy Brown for a full season and the Horned Frogs
running game could average over 200 yards per game.
Spring attitude... Redemption may be too strong a word, but
the Horned Frogs have a little something to prove. However, it won’t be
easy. BYU is going to be salty, while Utah won’t fall off the face of
the map. San Diego State is improving, while New Mexico is coming off
of a nine win season. If the Horned Frogs can fill some defensive
holes, though, they should contend for a title, yet again. But, 2007
must be a distant memory for that to happen.
Spring Practice Begins: March 10 Spring Game: April 18
The early spring buzz ... Will there ever be a rainbow? Head
coach Mike Sanford came to UNLV with a bunch of hype as the former Mad
Scientist at Utah who helped quarterback Alex Smith become the number
one pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He’s been the head coach for the Rebels
for three years and has a total of six wins (2-10, 2-9 and 2-10), so any
sort of boost in the win total will be a plus. Perhaps the goal just
needs to be that the program is competitive in a good conference.
Either way, the buzz around this program is nearly inaudible and Sanford
is running out of time to turn up the volume.
The big spring question is ... When does the Mike Sanford offense
click? It’s been long enough to get the right recruits in place, and the
young team of last year has to start producing as expected. The Rebels
had six games of 14 points or fewer in 2007 and scored 13 points or
fewer in seven games in 2006. It’s like Brian Billick Disease – a guy
is hired to be a head coach based on what he’s done as an offensive
coordinator and his attack does next to nothing anything. Consistency
at quarterback will help, and Sanford might have found his guy in
sophomore-to-be Omar Clayton, who started last year as a freshman. Even
so, Clayton will have a fight on his hands to hang on to the gig.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. All-MWC
linebacker Beau Bell set a tone for the defense with his physical play,
but he’ll be collecting a big check now playing on Sundays. His
position coach Dennis Therrell takes over as the team’s defensive
coordinator, so expect him to put his linebackers in a position to make
plays more than ever. Jason Beauchamp will more than likely be that
playmaker this season, but replacing an athlete like Bell will be a tall
Spring attitude... The age old question of how to change a losing
team into a bunch of winners isn’t easily answered. A team can have the
best attitude in the world and still lose its final eight games as UNLV
did last season. However, a new season allows Sanford to continue to
make an impact on his recruits – after four years these are all his
guys, all recruited by Sanford. It’s make-or-break time for him needing
to take a positive step forward.
Begins: March 11 Spring Game: April 19
The early spring buzz ...
Another year, another winning season. Since the
undefeated 2004 campaign, the Utes have won seven, eight and nine games
in each respective season. However, the Utes didn’t take home a MWC
championship in any of the last three years while archrival BYU has
turned into a power. One of the hottest teams at the end of last year,
it took a miraculous fourth down play by BYU to spark a late drive to
put a dent in the year, but with an experienced team returning, the team
is shooting for big, big things.
The big spring question is ... Can Brian Johnson stay healthy for
an entire season? When Johnson is on the field, this offense is as
dangerous as any other in the league. But, the last three years have
been a roller coaster ride of enormous proportions with a torn up knee
in 2006 and a broken collarbone in the 2007 season opener. He came back
to play in eleven games last season, missing two games, but completed
67% of his passes for 1,847 yards and eleven touchdowns; he wasn’t the
same player. If he’s right, Utah could be special.
The most important position to watch is ... Wide Receiver. Brian
Hernandez and Derrek Richards were a big part of the 2007 offense and
are now gone. Bradon Godfrey caught 50 balls last season and should be
Johnson’s go-to receiver, but an additional weapon must emerge this
spring early on. The more options for Johnson, the better.
Spring attitude... Keep doing what you’re doing. Whittingham
has proven to be a solid head coach. He’s got a good thing going;
there’s no reason for change. Keep guys healthy, especially Johnson and
stud running back Darrell Mack and all should be good. Good enough to
take a run at a championship, especially with BYU and TCU coming to Salt
Lake City this fall.
March 26 Spring Game: April 19
The early spring buzz ...
Two years ago, head coach Joe Glenn adorned the cover
of The Sporting News as the ‘hot’ coach. Fast forward to the
current day and perhaps no coach in the league outside of Mike Sanford
at UNLV needs to have a successful season more than Glenn. The Cowboy
faithful expected better than two non-winning seasons in a row and not
the major collapses. Play in the MWC has put the Cowboy head coach
under the microscope (losses in six of the team’s last seven MWC games,
including the infamous 50-0 loss to Utah) as he needs to get his team
competitive again. The proverbial train has jumped the tracksm and now
Glenn has this spring to try to get it back on track.
The big spring question is ... Can the defense stop anyone? In
the last four games of the season the Cowboys gave up an average of 37
points per game. Sure, the offense was putrid as well (107th
in the nation in total yards), but the defense was the real gins:
March 26 Spring Game: April 19 problem. The front three of
John Fletcher, Fred Givens and Mitch Unrein return, but All-MWC CB
Julius Stinson is out of eligibility.
The most important position to watch is ... Cornerback. Stinson is
gone, and so is fellow starting corner Michael Medina. In this
conference, where teams put pressure on the perimeter, whether through
the air or on the ground, filling these two positions ably is a must for
this defense to show any sort of improvement. Sophomore-to-be Keith
Lewis should fill one of the spots, while a competition for the other
will be wide open.
Spring attitude... Changing the attitude this spring is a key. The
Cowboys were 4-1 to start last year, helped by a win over Virginia, and
appeared to be on the verge of another bowl trip, but they lost six of
the last seven games. Erasing the bitter taste of the last four games,
in particular, is going to be tough, but Glenn has the spring to change
this team’s acceptance of mediocrity.