Friday, July 11, 2008

2008 College Football Conference Predictions: Mountain West

Since Urban Meyer took Utah to the Fiesta Bowl in 2004, the Mountain West has taken a back seat to its biggest conference rival. The WAC sent Boise State in 2006, and Hawaii last year. This season the MWC has a very good chance to send an undefeated team back to the BCS, as both BYU and Utah will have very good chances to run the table. The Utes get the Cougars at home to end the season, but I feel like BYU has a slight edge thanks to its strength in the trenches, not to mention its always stellar offense. I like the Brigham Young Cougars to win the Mountain West Conference in 2008. Although I must admit, it is really a coin flip between BYU and Utah, and very possible one of them will be undefeated at the end of the season.

TCU will be good as usual, and Wyoming and New Mexico will be much better. Air Force and San Diego State will battle for the middle of the pack in the conference. Thanks largely to brutal schedules, Colorado State and UNLV should finish near the bottom.

1. BYU Cougars (Predicted Overall Record: 12-0, Predicted Conference Record: 8-0)
Far be it from me to pick against a team that is working on a full 2 years since its last conference loss. There is some concern on defense, with only 3 starters returning. 2 of those are on the defensive line, including Kentucky transfer Jan Jorgensen, who racked up 14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season. The offense returns 9 including QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga, and 4 players along the offensive line. The Cougars have a fairly light schedule out of conference, traveling to Washington and welcoming UCLA to Provo. Trips to TCU and Utah in the conference will be tough to navigate, but this is one of BYU's strongest looking offenses ever (which says quite a bit.) The expectations are that this will be Bronco Mendenhall's best team in his 4 seasons.

2. Utah Utes (11-1, 7-1)
The Utes bring back 14 starters, including the league's best running back Darrell Mack (1204 yds, 12 touchdowns in 2007.) An outstanding offensive line and solid secondary should carry Utah toward the top of the conference and national recognition. I'm predicting the Utes to win in the Big House on August 30th, and when Oregon State comes to Salt Lake City for a Thursday night tilt on October 2nd. The season finale at home against BYU could mean quite a bit.

3. TCU Horned Frogs (9-3, 6-2)
Gary Patterson has averaged an impressive 9 wins a season in his 7 years in Fort Worth, and 2008 should be no different. 15 starters return, including 4 of 5 along the offensive line and a solid linebacking corps. The conference schedule is manageable, but the trip to Oklahoma in late September will be alot to ask. If the Frogs can manage to upset either Utah or BYU, they could challenge for the league championship.

4. New Mexico Lobos (6-6, 5-3)
The Lobos were the surprise of the MWC in 2007, finishing 9-4, winning at Arizona and destroying Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl (sounds like a nice home field advantage for the Lobos.) The 2008 roster has alot to replace, but returns one of the better running backs in the league in senior Rodney Ferguson (1,177 yards, 13 touchdowns in 2007.) The defense will be the key. If an inexperienced linebacking corps can step up, the Lobos could surprise yet again. A non-conference trip to Tulsa will be a challenge. It will be a good year if this squad can sneak into another bowl.

5. Wyoming Cowboys (7-5, 4-4)
While the Cowboys lost 7 games and missed postseason play for the 3rd straight year, there were signs of life. They tore Virginia to shreds to begin the season and played Boise State tough on the road, but faded into oblivion to end the season. This year a much more experienced team will try to right the ship in Laramie. 14 starters return, including the league's best defensive line, with 3 starters and a senior lining up. The schedule does them no favors, with trips to TCU, BYU, and a non-conference tilt with Tennessee. However, the Cowboys are good enough to put a scare into someone.

6. Air Force Falcons (5-7, 3-5)
The Falcons beat TCU and Utah in 2007, and gave Cal all they wanted in the Armed Forces Bowl, finishing 9-4 on the season. They lose a boatload of starters this season. The top returning player in terms of production is last year's backup running back, Savier Stephens (148 yards, 2 touchdowns in 2007.) The defense should be OK up front with 3 of 4 starters returning along the line, but the linebackers and secondary may struggle against the strong passing offenses in the MWC. The schedule shouldn't be too rough to eek out a few wins.

7. San Diego State Aztecs (5-7, 2-6)
The Aztecs always play a tough non-conference schedule, but this year they only see a trip to Notre Dame in September as a certain non-conference loss (the Irish couldn't possibly lose to SDS in South Bend, could they??) 8 starters return on defense, including the entire linebacking corp. Junior college transfer Drew Westling has been compared to former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel by San Diego State head coach (and former Oklahoma offensive coordinator) Chuck Long.

8. Colorado State Rams (2-10, 1-7)
The Rams lost their first 5 games of the 2007 campaign by an average of 6 points, and limped to a 3-9 finish. 2008 doesn't figure to fair much better, with games against Colorado and California away from Fort Collins, and only 12 returning starters. Quarterback is an issue, as the most experienced passer on the team (senior Billy Farris) only attempted 20 passes last year. The running game may be a strength, with its top 3 rushers of 2007 returning, as well as 4 offensive linemen. But the Rams have to replace most of its secondary (never a good thing in the MWC), and probably don't have enough offensive firepower to keep up.

9. UNLV Rebels (1-11, 0-8)
The Rebels' only wins in 2007 were at Utah State, and a shocking shutout of Utah in Vegas. This year's squad has the potential to be much better with 9 returning offensive starters, including WR Ryan Wolfe (911 yards receiving in 2007.) The defense was OK statistically last season, but lost 6 starters from a team that gave up over 25 points in 8 games (including 6 of its last 7.) This team has averaged 2 wins a season over the past 3 years, and I don't see this year being much better, although many publications have UNLV finishing in the top half of the league.

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