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Mountain West finally has BCS attention

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Pete Fiutak

Pete Fiutak writes previews, predictions and prognostications for CollegeFootballNews.com.

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Give the Mountain West credit. The league is trying to become a player.

The league might have lost an anchor in Utah (who’s moving to the Pac 10 next year), but considering TCU is still a member and Boise State is being brought in from the WAC, it was a break-even offseason. However, the conference has to be thinking bigger and better to try to take an even bigger step forward before the next wave of expansion and realignment hysteria hits, and it made a nice push this first time around throwing out the idea of picking up the scraps like Kansas State and Iowa State if the Big 12 had melted down. It’s time to keep pushing.

POLL

  • Who will win the Mountain West?
    • TCU
    • Utah
    • BYU
    • Air Force
    • San Diego State
    • New Mexico
    • Wyoming
    • Colorado State
    • UNLV

The problem, of course, is money, and that only comes from a fat TV contract. The Mountain West can’t compete with the BCS leagues in revenue, so it has to be more aggressive in selling the possibility of what might happen if the right pieces were added on. Going after Fresno State, Nevada and Idaho wouldn’t exactly get the networks jumping, but bringing in those three while pitching to some of the lower profile programs in the Big 12 North the idea of being the alpha dog in a smaller yard might work. Iowa State might like the idea of being in a current BCS league, but there’s no hope whatsoever of becoming a player in a ten team Big 12, and years of finishing seventh or lower in the Texas-Oklahoma invitational will get old.

For this year, in the final season of the nine-team league in its current form, things are looking bright with some great teams at the top in TCU and Utah, hope at Wyoming and San Diego State after promising 2009s, a new coach at UNLV, and Air Force and BYU all but certain to be bowling again. Colorado State and New Mexico have to quickly rebound after disastrous seasons, but there are enough decent veterans on each to expect a more competitive year.

But the real story, beyond the Utah-Boise State swap, will be TCU after coming achingly close to giving the Mountain West a national title shot. Had Hunter Lawrence pushed his game-winning field goal a few feet to the left in the Texas win over Nebraska, there would’ve been a fight among the pollsters and the computers about whether or not to put in Cincinnati or TCU against Alabama for the BCS Championship. After what Utah did in 2008, and after TCU’s great season in 2009, the respect should be there if the Horned Frogs can get through another season unscathed.

Boise State is the hot topic going into the season with its high preseason ranking, but TCU is right there, too, among the non-BCS teams. There might not be a Virginia Tech on the schedule like the Broncos have to face, but the Horned Frogs have to play Oregon State (just like Boise State does) and it will have a BCS game on the résumé, albeit against Baylor. If the Broncos lose to the Hokies, and if the Horned Frogs beat the Beavers, then all eyes will turn to Fort Worth to see if Gary Patterson might have the team worthy of being in the national title discussion.

As a league, the Mountain West would do backflips to get another team into the BCS, not to mention the hype that would come from a possible BCS Championship run. But the league also needs the bottom half to step up. This can’t be the league of TCU-BYU-Utah, and occasionally Air Force, with everyone else taking up space. Wyoming needs to keep up the momentum, San Diego State has to take another step forward under Brady Hoke, and UNLV has to show it can step up and become a factor.

While this might be a transitional year for the Mountain West, the idea has to keep moving forward. Judging from recent actions, this might be one of the more forward thinking conferences in the lot, and it’ll have to work extra hard , and will have to get more top-to-bottom production, to finally get over the hump and become one of the big boys.

Team That'll Surprise

San Diego State – It’s been 11 years since San Diego State last came up with a winning season, and it might be a bit of a stretch to break that streak this year. However, second-year head man Brady Hoke has one of the league’s most explosive passing games with Ryan Lindley a candidate to challenge TCU’s Andy Dalton for the honor of being the league’s top quarterback, and the receiving combination of Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson should be the best in the conference. The defense is suspect, the special teams are shaky, and there’s no running game, but the Aztecs should flirt with six wins and should shock at least one big upset.

Team That'll Disappoint

Wyoming – The Cowboys beat one team with a pulse, Fresno State, and that was in the double-overtime bowl victory. The wins over Colorado State, San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and UNLV were by a combined total of nine points, and this year’s UW team should be worse on the defensive front and has to be better on the offensive line. Try this out for a stretch after the opener against Southern Utah. At Texas, Boise State, Air Force, at Toledo, at TCU, Utah, at BYU. If UW can get one win in that run, consider it a success.

Game of the Year

TCU at Utah, Nov. 6 – After the classic 13-10 Utah win over TCU in 2008, the Horned Frogs had their comeuppance with a 55-28 smacking last year. If all goes to form, and if TCU can get by Oregon State and Utah can beat Pitt in the opener, it should be the 9-0 Horned Frogs vs. the 7-1 (maybe 8-0) Utes for the Mountain West title, possibly, a BCS slot.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight

1. LB Carmen Messina, Jr. New Mexico
2. WR Vincent Brown, Sr. San Diego State
3. CB/KR Reggie Rembert, Sr. Air Force
4. LB Mychal Sisson, Jr. Colorado State
5. LB Brian Hendricks, Jr. Wyoming

Coach on the Hot Seat

Steve Fairchild, Colorado State – The program appeared to be on the rise after a 7-6 2008 season with a New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State. On a six-game winning streak spanning the end of the 2008 season and going into the first part of 2009, beating both Colorado and Nevada last year, everyone was fired up. And then the defense decided to take the rest of the year off. The Rams lost nine straight games to close out the year, and while Fairchild might not be fired with another losing season, another total clunker could mean changes.

GET READY

With 2010 kickoff just days away, check out our series of college football team previews.

5 Non-Conference Games the Mountain West had better take very, very seriously

1. Nevada at BYU, Sept. 25
2. UNLV at Idaho, Sept. 18
3. Colorado State at Miami Univ., Sept. 18
4. UNLV at Hawaii, Dec. 4
5. BYU at Utah State, Oct. 1

Bold Predictions … The Big 12 might say its staying put with ten teams, but one more monster season from TCU might change that. … Air Force will have its best passing game in years and will come up with a win over the league’s Big Three (likely Utah). … BYU will finish second in the league in most defensive categories behind TCU. … New Mexico will have the second best defensive line in the league. … UNLV will be stunningly consistent. … San Diego State’s passing game will turn into one of the storylines of the conference season. … No one will stop the Utah running game. … Colorado State’s Mychal Sisson will be the league’s best linebacker, but he won’t get enough publicity.

5 Best Pro Prospects

1. OT Matt Reynolds, Jr. BYU
2. WR Vincent Brown, Sr. San Diego State
3. OT Marcus Cannon, Sr. TCU
4. LB Tank Carder, Jr. TCU
5. WR/KR Jeremy Kerley, Sr. TCU

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill

1. DE Ross Forrest for Jerry Hughes, TCU
2. OT Percy Taumoelau for Zane Beadles, Utah
3. QB Jake Heaps or Riley Nelson for Max Hall, BYU
4. DT Alex Stover for John Fletcher, Wyoming
5. WR Phillip Payne for Ryan Wolfe, UNLV

Tagged: Florida, Texas Christian, Texas, Air Force, Wyoming, Utah, UNLV, Brigham Young, New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State, Mychal Sisson, Vincent Brown

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