MWC squads pursue TCU as Boise State awaits

TCU’s Gary Patterson plopped into his seat at Mountain West

Conference media day and professed how good it felt to still have a

job in an age where football coaches sweat over security as much as

they do the scoreboard.

As if he has anything to worry about.

The Horned Frogs are a bona fide power, finishing sixth in The

Associated Press poll last season after a 12-1 season that was

marred only by a loss to Boise State, a soon-to-be conference foe,

in the Fiesta Bowl.

Returning another stacked team led by senior quarterback Andy

Dalton, TCU will again have its sights set on not just the MWC

crown but a national title.

First, though, the Frogs have to navigate a nonconference

schedule that includes Oregon State in the opener and a conference

docket that isn’t exactly a cakewalk, especially with a visit to

Utah on Nov. 6.

But they’re clearly the favorite to win a second straight MWC

crown.

After this season, TCU will be joined by its BCS busting

brethren Boise State in the Mountain West. The Broncos are bolting

from the Western Athletic Conference.

They’ll essentially take the place of Utah as the Utes split for

the conference that will be called the Pac-12.

”I’m sad to see Utah leave. We’ve had great games. It’s been a

great rivalry,” Patterson said. ”I think they brought a lot to

the conference.”

So, too, have the Broncos, a 26-1 squad over the last two

seasons. They only elevate the profile of the conference, something

that commissioner Craig Thompson is trying to do as the MWC

laboriously lobbies for an automatic bid to the BCS.

The league is definitely making a compelling case, joining the

Big Ten and SEC last season as the only conferences to have two

teams in the top 12 in the final polls.

Even more, the conference has a 9-3 bowl mark against

automatic-qualifying BCS teams since 2004.

These are all stats that Thompson likes to drop when promoting

the league.

”We have no issue with the bowl system per se,” Thompson said.

”Our issue is we think we’re performing and playing at a level

that is equal to and deserves a spot in one of the BCS bowls, along

with the current six automatic qualifiers.”

TCU enters the season with a loaded defense that was the best in

the nation for a second straight season. The Horned Frogs also

return Dalton, the conference’s offensive player of the year after

throwing for a school-record 2,756 yards.

”Personally, I don’t see how you can’t choose TCU as the

favorite,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose squad was

picked to finish second in the preseason conference media poll.

”What they accomplished last year and what they have coming back,

that’s a no-brainer.”

Utah remains a contender, BYU returns a solid nucleus after an

11-2 season and Air Force could be a factor as the Falcons return

their entire backfield.

Still, TCU remains the unquestioned headliner. The Horned Frogs

have a fire burning, too, especially after losing 17-10 to Boise

State to deny them a perfect record.

”That, in itself, is motivation,” Dalton said. ”That’s been a

lot of our drive, to want to get back to that game and win it this

year. The way we worked this offseason and summer shows how hungry

we are and how ready we are to get this season started.”

TCU – Key players: LB Tank Carder, QB Andy Dalton, DE Wayne

Daniels, DB Tejay Johnson, WR Jeremy Kerley, OL Jake Kirkpatrick.

Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense

Notes: Dalton is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks to

step ever step under center at TCU, tying Sammy Baugh for most wins

(29) in school history. He will lead the drive toward another shot

at a national title. .. The team’s biggest stumbling block early

could be their first game against Oregon State at Cowboys

Stadium.

Utah – Key players: RB Eddie Wide, OLs Caleb Schlauderaff and

Zane Taylor, DB Brandon Burton. Returning starters: 8 offense, 4

defense.

Notes: The Utes will make one last stand in the conference

before leaving for the Pac-12. Their 17-game home winning streak –

second-longest in school history – will be put to the test as they

host Pittsburgh, TCU and BYU. … The team has a nine-game bowl win

streak, the longest active streak in the country.

BYU – Key players: OL Matt Reynolds, DBs Andrew Rich and Brian

Logan, RB JJ Di Luigi. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6

defense.

Notes: Since 2006, BYU has a 43-9 record, one of the top marks

in the nation. … The Cougars will have to replace the tandem of

QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga. Hall threw for more than 3,000

yards and Unga ran topped the 1,000-yard mark in three straight

seasons.

Air Force – Key players: FB Jared Tew, TB Asher Clark, QBs

Connor Dietz and Tim Jefferson. Returning starters: 5 offense, 5

defense.

Notes: The Falcons are stacked on offense, returning their

entire backfield. Tew led the team in rushing with 970 yards. …

Air Force has a formidable tandem at defensive back in Reggie

Rembert and Anthony Wright. They had 10 interceptions between them

last year. … The Falcons will play a rigorous schedule that

includes a game at Oklahoma on Sept. 18.

Wyoming – Key players: DB Chris Prosinski, QB Austyn

Carta-Samuels, RB Alvester Alexander. Returning starters: 7

offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Carta-Samuels threw for 1,953 yards last season, the

third-best mark in league history for a freshman. … The Cowboys

went to their first bowl last season since 2004. The team beat

Fresno State in two overtime, 35-28, in the New Mexico Bowl. …

Prosinski led Wyoming in tackles last year with 140, which ranked

tied for 10th in the nation.

San Diego State – Key players: WRs Vincent Brown and DeMarco

Sampson, QB Ryan Lindley. Returning starters: 9 offense, 8

defense.

Notes: Lindley has his two biggest targets back in Brown and

Sampson. Brown had five 100-yard games last season before a thumb

injury ended his season on Oct. 24 at Colorado State. … The

father of senior LB Marcus Yarbrough once played on the offensive

line for the Aztecs from 1978-81.

Colorado State – Key players: LB Mychal Sisson, RBs Leonard

Mason and John Mosure. Returning starters: 4 offense, 10

defense.

Notes: The Rams possess a deep backfield with Mason, the team’s

top rusher, Mosure and Lou Greenwood all returning. … Freshmen

Pete Thomas and Nico Ranieri are contending for the quarterback

job. … CSU went 3-9 in coach Steve Fairchild’s second season at

the helm. … Sisson had six sacks and 15 1/2 tackles for loss last

season.

UNLV – Key players: WR Phillip Payne, RB Channing Trotter, QB

Omar Clayton. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Rebels coach Bobby Hauck takes over after spending the

last seven seasons in charge of the University of Montana, a

perennial power in the FCS. … Payne will try to step in and fill

the spot of Ryan Wolfe, who left as the conference’s all-time

leading receiver with 283 receptions. … UNLV has four returning

starters on the offensive line.

New Mexico – Key players: DL Johnathan Rainey, LB Carmen

Messina, RB Desmond Dennis. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6

defense.

Notes: Messina led the nation in tackles last season with 162.

He also had three sacks. … Lobos coach Mike Locksley finished his

inaugural season 1-11. He served a 10-day suspension during the

year for his role in a physical altercation with an assistant. …

Dennis rushed for 427 yards and three TDs for the Lobos last

season.