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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 27, 2012 at 9:35 PM

It was quite a run for the Mountain West. Utah rose to the level of big time football before they left to join the Pac 12. TCU rose to the level of big time football before they left to join the Big 12. BYU had been a prominent name in college football for years before they left to become an independent. What’s left right now really isn’t very pretty. Boise State came over from the WAC at just the wrong time. And, they’ll be leaving soon enough because the future of the Mountain West conference is so bleak in this sport that no program on the rise can afford to be associated with it!

In fact, the teams picked to finish in the top three of the Mountain West this year all came over from the WAC. The new-look league is basically the worst of the old Mountain West mixed with the best of the old WAC. This is a 10-team league in 2012 though…which means we have a lot to get to in this one-day report! Let’s jump right in and see if anyone has a chance to make life interesting for Boise State.

 

MOUNTAIN WEST

 

BOISE STATE

Athlon Ranking: 24th

2011 Total Offense: 9th

2011 Total Defense: 16th

Strength: Pass Offense (11th)

Weakness: Pass Defense (43rd)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 11 on defense

Head Coach: Chris Peterson

Notebook: There are some question marks about the program in terms of the national picture because Kellen Moore is no longer the quarterback. If you attribute much of their recent greatness to him personally then the program is likely to drop backward in fairly dramatic fashion (at least in terms of BCS conversations). But, if you think of this as a “system offense” that will work as long as the QB is fairly smart and productive…then Boise State still has the athletes to compete with anybody. Head coach Chris Peterson has done a GREAT job of recruiting the big bodies from California, which has allowed this team to play smash mouth football when stepping up in class. You can ask Georgia and Virginia Tech about that. This year’s big early game is Michigan State in East Lansing. There are no other major opponents…so a win there could launch a monster season. A loss there, and it’s going to be hard to take the team seriously because they blew their only opportunity to impress.

 

NEVADA

Athlon Ranking: 54th

2011 Total Offense: 6th

2011 Total Defense: 52nd

Strength: Rush Offense (8th)

Weakness: Pass Defense (57th)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Chris Ault

Notebook: Quarterback Cody Fajardo was the Freshman of the Year in the WAC last season. The big offensive rankings you see above were largely the result of a soft schedule though. Well, a spread system against a crap schedule. Last year the Wolfpack lost to Oregon and Boise State by a combined 99-30 score. And, what should have been a maturing team dropped three of its last four games including the Hawaii Bowl against Southern Miss. Early tests with California (road) and South Florida (home) will let us know fairly quickly where this team stands in the big picture. We don’t have as much respect for them nationally as Athlon does. But, they do play in a very weak conference, and may grade out strong vs. the softest Mountain West defenses over the latter two thirds of the season.

 

FRESNO STATE

Athlon Ranking: 87th

2011 Total Offense: 37th

2011 Total Defense: 100th

Strength: Pass Offense (27th)

Weakness: Pass Defense (106th)

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter

Notebook: The Bulldogs have a new head coach this year. Pat Hill was always extremely overrated by the media because somebody at ESPN got it in their heads that he was a great coach and had a chance to move up to the NFL. It took a 4-9 season vs. a weak schedule to get him fired (one of the wins was a tight game over North Dakota). There is experience at quarterback, and a lot of returning starters by this year’s Mountain West standards. A September trifecta vs. Oregon, Colorado, and Tulsa will tell us a lot about the 2012 prospects. DeRuyter is one of a zillion coaches across the landscape this year who was hired to install a spread offense. That’s going to be fool’s gold at most places, but might work out well with junior quarterback Derek Carr anxious to make up for a losing season.

 

WYOMING

Athlon Ranking: 88th

2011 Total Offense: 59th

2011 Total Defense: 98th

Strength: Pass Defense (30th)

Weakness: Rush Defense (115th)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Dave Christensen

Notebook: The best and quickest review of last year is just to remind you that Wyoming lost to Temple 37-15 in the New Mexico Bowl. They weren’t really a bowl caliber team, and got squashed by somebody else who wasn’t either (at least by big time standards). Quarterback Brett Smith returns…but Wyoming had unimpressive passing numbers vs. a soft schedule, and then couldn’t play catch up in their bowl loss. There will be spots where you can take Wyoming as a live dog vs. a distracted or overrated favorite. And, they usually have a home laugher each year against an unprepared visitor. But, this is a team you have to pick your sports with. Don’t fall in love with them.

 

COLORADO STATE

Athlon Ranking: 91st

2011 Total Offense: 87th

2011 Total Defense: 85th

Strength: Pass Defense (13th)

Weakness: Rush Defense (116th)

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Jim McElwain

Notebook: The Rams are getting a lot of respect for a team with a new coach and a new quarterback. Remember, there are teams in the Mountain West, and Athlon has them FIFTH! We can see the respect for McElwain. He was Alabama’s offensive coordinator. He’ll at least bring toughness and attitude to the program, even if ‘Bama ran a boring old school offense. That can work in softer conferences, and may work here. We’ll have to see it before we believe it. The season opener with Colorado will offer up a good test. The schedule is pretty easy after that. Of course, you can say that for just about everyone in this league. One of these mid-tier teams is likely to jump up and do something special. And, that surprise will probably be caused by a quarterback who wasn’t getting enough respect coming in.

 

AIR FORCE

Athlon Ranking: 92nd

2011 Total Offense: 22nd

2011 Total Defense: 65th

Strength: Rush Offense (3rd)

Weakness: Pass Defense (6th)

Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 3 on defense

Head Coach: Troy Calhoun

Notebook: What a huge strike against the Air Force program that so little is expected of them in a down year for a watered down conference. This used to be a team everyone was afraid to play because it was so hard to prepare for them. Last year’s team did earn the Commander-in-Chief trophy in a down year for the military schools. Air Force only earned a bowl trip because of regular season wins over the likes of South Dakota and Tennessee State…then lost their bowl game to Toledo. Now, only three starters return on both sides of the ball. Projected quarterback Connor Dietz has played enough in the past to know the offense well even if he’s not a returning starter. The Falcons might catch Michigan flat on September 8th, with the Wolverines facing Alabama the week before. Boy, you’d better pay attention to the handful of TV games involving Mountain West teams in September. They’re going to fall off the map TV-wise after that.

 

SAN DIEGO STATE

Athlon Ranking: 95th

2011 Total Offense: 32nd

2011 Total Defense: 68th

Strength: Rush Offense (30th)

Weakness: Rush Defense (78th)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Rocky Long

Notebook: Continuing the list of MW teams who lost bowl games to mid-majors, the Aztecs fell to Louisiana Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl after an 8-4 regular season campaign. Most people took this as what had been the Brady Hoke era fading into a new but mediocre Rocky Long era. That’s usually what happens when quickfire successes climb the ladder…their old schools fall back to earth. We can probably look forward to some very competitive games amongst this large hunk that falls after Boise State. Just remember that it’s a hunk of teams that isn’t facing bright prospects right after a disastrous postseason. Tough season opener at Washington with a new quarterback.

 

HAWAII

Athlon Ranking: 108th

2011 Total Offense: 43rd

2011 Total Defense: 66th

Strength: Pass Offense (12th)

Weakness: Rush Offense (113th)

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense

Head Coach: Norm Chow

Notebook: Norm Chow finally gets a chance to lead a team! He was overrated as an offensive coordinator during the best of times, then had few workable options once modern defenses adjusted to what he was doing. This has the feel of a lifetime achievement award to a man who’s paid his dues…rather than a head coaching position given to a high impact leader. This has disaster written all over it considering the high personnel turnover. But, so many MW teams this year have initially bleak outlooks that you just never know. Maybe Chow will serve as a tie-breaker that helps the warriors jump out of the pack. The season opener at USC is likely to be a debacle of mythic proportions though.

 

UNLV

Athlon Ranking: 112th

2011 Total Offense: 117th

2011 Total Defense: 105th

Strength: Rush Offense (48th)

Weakness: Pass Defense (118th)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense

Head Coach: Bobby Hauck

Notebook: Hauck was supposed to be the man who would get things turned around with UNLV. He’s 4-21 so far. Last year’s team lost to Southern Utah! Heck, last year’s team lost to the truly horrible New Mexico Lobos (that program’s only win). It will be a surprise if this inexperienced group makes any real inroads this year. They may create the illusion of inroads because it’s such an inexperienced league on the whole.

 

NEW MEXICO

Athlon Ranking: 117th

2011 Total Offense: 113th

2011 Total Defense: 118th

Strength: Pass Defense (86th)

Weakness: Rush Defense (119th)

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Bob Davie

Notebook: Yes, ESPN color announcer Bob Davie, who was in the booth initially because he disappointed in the big time, has been given a shot to resurrect what was basically a dormant New Mexico program. It can’t get any worse than it was. And, Davie does return some starters and a quarterback with experience. If the players don’t get too banged up from playing Texas, Texas Tech, and Bosie State over a four week stretch in September…there might be something left to steal a couple of conference wins once the doldrums have set it across the league.

Whew…glad that’s over with! What an ugly conference!

We wrap up our July look at midmajors Sunday with the Independents. That will help us transition from the mid-majors (like Navy, Army, and BYU) to the majors (like Notre Dame). Weekends in August will be devoted to major conferences as we countdown the month to the start of the regular season.

Seasonal football rates are available for JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK. Sign up online, or call the office at 1-800-323-4453 if you have any questions. Don’t forget that the NFL Preseason starts Sunday Night August the 5th with the Hall of Fame game. That’s a week from Sunday! We will run our NFL divisional previews in the days right after the HOF showdown matching Arizona and New Orleans.

We hope you’re printing out all of our conference preview reports so you can refer to them as the season arrives and progresses. Please check the archives for previous weekend reports on the WAC, Sun Belt, MAC, and Conference USA. See you Sunday to check on Notre Dame’s hopes for a golden year in 2012...

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