This Blogger Q&A comes from the owner of the Mountain West Connection, Jeremy, who is also a contributor to Saturday Sound Offs. Enjoy!
1. Between last year's bottom-tier of the Mountain West (Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, and I suppose Wyoming), which has the best chance to surprise us and go to a bowl game?
The obvious choice is Wyoming, because they had a very good defense last year and started the season very well before tanking. Wyoming does have an unprecedented seven home games and playing games in Laramie is very tough, because of the fans and weather can be a factor. With their home schedule Wyoming could go 6-1 at home, just look at their home schedule Ohio, Air Force, North Dakota State, Bowling Green, Utah, San Diego State, and Colorado State. The two toughest games are Bowling Green and Utah, both are winnable because there is revenge for Utah since they ran up the score 50-0 and also did an onside kick.
Colorado State is my dark horse to make a bowl game, yes they have a new coach, had a terrible season last year, and have to break in a new quarterback. Even in saying that they finally should have running back Kyle Bell at full strength after he tore his ACL in fall camp in 2006, plus include Gatrell Johnson III who came on strong at running back, then the Rams also bring back TE Kory Sperry who injured his knee in the Cal game last year before that he was a catching machine. A thing to consider is that Colorado State gave Cal all they could handle last year in Fort Collins when the Golden Bears were in the top 5.
One note of news that could impact one of these teams to get into a bowl game is that the Humanitarian Bowl is getting a deal in place to include a Mountain West team in 2009 and a plan this year to include a MWC team if there are no eligible ACC teams.
2. With all of the turnover for Air Force, do you expect the Falcons to compete in the Mountain West again?
You never want to say never with Air Force, because their teams are typically upperclassmen teams and can insert new players for the ones who departed and compete. I have to say a resounding no \ that Air Force will compete for the league crown, first off Utah and BYU are the conseus favorites and the Falcons are not even close to TCU or New Mexico who are a rung below the Utes and Cougars. The Cadets have to replace the 2007 Mountain West Offensive player of the year in Chad Hall and four year starter QB Shaun Carney. Those two players accounted for over 93% of the Falcons offense last year and will be hard to replace. An early look in last years bowl game when Carney went down in their bowl game against Cal and when replacement Shea Smith came in he was unable to run the offense as well as Carney did.
3. Which non-conference game do you think has the biggest implications for the conference?
I have to go with two games that are almost on equal footing, the first one I put at a higher for implications of the league is BYU facing Washington. BYU is loaded offensively with 9 returning starters back from one of the nations best offense last year. Plus, everyone who claims to know anythign about college football has BYU as the front runner to make a BCS bowl game, but first the Cougars must win a non conference road game and that is something they have not done since a come from behind win against lowly Utah State in 2002 and their last non conference road win against a BCS team was in 2001 when BYU defeated a bad Cal team in Berkley. Those are the reasons why Cougars have not all ready made a BCS bowl game, and if BYU can win that game it should propel them to make a serious run at the BCS.
My other chose is the Utah at Michigan game, most of the reasons to watch on ABC are on the Michigan side. Starting with with what happened in last years home opener and the new coach at MIchigan in Rich Rodriguez. This is a more high profile game since Michigan has been much better for the past decade then Washington has, and people want to see how Michigan fares in Rich Rodriguez's first try at implemeting his offense he used at West Virgina at Michigan.
4. If Utah and BYU are the consensus main contenders for the crown, which team, TCU, New Mexico, or somebody else, will compete for the title?
TCU and New Mexico are the only teams that have a legitamite shot at winning the league. Both teams do have problems that could hurt their chances, as for TCU they lost their two best defensive players Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz plus the quarterback play was not good with either Andy Dalton or Marcus Jackson, but all words from TCU has Dalton being the number one for now. Their strengths are the running game in Aaron Brown who is a standout at running back in a league that has five teams that have amazing runninng backs. The schedule does not do them any favors by playing at Utah on a Thursday night game after playing at UNLV the previous Saturday., Also consider the fact that opening weekend TCU travels to New Mexico which essentially could knock the loser out of the conference title race, because the last four conference winners have ran the table.
New Mexico has the tools with Senior QB Donovan Porterie and Senior RB Rodney Ferguson who has a serious chance to be the best runner in the league. They did lose their top two receivers in Travis Brown and Marcus Smith who combinded for over 2,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. The conference schedule is similar with New Mexico by playing the top two teams at home and on the road with BYU being the road game and Utah at home. New Mexico has a tougher non conference schedule to preparr for league play with Texas A&M, Arizona, Tulsa, and New Mexico State but none of that matters too much because they face TCU week one but with the advantage of being at home.
5. Do you see Utah or BYU crashing the BCS this year?
It is easy to just say yes, because both have very good offenses and defensive minded coaches to help in that area. There are a few things that worry me about neither getting into the BCS, First off mentioned above is that BYU has not won a non conference road game since 2002 and that does not really count since Utah State is only a three hour bus ride from Provo, and their other is a win the year earlier against Cal. BYU travels to Washington to one of the toughest places to get to and play in for week two of the season. BYU just has been bad on the road when they have had good teams just like in 2006 when BYU lost to Arizona who went 6-6 and BYU went 11-2.
Utah has had inconsistency problems the past few years under head coach Kyle Whittingham. They lost at UNLV 27-0 last year, blew 21 point half time lead to New Mexico in 2006, the same year did not show up against a poor Wyoming team and get shut out, and then in 2005 a home loss to San Diego State. Utah did improve on that last year by wiining seven in a row, and the only reason there was a poor start to the year was because their top QB Brian Johnson, top RB Matt Asiata, and top WR Brent Casteel went down by game two and the team still ended up 9-4. The Utes just need some consistency.
To the aswer I will got with yes and my pick is BYU to go to the BCS. It is because they have 9 offensive starters back and a defensive staff that does a very good job at schemes and when they needed to play their two and third string players made sure they were in positions to succeed.
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