Athlon's 2011 Mountain West Predictions

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Kellen Moore looks to lead Boise State into national title consideration.

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<p> Athlon's countdown to the 2011 season continues with a look at the projected order of finish for the Mountain West.</p>

In this space last year, we chronicled the dominance of the 2009 TCU Horned Frogs, a team that cruised to the Mountain West title with an 8–0 record and average margin of victory of 32 points. Well, guess what? TCU was even better in 2010. Last fall, Gary Patterson’s club once again went 8–0 in league play; this time around, the margin of the Frogs’ eight MWC wins was 33.4 points per game. TCU, in 2010, was the best team in the nation relative to its conference competition — and it wasn’t even close. The Horned Frogs outgained their MWC foes by an average of 312.0 yards per game. The next best team? Northern Illinois, which outgained its MAC opponents by 171.3 yards per game. Let those numbers sink in for a minute: TCU was that good in 2010.

But we have turned the page to 2011, and TCU, in its final season in the MWC before bolting to the Big East, will have some stiff competition in the form of the big, bad Boise State Broncos. After pushing around teams in the WAC over the last decade, Boise State has made the move to the more competitive Mountain West. And Chris Petersen’s club, with 14 starters back from a 12-win team, is the favorite to claim the title in its first season in the league. The Broncos will once again be led by quarterback Kellen Moore, who has an amazing 38–2 record as a starting quarterback. Boise State will also be potent in the running game, with Doug Martin and D.J. Harper operating behind an offensive line that returns three starters. On defense, the secondary needs to be rebuilt, but both starting linebackers and three members of the front four are back. Boise State ranked second in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense last season.

Don’t expect TCU to fall too far. Despite the loss of four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton and a slew of other big-time players on both sides of the ball, the Horned Frogs will still be a factor in the league race. Patterson’s team will be strong on defense, and TCU’s running game figures to be among the best in the nation.

Perpetually underrated Air Force and San Diego State appear to be the best of the rest in the MWC this fall. The Falcons went 9–4 last season, and three of those losses — San Diego State, Utah and Oklahoma — came by an average of 3.3 points. AFA will continue to run the ball very well, but the 2010 Falcons could be potent through the air as well. Brady Hoke left behind a solid club in San Diego that will be guided by his former defensive coordinator Rocky Long, the one-time boss at New Mexico. The Aztecs boast star power on offense, with record-setting quarterback Ryan Lindley back for his senior season and Ronnie Hillman back for his sophomore campaign. Hillman rushed for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2010.

Once-proud Colorado State should be improved after struggling through its second straight losing season. The Rams were painfully young last year and were the only team in the nation to start a true freshman quarterback (Pete Thomas) in every game.

Wyoming took a step back in the second season of the Dave Christensen era, winning only three games after enjoying a rare bowl victory in 2009. And the Pokes must move forward without quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who transferred despite starting his first two seasons in Laramie. UNLV, too, needs to identify a quarterback if it hopes to make a move in the MWC. Omar Clayton, who started 35 games at the school, has graduated, leaving a gaping hole for second-year coach Bobby Hauck.

New Mexico has upgraded its talent, but the Lobos still have a long way to go to be competitive. Mike Locksley is on the hottest of seats in Albuquerque. 

Athlon's 2011 Mountain West Previews

Air Force San Diego State
Boise State TCU
Colorado State UNLV
New Mexico Wyoming

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