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Wyoming's Brett Smith looks to challenge Boise State for the Mountain West title.
The Mountain West will have yet another new look in 2012. The ever-changing conference lost TCU — which went 48–7 during its seven-year stay — to the Big 12 and added Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii from the WAC. Next year, it will be time for another makeover when Boise State and San Diego State make their move to the Big East.
For now, the MW is a 10-team league that features one top-25 team (Boise State), a solid second tier (Nevada and Fresno State), and four other teams (Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force and San Diego State) that are good enough to play in a bowl game.
Boise State is in rebuilding mode after losing seven first-team All-Mountain West picks, most notably record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore and first-round NFL draft pick tailback Doug Martin. Still, the Broncos remain the team to beat. Junior Joe Southwick is next in line at quarterback, and he will spread the ball around to a talented group of skill players led by tailback D.J. Harper and wide receivers Matt Miller and Mitch Burroughs. The defense, which returns only one starter, is the biggest concern for coach Chris Petersen’s club.
Nevada, which went 19–4 in its final three seasons in the WAC, will lean on sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, who earned 2011 WAC Freshman of the Year honors after throwing for 1,707 yards and running for 694 out of Chris Ault’s Pistol attack. The Wolf Pack have a favorable league schedule, with both Fresno State and Boise State visiting Reno in November.
For the first time since 1996, Pat Hill will not be roaming the sidelines at Fresno State. The Bulldogs are now under the control of Tim DeRuyter, who spent three years (2007-09) in the MWC as the defensive coordinator at Air Force before taking over the same position at Texas A&M in ’10. Fresno State will feature two of the league’s top offensive players — quarterback Derek Carr (26 TDs in 2011) and tailback Robbie Rouse (1,549 yards).
Wyoming was the biggest surprise in the MWC in 2011. Led by true freshman quarterback Brett Smith (2,622 yards passing, 710 rushing), the Cowboys went 5–2 in the league, with the only losses to TCU and Boise State. After struggling through its third straight 3–9 season, Colorado State fired Steve Fairchild (a former CSU quarterback) and hired Jim McElwain, who picked up two national title rings as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. The Rams’ offense will feature tailback Chris Nwoke, a second-team All-MWC pick last year after rushing for 1,130 yards.
Air Force, as usual, has major holes to fill. The Falcons must replace quarterback Tim Jefferson (a four-year starter) and halfback Asher Clark, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. A big key for Air Force will be on defense, where it ranked 109th in the nation in stopping the run in 2011. San Diego State is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time as a Division I program. To make it three straight, the Aztecs will need a productive season from quarterback Ryan Katz, a post-graduate transfer from Oregon State who will step in for Ryan Lindley.
Hawaii is now under the leadership of Norm Chow, a longtime offensive coordinator who is getting his first opportunity to run his own program. The Warriors figure to struggle due in large part to the loss of eight players who received either first- or second-team All-WAC honors in 2011. With a 4–21 record in two seasons, Bobby Hauck will need to show some significant improvement at UNLV this fall. The Rebels’ 10 losses in 2011 came by an average of 30.1 points. Not good.
The train wreck known as the Mike Locksley era at New Mexico mercifully ended late last September. It’s up to former Notre Dame boss Bob Davie to pick up the pieces. Davie, who went 35–25 in five seasons with the Fighting Irish, has been out of coaching since 2001.
Athlon's 2012 Mountain West Team Previews
|Boise State||New Mexico|
|Colorado State||San Diego State|
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