Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Everyone involved with Mountain West Media Day on Tuesday at Red Rock Resort came to at least one consensus. TCU is the team to beat.
The 31 media members who voted in the preseason poll unanimously selected the Horned Frogs to win the Mountain West for the second year in a row. No coaches griped at this decision.
Even Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose Utes were chosen second, agreed.
“That’s the logical choice with what they were able to accomplish last year and what they have coming back,” Whittingham said. “To me, that’s a no-brainer.”
TCU, of course, went undefeated in last year’s regular season and made a BCS bowl game, where it fell to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
With a conference-high 16 returning starters, the expectations in Fort Worth are higher than ever before. But how can TCU follow the greatest season in school history?
“You’ve got to ask yourself, how do we become as hungry as we were a year ago to come back and repeat and go for a championship?” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “If we can come back hungry and it’s very important to the entire football team, then we have a chance to be successful.”
A lot rests on how senior quarterback Andy Dalton will handle his fourth year under center for the Horned Frogs. Dalton is already the school’s all-time passing leader and threw for more than 2,700 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.
But he says something is missing from his distinguished career — a BCS bowl game title.
“For us, last season didn’t end how we wanted it to. That in itself is motivation for us,” Dalton said. “That’s been a lot of our drive, wanting to get back to that game and win it this year.”
Dalton will have plenty of help. The top four receivers from last year’s team are back including the explosive Jeremy Kerley.
Below is a full report of this year’s Horned Frogs.
Last Year: 12-1 overall, 8-0 Mountain West, lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl
Coach: Gary Patterson (85-28)
Returning Starters: Offense: Sr. QB Andy Dalton, Jr. WR Antoine Hicks, Sr. WR Jimmy Young, Sr. WR Jeremy Kerley, Sr. TE Evan Frosch, Sr. C James Kirkpatrick, Sr. RG Josh Vernon, Jr. LG Kyle Dooley, Sr. LT Marcus Cannon. Defense: Sr. DT Cory Grant, Sr. DT Kelly Griffin, Sr. DE Wayne Daniels, Jr. MLB Tank Carder, Sr. S Tyler Luttrell, Sr. S Alex Ibiloye, Sr. S Tejay Johnson.
MVP: Sr. QB Andy Dalton
Key Newcomer: Fr. RB Ethan Grant
Here are breakdowns for the other eight teams in the Mountain West, arranged by their position in the preseason poll.
2. Utah (10-3, 6-2, beat California in the Poinsettia Bowl
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (47-17)
Returning Starters: Offense: So. QB Jordan Wynn, Sr. RB Eddie Wide, Sr. WR Jereme Brooks, So. TE Kendrick Moeai, Sr. C Zane Taylor, So. RG Tevita Stevens, Sr. LG Caleb Schlauderaff, Jr. RG Tony Bergstrom. Defense: So. DT Dave Kruger, Jr. DT Sealver Siliga, Jr. DE Derrick Shelby, Jr. CB Brandon Burton.
MVP: Sr. C Zane Taylor
Key Newcomer: Jr. LT John Cullen
Kyle Whittingham immediately eliminated any tension in the room as he sat down at the podium for his opening remarks at Media Day.
“It’s been a very, quiet uneventful summer,” Whittingham joked.
It’s actually been the exact opposite. Utah accepted an invitation to join the Pac 10 Conference last month, making 2010 its final season in the Mountain West.
The Utes appear to be in prime position to capture a title during its encore season. They will have arguably the best offense in the league, which returns four or five starting linemen and two running backs in Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata with starting experience.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn also enters his second season as a starter
“We have a lot of things to prove, like why we were selected (to the Pac 10),” said senior center Zane Taylor. “I want to go away graduating with that last Mountain West championship.”
3. BYU (11-2, 7-1, beat Oregon State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas)
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (49-15)
Returning Starters: Offense: Jr. WR McKay Jacobson, Jr. WR O’Neill Chambers, Jr. RG Terence Brown, So. LG Braden Hansen, Sr. RT Nick Alletto, Jr. LT Matt Reynolds. Defense: Jr. DT Romney Fuga, Jr. LB Jordan Pendleton, Sr. CB Brian Logan, Sr. CB Brandon Bradley, Sr. S Andrew Rich.
MVP: Sr. S Andrew Rich
Key Newcomer: Fr. QB Jake Heaps
It was much easier for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to talk about his team at this time last year.
The Cougars returned established offensive threats in quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga in 2009. That will not be the case in 2010.
Hall graduated and Unga left the school a year early after an honor code violation, leaving the Cougars in a transitional year in their backfield ranks.
“In terms of how to replace people, that really doesn’t change from a year-to-year basis,” Mendenhall said. “But this will be more visible than any other year.”
Instead of chatter about the prolific BYU offense, expect to hear more about the defense this year. The Cougars return five starters including secondary standouts Andrew Rich and Brandon Bradley.
BYU did pick up a major prospect in recruiting, scout.com’s No. 1 quarterback in the nation Jake Heaps. As a true freshman, he will compete against three other players for the right to take Hall’s spot.
Mendenhall, however, tried to play down Heaps hysteria at Media Day. Mendenhall even said Heaps was struggling to make it through some of the Cougars workouts.
“He has to learn what it takes to swing sledgehammers, flip tires, pull ropes and how that applies to being a quarterback,” Mendenhall said.
“Regardless of what sometimes recruiting services build into a young man, they can easily build expectations that aren’t applicable to our football program. He’s a freshman at BYU and he’ll be treated exactly like that. He’ll earn any role he gets through his behavior on and off the field.”
4. Air Force (8-5, 5-3, beat Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl)
Coach: Troy Calhoun (25-14)
Returning Starters: Offense: Jr. QB Tim Jefferson, Sr. FB Jared Tew, Jr. RB Asher Clark, Jr. WR Jonathan Warzeka, Sr. WR Kevin Fogler. Defense: Sr. DE Rick Ricketts, So. LB Wale Lawal, Sr. LB Andre Morris, Jr. CB Anthony Wright, Sr. CB Reggie Rembert, Jr. S Jon Davis.
MVP: Sr. FB Jared Tew
Key Newcomer: Fr. TE Sean Craig
Air Force’s offseason workout program isn’t anything like the other eight teams in the Mountain West.
Instead of lifting and working with teammates, the Falcons players are spread throughout the country working on Air Force bases. Running back Asher Clark is in Northern California. Quarterback Tim Jefferson is in Delaware. Cornerback Anthony Wright is in North Carolina.
“Our guys aren’t ready to start football yet,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “We’re all chomping at the bit, but really, there are still things that we have to accomplish.”
Air Force hasn’t let this slow down its football team in the past and don’t expect it to in 2010. The Falcons have won at least eight games in three straight years.
Air Force will once again rely on pounding the ball with Clark and senior fullback Jared Tew. But Jefferson also gives the Falcons a better passing option than in prior years. He completed 57 percent of his passes last year and threw for eight touchdowns.
5. Wyoming (7-6, 4-4, beat Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl)
Coach: Dave Christensen (7-6)
Returning Starters: Offense: So. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, So. RB Alvester Alexander, Sr. WR David Leonard, So. WR Chris McNeill, Sr. WR Zach Bolger, So. C Nick Carlson, Sr. LG Sam Sterner, Jr. LT Clayton Kirven. Defense: Jr. DE Gabe Knapton, Jr. DE Josh Biezuns, Jr. MLB Brian Hendricks, Sr. CB Marcell Gipson, Jr. CB Tashaun Gipson, So. S Shamiel Gary, Sr. S Chris Prosinksi.
MVP: Jr. MLB Brian Hendricks
Key Newcomer: Fr. DE Riley Lange
When the Mountain West released last year’s preseason poll, Wyoming found itself picked to finish last.
It came as a surprise to many when first-year coach Dave Christensen led the Cowboys to a fifth-place finish and a New Mexico Bowl victory.
“We may have exceeded everyone’s expectations except for mine,” Christensen said. “When we visited with our team last year, we told them the expectation from day one was to go to a bowl game.”
Christensen said anything less this season would serve as a letdown. The Cowboys return one of the most experienced teams in the Mountain West but still will rely on a number of youngsters.
The offense figures to rely heavily on quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, running back Alvester Alexander and receiver Chris McNeill. All three are sophomores.
The defensive standouts are a bit older and include junior linebacker Brian Hendricks and senior safety Chris Prosinski.
6. San Diego State (4-8, 2-6)
Coach: Brady Hoke (38-46)
Returning Starters: Offense: Jr. QB Ryan Lindley, Sr. FB Brandon Sullivan, Sr. WR Vincent Brown, Sr. WR DeMarco Sampson, Sr. TE Alston Umuolo, Sr. C Trask Iosefa, So. RG Nick Embernate, Jr. LG Mike Matamua, Jr. LT Tommie Draheim. Defense: Sr. DE B.J. Williams, Jr. DT Jerome Long, Sr. DE Ernie Lawson, Jr. LB Miles Burris, Sr. CB Jose Perez, Sr. S Dey Juan Hemmings, Jr. S Brandon Davis.
MVP: Jr. QB Ryan Lindley
Key Newcomer: Jr. DE Perry Jackson
In the worst finish of 2009 category, San Diego State easily takes the award.
The Aztecs were 4-4 after eight games in coach Brady Hoke’s first season and had a legitimate shot to make a bowl game. Then they fell apart and lost each of their last four games.
“The way we finished the year is unacceptable,” Hoke said. “We’ve talked about as a team and as a staff and I can tell you we are excited to get an opportunity to go out and play football.”
Hoke diagnosed one of the biggest problems as a lack of team strength. Therefore, San Diego State re-dedicated itself in the weight room this offseason.
The hope is that it will liven the defense, which ranked near the bottom of the conference in nearly every category last season. The offense has less question marks as sophomore quarterback Ryan Lindley and senior wide receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson all return to create a lethal combination.
7. Colorado State (3-9, 0-8)
Coach: Steve Fairchild (10-15)
Returning Starters: Offense: Jr. RB Raymond Carter, Sr. WR Tyson Liggett, Sr. FB Zac Pauga, Sr. TE Eric Pietz. Defense: So. DE Zach Tiedgen, Sr. DT Guy Miller, Sr. DE Cory Macon, Jr. LB Mychal Sisson, Sr. MLB Alex Williams, Sr. LB Ricky Brewer, Jr. CB Momo Thomas Jr. S Elijah-Blu Smith.
MVP: Jr. QB Ryan Lindley
Key Newcomer: Fr. QB Pete Thomas
BYU likely isn’t the only program in the Mountain West handing over the reins to a highly touted freshman quarterback.
Colorado State snagged one of its own with four-star Pete Thomas, who decommitted from Arizona State to play for the Rams. Thomas will have to win a quarterback competition to get the job, but Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild sounded optimistic about his chances.
There’s no room to go anywhere but up for Colorado State. The Rams finished last in the Mountain West in Fairchild’s second year.
In year three, they hope a strong defense that returns eight starters will be a catalyst to success. Defensive tackle Guy Miller and linebacker Mychal Sisson headline the unit.
“You look back to last season and I’m not sure we’re as bad as our record indicated,” Fairchild said. “But it’s a good lesson for all of us. Football comes down to one or two plays at the end of a game.”
8. UNLV (5-7, 3-5)
Coach: Bobby Hauck (first year in FBS)
Returning Starters: Offense: Sr. QB Omar Clayton, Sr. RB Channing Trotter, Jr. WR Phillip Payne, Jr. WR Michael Johnson, Sr. C John Gianninoto, So. LG Jason Heath, Sr. RT Evan Marchal, Sr. LT Matt Murphy Defense: Sr. DT Isaako Aaitui, Sr. LB Starr Fuimaono, Sr. LB Ronnie Paulo, Jr. CB Will Chandler, Sr. CB Quinton Pointer, Sr. S Mike Grant.
MVP: Jr. WR Phillip Payne
Key Newcomer: Fr. DE Ian Bobak
It took only 30 seconds of UNLV’s podium time before the topic shifted to the difficulty of its schedule.
First-year coach Bobby Hauck will get no favors as the Rebels open against Wisconsin and also have non-conference bouts at West Virginia, at Idaho, at Hawaii and home against UNR.
“Our schedule with nine bowl teams on it is one of the most difficult schedules in the country,” Hauck said. “Certainly, we’ll be challenged every week.”
But Hauck sees UNLV far from hopeless. Junior wide receiver Phillip Payne made the All-Conference team. Between Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen, the Rebels have two quarterbacks who have seen quality game action. The linebacker duo of Ronnie Paulo and Starr Fuimaono looks to be formidable.
Some members of Hauck’s first recruiting class, which included eight players from Las Vegas, could even make an impact. Hauck didn’t shy away from making bold proclamations about recruiting and his vision for the future of the program.
“Philosophically, we feel strongly that Nevada kids are where we want to start as far as recruiting,” he said. “We want to evaluate every kid who we feel is capable of helping us win a Mountain West championship.”
9. New Mexico (1-11, 1-7)
Coach: Mike Locksley (1-11)
Returning Starters: Offense: So. RB Demond Dennis, So. WR Ty Kirk, So. TE Lucas Reed, Sr. LG Karlin Givens, Jr. LT Byron Bell. Defense: Jr. DE Johnathan Rainey, Sr. DT Peter Gardner, Jr. DE Jaymar Latchison, Jr. MLB Carmen Messina, Jr. CB Anthony Hooks, So. CB Emmanuel McPhearson.
MVP: Jr. MLB Carmen Messina
Key Newcomer: Fr. QB Tarean Austin
Carmen Messina was the nation’s leading tackler last season. And he will do anything to make sure he doesn’t repeat in 2010.
“I’m not expecting to make the same amount of statistics as I did this past season because the offense will be on the field scoring,” Messina said. “And the defensive linemen will get stops in the backfield.”
Messina has a good point. The combination of the Lobos not keeping their offense on the field and not being able to get their defense off was disastrous last season.
They lost seven games by more than 20 points and only narrowly slipped by Colorado State for their only win.
Say this much for New Mexico coach Mike Locksley — even after a disastrous first season, he’s still confident in his ability to turn New Mexico around.
“Having done this at my last three stops, I see the tell-tale signs of a program being right on track,” he said.
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