2011 NCAA Football Preview: Mountain West Conference

August 27, 2011
By K. Becks

Overview

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson better hope that a certain member of the conference has a magical season, because after this year the league will become about as relevant as the WAC. It makes sense too, considering that Boise State and Hawaii, former members of the WAC, will have taken the place of conference defectors Utah, TCU and BYU.

The good news for Commissioner Thompson is that the Mountain West does have a very good shot at making waves on a national scale this season. Thanks to Boise State the conference has a national title contender capable of running the table, and the one year conference rivalry between TCU and the Broncos before the Horned Frogs head to the Big East next season will be as entertaining as any in the country.

Don’t sleep on this league just yet. It could very well be in the thick of things come December.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid

Boise State

Here we go again, right? The Boise State Broncos have a great shot at running the table in a conference which many people would agree is not as difficult week in and week out as a conference such as the SEC. Well, that argument isn’t going away any time soon, and apparently, neither are the Broncos.

Boise State was a field goal away from going undefeated and possibly earning a national title berth last season. They got past their supposed big game in Virginia Tech, but were unable to stave off Nevada. A similar road lies before the Broncos in 2011. They must travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia, but the schedule gets considerably easier afterwards. The Broncos have the defense to contain Tulsa’s powerful passing attack, and Nevada graduated too many players from the team that took down Boise State last season to repeat the feat.

This year’s Nevada will be TCU. Boise State gets to play the Horned Frogs on the blue turf, where no Broncos player has ever lost, but it will still be the toughest test of the season with the exception of Georgia.

The Broncos have the talent and experience back to make another run at the national title. Around The Corn thought they were going to do it last season, and there is no reason to think that they can’t do it this season. More so than arguably any other team in the nation thanks to their schedule, the Broncos control their own destiny.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

San Diego State

The Aztecs have the ability to be one of the best offenses in the nation this season. Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley can sling the ball around, and should be all right even with the loss of Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, who both eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yards last season. However, possibly the biggest threat on the offense is running back Ronnie Hillman, who exploded onto the Mountain West scene last season as a freshman. Hillman is one of the best running backs people haven’t heard of, but that should change after a few games into the season.

The defense should continue the trend of improvement that that started in 2009. After giving up a Mountain West worst 460.8 yards per game in 2008, the Aztecs gave up 382 YPG in 2009, and improved to 351.4 in 2010. They are particularly strong at outside linebacker, where they return two seniors who started last season including Miles Burris, who led the Mountain West conference in sacks.

San Diego State will be without head coach Brady Hoke, who bolted for Michigan after the Aztecs’ surprising 9-4 season, but should be in good hands with new head coach Rocky Long. They play their toughest games at home, and have a manageable non-conference lineup. It will be hard to compete with TCU and Boise State, but the Aztecs almost shocked TCU last season. San Diego State should not be taken lightly.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Kellen Moore (Sr.), Boise State quarterback

If you still don’t know who Kellen Moore is by now, then you must really despise mid-major teams that could crash the “Big Six” conference party. Moore has been lighting it up in Boise ever since he set foot on campus back in 2008, and he decided to come back for his senior season for another crack at a national title.

Moore is extremely important to the Boise State offense, and luckily for them, they can usually count on him being really good. He is extremely efficient, completely 71.3 percent of his passes last season, and was in the top ten in the nation both passing yards and touchdowns despite throwing almost 200 passes less than almost everyone ahead of him in those categories.

Moore only needs to win eight more games to surpass Colt McCoy on the all-time wins list for college quarterbacks, but that probably isn’t even on his mind. He has his sights set on something much bigger, and will only be satisfied if he comes away with thirteen wins this season. Thanks to his machine-like performances, he gives his team as good a shot as any to do just that.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Boise State vs. Georgia (September 3rd)

It’s like déjà-vu all over again. Just like last year, this is the game that will determine whether Boise State remains in the national spotlight for the rest of the season, or whether they will fade away and we will hear fans across the SEC chanting “We told you so”.

Boise State should have the upper hand on both sides of the ball in this game, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia won’t surprise. Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray made great strides during his freshman season, and should have a better control of the offense to start the season. He could kickstart what was an inconsistent offense at times last season.

The real story will be how well Georgia’s defense can contain the powerful Boise State offense. Georgia has almost the entire secondary back from last season, which should give them an advantage over Boise State’s inexperienced wideouts. Kellen Moore is a great quarterback, but even he can’t do much if the receivers can’t get open. Georgia’s best bet to win this game would be to stick like glue to Boise State’s wide receivers and hope for the best on the defensive line in stopping Broncos running back Doug Martin.

In-Conference Game To Watch

TCU vs. Boise State (November 12th)

If Boise State manages to escape Atlanta with a victory, they are by no means in the clear. The Mountain West has been, and still is until someone knocks them off the pedestal, TCU’s conference for several years. It is going to take a great game by Boise State to dethrone the Horned Frogs from their spot on top of the mountain.

TCU may not be as suffocating on defense as they were in 2010, but they will still be good. Middle linebacker Tank Carder is one of the more menacing players in the entire country, and locks down the middle of the field in the Horned Frogs’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. In addition, the defensive line should be solid again, and running the ball has never been easy against a Gary Patterson coached team unless you’re Wisconsin.

If Kellen Moore is still in the Heisman race by the time this game rolls around, this is the kind of game where he could put on a performance that will stick with the voters. Boise State’s receivers will have had an entire season to progress, and TCU’s one area of concern on defense is in the secondary. Look for Moore to have a lot of say in determining the outcome of this game.

Conference Predictions

1. Boise State (12-0, [7-0])

2. TCU (11-1, [6-1])

3. San Diego State (9-3, [5-2])

4. Air Force (7-5, [4-3])

5. Colorado State (6-6, [3-4])

6. Wyoming (4-8, [2-5])

7. UNLV (2-10, [1-6])

8. New Mexico (2-10, [0-7])

- K. Becks

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