Let's head to the Mountain West Conference. After breaking off talks with Conference USA about a proposed supermerger, the MWC lost its first and only three-time champ, TCU, to the Big 12 this season, before bouncing back and luring three replacement members for 2012: Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada. The scorecard shows that three major powerhouse programs have bailed out the past two seasons (BYU, Utah and the aforementioned TCU) with the aforementioned Bulldogs, Rainbow Warriors and Wolf Pack taking their place. Pure and simple: if it were a trade, the MWC would have been hosed.
MWC Quick Hits: Through all changes, the MWC owns the best percentage in bowl games of all conferences in the last eight years, going 24-12 (.667). It has also produced four eight-win teams the last five years in a row, all who went bowling… The MWC was 23-17 in non-conf games last year. They went 2-8 vs BCS Teams and 14 9 vs non-BCS teams, while their other 7 wins were vs non-BCS Schools… The MWC has seen 16 first-year coaches the past 13 seasons, seven of whom played in a bowl game during their debut year... 12 Players were taken in this year's draft.
Boise State: I know that the Broncos are on their way out of the MWC and that they have just 8 starters back, but this will still be a formidable team this year. Back in 2008, Boise returned just 11 starters (4 on offense) and proceeded to go 12-1 and average 38 ppg. Chris Petersen is a master at recruiting players that fit his style of play on this year is no different. On offense this year they have just 3 starters back, but they have an experienced O-line and a solid runner in sixth-year RB D.J. Harper (1,642 rush yds, 24 TD in career). QB Joe Southwick has been in the system for a couple years so he should do fine. Defensively, the Broncos are strong in the secondary with the return of corners Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor, but the unproven front seven is a question mark. Boise is a team that just reloads and this year will be no different. They do have dates at Wyoming and Nevada, but should win both of those and walk away with the MWC title in their last year in the league. KEY TREND--- 13-2 ATS vs a sub .500 opponents that is off BB SU Losses
Nevada: The Wolfpack steps up a bit in class after going 19-4 their last 3 years in the WAC. Chris Ault has 13 starters back, but just 31 lettermen overall, so depth may be a problem for this team. Reigning Freshman of the Year Cody Fajardo (2,401 pass yds, 17 TD) returns as the team’s QB and he’ll get back WR Brandon Wemberly, who sat out 2011 after suffering a gunshot wound to the torso. The OL has been totally revamped and may be the best in the league, but they will e blocking for a group of inexperienced RB’s. Defensively they have the best set of DB’s in the league, while their defense overall rates second behind Boise. Depth could be a problem for this team, but I still see them as the 2nd best team in the league. In the final game of the year Nevada gets Boise at home, where they are 17-1 in their last 18 games and the youngsters should have grown up by then so anything is possible. Still I look for a second place finish by Nevada and another bowl game. KEY TREND--- 10-0 ATS in their last 10 games at home vs the MWC
Fresno State: The Bulldogs were just 3-4 in the WAC last year, but +25.3 ypg. They also have in their favor the fact that they were -14 in TO’s last year. All of this points upwards for them this year. The Bulldogs are returning most of their skill-position talent, including QB Derek Carr (3,544 pass yds, 26 TD, 9 INT), RB Robbie Rouse (MWC-best 1,549 rush yds; 14 total TD) and a very talented corps of WRs. The defense, which surrendered 35.2 PPG, is changing under new coordinator Nick Toth. Fresno will improve an awful secondary (269 YPG allowed) with the return of S Phillip Thomas, the team’s best DB who missed 2011 after breaking his leg in the preseason. The Bulldogs have the most returning starters in the league, but with an entirely new coaching staff on board they will go through some growing pains in season, but in the end should still make a bowl game. Look out for this team next year though. KEY TREND--- 0-10-1 ATS as home faves vs an opponent with revenge
Wyoming: The Cowboys had a solid year last year, going 8-5 overall and 5-2 in the MWC. They were +12 in TO’s last year and -239 ypg in conference play, but I still see this as a good Cowboys team that could be a force in the MWC again. This team is stronger than last year with 8 starters back on a defense hat improved greatly as the season went on, while on offense they have just 5 starters back, bt one of them is QB Brett Smith (3,332 total yds, 31 total TD), who set the conference record for total yards as a freshman last season. The Cowboys also get back their top three WRs from a year ago and the OL is one of the better in the league as well. The Cowboys also get a break from the schedule makers as they host Air Force, Boise and Colorado State, while getting New Mexico and UNLV on the road. I look for this team to be bowling once again in 2012. KEY TREND--- 2-15 ATS vs an opponent that's seeking revenge
Air Force: Very tough for the Falcons to compete each year as they usually have the fewest returning starters, but somehow this team manages to make it to a bowl game. Back in 2008 the Falcons returned just 8 starters, but still went 8-5 on the year. This year they have just 6 returning starters (3 on each side of the ball), so another rebuilding job is in order. Fifth-year QB Connor Dietz will be taking over under center and he can run (678 rush yds, 5.3 YPC in career), but has attempted just 22 passes in the past two seasons. The running game is always solid and has some depth, so look for them to bet at or near the top of the rushing charts again this year. Defensively the allowed 28 ppg last year and with just 3 starters back and just 3 of their top 9 tacklers from last year, it may be hard to improve on that number. Air Force has surprised before and with 51 lettermen returning overall they may just do that this year again. I look for them to squeeze out another bowl invite this year. KEY TREND--- 11-2 ATS as conference home dogs of 2 or more
San Diego State: The Aztecs had a solid 8-5 year last year and a lot of it was due to QB Ryan Lindley. Well he is gone, but fear not as the Aztecs were fortunate enough to land Oregon State transfer QB Ryan Katz (2,401 pass yds, 17 TD in 2010). He will have the luxury of throwing to 3 WR’s who combined for 158 catches and 18 TD’s last year. The OL is solid, but they must also replace RB Ronnie Hillman (1711 yds and 19 tds LY). Still they have a stable of young backs that should do just fine. Defensively, they’re losing their top CB Larry Parker, who had 7 INT last year, and their three leaders in sacks, while the Special teams unit loses all 3 lettermen. The Aztecs lost a lot of talent on offense and some very key defensive personnel as well. They play the their toughest MWC opponents on the road and with all they lost it will be hard for them to match last year’s win total, and they could just miss out on a bowl this year. KEY TREND--- 7-1-1 ATS as non conference faves of 4 or more
Colorado State: The Rams had a good team last year, but some injuries and close losses had them finish with a disappointing 3-9 mark. Former Alabama OC Jim McElwain now takes over as the head man for the Rams and he has the benefit of getting 15 starters back. QB Garrett Grayson (542 pass yds, 2 TD, 6 INT) is set to be the top signal caller, while Chris Nwoke, who broke out last year with 1,130 rush yds and 9 TD’s, plus two late-season 200-yard games, is set to be a star at RB. 8 of their top 10 tacklers from last year return, but they must shore up a run defense that allowed 234 ypg and 5.5 ypc last year. The Rams will be a competitive team this year, but still with the new coach and changes on both sides of the ball I expect them to just miss out on the post season once again. KEY TREND--- 20-4 ATS with revenge after scoring 35 or more points
Hawaii: This could be a difficult year on the islands for the Rainbows as they return just 10 starters, lose super QB Bryant Moniz, are going through a coaching change and are scrapping their 4 WR set that has been so good to the over the years. Norm Chow is the new headman, so the Offense may not be all that bad, but it is the defense where they may struggle the most. The Rainbows return just 4 starters from a unit that allowed 29.1 ppg last year. 26 lettermen do return to the defense, but just 4 of their top 11 tacklers. This is a team that is going through many changes and while Norm Chow will get them headed in the right direction, it will still take a year or two for them to get back to bowl eligibility. KEY TREND--- 0-10 ATS as dogs of less than 21 with rest
UNLV: The Rebels have won just 2 games in each of the last 2 years and they really have a lot of ground to make up, after being outgained by 134.5 ypg and 148.3 ypg in conference play the last 2 years. The Rebels return 7 starters on offense, but last year this group put up just 17 ppg and this year they lose 5 of their top 7 pass catchers from last year and no one that returns caught a TD pass. This unit has allot of work to do. Defensively, the Runnin’ Rebels have experienced backups stepping into starting roles for what could be an improving unit. They can’t get much worse after allowing 40.4 ppg and 443 ypg a year ago. UNLV’s lack of a pass rush will lead to plenty more huge games for opposing QBs. This team just doesn’t have enough quality players to make any kind of move up in the MWC standings. Another long year for the Rebels is in store. KEY TREND--- 1-9 ATS before playing Colorado State
New Mexico: This is a team that has even more work to do than the Rebels. The Lobos have gone just 2-22 the last two years and have been outgained by 179.8 ypg and 208.5 ypg the last 2 years in conference play. New Head man and Ex-Irish HC Bob Davie has been brought in to help turn things around for the Lobos. Not sure how successful he will be after failing to take some very talented Notre Dame teams to high rankings. QB B.R. Holbrook and WR Ty Kirk, the MWC’s leader in catches per game, are back. Defensively, they struggled mightily, allowing 41.7 ppg and 492 ypg, but they should be improved with 6 starters back. The Lobos have a long way to go before getting back to a bowl game and vs a difficult schedule I really don’t see them bagging more than 2 or 3 wins this year. KEY TREND--- 0-6 ATS as double digit home dogs after allowing 35 or more points
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Nice work as always Jeff. Have a great football season.
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Thanks Bryan. Much appreciated. BOL to you this football season