Will TCU once again be the team to beat in the Mountain West? This college football writer believes the conference championship will just be the beginning once again for the Horned Frogs.
Looking to repeat their regular season success from 2009, TCU will put to the test in 2010. A season opener against a talented offensive team from Oregon State will be no easy task, but playing the game in Texas Stadium should give the defending Mountain West champions a decided home field advantage. Of course, last season Oklahoma figured to have the home field advantage in a season opener against BYU at Cowboys Stadium, and look how that played out.
After the clash with the Beavers TCU will have to get through some tough road games, starting with a trip to old rival SMU, who look to have what it takes to make a serious run in Conference USA this upcoming season. The other difficult game looks to come near the end of the season when TCU visits Utah. The Mountain West title could be up for grabs for the two contenders, and if TCU survives any scares in the first nine games and Utah reaches the game 8-0, this game could have a lot more importance riding on it.
Utah has a worthy schedule with a home opener against Pittsburgh, a favorite in the Big East, and a road game at Notre Dame following their big home game against TCU. Should Utah come away victorious against TCU they could have a nationally televised game to showcase their case for being included in the BCS for a third time.
There is a lot riding on the Mountain West this season. Find out how I predict they will finish below and then share with me your predictions for the Mountain West in the comments section.
- TCU – Nine starters returning on an offense that averaged 38.3 points per game and seven starters returning on a defense that allowed more than 20 points just twice during the regular season make TCU the clear choice for the team to beat in the Mountain West in 2010. This is a team that will be on a season-long mission to end their year the way they believe they should have last season. After being slighted in the BCS match-ups to play Boise State and not have a chance at the national championship, Gary Patterson’s team has the blue print for success in 2010.
But being the top team will not be easy this seaosn. Tough games at SMU and Utah could result in losses and the season opener against one of the possible favorites in the Pac-10, Oregon State, will be fun to watch. Last season’s schedule had a very balanced approach (road and home games alternating on a weekly basis) so we will see how the change in scedule effects TCU this seaosn, if at all.
- Utah – The Utes will be TCU’s biggest obstacle in the Mountain West, but they are not without their own flaws. The biggest concern for Utah will be their defense, but given the track record they may have the answers already. Over the past seven season Utah has allowed an average of 19.5 points per game. This season Utah returns just four starters on defense, so Kyle Whittingham’s team will have to continue that tradition of defense.
What I like about Utah though is their schedule. They get Pittsburgh at home to open the season on a Thursday night. The last time these schools met was in the Fiesta Bowl in 2005, but these two programs are full of different players now. With Pittsburgh expected to be the team to beat in the Big East, a win for Utah could be a key chip in the BCS debates down the line. And as mentioned above, playing on national television (at Notre Dame, who broadcasts their home games nationally on NBC) the week following a big game against TCU (at home, which should also be nationally televised by some network), is nothing to take lightly.
- BYU – The Cougars represented themselves well in 2009, going 11-2, but were the odd man out in the BCS busting hunt. After an early season victory over Oklahoma, the expectations were that BYU would make a run for the BCS, but two weeks later BYU was humiliated at home against Florida State, losing 54-28. It may be tough to recreate the success this year though as Utah looks to pass their rivals in the standings. Gone is quarterback Max Hall so it will be up to Riley Nelson, who was seven-for-ten last year for 99 yards and one touchdown. Looking to fill the void in the receiving game after the graduation of Dennis Pitta will be last year’s second leading receiver, McKay Jocobson, who totaled 556 yards and four touchdowns in 2009.
The schedule for BYU is not a kind one, but has what it will take to get BYU to the BCS if things go their way. A season opener against Washington, and Heisman hopeful Jake Locker, is followed by road games at Air Force and a rejuvenated Florida State program. In conference play BYU has the dubious distinction of being the only Mountain West team to play road games at TCU and Utah.
- San Diego State – The Aztecs return nine offensive starters but will have to get more production out of them in 2010. When the defense is giving up over 30 points per game (each of the last three seasons) the offense has to get the job done. Last year San Diego State quarterback, and returning starter, Ryan Lindley threw 23 touchdown passes but also was intercepted 16 times. San Diego is looking to make their first bowl trip since 1998.
- Air Force – If there is one thing you can count on from Air Force, it is the running game. Much like their military counterparts from Navy, the running game is what Air Force thrives on, which I always felt was ironic. Air Force led the Mountain West in rushing yardage per game in 2009, with 276 rushing yards per game, narrowly edging conference champ TCU by one yard. Not surprisingly Air Force was ranked on the bottom in average passing yards per game, with a feeble 72 passing yards per game. The next worst average was Wyoming (162 ypg). The defense was fantastic though, allowing an second best league average of 17.2 points per conference game against (TCU was first with 11.3 in the conference). Only four times did opponents score 20 points or more against Air Force last season (TCU, Minnesota, and BYU plus Utah in overtime).
- Wyoming – The Cowboys may be a surprise team to watch in the Mountain West, but they will have to prove themselves on the field. Could Wyoming make an early statement? Wyoming will play three BCS participants from last season before mid-October. They visit Texas in week two and host Boise State the following week. A conference game at TCU comes on October 9, followed by a home game against Utah. After that is a road game at BYU. Consider Wyoming a sleeper ready to be awakened.
- Colorado State – The Rams return just four starters on offense including Leonard Mason in the back field. that could be bad news though as the Rams scoring average has dipped each of the previous three seasons. After winning just three games in Steve Fairchild’s second season on the sidelines as head coach the Rams will need to find a rhythm early. They start the season looking for a second straight victory over in-state rival Colorado, who is on a bit of a pedestal right now after declaring they will join the Pac-10 in the off-season. Can the Rams knock them off?
- UNLV – The good news for UNLV is they could be a bowl eligible team in 2010. The bad news is they have a number of teams to jump in their own conference in order to make a bowl run. I like that UNLV returns eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters. That seems like a good formula for progress. Last season the Rebels fell one game shy of bowl eligibility. They will be tested early, hosting Big Ten power Wisconsin in the season opener and traveling to Utah the following week. The first two games should indicate where UNLV is on the measuring stick.
- New Mexico – The Lobos will catch very few breaks in 2010, and for a team that went just 1-11 a year ago that is not good news. The season starts with games at Oregon, home vs. Texas Tech and Utah. The season ends with road games at Air Force and BYU and a home game against TCU. For a team that allowed 35.9 points per game and only managed to score 16.3 points per game a year ago, this sounds like trouble.
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