As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and the independents — will pan out by year’s end.
Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.
Here are our predictions for the Mountain West:
The Mountain West thought that it would be inching closer to becoming a newly-minted member of the BCS’s automatic qualifying conferences by adding WAC powerhouse Boise State.
Then TCU announced it is leaving for the Big East after this season, Utah bolted for the Pac-12 and BYU pursued football independence.
But regardless of the MWC’s place among college football’s best conferences, the Broncos are expected to make an immediate impact as first-year members. Boise State loses a talented receiving duo in Titus Young and Austin Pettis to the NFL, but at this point I’m convinced Kellen Moore (he’s so dreamy) could make my grandmother a 1,000-yard receiver. Running back Doug Martin returns from a 1,200-yard junior season and should be able to take some of the pressure off Moore. The Broncos also get TCU and Air Force at home this year (they just won’t be able to wear all blue uniforms).
I have Air Force at the No. 2 spot not so much because of what the Falcons have, but what TCU doesn’t. I’ll never underestimate Gary Patterson’s recruiting tactics and ability to plug guys into his system, but the Horned Frogs have some serious hurdles to jump over in 2011. Replacing quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver Jeremy Kerley — both have gone on to the NFL — won’t be easy, and TCU has road games at Boise State, San Diego State and Air Force.
Rocky Long inherits an elevated, senior-laden program in San Diego State from Brady Hoke, so the Aztecs will do pretty well in 2011.
Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico all have work to do to improve in the win/loss column.
John Taylor’s take
In with the new, out with the old, which will be a wash-rinse-repeat cycle next year at this time as well. Such is the storyline for the Mountain West in 2011. Not so unexpectedly, both the new and the soon-to-be-old schools will likely be the ones staking a claim to conference bragging rights — and another potential BcS bid — at the end of the year.
Even as it will be its first year in the MWC, Boise State will be the prohibitive favorites, based in part on Broncos’ past success in the WAC and in large part to returning 14 starters from last year’s 12-1 squad, including one of the likely Heisman frontrunners in Moore. The Horned Frogs, on the other hand, return just eight offensive/defensive starters, the second-lowest total in the country, just ahead of defending national champion Auburn.
The biggest loss for TCU will be Dalton, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the school’s history whose leadership may be missed even more than his on-field production. Obviously, the Nov. 12 showdown in Boise — originally scheduled as a home game for TCU — will very likely determine the conference champion.
Both Air Force and San Diego State should be improved, but not to the point where either is ready to challenge the conference heavyweights.