CFT predicts: the Mountain West

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One more year with Boise State and San Diego State and the Mountain West will look a lot like the WAC used to. Such is the life on the lower end of the totem pole of conference cannibalism (some of you may know it as realignment).

The Broncos failed to win a conference championship in 2011, but are the overwhelming favorites to end their brief stint in the MWC atop the standings.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how I think the Mountain West shakes out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

1. Boise State (last season: 12-1; won Las Vegas Bowl) 
Boise State only loses its greatest player in the history of the program in Kellen Moore. Oh, yeah, and the team returns practically nobody. No biggie, right? Thankfully for the Broncos, the Mountain West also loses TCU, the team’s biggest competitor for a conference title, and keeps coach Chris Petersen.

2.Nevada (last season: 7-6; lost Hawaii Bowl)  
The Wolf Pack only return 12 starters, and there are changes being made offensively, but I’m never one to doubt Chris Ault. Nevada’s defense has a lot to replace too.

3. Wyoming (last season: 8-5; lost New Mexico Bowl)
Dave Christensen is building a strong program at Wyoming and he has a solid quarterback returning in Brett Smith. There’s some questions on defense, but I like the Cowboys’ chances of making a run at a MWC title in 2012.

4. San Diego State (last season: 8-5; lost New Orleans Bowl) 
The Aztecs lose quarterback Ryan Lindley and stud running back Ronnie Hillman, but gain former USC receiver Brice Butler and Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz. Both are immediately eligible and should be able to compete right away.

5. Fresno State (last season: 4-9)
It’s going to be weird to watch Fresno State this season and not see Pat Hill on the sidelines. Hill was the face of that program, but former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter inherits a talented team with plenty of returning starters. Losing top receiver Jalen Saunders hurts, however.

6. Colorado State (last season: 3-9) 
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain takes over a Rams program trying to get back on track. He’ll have 18 starters from a year ago to help him out. The first half of the schedule doesn’t lend CSU many favors though.

7. Air Force (last season: 7-6; lost Military Bowl)
Air Force recently announced that five key contributors on both offense and defense had been removed from the team. That’s not counting running back Asher Clark, who was dismissed in the spring. In general, it’s been a crappy offseason for the Falcons. It’ll be a mediocre regular season too.

8. Hawaii (last season: 6-7) 
Norm Chow finally gets his chance to be a head coach (not counting BYU’s freshman team in 1975) after serving as a longtime assistant at various stops. However, his time at as an offensive coordinator at UCLA and Utah was forgettable. Will a new job in his home state rejuvenate the 66-year-old?

9. UNLV (last season: 2-10) 
For as good as the Mountain West has been at the top of the standings in recent years, the bottom of the conference has been dreadful. Coach Bobby Hauck was tremendously successful at Montana, but it just hasn’t translated at UNLV — yet. It also say something about the program when the marketing campaign leads off with “WE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!!!!

10. New Mexico (last season: 1-11) 
Boy, this is a program that’s fallen on hard times, eh? The worst thing New Mexico has done recently was hire Mike Locksley, which led to the best thing New Mexico has done recently: fire Mike Locksley. Bob Davie is an interesting choice to replace him, but he’s going to have little to no help this year.

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

UNLV ‘very excited’ to share Las Vegas stadium with Raiders

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The biggest news of the day in the NFL has a decidedly college football connection.

By a 31-1 vote, NFL owners approved the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas later this decade.  The new stadium that will eventually serve as the home for the NFL club is expected to be ready for play for the 2020 season.

As expected, it will also serve as the new home for Sin City’s FBS team, a fact that UNLV’s hierarchy was quick to point out and highlight in the hours after the vote was officially confirmed.  Below are the statements from the three main characters involved with the football program.

Len Jessup, UNLV President
UNLV and the entire Rebel family welcome the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Raiders and the Stadium Authority Board to give UNLV football access to a world-class stadium and accompanying game day experience that will rival the best in college football. We also recognize and thank the numerous stakeholders – including the Adelson family – who invested their time and energy toward this vision. This is an historic day for Nevada and another example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletics Director
We are very excited to welcome the Raiders to our great city of Las Vegas. Our community is on the rise and that has clearly been recognized by the NFL owners with today’s vote. We can’t wait for the day our UNLV football program has a new home, sharing the new world-class stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders. What a great day for the NFL, our city and our university.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV Football Head Coach
Today is a huge development for UNLV Football and the city of Las Vegas. Sharing a state-of-the-art stadium with the Raiders is another thing that will allow us to recruit at a high level. The combination of an NFL stadium and our upcoming Fertitta Football Complex brings so much energy to this program and campus. As someone who has lived here for eight years, I’m also excited for this community. This is a great place to live and the pride of being an NFL city will make it an even better place.

In addition to being tenants in a new state-of-the-art stadium, the university will soon begin construction on an on-campus football practice facility.

There are five FBS teams that will share stadiums with NFL teams on at least a part-time basis in 2017 — UMass (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium), Miami (Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium), Temple (Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field) and USF (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium).  Georgia State had shared the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons but are moving to the new Turner Field this season, while San Diego State will still call Qualcomm Stadium home even as the Chargers have bolted the facility for Los Angeles.

There has been chatter that both Temple (HERE) and USF (HERE) could find themselves in a position to build an on-campus stadium at some point down the road — although the latter could extend its agreement with its current home as it continues to evaluate its long-term plans.

The Los Angles Rams are also temporarily crashing at the home of the USC Trojans, Memorial Coliseum, until their new stadium is completed.

Kaylee Hartung leaves ESPN sidelines for CNN

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ESPN’s roster of college football talent has taken a bath lately. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman broke up their critically acclaimed team for NFL work at different networks. Brad Nessler left for CBS. Brent Musuberger left for Vegas. Samantha Ponder has joined McDonough on the Worldwide Leader’s NFL team and, now, Kaylee Hartung is leaving the network as well.

Hartung confirmed her departure from ESPN on Monday. Though she did not name her next employer, it’s been an open secret within the industry for nearly a month Hartung will leave for CNN.

“Last night I worked my final event with ESPN,” Hartung announced on her Twitter page. “The decision to leave a job I love and take on a new challenge has been incredibly emotional but the overwhelming feeling I have today is gratitude. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had within the ESPN family for 5 years. I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with who have supported me, made me a better reporter, made me a better person and became my friends. I’m grateful for the coaches, athletes, staffers, and university officials who’ve shared their stories with me and let me be a part of their magical moments. I’m grateful for the fans who have embraced me and shared their passion with me. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my life during this incredibly fun and exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter has in store… Now I get to be a fan of you all!”

Hartung started with Longhorn Network and since moved to SEC Network and the mothership. Her final event for the network was Sunday night’s Women’s Elite Eight match between Mississippi State and Baylor. Hartung worked in the political media prior to landing with the Longhorn Network as an associate producer for the CBS program Face the Nation.

Final Four forces South Carolina to postpone indoor facility groundbreaking

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File this one under the most first world of all problems: the South Carolina football program is having to adjust its plans because the Gamecocks’ basketball team has been more successful than anticipated.

With Frank Martin‘s hoops headed to Phoenix for this weekend’s Final Four and taking all the Palmetto State’s attention with them, Will Muschamp‘s football program has been forced to alter what had been a big day planned.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to break ground on their announced indoor practice facility; those plans have now been postponed.

With only six days between South Carolina’s clinching of a Final Four berth and the football team’s planned Garnet-White game, the spring game will have to remain slated for Saturday. But it has been bumped forward to a noon kickoff.

Muschamp did not make the trip to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Elite Eight win (Florida’s Jim McElwain was in attendance) and Saturday’s spring game will also preclude his attendance, meaning the head football coach must wait until a possible national championship berth to support the basketball team in person.

With Brandon Harris off the board, Texas reportedly looking at former ND QB Malik Zaire

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Texas pursued former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, but Harris is no longer interested in being pursued.

After Harris’s commitment to North Carolina, Tom Herman has reportedly turned his interests to the next logical choice in the graduate transfer market — former Notre Dame signal caller Malik Zaire.

The news comes from Chip Brown of Horns Digest who, unfortunately hid the goods behind a pay wall.

The move would be an interesting one considering Zaire’s history with the Longhorns. Zaire played like a Heisman candidate in a 38-3 crunching of Texas on the opening night of the 2015 season, hitting 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. As we know, Zaire was lost for the year to a broken ankle one week later, but managed to win back the starting job in training camp before the ’16 season.

Zaire didn’t last long, though, hitting 2-of-5 passes for 23 yards while being credited for no gain on three rushes, giving way to DeShone Kizer in an eventual 50-47 double overtime loss to the Longhorns in Austin to open last season.

Zaire would toss only 18 more passes as a Fighting Irish quarterback.

If Zaire reciprocates Herman’s interest he would immediately join an open quarterback battle with incumbent Shane Buechele and true freshman Sam Ehlinger. At the time of his South Bend departure Zaire was reportedly considering Wisconsin, Baylor and recently off-the-market North Carolina.