MAACO Bowl Las Vegas - Arizona State v Boise State

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

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

Morgan Steward
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Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.

Ole Miss QB Ryan Buchanan opts to quit football

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 22:  Ryan Buchanan #9 of the Ole Miss Rebels throws a pass in the fourth quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Rebels 30-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Ole Miss had already lost one quarterback to a transfer the past couple of months.  Now, the Rebels are losing another via different means but essentially for the same reason.

In an interview with Scout.com, Ryan Buchanan confirmed that not only is he leaving the Ole Miss football team, but he’s leaving the sport, period.  Buchanan’s decision to step away from the game is actually the culmination of a process that began midway through a 2015 season that would see the Rebels win 10 games and a Sugar Bowl title.

“I came to the conclusion a few months ago that football would not be my future and it was time to start applying myself 100% to my future,” he said. “It’s time for me to find my passion beyond football.”

Buchanan, who said he briefly flirted with transferring to another school, informed head coach Hugh Freeze and his position coach, Dan Werner, of his decision a couple of weeks ago.

If Buchanan had decided to return to Oxford, he would’ve been no better than third on the depth chart. All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is firmly entrenched as the starter, while five-star 2015 signee and future at the position Shea Patterson is poised to be Kelly’s backup for a season before taking over the reins in 2017. There’s also no guarantee that the sophomore could beat out redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin for the No. 3 spot.

A four-star member of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class, Buchanan was rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Mississippi.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Buchanan attempted 22 passes and served as Ole Miss’ holder on kick attempts in 2014.  This past season, he attempted 13 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

In early December, DeVante Kincade, a three-star recruit in Buchanan’s class, announced his decision to transfer from the Rebels.

Arkansas loses RBs coach to NFL for second straight year

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 5:  Head Coach Bret Bielema of the Arkansas Razorbacks talks with a official during a game against the UTEP Miners at Razorback Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Miners 48-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Whatever the reason, the big boy league of football has taken a shining to one particular position on Bret Bielema‘s Arkansas coaching staff.

On Instagram Friday night, Jemal Singleton confirmed that he will be leaving Bielema’s football program.  While he didn’t specify it in his post, the running backs coach will be leaving for the same job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

The 40-year-old Singleton had spent just one season coaching that same position with the Razorbacks.

A photo posted by coachsings (@coachsings) on Feb 5, 2016 at 5:23pm PST

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This marks the second straight year that Bielema will be forced to replace a running backs coach to the NFL.  Almost a year to the day, Joel Thomas left Fayetteville for the same position with the New Orleans Saints.

Thomas owed the university $50,000 as part of his buyout last year; Singleton will owe $100,000, per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  If Singleton had waited until Feb. 16, that buyout figure would’ve been halved.

Unlike the post right before this one, there were signs of an impending on and around National Signing Day earlier this week.

He was notably absent from a signing day event at Walton Arena on Wednesday, and he did not attend another event to discuss the signing class Thursday in Little Rock, fueling speculation he was being courted by another program.

Singleton’s job with the Colts will be the Air Force graduate’s first at the NFL level.

Nebraska ‘parts ways’ with DL coach Hank Hughes

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 5: Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley points out a missed call during their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Surprisingly, Mike Riley has a self-made hole on his Nebraska coaching staff.

In a move that wasn’t on most if any radars, Hank Hughes will not return in 2016 as NU’s defensive line coach, Riley revealed Friday.  No reason was given for the the departure of the assistant.

“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said in a statement. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.”

Regardless of the reason or reasons — and the fact that Riley made certain to note that a replacement would be “a great coach, teacher and recruiter” points to at least a couple — it wasn’t an expected development. From the Lincoln Journal Star:

There was no sign of such a move Thursday night, with Hughes present at the Big Red Bash that celebrated the 2016 recruiting class.

Hughes had just completed his first season with the Cornhuskers. Additionally, it was his first season as an assistant on a Riley-led coaching staff.

As the Journal Star notes, Hughes was in the midst of a two-year deal that was to pay him $300,000 annually.