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

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: “It was a little bit messy”

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.