Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Wild Mountain West

Last season, Utah was clearly the team to beat in the MWC. Long before he became the most overrated QB in the nation, Alex Smith was well regarded as the best QB in MWC. Urban Meyer had quickly began turning the Utes program around, winning the MWC in 2003 and defeating Southern Miss in th Liberty Bowl. The popular team in the pre-season to run the table from a mid-major conference was West Virginia (c'mon folks, the Big East doesn't belong with the big boys). That dream was quickly dashed after WVU lost to Virginia Tech. Attention was then shifted to Utah and the Utes did not disappoint. They ran the table in the regular season and then dispatched Pitt, the most unworthy BCS team since the system's inception in 1998, 35-0 before a mostly pro-Utah crowd in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now enter 2005. Urban Meyer left Utah for sunny Florida and Alex Smith cashed in as the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. But as Utah has gotten weaker, the rest of the conference has significantly improved. New Mexico returns many starters including star tailback DonTrell Moore. BYU was inconsistent last season but should begin to stabilize under new coach Bronco Mendenhall and put up a lot of points with some talented tailbacks and highly touted WR Todd Watkins. Wyoming defeated UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl last season and appears primed to break out under Joe Glenn, who's name is beginning to circulate as a hot coaching candidate to move up in the college ranks. Utah is still the favorite heading into the season but are unlikely to go undefeated and will have to stave off stiff competition from the aforementioned team as well as MWC newcomer Texas Christian from C-USA. Sonny Lubick's Colorado State squad and Fisher DeBerry's Air Force squad are both always tough but neither seems to be among the elite in the MWC this season. San Diego State and UNLV will fight it out to stay out of the MWC cellar.

I like New Mexico to win the Mountain West and get their first bowl win since the 1961 Aviation Bowl. I also expect Utah and Wyoming to reach bowl games and BYU to be in the mix. This is a conference on the rise and a conference as worthy of a BCS bowl bid as the Big East.


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