Led by returning offensive player of the year, Andy Dalton of TCU, here are the Utah.Scout.com…
MWC Preview- Projected Standings
1. TCU* 12-0 8-0
This is one of the top teams in the country, and might even be better than last year's team, despite the loss of Jerry Hughes. If the Horned Frogs run the table, and they get the right breaks with other teams losing and their MWC comrades putting up strong records, TCU could become the first non-BCS team to play in the BCS title game. The biggest obstacle, outside of the trip to Salt Lake City and home game against Oregon State, is going to be the strenth of schedule thanks to the lower tier of Mountain West Conference Teams. This team is too good not to win the conference title and go to a BCS bowl again. Andy Dalton is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country.
2. Utah* 10-2 7-1
The offense is going to be explosive and could be the best in the conference. This team is going to go as far as Wynn and their inexperienced defense carries them. If Wynn makes the progression that is expected, and the defense, especially in the back 7, can find a few playmakers and leaders, this team has a shot at going undefeated for the second time in 3 years. The only problem is TCU still resides in the Mountain West. While the Utes do get TCU at Rice-Eccles, I just can't see them beating the Horned Frogs, especially after last year's embarrassment. Opening the season at home against Big East favorite Pitt won't be easy. Neither will the trips to Notre Dame and Air Force. A loss in one of those three games is very likely as the Utes settle for a 10-2 year and a Las Vegas Bowl bid.
3. Air Force* 8-4 5-3
This might be the best Air Force team in the Troy Calhoun era, and it should be enough to break the stranglehold on the top 3 spots by Utah, TCU, and BYU, as the Falcons have a legitimate shot to leapfrog the Cougars. Running back Jared Tew is a stud and could lead the conference in rushing. The Falcons also have the top secondary in the conference led by Reggie Rembert and Anthony Wright. Breaking into that top 3 is going to come down to the BYU game September 11 in Colorado Springs. With the Cougars playing Washington the week before and Florida State the following week, Air Force should win this game.
4. BYU* 7-5 5-3
The Cougars are poised for a down year after losing their starting quarterback, running back, and best defensive player. True freshman Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson will battle it out for the starting quarterback spot in the post Max Hall era. The opening to the season is brutal with Washington, at Air Force and FloridaState, and then back in Provo against the running attack of Nevada. A 1-3 start would not be a surprise. Figure in road games against Utah and TCU, and BYU's steak of 10+ win seasons is over. Never underestimate Bronco Mendenhall and his staff, though as this should only be a one year blip. The Cougars should return to the top of the conference in 2011.
5. Wyoming* 6-6 4-4
Dave Christensen came over from Missouri and surprised a lot of people leading the Cowboys to a 7-6 season including a bowl win. With Austin Carta-Samuels under center and a superb secondary, Wyoming has a great shot of becoming bowl eligible again. They're still a few years away from challenging for the conference crown, but Christensen has them going in the right direction.
6. San Diego State 5-7 3-5
Brady Hoke inherited a mess last year and did pretty solid job getting the Aztecs to four wins. This team will be much better than their record indicates by the end of the season. With QB Ryan Lindley at the helm, SDSU could be poised for a big jump next year in 2011.
7.Colorado State 3-9 2-6
After winning the first three games of the season in 2009, including victories over Colorado and Nevada, the Rams lost their final 9 games of the season, finishing winless in the conference. The seat is going to get warm for Steve Fairchild if the Rams don't put a better product on the field in 2009. With true freshman Pete Thomas looking to be the leader to take over the starting quarterback spot, Fairchild might want to start updating his resume.
8. UNLV 2-11 2-6
The Mike Sanford era ends and the Bobby Hauck era begins with a 13 game schedule. Winning consistenly in Vegas is difficult with the distractions and difficulty recruiting. Outside of wide receiver Phillip Payne, the cupboard is pretty bare. A brutal non-conference schedule has the Rebels up against Wisconsin, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, and West Virginia, all bowl teams from 2009.
9. New Mexico 1-11 0-8
Not that anyone has ever enjoyed their time in the 'Burque,' but hopefully Mike Locksley can crack a smile at some point during what will be his last year in town. Linebacker Carmen Messina is the one bright spot as he's the best defensive player in the conference. Messina led the country in tackles in 2009.
TCU- Rose Bowl (taking over for Ohio State who goes to BCS Title Game)
Utah- Las Vegas Bowl
Air Force- Poinsettia Bowl
BYU- New Mexico Bowl
Wyoming- Armed Forces Bowl
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