MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
AIR FORCE O:7 D:5Air Force returns a total of 12 starters from last year squad that posted a 4-7 record. They fell short in a couple of heartbreaking contests, and couldn't avoid the injury bug all season long.
Seven are back on offense that will be led by QB Shaun Carney. As usual, the Falcons have a deep RB corps and the unit should come close to matching if not surpass the 30 PPG it averaged a year ago.
The Falcons have been ripped apart defensively the last two seasons. The Mt. West is a very unforgiving conference if you can't stop anybody, so look for the Falcons to make a conscious effort in cutting down on the 31 PPG it's allowed the last two seasons.
They're coaching and experience could see them flirt with a bowl invite at the end of the season.
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BYU O:8 D:4In order for the Cougars to win the conference this year, they'll have to knock off either TCU or Utah on the road. Easier said than done, but BYU experienced success on the road in '05 and should build off of it.
Last year's offense increased its scoring output by nine PPG and return eight from that unit. QB John Beck returns off a huge season that saw him throw for 3709 yards with a 27-13 TD/INT ratio. RB Curtis Brown will look to surpass the 1176 yards he posted a year ago and increase his 14 trips to the endzone behind one of the best O-Lines in the conference.
Injuries contributed to the Cougar's porous defense that allowed an average of 29 PPG last season. Back-ups got valuable experience, so this group should be better off even with only four starters back.
If everything goes as planned, the Cougars should post its first winning mark since 2001.
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COLORADO STATE O:6 D:7Seven starters return for Colorado State Head Coach Sonny Lubick and he also gets back two full time starters from '04 that includes FS Ben Stratton who was their best defensive player. He'll add to what already looks to be a solid group that has seven starters back from last year's squad. The defense has been humiliated the last few seasons, but it looks to be much improved this year and should go from a weakness to a strength.
However, the same can't be said about the Rams' offense. Gone are the program's best WR, three O-Line starters, and QB Justin Holland who threw for 3000+ yards and 23 TDs a year ago. However, RB Kyle Bell is back to tote the rock off a 1288-yard campaign in '05, and his big frame will continue to terrorize opposing stop units in '06. Still, this unit's output should see a dramatic decrease from the 27 PPG they averaged last season.
Special teams could help mask the offenses deficiencies as it returns a fantastic group led by 1st Team MWC Punter Jim Kaylor who averaged 45.3 yards per punt last season.
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NEW MEXICO LOBOS O:6 D:4Even though the Lobos put forth a winning campaign last year, they were passed over by the bowl committee when the Kansas Jayhawks pulled off a dramatic OT victory over Iowa State. As a whole, the team didn't perform up to expectations, and returns a very green squad for the 2006 season.
The Lobos were gouged defensively, and finished with their worst ranking since 2000. This year's squad only returns four starters, and is very green along the front seven. HC Long and DC Lewis simplified the defense in the off-season and added an extra back to allow the defense to be better suited to react to the spread and no-huddle offenses in the conference. Still, the unit can only be better this season as it was non-existent a year ago.
The offense returns veteran QB Kole McKamey, but loses a number of huge contributors from last years offense that nearly scored 30 PPG. Look for a large decrease in production from this unit in '06.
The Lobos do have a much easier schedule this year, but they don't have the firepower or experience to contend with any of the MWC top dawgs.
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SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS O:5 D:8The athletic director at SDST got tired of the futility within the Aztecs football program, and decided to shake things up this past off-season. In comes new Head Coach Chuck Long who masterminded the potent Oklahoma Sooner offenses that went to three National Championship games in four years. He inherits a club that returns 13 starters from a year ago, and it will be his job to help his men rediscover the joy of playing football.
The offenses success will be predicated upon the health of RB Lynell Hamilton since HC Long intends on implementing a ball control offense that minimizes mistakes. This attack will be a great compliment to his defense that looks to be in great shape heading into the season.
Speaking of the stop unit, it returns eight starters from last year's squad that grossly underachieved a year ago. Defensive Coordinator Bob Elliott was brought in from Kansas State to help it find its identity.
SDST has long had the talent to compete for the MWC Championship, so hopefully the new regime will get hem on their way to living up to expectations.
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TCU HORNED FROGS O:6 D:6An 11-1 season is what the Horned Frogs of TCU were able to put forth last season under the tutelage of HC Gary Patterson and his fine coaching staff. This year's squad returns as many starters as last years squad did (12), and is a more experienced team overall. However, everything seemed to go their way last season, and one has to wonder if lady luck will return to their sideline in consecutive seasons.
The offense is once again in the capable hands of QB Jeff Ballard who threw for 1800 yards and rushed for another 440 last season. His RB corps is fully loaded, but the O-Line and WR corps loses a couple of standouts. Look for this unit to get better as the season progresses, but it will ultimately be less potent than a year ago.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs boast the best unit in the MWC. The D-Line is anchored by a pair of stud DE's (Ortiz/Blake), and there's plenty of depth and talent throughout the front seven. The weakest link looks to be the secondary as it suffered some major losses. Still, the Horned Frogs led the country in forced turnovers a year ago, and are sure to turn the heat up once again in '06.
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UNLV RUNNING REBELS O:7 D:5The Rebels make-up in '06 should look much different. They have improved the talent on the roster, and will see an infusion of new faces on both sides of the ball. Hopefully they can avoid the injury bug that hindered them throughout all of last year. Defensively, their top notch secondary will have to bear the burden until the younger guys up front get comfortable with one another. The Rebels offense should flourish this season with a years worth of the new offensive schemes under their belts. Shifty RB Erick Jackson will tote the rock behind a very experienced O-Line. The additions of USC transfers QB Rocky Hinds and CB Eric Wright upgrades the talent on both sides of the ball, so look for the Rebs to be a nastier squad in '06.
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UTAH UTES O:6 D:7The Utes put forth a very commendable effort last year after going through their dream season of 2004. Only nine starters returned to last year's squad, yet new Head Coach Kyle Whittingham was able churn out seven wins and another bowl victory with this group.
The offense is loaded with skill at the QB position, and any of the three candidates can step into the 4-WR set offense and succeed. The O-Line's retooled but has experience, but someone must stand out to be the go to WR and every down back. The Utes racked up tons of yardage last season, but didn't convert it into many points. They still averaged 30 PPG, but had an inexplicably high OFF YPP average of 15.8. If the unit limits its turnovers, expect it to flourish.
Defensively, there's question marks up front and the LB corps loses its top tackler, but the secondary is loaded with talent and boasts the MWC Defensive Player of the Year in CB Eric Weddle whose a lockdown cover man for the Utes.
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WYOMING COWBOYS O:6 D:6
This year's Cowboy squad returns a bulk of starters (12), and hopes to cut down on the number of turnovers that killed them a year ago. Wyoming doesn't boast the talent of the upper echelon squads in the MWC, but they have the heart and character to put up some fantastic fights. The defense looks to be in much better shape as it's shifts to the 3-4 to allow its athleticism to put more pressure on opposing offenses. Look for DC Mike Breske to have his men blitzing at an unprecedented rate to take advantage of his unit's speed. On offense, the Cowboys will look to pound the ball down your throat behind it's beefy O-Line and have speedy RB Wynel Seldon run circles around opposing defenses.
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