Coach: Troy Calhoun, 41-24 (five seasons)
Last year: 7-6, 3-4 MW (5th)
Last bowl: 2011 Military Bowl (L, 42-41 vs. Toledo)
Returning starters (offense/defense/ kickers): 3/2/2
Star watch: Senior kicker Parker Herrington was the only unanimous preseason first-team All-Mountain West selection. Herrington made 15-of-18 field goals last year with a long of 45 and was an All-MW pick. Senior LB Alex Means, another preseason first-team pick, had 9.5 tackles for loss last year. The Falcons do not play Boise State this season.
Replace nearly everyone. Air Force must replace a lot, including its leaders in rushing, passing, receiving, tackles, forced fumbles, interceptions, passes defended and kickoff returns.
Support Dietz. QB Connor Dietz, a rare ninth-semester eligible player at the Academy, will take over for Tim Jefferson and run the option attack.
Coach: Jim McElwain, first season
Last year: 3-9, 1-6 MW (T-6th)
Last bowl: 2008 New Mexico (W, 40-35 vs. Fresno State)
Returning starters: 7/7/0
Star watch: Junior RB Chris Nwoke is back after rushing for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns last season. More of the burden could fall on him this year without QB Pete Thomas, who transferred to North Carolina State. Nwoke, who has battled an ankle injury in fall practice, will be running behind preseason All-MW lineman Weston Richburg. Leading tackler Shaquil Barrett had 99 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, as a sophomore last year.
Improve at QB. Garrett Grayson, a sophomore, earned the job. Grayson played in four games last year, passing for 542 yards and two TDs. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes.
Transform the culture. McElwain won two national titles at Alabama in three years. Colorado State has won nine games in three seasons.
Coach: Tim DeRuyter, first season
Last year: 4-9, 3-4 WAC (T-4th)
Last bowl: 2010 Humanitarian (L, 40-17 vs. Northern Illinois)
Returning starters: 7/7/1
Star watch: Junior QB Derek Carr threw for 3,544 yards and 26 TDs. The preseason MW Offensive Player of the Year is back along with a bevy of offensive weapons, including RB Robbie Rouse (1,549 yards, 13 TDs in 2011). Even with the transfer of WR Jalen Saunders, the Bulldogs have enough returning talent at the position to implement their up-tempo, pass-happy scheme. LB Travis Brown, the teams leading tackler with 85, is back.
Implement changes on offense and defense. Though Fresno State threw the ball more in Pat Hills last season, DeRuyter promises more throwing and a fast-paced attack. He also wants to attack on defense with more blitzing.
Win back fans. Part of the reason for Hills dismissal was apathy on behalf of the Bulldog faithful. Will they return?
Coach: Norm Chow, first season
Last year: 6-7, 3-4 WAC (T-4th)
Last bowl: 2010 Hawaii (L, 62-35 vs. Tulsa)
Returning starters: 6/4/2
Star watch: DL Paipai Falemalu is the teams lone preseason All-MW selection. Falemalu had 50 tackles, including 6.0 for loss and 4.5 sacks. The real star in Honolulu might be Chow, a native son who has returned home for his first head-coaching job at 66. He has tutored prolific college quarterbacks like Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Philip Rivers. Duke transfer Sean Schroeder won the QB job in fall camp.
Avoid the noise. Hawaiis offseason has been filled with distractions, from player arrests to a botched athletic fundraising concert that was supposed to feature Stevie Wonder. Itd be nice if the attention was on the field this year.
Adjust to a new way of doing things. It will be quite a change to see Hawaii play a conventional offense.
Coach: Chris Ault, 226-103-1 (27 seasons)
Last year: 7-6, 5-2 WAC (T-2nd)
Last bowl: 2011 Hawaii (L, 24-17 vs. Southern Miss)
Returning starters: 6/6/1
Star watch: QB Cody Fajardo could end up as the best player in the league. He had more than 2,400 yards of total offense as a freshman. Offensive linemen Chris Barker and Jeff Nady should provide time to throw or running room for the dual-threat QB. S Duke Williams has had an interesting career, but seems to have put early career off-field troubles behind him to become a key cog for the Wolf Pack defense.
Make the jump. Nevada lost to the six best teams it played last year. With the move to the MW, the Wolf Pack are going to face tougher competition.
Play better defense. The Wolf Pack ranked No. 58 in scoring defense. The offense, which is adding more passing, should produce lots of points. Its up to the defense to make them hold up.
Coach: Bob Davie, first season at New Mexico (35-25 in five seasons at Notre Dame)
Last year: 1-11, 1-6 MW (T-6th)
Last bowl: 2007 New Mexico (W, 23-0 vs. Nevada)
Returning starters: 8/6/1
Star watch: After three straight 1-11 seasons, the Lobos did not place a single player on the preseason All-MW team. WR Ty Kirk (47 catches, 376 yards) and TE Lucas Reed (22 catches, 241 yards) give the Lobos some weapons in the passing game. But it promises to be another long season for New Mexico and Davie, the former Notre Dame coach and ESPN analyst.
Keep Holbrook healthy. Senior QB B.R. Holbrook missed time in fall practice with chest inflammation. The depth behind him is questionable.
Something to build on. The Lobos must find something positive this season. Their depth is depleted with about half of incoming recruits in the past three years no longer in the program.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Coach: Rocky Long, 8-5 (one season at SDSU); 73-74 (12 seasons overall)
Last year: 8-5, 4-3 (4th)
Last bowl: 2011 New Orleans (L, 32-30 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette)
Returning starters: 7/6/0
Star watch: CB Leon McFadden and TE Gavin Escobar are the only returning first-team All-MW offensive or defensive performers from 2011. Long praised McFadden, the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, as one of the best cornerbacks hes ever coached. Escobar had 51 catches for 780 yards and seven TDs. Ex-Oregon State QB Ryan Katz takes over. The Aztecs must replace RB Ronnie Hillman (1,711 yards).
Maintain the success. Former coach Brady Hoke led SDSU to a 9-4 season in 2010 before leaving for Michigan. Long went 8-5 in his first season. The Aztecs need to sustain those winning ways as they head into the Big East.
Find a runner. Adam Muema had 119 yards in backup duty against Boise State. Now he has to carry a bigger role.
Coach: Bobby Hauck, 4-21 (two seasons at UNLV); 84-38 (nine seasons overall)
Last year: 2-10, 1-6 MW (T-6th)
Last bowl: 2000 Las Vegas (W, 31-14 vs. Arkansas)
Returning starters: 8/5/2
Star watch: RB Tim Cornett, who led the team with 671 yards and seven touchdowns, is aiming to lead the Rebels in rushing for three consecutive years. UNLV will start redshirt freshman QB Nick Sherry, which could mean lots of carries for Cornett. Sherry is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds and possesses a big arm. LB John Lotulelei is the teams top returning tackler (60).
Develop a passing attack. UNLV ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense last season. The Rebels threw for a mere 109.6 yards per game. Only Navy and Army threw for fewer yards. Sherry hopes to change this.
Buy Hauck time. The former Montana coach must show some improvement in his third season.
Coach: Dave Christensen, 18-20 (three seasons)
Last year: 8-5, 5-2 MW (3rd)
Last bowl: 2011 New Mexico (L, 37-15 to Temple)
Returning starters: 5/7/1
Star watch: OL Nick Carlson and DB Luke Ruff were second-team All-MW performers last year and both made the preseason all-league squad. Ruff had 102 tackles in 2011. Carlson helps protect QB Brett Smith, who had a stellar freshman campaign. Smith threw for more than 2,600 yards and 20 TDs. His top three receivers are back Dominic Rufran (44-402), Robert Herron (43-379) and Chris McNeill (42-504).
Protect Smith. The sophomore is the key to the Wyoming offense. He was the teams leading rusher in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he has good size to take that sort of pounding.
Maintain the progress. The last time the Cowboys had back-to-back winning seasons was 1998-1999. Wyoming has a chance to match that.