Mountain West: Team previews

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comAugust 25, 2013 

  • PRESEASON POLL

    Mountain Division

    1. Boise State (40) 245

    2. Utah State (1) 204

    3. Air Force 143

    4. Wyoming 116

    5. Colorado State 90

    6. New Mexico 63

    West Division

    1. Fresno State (39) 243

    2. San Diego State (1) 181

    3. San Jose State (1) 172

    4. Nevada 135

    5. UNLV 71

    6. Hawaii 59

AIR FORCE

Coach: Troy Calhoun

Record: 47-31 (six seasons)

Last year: 6-7, 5-3 in MW

Last bowl: 2012 Armed Forces (L, 33-14 to Rice)

Returning starters: 3/5/1 (offense/defense/specialists)

Fast facts:

• New QB. Junior Kale Pearson is a traditional Falcons QB, a run-first quarterback who scored the game-winning TD in Air Force’s win at Wyoming last year. He’s the leader to win the job. Sophomore Jaleel Awini is a passer with a rocket arm, offering something different to the Falcons’ attack.

• Spears the leader. Junior free safety Christian Spears is the top returning tackler (91 in 2012) and the unquestioned leader of the Falcons’ defense, which ranked a middling 72nd in the NCAA last season. Spears is one of three returning starters in the secondary.

NEW MEXICO

Coach: Bob Davie

Record: 4-9 (one season); 39-34 (six seasons overall)

Last year: 4-9, 1-7 in MW

Last bowl: 2007 New Mexico (W, 23-0 over Nevada)

Returning starters: 5/3/2

Fast facts:

• Surprise no more. Davie’s first team in Albuquerque started the season 4-3 before losing its final six games. The Lobos’ option attack gained 3,917 yards on the ground, but just 895 through the air. Now opponents know what to expect from RB Kasey Carrier (1,469 yards, 15 TDs) and QB Cole Gautsche (760 yards, 7 TDs).

• Heart of Dallas. Senior LB Dallas Bollema led the Lobos in tackles (89) and added three interceptions in 2012. He should get some help from classmate Rashad Rainey, who missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery.

COLORADO STATE

Coach: Jim McElwain

Record: 4-8 (one season)

Last year: 4-8, 3-5 in MW

Last bowl: 2008 New Mexico (W, 40-35 over Fresno State)

Returning starters: 9/6/2

Fast facts:

• Say hello to coach Porter. Former NFL standout Joey Porter is helping the Rams as an undergraduate assistant coach while he finishes his degree. Porter starred for CSU before playing 13 seasons in the NFL.

• Say hello to coach Saban. The Rams visit No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 19. McElwain was an offensive coordinator under Nick Saban in 2008 and 2009.

• QB competition. True freshman Nick Stevens has made things interesting. Junior Garrett Grayson (946 yards, 7 TDs last year) is expected to be the starter, but Stevens’ impressive fall camp has moved him past sophomore Conner Smith.

UTAH STATE

Coach: Matt Wells

Record: 0-0 (first season)

Last year: 11-2, 6-0 in WAC

Last bowl: 2012 Famous Idaho Potato (W, 41-15 over Toledo)

Returning starters: 8/7/3

Fast facts:

• Same look on defense. Wells, the Aggies’ offensive coordinator in 2012, took over when Gary Andersen bolted for Wisconsin. Wells hired Todd Orlando as defensive coordinator with the caveat that Orlando learn the Aggies’ defensive terminology. With seven starters and three returning coaches on defense, Wells didn’t want an overhaul as the Aggies move from the WAC.

• RB tradition. Utah State has put three running backs in the NFL the past two years. Junior Joe Hill could be next. A new starter, he joins a veteran offense that returns starters at QB, TE, WR and four line spots.

WYOMING

Coach: Dave Christensen

Record: 22-28 (four seasons)

Last year: 4-8, 3-5 in MW

Last bowl: 2011 New Mexico (L, 37-15 to Temple)

Returning starters: 7/7/1

Fast facts:

• Smith to the rescue. Junior QB Brett Smith, entering his third season as the starter, is already making a dent in the Wyoming record book. The dual threat is responsible for 64 touchdowns in the past two seasons. But Smith must stay healthy for the Cowboys to have success. He missed two-plus games to injuries last year.

• Odd year success. Christensen led the Cowboys to bowl games in 2009 and 2011 with down seasons after each one. That means success this year, right? At 22-28 in four seasons and with an embarrassing outburst vs. Air Force last year, Christensen needs victories.

FRESNO STATE

Coach: Tim DeRuyter

Record: 9-4 (one season)

Last year: 9-4, 7-1 in MW

Last bowl: 2012 Hawaii (L, 43-10 to SMU)

Returning starters: 7/8/0

Fast facts:

• Buy in. DeRuyter, who replaced the popular Pat Hill, won over the locker room with his aggressive schemes — and results. “You come in and it’s brand new. There’s some apprehension until you prove it to guys,” he said. “Winning a share of the championship, I think, validated our systems and our coaches. This year in our offseason, the work ethic has been totally different.” Now can he get them to the BCS?

• Defensive MVP. QB Derek Carr gets most of the attention, but safety Derron Smith (six interceptions, 79 tackles in 2012) was the preseason pick for defensive player of the year.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Coach: Rocky Long

Record: 17-9 (two seasons); 82-78 (13 seasons overall)

Last year: 9-4, 7-1 in MW

Last bowl: 2012 Poinsettia (L, 23-6 to BUYS)

Returning starters: 7/9/1

Fast facts:

• Touchdown vulture. RC Adam Muema rushed for 16 TDs last year, second-best in the league. He had 1,458 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. With QB Adam Dingwell and WR Colin Lockett, the Aztecs have a formidable trio.

• Man in the middle. Middle linebacker Jake Fely (90 tackles, 11.5 for loss, seven sacks) leads a ‘D’ that returns nine starters.

Æ Schedule challenges. The Aztecs will find out a lot about themselves early. They visit Ohio State (Sept. 7) and host Oregon State (Sept. 21). SDSU gets Fresno State (Oct. 26) and Boise State (Nov. 23) at home.

HAWAII

Coach: Norm Chow

Record: 3-9 (one season)

Last year: 3-9, 1-7 in MW

Last bowl: 2010 Hawaii (L, 62-35 to Tulsa)

Returning starters: 7/8/1

Fast facts:

• Quick change. Aaron Price was hired in February to coordinate the offense. He was dismissed before fall camp started. Chow will be the OC. Former Utah QB Jordan Wynn, 23, is the quarterbacks coach.

• Famous name. Taylor Graham, an Ohio State transfer and the son of former NFL quarterback Kent Graham, is the expected starter. Last year’s starter, Sean Schroeder, had a good fall camp. Hawaii, which ranked 118th in offense last year, threw 13 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes in 2012.

• Name change. Hawaii has gone back to the Rainbow Warriors nickname.

SAN JOSE STATE

Coach: Ron Caragher

Record: 0-0 (first season); 44-22 (six seasons overall)

Last year: 11-2, 5-1 in WAC

Last bowl: 2012 Military Bowl (W, 29-20 over Bowling Green)

Returning starters: 7/6/2

Fast facts:

• Keep it rolling. Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier had incredible success picking football coaches at Boise State. Bleymaier hired Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen. He picked Caragher from San Diego to lead the Spartans after Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Caragher replaced current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at San Diego.

• Fales succeeds. QB David Fales wowed pro scouts over the summer, proving last year’s breakout season (4,193 yards, 33 TDs, 72.5 completion percentage) was no fluke. Top target Noel Grigsby is back, too.

NEVADA

Coach: Brian Polian

Record: 0-0 (first season)

Last year: 7-6, 4-4 in MW

Last bowl: 2012 New Mexico (L, 49-48 to Arizona)

Returning starters: 7/5/2

Fast facts:

• Good pedigree. Chris Ault retired from college coaching and took a consulting job in the NFL. Ault, a College Football Hall of Famer, won’t be easily replaced, but Polian has a stellar résumé[0x1c]. The son of former NFL GM Bill Polian, Brian has been at Texas A&M, Stanford and Notre Dame since 2006.

• Wither pistol? Ault’s pistol offense remains, though offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich promises more passing. The latest evolution of the offense could mean big years for QB Cody Fajardo (3,907 yards rushing and passing in ’12) and wide receiver Brandon Wimberly (70 catches, 845 yards).

UNLV

Coach: Bobby Hauck

Record: 6-32 (three seasons); 86-49 (10 seasons overall)

Last year: 2-11, 2-6 in MW

Last bowl: 2000 Las Vegas (W, 31-14 over Arkansas)

Returning starters: 9/9/1

Fast facts:

• Now or never. The Rebels have won two games in each of Hauck’s first three seasons. Time may be running out for the former Montana coach. There is hope with nine starters back on offense and defense.

• Soft schedule early. Outside of a second-week home game with Arizona, the Rebels have manageable games at Minnesota and New Mexico, and home vs. Central Michigan, Western Illinois and Hawaii in the first half of the season.

• New coordinators. Former Washington State QB Timm Rosenbach is the new OC; Tim Hauck (brother) is the new DC.

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