1. Boise State has opted to proceed with football despite forecasts of impending doom. The Broncos lost a combined 15 players on offense and defense, but still have more depth and experience than any team in the league. Outscoring opponents by an average of 25.5 points per game --- as Boise State did in 2011 --- affords one the option of emptying the bench with a fair degree of regularity. Many Bronco reserves have played in more games than other MW teams' starters.
2. Contrary to popular opinion, the name of the MW Preseason Offensive Player of the Year is Derek Carr. His brother, David, also played quarterback at Fresno State and was a No. 1 draft pick of the Houston Texans --- 10 years ago. Derek lists David as his favorite athlete, but would likely prefer his brother alter his name to Otis.
3. The next time New Mexico coach Bob Davie sugar-coats anything will be the same time Nick Saban admits he suffers from emotional insecurity. Unlike a majority of his brethren, who paint in pastels to mask a program's shortcomings, Davie doesn't dabble in deception. He acknowledges the problems at hand, lays them open for all to see and refuses to recant remarks that some might perceive as an affront to the program. Honesty will get you everywhere.
4. The Mountain West and Conference USA discussed an alliance, as did the Big Ten and Pac-12. As of July 25, both are off the table.
5. I now know why Colorado State's Chris Nwoke rushed for 1,130 yards despite starting just five games last season. Having seen him up close, you would have a better chance of getting your arms around an upright freezer.
6. San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden may have been named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, but his coach, Rocky Long, wasted little time putting things into perspective: "Leon is a good player, but he's not as good as he can be. The better he gets the more money he'll make."
7. The same people who concluded that the addition of Fresno State, Hawai‘i and Nevada would reduce the Mountain West were the same people who voted the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the preseason media poll.
8. I've never met Nevada tight end Zach Sudfeld, but he's already the Comeback Player of the Year. Sudfeld, who has been besieged by injuries throughout his career, was granted a sixth year of eligibility after breaking his leg in last year's season opener at Oregon. Despite being told by coach Chris Ault that he had nothing to prove by returning this season, the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Sudfeld merely redoubled his resolve and had an outstanding spring. He has two career catches for 11 yards. "He will be a force in our offense," Ault said. "Fans of this program and fans throughout the community are really pulling for Zach Sudfeld."
9. Air Force senior Parker Herrington, a preseason all-conference pick, became just the second kicker to ever represent a Mountain West institution at media days. Said Falcons coach Troy Calhoun: "When I told him he was coming along, he said, 'Are you sure you want to send a kicker out there?' "
10. The talk is over, the cameras are packed and 2012 MW Football Media Day is done. Pass the pigskin. ASAP.
The "watch" lists are out, the preseason hype is upon us and preparations for a run at the MW title will soon begin in earnest, with fall camps opening the first week of August. In the interim, here's my take on the 2012 Preseason All-MW team, as well as a predicted order of finish among the league's 10 teams. Beg to differ? You can also leave a comment on my blog, email me at Mick@TheMWC.com, or send me a message on Twitter @MWCMick.
Quarterback: Derek Carr, Jr., Fresno State
Carr, named to the 2012 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award Watch List, ranked 15th in the nation in passing yards (3,544) last season, the most ever by a Fresno State sophomore.
Running back: Robbie Rouse, Sr., Fresno State; D.J. Harper, Sr., Boise State
Rouse, a Maxwell Award candidate, ranked seventh in the nation in rushing yards (1,549) last season, while Harper, who will be operating behind the best offensive line in the league, averaged nearly five yards per carry.
Wide receiver: Matt Miller, So., Boise State; Colin Lockett, Jr., San Diego State
As a freshman last season, Miller, a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, averaged 4.77 receptions per game, the second-highest total in the league. Lockett, a former cornerback who was pressed into action on offense last season due to a rash of injuries at wide receiver, led the Aztecs in receptions (58), receiving yards (970) and touchdown catches (eight).
Tight end: Gavin Escobar, Jr., San Diego State
There are some quality tight ends in the MW, but Escobar gets the nod. A first-team All-MW selection as a sophomore, he had 51 catches for 781 yards and seven TDs in 2011.
Offensive line: Joe Kellogg, Sr., Boise State; Nick Carlson, Sr., Wyoming; Alec Johnson, Sr., San Diego State; Chris Barker, Sr., Nevada; Weston Richburg, Jr., Colorado State
Kellogg is a three-year starter on an offense that has ranked in the top five nationally in scoring each of the last three seasons. Carlson, Johnson and Richburg have all been named to the 2012 Rimington Trophy Watch List, while Barker is an Outland Trophy candidate.
Defensive line: Mike Atkinson, Sr., Boise State; Paipai Falemalu, Sr., Hawai‘i; Reggie Ellis, Sr., New Mexico; Mike Purcell, Sr., Wyoming
Atkinson was a major contributor to a Bronco defense that ranked 12th-nationally in scoring defense (18.69) last season, while Falemalu (50 tackles) tied for second on the team with 4.5 sacks. Twenty-five percent of Ellis' total tackles in 2011 were made in the backfield. Purcell is coming off a junior season in which he finished with 48 tackles, two sacks, two blocked kicks and a safety.
Linebacker: Shaquil Barrett, Jr., Colorado State; Jake Fely, So., San Diego State; Travis Brown, Sr., Fresno State
Barrett could be positioned for MW Defensive Player of the Year honors following a sophomore season in which he led the Rams with 99 tackles and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. Fely forced a team-high three fumbles in starting all 13 games at middle linebacker last season as a redshirt freshman, while Brown enters his senior season as a Butkus Award candidate and two-time All-WAC selection.
Defensive back: Leon McFadden, Sr., San Diego State; Luke Ruff, Sr., Wyoming; Duke Williams, Sr., Nevada; Jamar Taylor, Sr., Boise State
A two-time All-MW selection named to the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award Watch List, McFadden led the league and ranked 12th nationally last season with 17 passes defended. Named to the 2012 Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List, Ruff ranked sixth in the MW in tackles last season. Williams, a second-team All-WAC selection in 2011, ranked third on the team with 83 tackles. Taylor's six pass break-ups last season tied for the team high.
Placekicker: Parker Herrington, Jr., Air Force
Ranked first in the MW last season in field-goal percentage (83.3. percent, 15-of-18) and finished second among kickers with 90 points.
Punter: Pete Kontodiakos, Sr., Colorado State
A candidate for the 2012 Ray Guy Award, Kontodiakos ranked second in the MW and 20th nationally in 2011 with an average of 43.6 yards. He had 20 punts of at least 50 yards.
Return specialist: Mitch Burroughs, Sr., Boise State
Ranked eighth nationally and first in the MW as a junior with a punt return average of 13.3 yards.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Leon McFadden, San Diego State
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mitch Burroughs, Boise State
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Boise State
3. San Diego State
4. Fresno State
6. Air Force
7. Colorado State
10. New Mexico
Editor's note: The Mountain West Conference staged its annual media day for women's basketball on Wednesday at The Mtn. Studios in Denver. MWC Correspondent Mick McGrane sat down with each the conference's nine coaches to discuss the upcoming season. The following are excerpts from those conversations, presented in order in which the teams were selected to finish in this year's preseason media poll. Last year's overall and MWC records are in parenthesis.
1. TCU (22-9, 12-4)
Coach Jeff Mittie has the reigning MWC Player of the Year in Helga Sverrisdottir, a first-team all-conference performer in Emily Carter, a team picked to finish first in the preseason poll --- and a new approach to how his team will run its offense.
Mittie, who previously employed a triangle-based system that often utilized set plays, has opted to switch to a motion-based offense.
"I didn't like the way we were playing at the end of the shot clock," said Mittie, whose team has made nine appearances in the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 seasons. "I felt like we were too one dimensional in those situations. I wanted to be able to give us more (offensive) options. I felt like we had a veteran team that could understand shot selection so that I didn't need to dictate as much. And I really feel like our players have adjusted to it very well."
2. San Diego State (23-11, 10-6)
The Aztecs, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last year after winning the conference tournament, must somehow find a way to fill the sizable voids left by guards Jene Morris, a first-round WNBA draft pick, and Quenese Davis. The two combined last season to average 30.3 points while contributing 270 assists and 173 steals.
In their absence, much of the focus will turn to the inside play of first-team all-conference preseason pick Paris Johnson (11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2009-10) and senior Jessika Bradley (7.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg).
"Paris and Jessika have to be lights out, it's that simple," said coach Beth Burns, who recently signed a five-year contract extension. "We could win last year if our front line had an off night. That won't be the case this year."
Guard Courtney Clements, a transfer from Arizona and former Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, was tabbed the MWC Newcomer of the Year.
3. BYU (23-10, 11-5)
The Cougars, who advanced to the Elite Eight of the WNIT last season, return four starters, including Mindy Bonham, the team's leading scorer. Also back is Kristen Riley, the team's leading rebounder, and Haley Hall, who paced BYU in assists and steals.
Bonham, a two-time MWC All-Defensive honoree, averaged 11.1 points last season and ranked second on the team in assists per game (3.79).
"Mindy has been a real blessing to have," coach Jeff Judkins said of Bonham, a second-team All-MWC selection in 2009-10. "She's changed positions every year, from playing point guard as a freshman to playing the two guard as a sophomore and last year she played small forward. This year, she's probably going to play more of the two guard spot again. She's always had to change her role, and now she's our captain. She's one of the most dedicated, hard-working players I've ever had."
4. Utah (23-12, 10-6)
Former assistant Anthony Levrets will act as interim head coach this season while Elaine Elliott takes a year's leave of absence to consider retirement.
Levrets steps into the shoes of a coach who is one of just 16 to post 20 20-win seasons, has guided the Utes to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances in 31 seasons and has a career record of 582-234 (.713).
"It's been great," Levrets said. "Our kids have responded really well. Obviously, it's not easy following Elaine. She's such a great basketball coach. But you can't focus on that; you have to focus on your team. I tell everybody I'm just glad I'm not preparing to play against her."
5. Wyoming (21-12, 9-7)
Coach Joe Legerski, who recently received a five-year contract extension, returns four starting seniors to a team that posted its fourth 20-win season in five years in 2009-10.
What Legerski will be looking for over the course of the next month is someone to emerge as the team's fifth starter, a competition that currently includes sophomores Ashley Sickles, Chaundra Sewell and Bec Campigli.
"I expect our practices are going to be very competitive, and I hope they are," said Legerski, whose team will be led by a pair of All-MWC honorees in Hillary Carlson and Aubrey Vandiver. "We need to have someone step up and emerge as that fifth starter."
6. New Mexico (23-11, 10-6)
The Lobos lost four seniors from last year's squad, including standout point guard Amy Beggin, a two-time All-MWC selection and one of only 16 players in school history to score 1,000 points.
Coach Don Flanagan, who is in his 16th season with the Lobos, is hoping that senior Amanda Best can fill the void left by Beggin. Best started 30 games last season, scoring in double figures 12 times. She led the Lobos in scoring on seven occasions and finished as the team's top rebounder eight times.
"I think she's going to surprise people," Flanagan said of Best, who assumes the team's point guard spot. "She handles the ball well, she's explosive, and as long as she learns how to distribute rather than worrying about scoring, I think she's going to do a great job."
7. UNLV (23-12, 10-6)
In addition to returning all five starters, including two-time MWC rebounding champion Jamie Smith, coach Kathy Olivier's squad also figures to get a boost from the arrival of 6-foot-3 Lenita Sanford, a former McDonalds All-American from Lynwood High (Calif.).
Sanford originally attended Trinity Valley Community College in Texas but suffered a knee injury and sat out the 2007-08 season. She then transferred to Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Florida, where she averaged 7.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 53% from the floor. Sanford attended El Camino College in California during the 2009-10 school year, but did not play basketball.
"Lenita brings that intimidation factor," Olivier said. "She's a shot-blocker who has a mean streak about her. She's the type of player we've never really had, a physical player who we're really excited about having."
8. Colorado State (13-17, 5-11)
The Rams return four starters, including Kim Mestdagh, a second-team All-MWC pick last season, and junior forward Chatilla van Grinsven, who ranked second on the team in points, rebounds and blocks.
Mestdagh, a junior guard/forward, averaged 16.3 points last season while leading the MWC with 89 three-pointers.
"We need to get to the middle of the conference, and I think that's something we can do," said coach Kristen Holt, whose team finished eighth last season. "The one big thing that has really changed is the mentality of our kids. There was such a low-expectation kind of outlook when I came here (two years ago), but I'm not going to have to say much this year about finishing eighth last season. Our kids are motivated."
9. Air Force (3-27, 0-16)
Andrea Williams, a former assistant at South Florida, takes over as head coach at the Academy.
No stranger to the challenges of coaching at a service academy, Williams spent two seasons as an assistant at Navy, where she helped the Midshipmen win 29 games from 2002-04.
At Big East Conference member South Florida, Williams was part of a staff that guided the Bulls to the WNIT championship in 2008-09.
"I'm not going to shy away from the challenges associated with a service academy," Williams said. "There are plenty of talented and academically-qualified players out there that have the ability to play Mountain West Conference basketball. We're going to go into living rooms offering not only top caliber basketball, but a high-paying job in a well-trained field."
Attention Mountain West Conference Fans! Can't wait for the start of the 2010-11 college basketball season? The MWC has a solution - engulf yourself in the activities of the 2010 Men's and Women's Basketball Media Days!
TheMWC.com is the place to be for all 2010 MWC Men's and Women's Basketball Media Day activities. Join the action online Tuesday, October 12 and Wednesday, October 13 as the coaches gather to discuss the 2010-11 season at The Mtn. studios in Denver.
In addition to video of one-on-one interviews with each of the men's and women's basketball coaches, TheMWC.com will feature blogs and photos throughout the event to provide fans with an inside look at the 2010-11 season. Live updates and photos of the event can also be obtained via the Conference's Facebook and Twitter pages.
For a complete MWC Basketball Media Day experience, fans should follow this easy three-step program:
Step 1: Between now and Tuesday morning, submit questions to the head men's and women's coaches of your favorite MWC teams by clicking HERE. A random selection of fan questions will be included in one-on-one interviews during media days. Check out TheMWC.com later in the week to watch video clips of your favorite head coach and see if your question was one of those chosen.
Step 2: Check out "Inside the MWC," the official blog of the Mountain West Conference, beginning on Tuesday, October 12. Mick McGrane, the MWC Correspondent, will provide reports as they come in from the 2010 Men's and Women's Basketball Media Day events, including the media's preseason all-Conference selections and the teams' predicted order of finish.
Step 3: Share your favorite MWC men's or women's basketball memory and you can win. It's simple: become a fan of the league's official Facebook page by clicking "Like" at the top of the page, then post your story to the 2010 MWC Basketball Media Day wall! Your fellow fans will vote for their favorite story by clicking the "like" button for that wall post. Votes will be accepted until 5 p.m. MT on Friday, October 15, and the men's and women's stories with the most votes will win autographed MWC basketballs, signed by all nine head men's and women's basketball coaches!
This contest is open to all fans of the Mountain West Conference Facebook page, excluding those who are employees of a member institution or are involved with the administration and/or execution of the contest. The MWC encourages camaraderie and team spirit, but prohibits the use of objectionable content, such as alcohol, smoking, firearms, violence or nudity, and well as content that is defamatory to any group or individual and/or violates the law.
The Mtn.'s Coverage of 2010-11 MWC Basketball Media Day
The Mtn.-MountainWest Sports Network will provide media day updates on the network's Web site, TheMtn.tv, and will broadcast men's and women's preview shows at 9 p.m. MT on Tuesday, October 12 and Wednesday, October 13, respectively. In addition, The Mtn. will be producing three shows with the head men's and women's basketball coaches, as well as members of The Mtn. announce team. Each of those programs will air later in October, so visit TheMtn.tv for programming information.
Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson addressed a number of issues on Wednesday during his annual State of the Conference address at the league's football media days at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. The following were some of the highlights:
Q: How do you feel about the University of Utah's decision to leave the Mountain West at the end the season to join the Pac-10 Conference? A: "Utah was a great member of this conference, a charter member that set a lot of standards for the Mountain West Conference. It's been a benchmark program with two BCS bowl games. They were the first non-automatic qualifying team to appear in a BCS game in the Fiesta Bowl in '05. Utah has been a great member of this conference."
Q: What do you feel about the addition of Boise State to the Mountain West Conference? A: "Boise State is going to be a tremendous addition to the Mountain West Conference. They are one of the hottest names in college football right now. As a program, they have grown impossibly fast. They've obviously had phenomenal success in going 26-1 the last two years. They have more than just a regional following. I think people have really caught on to who they are. People are aware of the teams Boise State has played and the teams it has beaten. Geographically, it will be a nice fit. We don't have a lot of history against them, but there is a history there with most of our sports. They are going to be a tremendous asset to the Mountain West Conference."
Q: What are your feelings about the BCS and how it currently relates to the Mountain West Conference? A: "Our statement all along has been that if we're 9-3 in bowl games against BCS automatic-qualifiying members and have played in three BCS bowls and have one of the top five or six records in bowl games and regular-season games against those leagues, if we look like them, why are we not treated similarly to them? We understand we are only halfway through this four-year cycle of being evaluated (to become the seventh automatic-qualifying conference). Our message is simply that in terms of performance, we look, act and play an awful lot like a BCS automatic-qualifying league."
Q: What are your thoughts about the conference's current television package?
A: "We continue to push on distribution. The positives that were there (when the television contract was negotiated) four years ago remain. We play almost exclusively on Saturdays, when college football should be played. We have nearly every football game being televised. We have 100 men's basketball games being televised. We have 40 women's basketball games and nearly 20 volleyball games being televised. All of those rank us in the top two or three in the country in total number of sheer exposures."
Officials from the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl were on hand Wednesday as the MWC wrapped up its 2010 football media days. The third selection from the Mountain West Conference will meet the seventh selection from the Atlantic Coast Conference on Dec. 27 at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La.
The Independence Bowl's relationship with the Big 12 and SEC ended after the conclusion of last year's game.
"I've always had an interest in trying to make the bowl better," said Shreveport native Richard Wright, who served on the executive committee of the Independence Bowl before becoming the preisdent and CEO of AdvoCare. "We view this as a major step up for us from a bowl standpoint to have the Mountain West as one of our affiliates."
Officials from the MWC's four other bowl partners were also in attendance: MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl and New Mexico Bowl. Representatives from both the Rose and Fiesta bowls were also available at the MWC event.
BY THE NUMBERS
9 - Teams on UNLV's schedule that appeared in bowl games in 2009
10,847 - Mountain West Conference student-athletes who have graduated with a 3.0 GPA since the conference's inception in 1999
4,624 - Mountain West Conference student-athletes who have graduated with a 3.5 GPA since the conference's inception in 1999
5 - Mountain West Conference teams earning bowl bids each of the last three seasons
FROM FLORIDA TO THE FRONT RANGE
Colorado State's 2010 roster includes 22 players from Florida, eight of whom hail from Orlando. Of those eight, quarterback Nico Ranieri, running back Marvin Ford and linebackers Charles Favors and Marquis Ford - all freshmen - attended Dr. Phillips High. Located in southwest Orlando, the school in 2008-09 featured 12 students that scored a perfect 800 on the SAT test. This, despite there being one small distraction when it comes to focusing on classwork. Universal Studios is located roughly 2,500 feet from the school's front door.
TCU made a clean sweep of the Mountain West Conference preseason individual awards, with quarterback Andy Dalton being selected the Offensive Player of the Year, linebacker Tank Carder grabbing Defensive Player of the year honors and punt/kick returner Jeremy Kerley being named the Special Teams Player of the Year.
TCU was also picked by the media to defend its 2009 conference title.
It would seem, however, that while the Horned Frogs are clearly appreciative of the accolades, the sting of falling to Boise State in last year's Fiesta Bowl has yet to subside. It was TCU's lone loss of the season.
"Last season didn't end like we wanted it to," said Dalton, who currently leads the nation with 29 career victories. "That's been a big part of our drive, to get back to (a BCS) game and win it this year. I think what we've done in the offseason and throughout the summer shows how hungry we are and how hungry we are to have the season start."
A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE
If Air Force cornerbacks Reggie Rembert and Anthony Wright would like to show their appreciation for being selected to the 2010 Preseason All-Mountain West first team on Tuesday, they might start with a player that played a major role in helping the Falcons finish second in the league total defense and third in pass efficiency defense in 2009 --- former nose tackle Ben Garland.
Garland was a free-agent signee of the Denver Broncos. A second-team all-conference pick, he led the Falcons in tackles for loss last year with 10.5.
"Ben was such a key part of what we did," said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. "A lot of the reason we were able to do the things we did defensively was because of how forceful and dominant Ben Garland was. There were many times last year when we only utilized a three-man pass rush. Because of that, we were able to play a ittle bit more zone and vary the kind of zone coverages we played. We were a lot more effective with our zone blitzes. Our secondary really prospered because of the play of Ben Garland."
Ryan Gardner, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior, is Garland's heir apparent.
"He just fits, especially attitude-wise," Calhoun said. "He's got great feet. He's one of those guys who really loves to work out and carries that approach over to the field."
Air Force, which has never failed to earn a bowl bid in Calhoun's three seasons, was picked to finish fourth in the 2010 MWC preseason media poll.
PUTTING A HOLD ON THE HYPE
Before folks get the idea that BYU incoming freshman quarterback Jake Heaps is about to erase the memory of Ty Detmer with but a single swing pass, Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall would like to tone down the fanfare a bit.
Heaps, a Parade All-American from Skyline High in Issaquah, Wash., is considered by many scouting services as being the top college quarterback prospect in the nation.
At present, the Cougars have four potential starting candidates at quarterback in Heaps, junior Riley Nelson, sophomore James Lark and redshirt freshman Jason Munns.
"He's a freshman at BYU who plays quarterback and he has a lot to live up to," Mendenhall said of Heaps at Tuesday's MWC football media days. "He has to make it through the workouts, which he struggles to do. He has to learn what it takes to swing sledgehammers, flip (tractor) tires, pull ropes and learn why it takes those kinds of things to be a quarterback. He also has to learn that unless he's willing to do that, no one will follow him. Regardless of what recruiting services build into a young man, they can easily build (unrealistic) expectations. He's a freshman at BYU, and that's exactly how he'll be treated. He'll earn any role that he gets."
WORK IN PROGRESS
Second-year New Mexico coach Michael Locksley is convinced you can't change a program's fortunes without simultaneously changing its culture. After finishing 1-11 last season, the Lobos' motto for 2010 is "All In."
"That means being committed academically, athletically and socially," Locksley said. "I've seen that out of this team."
Locksley would like nothing more than to match the electricity routinely generated in Albuquerque by New Mexico's men's and women's basketball programs.
"It's my job to put a product on the field that fans want to come see and support," he said. "That's something we intend to do; that's something we have to do. by nature, we're a bandwagon society. But if we can find a way to get on a roll --- and I've seen the support our basketball team gets --- our fans are very capable of supporting a winning program."
NEW YEAR, NEW LOOK
Wyoming second-year coach Dave Christensen is opting to employ a 4-3 defense this season after the Cowboys utilized a 3-4 in 2009.
"I wanted to make the change because I think it allows us to get more speed on the field," Christensen said. "I think we can become more sound in gap control and it's easier to recruit the personnel to our needs, which is a little more difficult when you're running a 4-3 than a 3-4. We've been able to use smaller linebackers with a little more speed."
READY OR NOT
Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild is not about to coddle his starting quarterback candidates despite the fact that both --- Pete Thomas and Nico Ranieri --- are freshmen.
"I want it to be much tougher on a quarterback in practice than it would ever be in a game, so we're in their ear from the second they come out of the locker room," Fairchild said. "Hopefully, one of them will develop. We know we've got young talent; we just don't know where it will be by the time we start the season. But I do like our talent, and I think before long we're going to be in pretty good shape at quarterback."
San Diego State coach Brady Hoke's Aztecs were two games removed from garnering their first bowl bid since 1998 last season when they dropped their final four games of the campaign.
"The way we finished the season last year was unacceptable," Hoke said. "We've talked about it as a team and as a staff, and I can tell you we're excited about the opportunity to go out and play football."
SDSU returns 18 starters, a figure surpassed in the Mountain West only by TCU.
"We have some experience and some guys who have been in the heat of battle," Hoke said. "These kids know what we expect of them."
First-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck didn't venture far in compiling his first recruiting class. Hauck, the former coach at FCS power Montana, signed a school-record eight recruits from Las Vegas. The program's previous high was five. Hauck signed only one junior college player.
"Philosophically, we feel Nevada kids are where we want to start," Hauck said. "We'll evaluate the best kids to help us win a Mountain West Conference championship and we'll also (go outside of Las Vegas) to help supplement that. This year, it worked out that we took eight kids out of Vegas. We're going to try and keep as many of those kids as we can at home."
San Diego State was picked to finish sixth in the preseason media poll, its highest positioning since 2006. The Aztecs had three players --- wide receiver Vincent Brown, tight end Alston Umuolo and punter Brian Stahovich --- selected to the preseason all-conference first team. SDSU had just three players selected to the first team in the last four years.
New Mexico linebacker Carmen Messina returns for his junior year after leading the nation in tackles last season with 162. A first-team preseason all-conference selection, Messina confessed that claiming the tackles title did not come without a price.
"It was a lot of damage to the body, but we have a great group in the training room that helped me to stay healthy throughout the season," said Messina, whose 162 tackles rank as a MWC single-season record. "But I'm not going to slow down this season. I'm still going to be a vocal leader on defense so that everyone is on the same page."
One size most certainly does not fit all. Particularly, it would seem, in the area of bowling shoes.
To kick off the 2010 Mountain West Conference Football Media Days Monday night at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, two players from each of the league's nine teams gathered at the hotel's Red Rock Lanes to determine supremacy in a sport where perfect 300 games are rare and 300-pound offensive tackles are an absolute oddity.
Take the case of New Mexico offensive tackle Byron Bell. When the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Bell arrived for the festivities, he was asked what size shoes he would need. When Bell told the attendant he was looking for something in a size 17, he was informed that the bowling alley had nothing exceeding a size 15.
Determined to carry on, Bell, who joined New Mexico teammate Carmen Messina on a six-man team also comprised of Colorado State's Zac Pauga and Guy Miller and Utah's Brandon Burton and Zane Taylor, wrestled the size 15's onto his feet.
Despite the fit, he managed to roll three strikes but was less than enamored with his final tally --- 90.
"They put the squeeze on me pretty good," said Bell, who admitted he hadn't bowled since taking part in the festivities leading up to the New Mexico Bowl in 2007. "Toward the end, I think I was knocking down about one pin every time I threw the ball. I don't think that's the way you want to play this game."
The top individual performance was turned in by Pauga, a senior fullback who rolled a 165.
"I guess you could kind of say that (bowling) is like football," Pauga said. "Just line 'em up and knock 'em down."
The top team score (774) was posted by the six-player grouping of BYU's Matt Reynolds (159) and Andrew Rich; UNLV's John Gianninoto and Ronnie Paulo; and Wyoming's David Leonard and Chris Prosinski (153).
Finishing second with a combined score of 733 was the team of San Diego State's Vincent Brown and Andrew Preston (144); TCU's Andy Dalton and Tejay Johnson; and the Air Force's Reggie Rembert and Jared Tew.
MWC football media days continue Tuesday with the media's selection of the preseason all-conference team and this season's predicted order of finish. Each team's head coach and representative student-athletes will also take the podium to address the media tomorrow afternoon.
Mick McGrane has covered the Mountain West since the league's inception in 1999. He spent 12 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he served as the beat writer for San Diego State football and men's basketball. He currently represents the MW as a member of the Football Writers Association of America All-America Committee and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. McGrane serves as senior writer to the Mountain West, providing readers with exclusive, in-depth information about the Conference by highlighting its 10 member institutions and contributing feature stories on student-athletes that participate in the league's 18 sponsored sports.
Mark Knudson is a Colorado State journalism school graduate and a 12-year veteran of professional baseball. During his playing career, Mark pitched for three major league teams, including the Colorado Rockies, where he was the first Colorado native to play for the hometown team. He recorded wins over three of the four legendary pitchers who make up the 4,000 strikeout club: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. His win over Ryan came for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day in 1991.
Since his retirement, Mark has been a feature writer and columnist for Mile High Sports, a radio talk show host and TV analyst for numerous sports media outlets. For the past six years, he was a columnist and baseball analyst for The Mtn., along with being one of Colorado's six Heisman Trophy voters.