When Utah celebrated its stunning victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last January, Texas Christian players couldn’t have been faulted for believing that they should’ve been dancing in New Orleans.
The Horned Frogs missed two fourth-quarter field goals in their 13-10 loss at Utah, a defeat that cost them the Mountain West Conference title.
Now TCU has the chance to make up for the disappointment, and the Frogs were picked by the conference media to win the conference.
Following are capsules of all nine MWC squads, in order of their finish in the media poll:
1. TEXAS CHRISTIAN
Outlook: The Frogs’ only losses last season were the heartbreaker to Utah and at Oklahoma. Quarterback Andy Dalton is a proven winner, and end Jerry Hughes is the conference’s best defensive player. TCU, which has won at least 10 games five of the past seven seasons, should be the team others are chasing.
Coach Gary Patterson: "I think going to an Oklahoma last year, being in a game like that against Utah, (we’re) well-seasoned to go to a Virginia, well-seasoned to go to a Clemson, well-seasoned to go to an Air Force."
2. BRIGHAM YOUNG
Outlook: Last season was a disappointment by BYU standards, but most schools would take a 10-3 record. The league’s top quarterback, Max Hall, returns. So do eight defensive starters eager to improve after allowing 355.9 yards per game last season. They certainly will be tested Saturday against Oklahoma and its Heisman Trophy quarterback, Sam Bradford, in a game being played at the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall: "We feel like we have a strong football team. I think we have a hungry football team, a team that’s anxious to continue to improve and compete not only at the conference level, but at the national level."
Outlook: Eight defensive starters return from a unit that dominated Alabama, but there are too many questions offensively. The losses of quarterback Brian Johnson and the top three receivers could keep the Utes from making a serious run at the conference championship.
Coach Kyle Whittingham: "I’m not really concerned with topping last year. I’m just concerned with being the best football team we can be and getting better week to week."
4. AIR FORCE
Outlook: Troy Calhoun is 17-9 at the Academy, and his teams rarely beat themselves. Quarterback Tim Jefferson is back, and this team is always going to dominate on the ground. It’s the best team outside the Big Three, if the media poll is to believed.
Coach Calhoun: "We’re going to have to play at an extraordinary level, which we always will. I think when you look at the big picture, we’re a service academy playing in an outstanding conference. We can and we will be a very competitive football team."
Outlook: There is genuine hope for the Rebels, who improved by three victories last season. A veteran offense and what appears to be an improved defense could lead UNLV to its first winning season and bowl appearance in nine years. Anything less would be a disappointment.
Coach Mike Sanford: "I feel good about the improvement we made last year over the previous year, but it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been."
6. COLORADO STATE
Outlook: The Rams went a surprising 7-6 last season, but that record would be downright shocking this time. Gone is tailback Gartrell Johnson (1,476 yards, 12 touchdowns) who literally carried Colorado State, which also must break in a new quarterback.
Coach Steve Fairchild: "This season is very important for us, but it’s not tantamount. At some point, we’re going to get Colorado State football back where it belongs. This next year is a chance to take a step in that direction."
7. NEW MEXICO
Outlook: For the past 11 seasons, Rocky Long’s defensive stamp as Lobos coach made him the program’s face. New coach Mike Locksley said he is fortunate to inherit a solid program, but he has some rebuilding to do. The good news for New Mexico is quarterback Donovan Porterie is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Coach Locksley: "I looked at this job not as a rebuilding process, but a renovating process. My predecessor, Rocky Long, obviously left this program on a pretty solid foundation. … It’s up to us as coaches to try to make it a better job than when I came in."
8. SAN DIEGO STATE
Outlook: Coach Brady Hoke’s hiring was nearly overshadowed by his choices of coordinators. Long left New Mexico to oversee the Aztecs’ defense, and manning the offense is Al Borges, who most recently held that position at Auburn.
The Aztecs might not win this season, but they should be fundamentally sound.
Coach Hoke: "Obviously, Rocky and Al, both, their resumes speak for themselves."
Outlook: First-year coach Dave Christensen promised to bring out Wyoming toughness — is that a slap at former coach Joe Glenn? — which might be simpler than the transition to the spread offense. The Cowboys don’t have the athletes yet to run that offense, which Christensen utilized as offensive coordinator at Missouri.
Coach Christensen: "That’s (ninth place) where I would’ve voted us, too. Credibility and respect is earned on the playing field. We haven’t done anything."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.