The official Mountain West media predictions have not been released (you can expect them by next month), however, that won't stop me from looking at the real conference contenders. Because I really don't need some media hack telling me who'll be fighting for the conference championship come November of this year.
So I'm gonna do just that.
In my opinion, they are number one until a team knocks them off. I said this last year, I said it for TCU two years ago and Utah a year before that. The Cougars are the best team in the Mountain West right now and until another can come in and do what they've done, or at least manage to win the conference, they'll stay at the top of the list.
However, I'd wager BYU has a tougher conference slate this year than they did last season. Mostly because their two toughest conference games are also on the road, as the Cougars will travel to TCU and Utah. They'll face the Frogs before Utah, which could derail their BCS hopes, because I do see the Frogs having a far more consistent season this year.
On the flip side, BYU lucks out with not having to travel to Wyoming or New Mexico, though a trip to Colorado Springs to face the Falcons cannot be overlooked. If the Cougars beat TCU, they should enter the Holy War undefeated in conference play. Now whether it's for the conference championship...well that'll be left up to Utah.
One area of concern, though, for BYU is the fact they only return 3 starters on defense. That could cause some trouble, especially against defensive minded teams that are capable of keeping the Cougar offense in check (namely TCU and New Mexico).
I'd like to think Utah is a contender and I do not see any reason why they shouldn't be in the hunt for the Mountain West. Not only do they return the most starters of any team in the conference, they have a favorable schedule, getting TCU and BYU at home. Of course, just having a favorable schedule won't be enough, as they also will have to figure out a way to win on the road, something this team has struggled to do at times over the past 3 years. Three big road games could end their hopes of winning their first championship under Whittingham: @ Wyoming, @ Air Force and @ New Mexico. All three of those teams are beatable and Utah should be favored to win, but anyone of them could be the dreaded slip-up game.
If the Utes manage to win all 3 of those games and beat the Frogs in Salt Lake City, there is no excuse for not entering the Holy War undefeated and playing for the conference championship. However, if TCU is better than expected, they might just dictate who wins the Mountain West.
I don't know what exactly happened to TCU last year, because they really stumbled at times. So many people had them knocking on the door to the BCS -- especially with their statement game against Texas -- and it just never materialized. But it's a new season and the Frogs have a history of bouncing back after a mediocre campaign the year before (see 2002 and 2005). That's enough for me to not write the Frogs off this season and it would not shock me in the least if they went on a tear like they did in 2005 and 2006. Of course, I also wouldn't be all that surprised if they struggled again and lost a few games here and there they have no business dropping.
And there you have it, I think these 3 teams will be battling it out this season for the championship. The most important games of the year will be when they all meet at one point or another throughout the season. Whomever manages to win the head-to-head-to-head will win the Mountain West.