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Preview review: The Mountain West

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During the summer months of '06 I previewed Utah's opponents, the conference and how I thought Utah would do. In the end I realized that maybe predictions are not my strong suit, because I came off looking a bit, well, out of my mind. For whatever reason (blindly following Utah into the abyss) I just wasn't on and the final results of the 2006 season look dramatically different than my predictions.

I'm no Nostradamus and never claimed to be. And I trust that most of my readers don't come here for predictions, or at least take what I say with a grain of salt when it comes to foretelling the future. And if they think I have any credibility left in outlooks, previews and predictions prior to a down being played, well once they see how badly I do, I think their opinion will quickly change.

With all that said, today I'm going to look at how I thought the Mountain West Conference would unfold. If you were reading the blog back then, you will remember that I broke down every team's schedule, their predicted finish and how I thought their season would play out. I was close on some and damn near out of my mind on most. I guess the day I did these rankings my support of Utah shrouded my judgment more than it should have. Now we'll see if I learned anything from this when I make the 2007 predictions later this year.

In July I did my Mountain West Conference preview and now we really get to see how close I came.

Air Force

DeBerry has had two losing seasons in a row and his legacy at Air Force could be severely jeopardized with yet another losing year. Can he turn things around and wiggle his way out from that noose quickly tightening around his neck?

2006 Schedule:

@ Tennessee: L
@ Wyoming: L
New Mexico: L
Navy: L
Colorado State: L
@ San Diego State: L
BYU: L
@ Army: W
Notre Dame: L
Utah: L
@ UNLV: W
TCU: L

Final Record: 2-10
Conference Record: 1-7

Another losing season for DeBerry and his boys. Whether the Academy's administration decides to force DeBerry into retirement or whether he steps aside himself might be the biggest question for the Falcons this season.

I was pretty off on Air Force's record. While they did have a losing season, as I predicted, it wasn't nearly as bad as I had predicted. I did correctly predict one victory for Air Force, a win over Army toward the end of their season. Air Force went 3-5 in conference play, defeating Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado State (I had them as all losses). I will note though that I did discuss DeBerry retiring after the season if the Falcons struggled. And what do you know, he did exactly that. Though I'll admit, that wasn't very difficult to predict, because DeBerry was hanging by a thread at the start of the season.

Brigham Young:

When he's not slipping and sliding down a watery slip-and-slide, Bronco is looking to the future, by embracing the past. Return to glory was the rage last year for the Cougars and while they made a bowl game, the season was fairly unremarkable and an up and down affair. This season, on the shoulders of senior quarterback John Beck, the Cougars will look to have their first winning season in 4 years.

2006 Schedule:

@ Arizona: L
Tulsa: W
@ Boston College: L
Utah State: W
@ TCU: L
San Diego State: W
UNLV: W
@ Air Force: W
@ Colorado State: L
Wyoming: W
New Mexico: W
@ Utah: L

Final Record: 7-5
Conference Record: 5-3

BYU finishes with its first winning season since going 12-2 in 2001, but still fails to win the conference championship or beat Utah. Improvement on the 6-6 finish last year might unravel however with the fact BYU in 2006 is a senior laden team.

This was probably my worst prediction and maybe it was because of my hatred of anything BYU. I did correctly predict losses to Arizona and Boston College, but as it turns out those were the only games BYU would drop all season. Outside of that, their victories over TCU, CSU and Utah turned out to be where I really went wrong. However I doubt there were people prior to the season that could have foreseen the Cougars winning 11 games this year and going undefeated in conference play. Yet BYU's closest conference games were against TCU, CSU and Utah -- all of whom I had beating the Cougars. So I guess I have that going for me, right?

Colorado State:

Sonny Lubick is a legend in Fort Collins, so much so that they named their football field after him. However over the past few years the Rams have struggled and haven't really positioned themselves as a threat to the conference championship. Though the Rams finished 6-5 last year and were invited to a bowl game, they subsequently went out and got blown away by a strong Navy team. The 6-6 finish assured Sonny Lubick and his Rams their 2nd straight non-winning season. This year, with a new quarterback at the helm, the Rams will look to right the ship, contend for the conference championship and return to their winning ways.

2006 Schedule:

Weber State: W
Colorado: L
@ Nevada: W
@ Fresno State: L
UNLV: W
@ Air Force: W
@ Wyoming: L
New Mexico: W
BYU: W
@ Utah: L
TCU: L
@ San Diego State: L

Final Record: 6-6
Conference Record: 4-4

Rams finish 6-6, possibly getting a bowl berth.

The Rams were by far the most disappointing team in the Mountain West this year. Sonny Lubick's boys are truly struggling, going 4-7, 6-6 and 4-8 the past three years. I wasn't that far off in predicting the Rams troubles, though I'll admit I couldn't have envisioned the meltdown that took place once conference season rolled around.

CSU went 4-8 this year and 1-7 in conference play. They ended the season on a 7 game losing streak, after starting the year 4-1. I pretty much pegged their final three games, though expected them to lose to Colorado and Fresno State, both teams they defeated. I also had them beating Nevada, who beat them pretty handily in Reno at the start of the season.

New Mexico:

New Mexico disappointed last season, finishing 6-5 and missing out on a bowl game for the first time in three years. The Lobos were picked by many to win the conference and never really found their groove last season, especially on offense. This season Rocky Long will not only need to rebuild with new players, he's rebuilding with his coaching staff as well. The Lobos have hired former UCLA head coach Bob Toledo as their new offensive coordinator and he'll look to revive a stagnate Lobos offense. The season should be interesting for New Mexico, as they've consistently been a 6 win, 5 loss team under Rocky Long over the past few years. With 12 games added, and a relatively easy out of conference schedule, getting to 6 wins might not be too difficult, even with a new offense and much inexperience on the football field.

2006 Schedule:

Portland State: W
@ New Mexico State: W
Missouri: L
UTEP: W
@ Air Force: W
Wyoming: W
@ UNLV: L
Utah: W
@ Colorado State: L
TCU: L
@ BYU: L
San Diego State: W

Final Record: 7-5
Conference Record: 4-4

Lobos win 7 games, become bowl eligible and play in the first ever New Mexico Bowl. A win against Utah was a tough pick, but the Lobos have had Utah's number as of late and it would not surprise me if the Utes lost this game.

This is probably the best prediction I made prior to the season. I had the Lobos going 7-5 (they finished 6-7) and actually had them beating Utah, which they did. I was wrong in saying they would defeat Portland State to start the season, but was correct in having them losing to Missouri, while beating UTEP. Though they lost to Air Force and Wyoming -- both predicted wins on my part -- they did finish the conference season with a 4-4 record as I had predicted. I was also correct in saying the Lobos would play in the New Mexico Bowl. Though everyone knew if New Mexico won 6 or more games they were staying home to play in the inaugural bowl game.

San Diego State:

Chuck Long will look to do something no coach has done at San Diego State since the Don Coryell days and that's consistently win. He inherits one of the Mountain West's most talented teams and the Aztecs should be solid on the defensive end. San Diego State has underachieved over the years and Long may be the guy that finally puts everything together for that hauntingly good Aztec team all Mountain West fans have been dreading.

2006 Schedule:

UTEP: W
@ Wisconsin: L
Utah: L
@ San Jose State: W
@ BYU: L
Air Force: W
Cal Poly: W
@ Wyoming: L
UNLV: W
@ TCU: L
@ New Mexico: L
Colorado State: W

Final Record: 6-6
Conference Record: 3-5

Aztecs finish with a 6-6 record in Long's first season, a success over last year's 5-7 record. They become bowl eligible and either don't go bowling, or stay home and play in the Poinsettia Bowl.

I grossly overestimated San Diego State last season. I really thought they would surprise a few people in the Mountain West and I guess they did, as they surprised me with how poor they played. The Aztecs went 3-9 and while I did correctly predict victories over CSU, Air Force and UNLV (their only three of the season) I was way off on their other wins. Who would have thought San Diego State could lose to both San Jose State and Cal Poly? Aztecs went from a 5-7 team in '05 to a 3-9 team in '06. Though I was correct in predicting their final conference record.

TCU

All that stood between TCU and a BCS bowl game last year was a little school by the name of Southern Methodist. SMU, hardly considered a football power anymore, rocked TCU's world and ended any hopes of an undefeated BCS busting season. However the Frogs bounced back, winning their next 10 games and finishing with that lone blemish on their record. This season it won't be nearly as easy, especially with their tougher schedule and the fact they lose Corey Rogers, their stud wide receiver from last year, and some key players on their O-line. However the Frogs return surprise quarterback Jeff Balard, who replaced Tye Gunn during the season and actually looked better on the field. Will TCU's encore live up to their debut?

2006 Schedule:

@ Baylor: W
 UC-Davis: W
Texas Tech: L
BYU: W
@ Utah: L
@ Army: W
Wyoming: W
@ UNLV: W
@ New Mexico: W
San Diego State: W
@ Colorado State: W
Air Force: W

Final Record: 10-2
Conference Record: 7-1

Frogs win 10 games and a share of the conference championship. After an early stumble against Texas Tech and Utah, they roll to a dominate season finish.

I was actually pretty close with my TCU predictions. I had them losing to Tech (which was a win) and Utah (which they did). They finished the season 10-2, though I was wrong with their conference finish, as I had them beating BYU. TCU dominated the rest of their schedule once they got past Utah and finished the season ranked in the top-25 and second in the Mountain West.

UNLV:

Last year the Rebels struggled on offense and doubts were raised on whether Mike Sanford really was the offensive genius behind Utah's explosive 2004 offense. This season, those doubts should either be proven false, or  proven unfortunate for Rebel fans. UNLV has a fairly easy schedule and a lot of returning talent, as well as some key transfers from BCS programs. Yet, it's still unknown whether that talent is good enough to make a greater impact than last year's Rebels team. UNLV's offense struggled last season and they could still struggle this season as well.

2006 Schedule:

Idaho State: W
@ Iowa State: L
@ Hawaii: L
Nevada: W
@ Colorado State: L
New Mexico: W
@ BYU: L
@ Utah: L
TCU: L
@ San Diego State: L
Wyoming: L
@ Air Force: L

Final Record: 3-9
Conference Record: 1-7

There were some people out there that expected the Rebels to play far better in 2006 than they did in 2005. I was not one of them and actually predicted things right (mostly). UNLV struggled, winning only 2 games this year, one of which was against D1-AA Idaho State. The only wrong predictions were saying they would beat New Mexico and lose to Air Force. The Rebels ended the season with their lone conference win against the Falcons. Their 1-7 record I predicted, though mixed up that one win.

Utah

Kyle Whittingham's first season with the Utes wasn't very memorable. In fact, it was one game away from being a complete disaster. However he's excused from the mediocre 7-5 record because of all the talent Utah had to replace. This season though, Utah fans won't be so lenient to losing.  With more returning talent this season than last year, expectations are high for the Utes to not only compete for the Mountain West, but compete for a BCS bowl, too. Though the loss of a few key players, especially on the offensive side of the ball, should not go unnoticed. While the Utes believe they have the best receiving core in the conference, they still need to find a legitimate replacement for star receivers John Madsen and Travis LaTendresse. If they do, look out.

2006 Predictions:

@ UCLA: W
Northern Arizona: W
@ Utah State: W
@ San Diego State: W
Boise State: W
TCU: W
 @ Wyoming: W
@ New Mexico: L
UNLV: W
Colorado State: W
@ Air Force: W
BYU: W

Final Record: 11-1
Conference Record: 7-1

Utes and Frogs share the conference championship with  the Utes stumbling  against the Lobos down in Albuquerque. That loss will most likely end any hope of a BCS bowl bid, since it comes so late in the season. However, since I'm a Ute fan, I would not take too much stock in Utah's picks.

Chalk this up to me being a homer. As we now know, Utah didn't go 11-1 or 7-1 in conference play. They did lose to New Mexico, but also got beat by UCLA, Wyoming and BYU -- all of which I predicted as wins. This prediction was bad and stings because of how the season played out. I honestly thought Utah would be better than they were, but could never have imagined Brett Ratliff would take the first half of the season to find his groove. But once he did, Utah was playing just as well as I thought they should have been playing. I guess I was just premature by a few weeks in the Utes' ability.

Wyoming

2006 Schedule:

Utah State: W
@ Virginia: L
Boise State: L
Air Force: W
@ Syracuse: W
@ New Mexico: L
Utah: L
Colorado State: W
@ TCU: L
San Diego State: W
@ BYU: L
@ UNLV: W

Final Record: 6-6
Conference Record:  4-4

Wyoming finishes 6-6, but probably doesn't go to a bowl game. Definite improvement over last year's 4-7 finish.

Hey what do you know, I correctly predicted Wyoming's record. Though I had them beating Air Force, who they lost to and losing to Utah and New Mexico, who they beat, I was pretty close. I also had them beating Syracuse, though they lost a heart breaker to them earlier in the year. Wyoming was by far my best prediction, right along side New Mexico.

Finally, here's how I thought the Mountain West standings would look at the end of the year.

*Utah: 7-1 (11-1)
*TCU: 7-1 (10-2)
*BYU: 5-3 (7-5)
Wyoming: 4-4 (6-6)
Colorado State: 4-4 (6-6)
*New Mexico: 4-4 (7-5)
*San Diego State: 3-5 (6-6)
UNLV: 1-7 (3-9)
Air Force: 1-7 (2-10)

* Bowl teams.

And here are the actual 2006 Mountain West standings.

*BYU: 11-2 (8-0)
*TCU: 11-2 (6-2)
*Utah: 8-5 (5-3)
Wyoming: 6-6 (5-3)
*New Mexico: 6-7 (4-4)
Air Force: 4-8 (3-5)
San Diego State: 3-9 (3-5)
Colorado State: 4-8 (1-7)
UNLV: 2-10 (1-7)

My top three were right, just in the opposite order. I had both Air Force and UNLV finishing 1-7 in conference play, but it was the other Colorado team that would join the Rebels at the bottom. I was correct in San Diego State's finish, as well as the Lobos and also correct in Wyoming's 4th place finish.

I had five MWC teams going to a bowl game, when in fact only four did (Utah, BYU, TCU and New Mexico).

I guess my predictions weren't that far off, which maybe shows that I kind of know what I'm talking about. Or maybe it's just a stroke of luck and of course I was still pretty far off on some of those predictions. Oh well, at least I'm not fully out of my mind and didn't make a complete ass out of myself -- yet anyway.

Next I will recap my preseason top-25. And here's a hint, my #1 team finished #1 in the country...but was that pre-BCS Championship game, or post-BCS Championship game? Hm, the suspense is palpable....bet you can't wait to see how that one turned out.