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The Sporting News ranks the Mountain West

Along with all the other major sports magazines, TSN has published their own college football preview. Their prediction for Utah? A tough season which probably results in barely finishing at .500 or finishing just below .500.

The following Utah opponents are ranked in TSN's preseason top-25:

Louisville (9)
UCLA (10)
TCU (20)

Ouch, that's a killer schedule that might leave Utah battered and bruised entering the conference season. Which is maybe TSN's reasoning for these Mountain West Conference standings.

Rank Team Comment
1 TCU No surprise here, TCU will be the favorite to win the conference and they should be. They're a legitimate BCS contender.
2 BYU I have no problem with BYU being ranked 2nd, since they won the conference last year by going undefeated. However I do think they're going to struggle at times during conference play and most likely will lose at least two Mountain West games.
3 UNM The Lobos should be stacked, but Rocky Long is not a very good coach and I do think they will struggle at times.
4 Utah If Utah finishes 4th in the conference, Whittingham will be tossed on the hotseat. This team has too much talent to finish this low in the conference, especially when you realize they finished 3rd last year with a backup quarterback playing starter for all 12 games.
5 Wyoming In my mind the Cowboys have a better shot at finishing in the top-3 than New Mexico.
6 CSU It's tough to predict what the Rams will do, they've been a very fickle team over the past four seasons.
7 SDSU Until they prove otherwise, the Aztecs are a bottom feeder.
8 Air Force New coach, new system, same results? Who knows, the Falcons are definitely the most unknown going into this season. Much like the Aztecs were last year under first year head coach Chuck Long, and we all know how that turned out.
9 UNLV They just plain suck.

I'm guessing that TSN does not think Utah will beat any team ranked above them. That means they probably predict Utah to lose to Louisville, UCLA and TCU, then BYU and New Mexico for 5-losses there. And I doubt they think Utah can beat Oregon State, who's predicted to finish 4th in the Pacific Ten, which gives Utah 6 losses on the season. That means Utah will finish 6-6 unless they trip over themselves and lose a game they shouldn't. That's not a result many Utah fans would probably be happy for and I'm guessing it would only push Whittingham closer and closer to the edge.

So how well has TSN been at predicting the Mountain West over the past few years? Well last week I took a look at Athlon's past predictions and thought I would do the same for TSN.

We'll start with 1999, since it was the first year of the Mountain West Conference.

Year Predicted finish Actual finish
1999 4th 1st
2000 2nd 4-t
2001 7th 3-t
2002 2nd 4-t
2003 5th 1st
2004 1st 1st
2005 1st 4-t
2006 2nd 3rd

Like Athlon, TSN only correctly predicted 2004. They've predicted Utah higher than their actual finish 4 times (2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006) and predicted them lower than their actual finish 3 times (1999, 2001 and 2003). Basically, they base their predictions on what the team did the year before. Utah won the conference in 1999 and was predicted to finish toward the top in 2000, however they limped to only 4-wins that season. That gave them a predicted 7th place finish in 2001 and Utah surprised everyone by winning 8 games that season. Again, like in 2000, the Utes were predicted to finish toward the top after a successful season and completely bombed, only winning 5 games. That ended McBride's career at Utah and brought in Urban Meyer, who was not expected to take a 5-6 team and turn them into a 10-2 team and conference champions. But that's what he did, then one-upped his own doing by going 12-0 and winning the Fiesta Bowl the next year.

The common trend with the Athlon and TSN predictions is that neither have confidence that Utah will be any better than just a mediocre team under Kyle Whittingham. To Athlon's credit, they do have Utah finishing 3rd, but TSN obviously feels this team isn't going anywhere under the current coaching staff. Is that justified? Probably not, but even with Brian Johnson returning, no magazine has yet to predict Utah to finish 2nd or better in the conference. The lone exception is an online publication, SureFire Scouting.

The fact though that TSN has been right only ONCE in their Utah prediction over the past 8 years leads me to believe they will once again be wrong this time around. Luckily I don't see Utah finishing any worse than 4th in the conference, so hopefully that means they finish better than 4th in the standings (top 2, anyone?)