Last season BYU, picked by many to finish 3rd, rolled to an undefeated conference record and their first conference championship in 5 years. That was a surprise to many, especially with how easy BYU had it -- except for their final game against the Utes. A year before that, it was TCU that rolled to a conference championship after limping to a 5-6 record the season before. And now we're entering the 2007 campaign and it's time for another team to step up. One that makes a splash, even though most everyone overlooked them heading into the season. So who will it be?
Well let's first rule out TCU, BYU and Utah, as I don't think anyone would be surprised if these teams ran the table in conference play, or even finished with a winning record. That leaves Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming. New Mexico is a decent team that brings back some talent and should be good enough to surprise a few people, however they also won 6 games last year and should compete for a bowl game again. The only way they would surprise anyone is if they won the Mountain West and I'm not sure I think that's possible.
UNLV and San Diego State might have the talent to make some noise, but eventually it won't be enough to shock anyone. Getting to a winning season, let alone climbing the conference ladder, will prove to be far too difficult for both programs. That leaves Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming. The Falcons could be a sleeper, but I think it would take far too much for that to happen and the Falcons just aren't ready.
That leaves us with Wyoming and Colorado State. The Pokes seem like the logical choice, since they've vastly improved under Glenn. While Colorado State has taken a few steps back recently with Lubick, but I'm going to have to go with Colorado State on this one.
Firstly, the Rams return Kyle Bell, their stud running back who sat out in 2006. That right there adds a new dimension to their offense, which was horrible last season. Couple that with senior quarterback Caleb Hanie and this offense should be vastly improved.
Secondly, one has to consider the fact the bottom fell out on CSU's season and they never really recovered. They started the season 4-1, including wins over Colorado and Fresno State, but then lost 7 straight to finish the year 4-8. When it rains it pours and with a new start to the season, Colorado State might just find a way to bounce back.
However, if the Rams are going to have a successful season, they can't allow a few losses to unravel the possibilities. That happened last year, after a close loss to Air Force and could happen again with how tough their schedule is. The Rams open the season against rival Colorado, a game they can easily lose, then have to play Cal, a game they should lose, before doing the Texas two step against Houston and TCU. CSU could realistically be looking at an 0-4 hole to start things out and if that happens, the season might take the path it did last year. A result Rams fans would hate to see and one that could lead to the end of Sonny Lubick's career in Fort Collins.
If Colorado State can defeat Colorado and defeat Houston however, a 2-2 start very well could turn into a 6 or 7 win season. That should be enough for a bowl game and a sign that maybe it's premature to be discussing the thought of pulling the plug on the Sonny Lubick era. If that does not happen though, another team will need to step up as this year's sleeper and my bets are on Wyoming.