The Frogs wasted no time welcoming themselves into the Mountain West last season, going unbeaten in conference play and winning the outright league championship by three full games. In fact, the only game TCU lost all season long was a shocker at the hands of rival SMU. A dozen starters are back from last year's squad, including star RB Robert Merrill. The senior ran for over 900 yards and 10 scores a season ago. QB Jeff Ballard returns this fall as well. Top WR Cory Rodgers must be replaced, but every other wideout who caught a TD in '05 is back on campus.
A season opening battle at ever-improving Baylor will be interesting to watch, as will a home showdown with pass-happy Texas Tech in mid-September. An early-October contest with Utah on the road will set the tone for the conference season and could go a long way in determining who takes home this year's league title.
Projected Wins: at BAY, UCDavis, at Army, WYO, at UNLV, at NM, SDSU, at CSU, AF
After a somewhat disappointing 2005 season, coach Kyle Whittingham is back for his second year as the head man in Salt Lake City and is looking to earn his squad their third league title in four years. Thirteen starters return from a team that went just 7-5 overall and 4-4 in league play last fall. Among those back is junior QB Brian Johnson, who threw for nearly 2900 yards and 18 TD last season while also running for 8 more scores and almost 500 additional yards. Star RB Quinton Gather is gone, though, as are two of the team's top three wide receivers.
The season opener at UCLA will be a tough matchup, as will a trio of games beginning in late September when the Utes visit San Diego State and host Boise State and TCU in consecutive weeks. Those three games will likely determine which direction this team heads: towards the top of the league standings, or back to the middle of the pack. The season finale at home against rival BYU could have title implications as well.
Projected Wins: N.AZ, at USU, at WYO, at NM, UNLV, CSU, at AF
After a couple of rough seasons, the Cougars appear to be working themselves back towards the head of the pack in the Mountain West. A 4-3 conference record in 2004 was followed up with a 5-3 mark last fall, and with a dozen starters back this sesaon, another good campaign is expected in 2006. Eight of those returning starters are on offense, including QB John Beck and RB Curtis Brown. The senior signal-caller threw for more than 3700 yards and 27 TD last year, while Brown, who is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, dashed for over 1100 yards and 14 scores himself.
The season opener at slowly-improving Arizona will be worth keeping an eye on, as will a home matchup with Tulsa and a road trip to Boston College the next two weeks. A 2-1 start to the season would have fans pumped in Provo. A late September road trip to TCU will set the tone for the MWC season, while the season finale on the road at in-state rival Utah could have title implications for either team.
Projected Wins: USU, UNLV, at AF, at CSU, WYO, NM
SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs finally reached the .500 plateau in conference play last fall but still came up a game short of an overall winning record. With new head coach Chuck Long on campus and thirteen starters back this season, SDSU hopes to take a step forward and contend for the 2006 MWC championship. Among the players returning is star RB Lynell Hamilton, who ran for more than 800 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2005. Also back is Kevin O'Connell, the Aztecs' QB who threw for almost 2700 yards but must improve his TD:INT ratio this year. The defensive unit, meanwhile, returns eight starters but allowed almost four touchdowns per game in '05.
SDSU starts out with an extremely difficult schedule. Four of their first five games are at home against UTEP, on the road at Wisconsin, at home against Utah, and on the road at BYU. Winning even one of those four contests would have to be considered a success. The good news, though, is that the schedule gets a bit easier from that point forward, and if the Aztecs can avoid losing confidence early on, a winning season could be in the works.
Projected Wins: at SJSU, CalPoly, at WYO, UNLV, at NM
Sonny Lubick is back for his 14th season in Fort Collins after taking the Rams to their fifth bowl game in the past six seasons. Thirteen starters return from last year's squad, including star RB Kyle Bell. The junior dashed for nearly 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall, but he'll be taking handoffs from a new QB this year, as last season's starter Justin Holland must be replaced. Also gone is the team's top wideout, so look for Bell, as well as a defensive unit that returns 7 starters, to help carry the load early on.
Three of the team's first four games are against in-state rival Colorado and on the road at both Nevada and Fresno State. Therefore, a 2-2 start to the season would be acceptable before the schedule gets a bit easier beginning with the start of October. Late season matchups with BYU, Utah, TCU, and San Diego State (all in the month of November) will test the squad as well, meaning getting the dirty work done in mid-season is crucial if CSU is to go bowling again in 2006.
Projected Wins: WeberSt, UNLV, at WYO, NM
A dozen starters return from last year's squad that went just 4-7, the Falcons' second straight losing season. Coach Fisher DeBerry is for his 23rd season in Colorado Springs and will bring with him one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the Mountain West. Junior Shaun Carney passed for just under 1400 yards last season while also running for 11 additional scores and about 800 more yards. RB Jacobe Kenderick is also back, though the Falcons will have to replace their top two wide receivers from a season ago.
A road trip to Tennessee is not the best way to start the season, but six of the next nine games are at home before a two-game road swing completes the regular season. AFA's non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the conference, so picking up victories, including those on the road, against the lower half of the MWC will be crucial in their attempt to achieve a winning record in 2006.
Projected Wins: NM
A successful 2004 season was followed up by a disappointing '05 campaign that saw the Cowboys win just four games all season. A dozen starters, six on each side of the ball, are back this fall, including top RB Wynel Seldon. The sophomore, who is also dangerous catching passes out of the backfield, ran for almost 900 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. However, both QB Corey Bramlet (2600 yards, 16 TD) and star WR Jovon Bouknight (1100 yards, 12 TD) will have to be replaced, not an easy task.
Two of the first three games on the slate, at Virginia and vs Boise State, will be tough to take. Still, there are plenty of winnable games on the schedule, including road contests at places like Syracuse, New Mexico, and UNLV. Capturing a few victories away from home will be a must if Wyoming is to get within striking distance of a .500 record in 2006.
Projected Wins: (none)
Many expect a successful UNM stretch that saw the squad win 34 games and make three bowl trips over the past five years to come to an end in 2006. The largest amount of such speculation is due to the loss of star RB DonTrell Moore, and when you see what he meant to his team, it's not hard to see the challenges that lie ahead for coach Rocky Long. Moore was one of only six players in NCAA history to run for 1000+ yards in four straight years, quite an accomplishment. Though QB Kole McKamey returns, his favorite target from a season ago, Hank Baskett, has also left campus.
The schedule's first two games should be wins, setting up a crucial two-game home stretch in mid-September. That's when Missouri and UTEP come to town in consecutive weeks, and splitting that pair of contests would go a long way towards a successful 2006 season. It's also intersting to note that MWC favorites TCU and Utah both visit Albuquerque, but it's still likely to leave the squad well below the .500 mark this fall.
Projected Wins: PortlandSt, NMSU
A dozen starters return for this squad that's finished in last place each of the last three seasons in the Mountain West. In fact, UNLV has won just four league games since 2003. The Rebels' top two running backs, as well as both quarterbacks from last year, return in 2006. The big news, though, is the presence of QB Rocky Hinds, a highly-thought of USC transfer who could step in and take snaps immediately for coach Mike Sanford's team.
The schedule does no favors for UNLV early on, so it's unlikely that the squad will get off to a fast start this fall. Still, there are winnable games on the slate late in the season, and if the Rebels can finish on a strong note heading into Sanford's third year on campus, things could be getting brighter in Las Vegas.
Projected Wins: IdahoSt
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