Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 | 3 p.m.
Well, color me stupid.
I truly thought that TCU would handle Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night. Every time this season when people thought the Horned Frogs would stumble, Gary Patterson's offense would throw up 50 points like it was going out of style.
As a result of the 17-10 loss to the Broncos, the Horned Frogs missed an opportunity to make themselves a prime candidate for the 2010 national title right from go. Instead, Boise State could bring back 21 of 22 starters and wear that preseason Cinderella slipper.
Still, the Mountain West Conference won't be a slouch league. Not by a longshot. With the conference's 2009 season officially in the books — a 4-1 showing in bowl games wasn't bad, eh? — here's a look at where each team stands in the big picture for 2010.
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Oregon State (at Cowboys Stadium), Sept. 11 at SMU, two TBD
True, the Horned Frogs lose All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, but one player does not make a team, and TCU will still have more talent across the board than anyone in 2010. Despite a poor showing in the Fiesta Bowl — partly his fault, partly not — quarterback Andy Dalton will be the league's preseason favorite to repeat as Offensive Player of the Year and already holds the school's career record for passing yardage. They'll still be athletic and beyond dangerous. This one's pretty much a no-brainer.
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 11 vs. Pitt, Sept. 18 at Iowa State, Sept. 25 vs. San Jose State, Nov. 13 at Notre Dame.
The dynamic combo of quarterback Jordan Wynn and tailback Eddie Wide will be back, and the Utes' defense will be strong as usual. Give Kyle Whittingham plenty of credit for pulling Terrance Cain and throwing Wynn, a true freshman, into the fire midway through the 2009 season. He was 4-2 as a starter, including a perfect springboard performance into 2010 in Utah's 37-27 victory over Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. Wynn was 26-of-36 in the bowl with 338 yards and 3 TD tosses. He'll need that experience, as Utah's non-con slate is pretty brutal in 2010.
3) Air Force
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 18 at Oklahoma, Oct. 2 vs. Navy, Nov. 6 at Army, one TBD
Leapfrogging resident league powerhouse BYU is the known quantity — Air Force. The Falcons also return tons of talent across the board and made big-time noise in a 47-20 victory over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. Everyone knows that Troy Calhoun's club can run the ball, but it is Air Force's defense that will set the tone in 2010. The unit forced Houston's Case Keenum into six interceptions and had the Cougars flummoxed from the beginning. Air Forced finished 2009 ranked 11th in the nation in total defense. The non-conference trip to face Oklahoma is very appealing. Statement game???
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Washington, Sept. 18 at Florida State, Sept. 25 vs. Nevada-Reno, Oct. 10 at Utah State.
Yes, the Cougars lose Max Hall as their on-field offensive engine. However, BYU always is strong across the board. Whether Bronco Mendenhall's program stays a part of the 'Big Three,' however, will depend on quarterback play. Rivals.com ranks incoming freshman gunslinger Jake Heaps as the No. 1 pro-style QB in the current senior class. Will he be ready to be unleashed from day one? Or will Riley Nelson, who backed up Hall as a sophomore this season, get the nod? That's the huge question in Provo. The non-con schedule will be no cakewalk, but tailback Harvey Unga, who has been a workhorse in that offense during the last three seasons (4,540 total yards, 45 total TD), should help BYU survive.
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Southern utah, Sept. 11 at Texas, Sept. 18 vs. Boise State, Oct. 2 at Toledo.
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is much like Utah's Jordan Wynn in that he got the growing pains out of the way and had some big-time success as a freshman. Coach Dave Christensen brought in good talent his first year after leaving Missouri, and expect more of the same. The big concern for Wyoming will be replacing some graduated force along the defensive line. That unit was largely responsible for pushing Wyoming to its upset victory over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.
6) San Diego State
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Nicholls State, Sept. 11 at New Mexico State, Sept. 18 at Missouri, Sept. 25 vs. Utah State.
Brady Hoke and his über-staff worked wonders in year one. Can that carry over? Quarterback Ryan Lindley apparently is grasping their system very well and is heading into his junior year. Combine that with three very winnable non-conference games and SDSU could get to six wins rather easily. The Aztecs ranked 74th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense. That's a nice start for Rocky Long. Expect that ranking to improve.
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 18 at Idaho, Oct. 2 vs. UNR, Oct. 9 at West Virginia, Dec. 4 at Hawaii.
Bobby Hauck has plenty of leftover talent to work with in his first season at UNLV, but the Rebels could have some struggles along the way thanks to the league's most loaded non-conference schedule. Four of UNLV's five opponents outside the Mountain West were in bowl games this year and two of them — Wisconsin and West Virginia — probably will start the 2010 season ranked. However, most of a team that went 5-7 each of the last two years is back. The Rebels certainly won't be lacking in experience.
8) Colorado State
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 vs. Colorado, Sept. 11 at UNR, Sept. 18 at Miami (Ohio), Sept. 25 vs. Idaho.
If Steve Fairchild can find some of that 2008 magic, the Rams' schedule is more than forgiving. If not, it'll be another disappointing, dull year in Fort Collins.
9) New Mexico
Non-conference schedule: Sept. 4 at Oregon, Sept. 11 vs. Texas Tech, Oct. 2 vs. UTEP, Oct. 9 at New Mexico State.
Ugh. No comment.