Monday, July 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Mountain West football season gets into gear this week in Las Vegas as the teams descend on the Cosmopolitan for the league’s media days today and Tuesday.
The positive of these events is, much like baseball teams in spring training, everyone’s undefeated so everyone is optimistic. Or at least that’s the position they project.
The negative is this optimism tends to overshadow legitimate discussions regarding the concerns of an upcoming season. Everything still seems fixable, and if you’re a coach or player, that’s how you should feel — confident things will work out as the season rolls along.
Of course, this isn’t how it will all play out. It simply can’t. Someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose, and with my preseason ballot I attempt to predict some of that.
The preseason All-Mountain West teams will be announced today and below you can find my team, along with a few storylines to look for coming out of the Cosmo conversations in the next 48 hours.
New Car Smell
Not only does the league have two new teams — Utah State and San Jose State — but both are breaking in new coaches after their predecessors guided the respective schools to great heights. There’s change in Reno, too, where Brian Polian takes over for Chris Ault. The Wolf Pack aren’t built to withstand the change like the Spartans and Aggies, but don’t go marking down a Fremont Cannon victory for the Rebels just yet.
Any national conversation about the Mountain West will almost assuredly be about the league’s quarterbacks. San Jose State’s David Fales is already getting a lot of attention as a potential first-round pick after a stellar showing at Elite 11 high school quarterback camp in Beaverton, Ore. (plus the fact he led the nation in completion percentage last year), and there are at least five quarterbacks worth watching every week.
Seeing is Believing
Will UNLV win more than two games this year? Will someone other than Boise State win the league’s inaugural championship game? I think both are likely but I’d like to see it first. People want to discount the Broncos because last year their offense was anemic and the defense lost some key pieces, but it’s unwise to bet against coach Chris Petersen. Similarly, it’s unwise to bet on the Rebels, unless you take that literally, in which case you’re likely already aware of Bobby Hauck’s excellent record covering the spread. But as for that over/under 2.5 season victories total? Seemed like an easy over last year until UNLV lost five one-possession games. So maybe hold off on that one.
BERN'S ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST TEAM
QB — Derek Carr, Sr, Fresno State
• You’ve got to beat the best to be the best, so while this was probably the most difficult position to pick, I played it safe with the defending Offensive Player of the Year. He’s got a lot of weapons coming back, so a repeat is possible, though it could just as easily have gone to newcomers David Fales (San Jose State) and Chuckie Keeton (Utah State). Wyoming’s Brett Smith and UNR’s Cody Fajardo also help round out a position so deep that UNLV sophomore Nick Sherry wasn’t even nominated.
RB — Kasey Carrier, Sr, New Mexico; Adam Muema, Jr, San Diego State
• Running backs are going to pile up a lot of yards in the Mountain West simply because of schemes — I’m looking at you, New Mexico and Air Force — but the league doesn’t have a lot of transcendent stars at the position. Because of this, the Rebels’ Tim Cornett has a chance to really break through in his final season, as long as Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith doesn’t take away too many carries. Either way, I felt Carrier and Muema were more established and slightly more deserving of the preseason nods.
WR — Davante Adams, So, Fresno State; Noel Grigsby, Sr, San Jose State
• Last year, Adams set Mountain West freshman records for catches (102), receiving yards (1,312) and touchdowns (14). With Carr throwing him the ball there shouldn’t be a sophomore slump, and senior Grigsby — 82 catches for 1,307 yards and nine TDs last year — is no slouch either. This was the easiest position to pick.
TE — Kolby Arendse, Sr, UNR
• I had to pick somebody.
OL — Tyler Larsen, Jr, Utah State; Austin Wentworth, Sr, Fresno State; Matt Paradis, Sr, Boise State; Nicholas Kaspar, Sr, San Jose State; Weston Richburg, Sr, Colorado State
• With the exception of Richburg, all of these guys play for teams in the top half of the conference. That’s no coincidence. It’s going to take a lot of points to win some of these Mountain West games and the line that keeps its quarterback upright and the ball moving forward is the one best equipped to help do that. Wentworth and Paradis were All-Mountain West last year while Kaspar is a three-year starter and 2012 first-team All-WAC.
DL — Demarcus Lawrence, Jr, Boise State; Travis Raciti, Jr, San Jose State; Jordan Nielsen, So, Utah State; Tyeler Davidson, Jr, Fresno State
• The scary part for offensive lineman is that not one of these guys is a senior. Lawrence and Raciti combined for 18 sacks last year while Davidson, a nose guard, is extremely nimble for a 300-pounder.
LB — Keith Smith, Sr, San Jose State; Jake Doughty, Sr, Utah State; Jake Fely, Jr, San Diego State
• Smith has led the Spartans in tackles for three straight seasons. Odds are he makes that No. 4 this season.
DB — Bene Benwikere, Sr, San Jose State; Nat Berhe, Sr, San Diego State; Derron Smith, Jr, Fresno State; Shaq Bell, Sr, Colorado State
• If the focus is on the big arms under center, then this group could contain the league’s real hero — the guy who figures out who to stop them.
ST — Nolan Kohorst, K, Sr, UNLV; Ben Skaer, P, Sr, New Mexico; Chase Clayton, KR/RB, Jr, New Mexico
• Kohorst made nearly a field goal per game last season, and if the Rebels are going to win a few more games, he’s going to have to be just as effective (12-of-14 last year). And Clayton had two 98-yard touchdown returns in 2012, helping him rank fifth in the nation with 30.4 yards per kick return.
Players of the Year — Carr (Offense), Raciti (Defense) and Clayton (Special Teams)
Predicted order of finish
Mountain — Boise State, Utah State, Wyoming, Air Force, New Mexico, Colorado State
West — San Jose State, San Diego State, Fresno State, UNR, UNLV, Hawai’i
• It’s very possible the first Mountain West football championship game will be played between two teams that weren’t in the conference last season. Defending co-champions Boise State, San Diego State and Fresno State will certainly challenge that, and don’t overlook dark horse Wyoming. But the newcomers may very well take their battle at the top of the standings — the Aggies edged out the Spartans for last year’s WAC title — from one league to another. The biggest hurdle may be that both are playing with new head coaches.
And as for UNLV, there are plenty of winnable games on that schedule and within the league. It’s a matter of actually doing it.
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The dining experience at The Cosmopolitan isn’t something you’ll find at other Strip resorts, either. All of The Cosmopolitan’s 13 restaurateurs are new to the Las Vegas market. You’ll find American steakhouse fare in a modern setting at STK, top-notch sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill and the freshest fish flown in from the Mediterranean daily at Estiatorio Milos.
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