Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Yard Out: Mountain West Conference (MWC)

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) landed a team in the BCS for the third straight year, but in a few short years, the MWC will be a shell of what it was this year. Conference expansion and losing Brady Hoke to Michigan make it impossible for the MWC to ever reach BCS AQ status. Those are off the field issues, let’s get to what happened on the field this year.

You can read the preseason analysis on the MWC here: 5 Step Drop: Mountain West Conference

1. Who will win the conference?
Preseason answer: TCU Horned Frogs.
2010 Champion: TCU Horned Frogs.
TCU has clearly become the class of the league. Second place Utah didn’t even put up a fight (47-7). San Diego State gave TCU a scare, but other than that it was clear sailing. No wonder the Big East decided to woo them away.

2. Who is the top returning player?
Preseason answer: Carmen Messina, New Mexico.
2010 Top Player: Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State.
Hillman burst onto the scene this year. He amassed 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Hillman went over 200 yards against Missouri and Navy. He had four other games with 150 or more yards rushing. He brings back memories of Marshall Faulk.

3. Which team will be the most improved?
Preseason answer: San Diego State Aztecs.
2010 Most Improved: San Diego State Aztecs.
There really is only one choice here. From 4-8 to 9-4 in one year clearly shows why Michigan hired away Brady Hoke. Every other MWC team stayed the same or was worse.

4. What will be the biggest surprise?
Preseason answer: One of the "Big 3" (TCU, BYU, Utah) will lose to one of the other six members of the conference.
2010 Biggest Surprise: Total collapse by Wyoming and BYU.
Although the preseason answer became a reality (September 11, Air Force 35 BYU 14), BYU barely qualifying for a bowl game, and Wyoming dropping from 7-6 bowl champ to 3-9 takes the cake as biggest surprise. Wyoming was supposed to be on the up swing like San Diego State. BYU was expected to be down some this year, but not that down.

5. Which coach is on the hottest seat?
Preseason answer: Mike Locksley, New Mexico.
2010 Hot Seat: Mike Locksley, New Mexico.
After back-to-back 1-11 seasons, I find no reason for New Mexico to retain Locksley. The $1.5 million buyout must be the only thing keeping him on staff. He landed a big recruit last year; maybe he can do it again this year. Perhaps that will be enough to get 4 wins next year.

The MWC can be proud that it won the Bowl Challenge Cup for the third time this year with a 4-1 bowl record. Utah was ranked in the top 5 at one point, as well. While the future looks turbulent, the 2010 season was a good one.

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