Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
4. New Mexico
7. Air Force
8. Colorado State
9. San Diego State
TOP FIVE STORYLINES IN MOUNTAIN WEST
BYU = BCS? Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has coined the phrase "Quest for Perfection" to describe the upcoming season. They've won ten in a row since a loss to Tulsa in their third game of 2007. Efficient, accurate QB Max Hall now has 13 starts under his belt. The top rusher and top four receivers return. Things are setting up well in Provo. Hall (right) threw 26 touchdowns a year ago, and he gets to throw to Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, and Michael Reed again. Harvey Unga returns as feature back after compiling over 1,800 yards from scrimmage last year. Mendenhall does have to patch together a defense, but he gets to build it around athletic DE Jan Jorgensen, who picked up 14 sacks last year. MLB David Dixon is the only returning starter who doesn't play on the defensive line. Guys like Scott Johnson, Brandon Howard, and G Pittman aren't experienced corners, but they're plenty talented to handle starting assignments.
Utah looks to rebound from injury-riddled season. Starting QB Brian Johnson (right) missed significant time and was probably never 100 percent. Starting RB Matt Asiata broke his leg in the season opener. Leading receiver Brent Casteel blew out his knee in the Utes' second game. As a result, it took quite some time for Utah's offense to find its footing. By the time it finally did, the Utes were staring up from a 1-3 hole. They finished by winning eight of their last nine, including a Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy. With that in mind, Johnson, Asiata, and Casteel are all going to be healthy. Add to that RB Darrell Mack (also pictured), who stepped in and ran for over 1,200 yards, and WR Brandon Godfrey, who caught 50 passes and is Utah's leading returning receiver. Oh, and Kyle Whittingham still has guys like DEs Koa Misi and Paul Kruger, along with OLB Stevenson Sylvester, on the defense. While this is likely to be a very good team again, their top-end players don't quite match up to BYU's.
Colorado State changes coaches. Sonny Lubick did great things in Fort Collins. He won 108 games in 15 years, led the Rams to nine bowl games, and he also won or shared six conference championships, most recently in 2002. Lubick struggled to get this program going in recent years, however. The Rams have won just sven games over two years, haven't won a bowl game since the 2001 New Orleans Bowl, and the administration convinced Lubick to retire after last season. Enter Steve Fairchild, a former CSU QB and most recently the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Fairchild has quite a task in front of him, and making it tougher is the fact that the Rams return just 12 starters. In a way, this is a good thing, as Fairchild has no reason not to conduct a competition for most, if not all, starting positions. The offensive coaches took an unusual step to helping the new QBs out. They've programmed their passing plays into Madden 08 for the PlayStation 2, and the four candidates take turns playing it every day. Fairchild was a good hire, but this rebuild is going to take a while.
Wyoming tries to bounce back. The Cowboys' 2007 collapse was capped by coach Joe Glenn's embarrassing one-finger salute toward the Utah sideline after an onside kick. Glenn had guaranteed a win over Utah, and the Utes apparently decided a 43-0 lead wasn't enough. Your mileage may vary on the Utes' decision to onside, but you can't justify Glenn's inability to control his emotions. A 4-1 start crumbled away in a 1-6 finish. After the loss to Utah, Wyoming got blown out by BYU and upset by Colorado State. The talent exists for Glenn to engineer a turnaround. Junior QB Karsten Sween, senior RB Devin Moore (pictured), and junior WR Greg Bolling lead the offense, which sports all five starters from last year on the offensive line. Three junior linemen (Mitch Unrein, Fred Givens, and John Fletcher) and senior LB Ward Dobbs are the best players on defense. Glenn expects seniors Michael Ray and Quincy Rogers to provide stability in the secondary.
Air Force tries to follow a great year. Troy Calhoun maxed out the talents of his players a year ago, leading them to a nine-win season that included wins over Mountain West powers TCU and Utah. The Falcons have to find a way to follow up on that this year, and it is going to be potentially tougher than last year was for Calhoun. To do it again, he and his staff are going to have to max out the talents of 14 new starters, including a new QB, new RBs, and new receivers. Defensively, Air Force has to find new starting corners and replace most of its LB depth. The biggest loss is that of QB Shaun Carney, who totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and directed the offense to nearly 30 points per game, increasing production by nearly a touchdown per game from a year earlier.
BEST OF THE REST
Gary Patterson has won at least ten games four times in seven years at TCU, and this team has the talent to make it five out of eight. An uncharacteristically leaky defense should be healthier, and the Horned Frogs have plenty of experience on offense. Quick: Name the only Mountain West school to be bowl-eligible each of the last seven years. You probably got it wrong, as it's not likely you'd guess New Mexico. The Lobos snapped a 46-year bowl win drought last year with a 23-0 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, and Rocky Long hopes his young team can find a way to get back to the postseason this year. No seat is hotter than that of Mike Sanford at UNLV. The Rebels have won just six games in three years, though things are looking up this season. Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon are locked in a solid QB competition heading into fall camp. Sanford finally has some experienced receivers and runners to operate his spread offense. It's up to those players to stay healthy, and the defense to improve quicker than it has been. Losing a starting QB isn't something that is going to lead to higher expectations when your team is coming off a 4-8 season. San Diego State has to replace Kevin O'Connell, along with leading receivers Brett Swain and Chaz Schilens. Of course, a defense that allowed a staggering 34 points per game is going to have to come around for Chuck Long if his team is to climb into the upper division of this league.
PRESEASON AWARDS AND NOTABLES
Offensive Player of the Year: Max Hall, QB, BYU
Defensive Player of the Year: Jan Jorgensen, DE, BYU
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mike Sanford, UNLV
Best Non-Conference Game: Utah at Michigan, August 30
Worst Non-Conference Game: Stephen F. Austin at TCU, September 6