The Mountain West once again proved to be a BCS Buster last season, as TCU cruised to an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, the Mountain West has fielded such competitive squads the past few seasons, from TCU to BYU to Utah, that the conference is being considered for an automatic BCS berth in 2012.
Can the Mountain West crash the party again and further its case for an automatic bid? TCU should once again lead the charge with the Horned Frogs touting quarterback Andy Dalton as a Heisman contender. He'll have his top three wideouts back from 2009, as well. The Horned Frogs must deal with the loss of two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Jerry Hughes, but seven starters still return on defense for TCU.
The Utes will give the Horned Frogs all they can handle and could storm their way into the BCS picture as well. They have one of the nation's most potent backfield duos with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Both backs have 1,000-yard capabilities, particularly if Asiata is fully healthy in returning from a torn ACL. Asiata was poised for a breakout season prior to the injury in 2009.
The most intriguing team in the league is BYU. The Cougars will be without mainstays Max Hall and Dennis Pitta on offense, who graduated and are off to the NFL. The biggest development of the offseason, though, was the withdrawal from school of stud running back Harvey Unga due to an honor code violation. Without nearly all of their playmakers from a year ago, where do the Cougars turn? Highly recruited freshmen quarterback Jake Heaps will be thrown right into the fire, as he was arguably the top quarterback prospect in the country coming out of high school. Hopes are also high for freshman running back Josh Quezada. The Cougars still will be extremely talented and might sneak up on some people.
Don't forget about the gamebreakers too; Ryan Lindley and Vincent Brown of San Diego State could hook up for staggering passing numbers, while the most exciting player in the conference could come out of Wyoming. Yes, you read that correctly. Young quarterback Austyn-Carta Samuels has dual-threat potential for an improving Cowboys squad.
It might seem easy to write it off, but don't sleep on the Mountain West. Next thing you know, a Mountain West team might be taking your spot in the BCS.
Players to Target
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Although many credited TCU's defense with the Horned Frogs' rise to prominence, and perhaps rightly so, Dalton did his part for Texas Christian from under center, throwing for 23 touchdowns and 2,756 yards en route to a perfect 2009 regular season. Dalton can run a little too, averaging 4.4 yards per carry for 512 yards and three more touchdowns. It will be difficult to replicate his shining 2009 season, but Dalton still could get 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Horned Frogs in his final year at TCU.
Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State
Lindley can fling the pigskin, and the San Diego State coaching staff prefers it that way. He surpassed 40 attempts in four games last season on his way to 3,000 yards and 23 trips across the goal line for the Aztecs. The dynamic Vincent Brown should be back from injury, making Lindley's life a bit easier as well. He'll look to improve his accuracy, as he didn't even connect on 55 percent of his passes last season, but Lindley will get plenty of opportunities to rack up the stats.
Omar Clayton, QB, UNLV
Clayton struggled with consistency and injuries in what was supposed to be a breakout season for the Runnin' Rebel last year. He notched a career-high 2,230 passing yards but had a 13:12 TD:INT ratio. With new coach Bobby Hauck looking to implement his power running game, along with back-up Mike Clausen breathing down Clayton's neck, the senior will have to make the most of his attempts in 2010.
Austyn Carta-Samuels, QB, Wyoming
The MWC Freshman of the Year passed for nearly 2,000 yards and ten touchdowns in his first season under center for the Cowboys. He also rushed for 366 yards and another three touchdowns. The versatile QB even caught a 30-yard touchdown pass. Carta-Samuels topped off his 2009 season with a 201-yard, three-touchdown performance against Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. All in all, he will be the focal point of the Wyoming offense.
Eddie Wide, RB, Utah
Wide stepped in for the injured Matt Asiata and had a stellar season, rushing for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also snared 17 balls for 154 yards and another score for the Utes. Top receiver David Reed is gone, so Wide will be asked to take care of even more of the Utah offense as Asiata works his way back from his ACL tear.
Jared Tew, RB, Air Force
Tew was the primary beneficiary of the nation's No. 1 rushing offense last season, taking 238 carries for 970 yards and nine scores. Although clearly the receptions will be few and far between, Tew should still get his hands on the football enough to make an impact from the RB slot.
Asher Clark, RB, Air Force
Although he received fewer carries than teammate Jared Tew, Clark still averaged an impressive 5.7 yards per carry en route to 865 yards on the ground and seven entries into the end zone. The first priority for quarterbacks Connor Dietz and Tim Jefferson is to feed the backs, a welcome sign for Clark, Tew and fantasy owners alike. Clark should post similar numbers in 2010.
Channing Trotter, RB, UNLV
It could be boom or bust for Trotter, who led the Rebels in all rushing categories last season but lost significant playing time down the stretch to C.J. Cox. He has a nose for the end-zone, as he scored nine times on the ground in 2009. However, it will be interesting to see whether Trotter grabs a workhorse role or loses touches in a timeshare.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego State
Brown flirted with jumping to the NFL, but fortunately for the Aztecs, and the college fantasy world, he's back at SDSU for his senior season. Brown was on his way to a huge junior year before a mid-season thumb injury spoiled things. In just six games, he posted 45 receptions for 778 yards and six touchdowns. With Ryan Lindley in his second year at quarterback, Brown has a sky-high ceiling in San Diego State's pro-style attack.
DeMarco Sampson, WR, San Diego State
When Vincent Brown went down, Sampson stepped in and didn't miss a beat, leading the Aztecs in all receiving categories with 62 catches for 851 yards and eight scores. Sampson's season was punctuated by a 15-catch, 257-yard, three-touchdown performance against Colorado State. With Brown back healthy, he figures to draw some attention away from Sampson, but there should still be plenty of balls thrown his way for Sampson to make an impact.
David Leonard, WR, Wyoming
Leonard had more receptions in 2009 than any other player on this list. The emergence of Austyn Carta-Samuels aided his game tremendously, as Leonard torched his previous career highs. The Carta-Samuels-to-Leonard connection posted 77 completions for 705 yards and three touchdowns. With the growth of his young quarterback, Leonard should only get better in 2010.
Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU
Kerley's value increases in leagues that include return yardage points. Kerley was the Mountain West's Special Teams POY last season, leading the conference in average yardage on kickoff and punt returns. In fact, he now holds the single season TCU record for punt return yards. He was no slouch as a wideout either in 2009, hauling in 44 balls for 532 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for three scores. Kerley is a playmaker who is a threat to score each and every time he touches the ball.
Jereme Brooks, WR, Utah
David Reed is off to the NFL, so somebody's got to pick up the slack in the Utes' wide receiving unit. Enter Brooks, who quietly snagged more touchdowns than Reed in 2009. He also caught 56 balls for 696 yards, good for a 12.4 YPC average. With increasing stat totals in each of his first three seasons, and the rapport he showed late in the season with quarterback Jordan Wynn, Brooks could be in line for a big senior campaign.
Phillip Payne, WR, UNLV
Leading receiver Ryan Wolfe is gone, but Payne should fill in admirably for the departed wideout. Payne is a big target at 6-3, 200, and doubled his receptions from 29 to 58 between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. With seven touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, Payne has become a reliable pass-grabber for quarterback Omar Clayton. A 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown season would clearly be difficult, but it may not be as much of a stretch as you'd think.
Jimmy Young, WR, TCU
Young is a prime candidate for a bounceback season in 2010. After nearly crossing the 1,000-yard plateau in 2008, he regressed in 2009, catching 26 fewer passes for a mere 517 yards. However, Young was still recuperating from an offseason knee injury at the start of the 2009 campaign and appears fully healthy at this juncture. With a stellar quarterback throwing him the pigskin, Young could approach career-high numbers.
Bryan Kariya, RB, BYU
Harvey Unga won't be reinstated at BYU, meaning that the Cougars also have to replace a star at running back. Kariya is bigger in stature and more punishing than backfield mate J.J. DiLuigi, and therefore should receive most of the short-yardage carries, including goal-line touches. He also received more carries in 2009 than DiLuigi as well. Overall, Kariya could be in for a breakout campaign, though be wary of freshman Josh Quezada stealing some thunder.
Matt Asiata, RB, Utah
Asiata is recovering from a torn ACL suffered early last season, but before the injury he was considered to be on his way to elite running back status. He managed 344 yards and four touchdowns in three-plus games before suffering the injury, and in 2008 he found the end-zone 13 times for the Utes. Although he sat out of spring practice, he could be the best offensive weapon in the Mountain West once he gets the spring back in his step.
Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah
It's not that Wynn can't get the job done; in just six games last season as a freshman replacing Terrance Cain, he compiled 1,329 yards and eight touchdowns. He even torched Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl to the tune of 338 yards and three touchdowns. It's the fact that there wasn't much pressure on him in 2009. This season, he comes in to lead a team with possible BCS Bowl aspirations. He'll also be without top wideout David Reed, and he'll have the luxury of two stellar backs in Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide to lean on. Utah might decide to take the pressure off Wynn by pounding the ball instead of airing it out.
Jake Heaps, QB, BYU
Max Hall is gone, but the Cougars may still be in good hands. In steps 6-2, 205-lb Jake Heaps, the No. 1 QB in the recruiting class of 2010. Heaps is considered polished with an incredibly accurate arm. There have been some who say he needs to put on some weight, but Heaps has the same build as Hall, who didn't seem to have any problems leading BYU during his tenure. If the running game shows up while Heaps gets his feet wet, the Cougs might not miss a beat with Heaps at the helm.
Josh Quezada, RB, BYU
Right on cue: The running game of BYU lost three-time 1,000-yard rusher Harvey Unga during the offseason, a crushing blow. Quezada will try to fill the void fresh out of high school with his bruising style of play. There's no question the freshman is tough enough to handle the load and break some tackles, but can he produce big plays? The Cougars think so, and if previously part-time backs Bryan Kariya and J.J. DiLuigi prove ineffective out of the gate, Quezada will get a chance to prove his mettle.