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Mountain West Conference Evolves Entering 2013

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Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images
Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

It’s been said that the only constant is change. This is especially true in college football and for the Mountain West Conference in particular.

The MWC welcomes two new members, San Jose State and Utah State, this season. Two other members, Boise State and San Diego State, had previously planned to join the Big East Conference for football. Both decided to stay in the MWC instead.

This gives the MWC 12 teams. The conference decided to split into two divisions. Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming are in the Mountain Division. Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV are in the West Division. The two division winners will play in a conference championship game Dec. 7 at the home site of the division winner with the highest BCS ranking.

Here is a brief look at each team in the MWC.

Mountain Division

Air Force

Head Coach: Troy Calhoun

2012 record: 6-7 overall, 5-3 MWC (4th place)

Postseason: Lost to Rice 33-14 in Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force set a school record last season by going to a bowl game for the sixth year in a row. But a 33-14 loss to Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl left the Falcons with a 6-7 record and their first losing season since 2006.

The Falcons need to replace several players in key leadership positions. They had five players earn All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2012 (two second team, three honorable mention), all of whom are seniors. The spotlight will be on junior-to-be quarterback Kale Pearson, who saw limited action in 2012 as a backup to recent graduate Connor Dietz. Pearson completed 12 of 29 passes for 128 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 49 yards.

Because of the unique appointment process of all the service academies, little will be known about Air Force’s 2013 recruits until they set foot on campus this summer.

Boise State

Head Coach: Chris Petersen

2012 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 MWC (tied for 1st)

Postseason: Beat Washington 28-26 in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Boise State made the most news in the offseason by basically doing nothing. The Broncos were scheduled to join the Big East Conference for football this July along with San Diego State, but on Dec. 31 Boise State president Robert Kustra announced that football and the majority of BSU’s programs will remain in the MWC.

The Broncos joined the MWC in 2011 and has held at least a share of the conference title in both years it has been a member. The Broncos were the only MWC team to be included in the final BCS standings (No. 19).

In order to repeat as MWC champs and remain in the conversation for a shot at a national championship, Boise State must first win the new Mountain Division of the MWC. This division includes 2012 Western Athletic Conference champion Utah State, which joins the MWC this coming season.

The Broncos have quite a few key returning players. Junior defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence was a first-team all-MWC selection in 2012, as was senior offensive lineman Matt Paradis. Senior quarterback Joe Southwick completed 248 of 371 passes for 2,730 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. Junior wide receiver Matt Miller was a second-team all-MWC selection with 66 receptions for 769 yards and five touchdowns. Senior offensive lineman Charles Leno was also a second-team all-MWC selection.

Colorado State

Head Coach: Jim McElwain

2012 record: 4-8 overall, 3-5 MWC (tied for 6th)

Colorado State is in its second year of a rebuilding program under head coach Jim McElwain. The Rams won three of their final five games in 2012 and are hoping that momentum carries into 2013.

The Rams had three quarterbacks start at least three games last season. Junior Garrett Grayson completed 78 of 138 passes for 946 yards with three interceptions and seven touchdowns. Sophomore Conner Smith completed 80 of 126 passes for 1022 yards with six interceptions and six touchdowns.

Senior Chris Nwoke and sophomore Donnell Alexander split time at running back. Alexander rushed for 587 yards with four touchdowns in 2012 and Nwoke gained 570 yards with two touchdowns. Junior Charles Lovett led Rams receivers with 35 catches for 428 yards and two touchdowns.

Junior placekicker Jared Roberts made nine of 10 field goals and 29 of 31 extra-point attempts to earn all-MWC second team honors.

New Mexico

Head Coach: Bob Davie

2012 record: 4-9 overall, 1-7 MWC (tied for 9th)

New Mexico can lay claim as the most improved team in the Football Bowl Subdivision in the 2012 season, at least by point differential. The Lobos were outscored by an average score of 41.7 to 12 (29.7 points per game) in 2011, but that scoring differential fell to 30.2 to 25.8 (4.4 per game).

Senior running back Kasey Carrier led the Lobos with 1,498 yards rushing last season and 15 touchdowns. He was also an all-MWC second team selection.

Sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche is expected to step into the starting role in 2013. He completed 13 of 31 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.

The Lobos also have eight returning players who were all-MWC honorable mention selections in 2012.

Utah State

Head coach: Matt Wells (First season)

2012 record: 11-2 overall, 6-0 in Western Athletic Conference

Postseason: Beat Toledo 41-15 in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Utah State, along with San Jose State, is one of two new members in the MWC. After leading the Aggies to their best season in school history with the 2012 WAC championship and the number 22 spot in the season’s final BCS rankings, head coach Gary Andersen was hired by Wisconsin to be its new head coach. Andersen was replaced at Utah State by Matt Wells.

The Aggies figure to be Boise State’s biggest competition in the Mountain Division of the MWC. To do so, they need to find someone to fill the shoes of running back Kerwynn Williams, who finished his career as the WAC record-holder for career all-purpose yards (6,928) and kick return yards (3,408). Junior Joe Hill leads the Aggies returning running backs with 269 yards gained in 2012.

Junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton passed for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. Along with Keeton, the Aggies have five players who were first-team all-WAC selections in 2012.

Wyoming

Head Coach: Dave Christensen

2012 record: 4-8 overall, 3-5 MWC (tied for 6th)

After a 1-7 start, Wyoming won three of its last four games to avoid the MWC cellar in 2012. The Cowboys had seven players earn all-conference honors last season. Four of those players were seniors.

Junior quarterback Brett Smith passed for 2,837 yards and 27 touchdowns to earn All-MWC honorable mention. Senior Robert Herron caught 31 passes for 657 yards and eight touchdowns and was another all-MWC honorable mention. Also earning honorable mention was sophomore punter Tim Gleason, who averaged 43.0 yards per punt.

West Division

Fresno State

Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter

2012 record: 9-4 overall, 7-1 MWC (tied for 1st)

Postseason: Lost to SMU 43-10 in Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

The Bulldogs claimed a share of the MWC title last season and won a host of individual awards as well. Quarterback Derek Carr was the MWC’s offensive player of the year for 2012 and has decided to return to Fresno State for his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft. Defensive back Phillip Thomas, who was a senior last season, was the MWC’s defensive player of the year and was named to the All-American team. The Bulldogs also boasted the MWC’s freshman of the year in wide receiver Davante Adams.

Carr passed for 4,104 yards and 37 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Adams caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The Bulldogs have three other returning players who were all-MWC first team in 2012: senior offensive lineman Austin Wentworth, junior defensive lineman Tyeler Davidson and junior defensive back Derron Smith. Five other returning Bulldogs earned either second team or honorable mention all-MWC honors.

Hawaii

Head Coach: Norm Chow

2012 record: 3-9 overall, 1-7 MWC (tied for 9th)

Hawaii won its last two games in 2012 after losing seven games in a row. The Warriors had the MWC’s special teams player of the year in kick returner Mike Edwards, who has decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

The Warriors only returning players with all-MWC honors are sophomore offensive lineman Ben Clarke and senior defensive lineman Tavita Woodard. Both of them were honorable mention.

Senior quarterback Sean Schroeder passed for 1,878 yards last season with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Sophomore running back Will Gregory rushed for 723 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzman caught 35 passes for 447 yards.

Nevada

Head Coach: Brian Polian (first year)

2012 record: 7-6 overall, 4-4 MWC (5th place)

Postseason: Lost to Arizona 49-48 in Gildan New Mexico Bowl

A new era began for the Nevada football team when head coach Chris Ault stepped down after 28 years in the position. Ault had been associated with the Wolfpack as a player, coach or administrator for over 40 years.

Brian Polian, who had been an assistant coach and recruiting specialist at seven other universities (most recently Texas A&M), takes over a program that finished in the middle of the standings last season. The Wolfpack lose four players who were all-MWC first team selections last season, including all-American running back Stefphon Jefferson who is leaving school early for the NFL draft.

Polian’s biggest task will be finding a replacement for Jefferson. Nevada has no returning running backs who rushed the ball more than four times last season.

Junior quarterback Cody Fajardo was the Wolfpack’s second-leading rusher last season with 1,270 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also passed for 2786 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Junior wide receiver Ricky Turner caught 60 passes for 752 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.

San Diego State

Head Coach: Rocky Long

2012 record: 9-4 overall, 7-1 MWC (tied for 1st)

Postseason: Lost to BYU 23-6 in San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

The Aztecs handed Boise State its only MWC loss last season and claimed a share of the MWC title. As a result, head coach Rocky Long earned conference coach of the year honors.

Long needs to replace a number of key players, including three who were all-MWC first team selections last season. Two-time all-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar left school early for the NFL draft.

Junior running back Adam Muema led the Aztecs with 1,502 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns last season. Junior quarterback Adam Dingwell passed for 939 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Senior wide receiver Colin Lockett caught 20 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns.

San Jose State

Head Coach: Ron Caragher (first season)

2012 record: 11-2 overall, 5-1 in WAC (2nd in WAC)

Postseason: Beat Bowling Green 29-20 in Military Bowl

San Jose State is another new member in the MWC this season. The Spartans were the second-place team in the Western Athletic Conference in 2012 and finished at No. 24 in the final BCS standings.

After last season’s success, Spartan head coach Mike McIntyre left to become the head coach at the University of Colorado. Ron Caragher, who won three Pioneer Football League championships at the University of San Diego, replaces McIntyre.

The Spartans have seven returning players who were first-team all-WAC last season. Senior receiver Noel Grigsby caught 82 passes for 1,307 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior tight end caught 47 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns. Senior quarterback David Fales was a second-team all-WAC selection with 4,193 yards passing with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Spartans have a lack of experience at running back with no returning players who gained more than 100 yards for the season.

UNLV

Head Coach: Bobby Hauck

2012 record: 2-11 overall, 2-6 MWC (8th place)

The highlight of UNLV’s 2012 season was a 38-35 upset over Air Force in the fourth game of the season. After that the Rebels lost eight of their last nine games.

Senior running back Tim Cornett led the Rebels with 1,268 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry passed for 2,544 yards, 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Junior wide receiver Devant Davis caught 61 passes for 854 yard and four touchdowns.