Mountain West Conference Report
Can TCU run the table? Will Utah end its Mountain West tenure on top? Is BYU still among the league elite?'s 2010 conference reports continue with Cory McCartney's MWC breakdown.
How They'll Finish
Air Force5-37-5
Colorado St.3-54-8
New Mexico0-80-12
Offensive MVP
Andy Dalton
2009 Season Stats: 199-of-323, 2,756 yards, 23 TDs, 8 INTs
2010 Projected Stats: 215-of-345, 2,800 yards 28 TDs, 5 INTs
The conference's reigning Offensive Player of the Year won't put up the kind of passing stats that make you do a double-take, but in TCU's offense he's not expected to. Dalton's M.O. is taking advantage of the few opportunities he gets in a system that runs nearly 65 percent of the time, and he's been more than effective in that role, standing as the nation's active leader among quarterbacks with 29 career wins.
Defensive MVP
Tank Carder
2009 Season Stats: 89 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks, 10 pass break-ups
2010 Projected Stats: 105 tackles, 9 for loss, 3 sacks, 4 pass break-ups
TCU's defense certainly took a blow with the departures of All-Americas Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, but it's not lacking for star power. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Carder earned all-MWC honors as a sophomore, his first season as a starter. Now he'll be expected to occupy a leadership role for a unit that has ranked in the top two nationally in total defense four times in Gary Patterson's nine seasons.
Three Key Nonconference Games
Oregon State vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas)
Saturday, September 4
7:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Patterson believes TCU's Fiesta Bowl-loss to Boise has made his team even hungrier going into this season. That hunger will be put to test early against Pac-10 contender Oregon State and the dynamic Rodgers Bros., James and Jacquizz. Oregon State will almost certainly play a hand in who earns this year's "BCS Buster" tag: The Beavers play both TCU and Boise State.
Pitt at Utah
Thursday, Sept. 2
8:30 p.m. ET (Versus)
Utah could go a long way toward establishing itself as a BCS threat if a defense with seven new starters, including all new linebackers, can corral the nation's leading returning rusher in the Panthers' Dion Lewis. This is the first meeting between the schools since the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.
Washington at BYU
Saturday, Sept. 4
7 p.m. ET (CBS CS)
Remember their last meeting? Jake Locker sure does, and the controversial final seconds are bound to be replayed ad nauseam. The rising Huskies will be a strong litmus test for the Cougars' retooled offense, which will feature a new quarterback (either Jake Heaps or Riley Nelson) and new running back (J.J. Di Luigi or Bryan Kariya) for the first time since 2007.
Conference Game of the Season
TCU at Utah
Saturday, Nov. 6
3:30 p.m. ET (CBS CS)
In all likelihood, the conference race will come down to this clash in Salt Lake City. Revenge will certainly play a role, with the Utes seeking retribution after the Frogs burned them for 55 points in '09, the most a Utah defense has surrendered since 1996.
Did You Know?
TCU's Jeremy Kerley, last season's MWC Special Teams Player of the Year, was one of only two players nationally to rank in the top seven in punt returns (14.4 yards) and top 25 in kick returns (26.6). The other was Alabama's Javier Arenas.
Behind Bronco Mendenhall, the first coach in BYU history to lead the team to bowl eligibility in each of his first five seasons, the Cougars were the only team from a non-BCS conference to finish the last four seasons ranked in the final BCS standings and final polls.
With Colorado State set to start a freshman at quarterback this season -- either redshirt Nico Ranieri or true freshman Pete Thomas -- coach Steve Fairchild sought out LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton for help on how to develop a freshman passer. Crowton was Fairchild's roommate when they played together at CSU.

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