August 19, 2011
Mountain West Conference Report
Will Boise State dominate its new league? Can TCU's defense make history? Is Air Force poised for a breakthrough? Cory McCartney tackles that more in his 2011 Mountain West preview.
How They'll Finish
  Conference Overall
Boise State 7-0 11-1
TCU 6-1 10-2
Air Force 5-2 9-3
San Diego State 3-4 6-6
  Conference Overall
Colorado State 2-5 6-6
Wyoming 2-5 6-6
New Mexico 2-5 4-8
UNLV 1-6 2-10
Offensive MVP
Kellen Moore
2010 stats: 3,845 pass yards, 35 TDs, 6 INTs
2011 projection: 3,910 pass yards, 38 TDs, 4 INTs
The 2010 Heisman finalist could earn a return trip to New York as the winningest QB in FBS history; with 38 wins to his credit, Moore is well within striking distance of Colt McCoy's record of 45. Moore's biggest asset is his consistency, as he ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency in 2009 and first last season. A two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year, it's safe to assume he'll add the MWC's top honor to his résumé.
Defensive MVP
Tank Carder
2010 stats: 60 tackles, 6 TFLs, 3 ½ sacks, 5 PB
2011 projection: 80 tackles, 9 TFLs, 5 sacks, 6 PB
The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder became a household name by deflecting Wisconsin's potential game-tying two-point conversion in last season's Rose Bowl. He also leads all active Horned Frogs with 158 career tackles. TCU ranked first nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defensive in 2010; the Frogs' ability to replicate that will rest largely on the shoulders of the reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year.
Three Key Nonconference Games
Boise State vs. Georgia (Atlanta)
Saturday, Sept. 3
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Boise State's entire season hinges on this Week 1 matchup. If the Broncos are going to make another run at becoming the first non-AQ to play for the BCS title, they'll have to get through Georgia -- and they'll have to do so in the Bulldogs' backyard. This continues a string of impressive openers for the Broncos, who beat Virginia Tech last year and Oregon in 2009.
TCU vs. BYU (Dallas)
Friday, Oct. 28
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This MWC rivalry continues despite BYU going independent. The Horned Frogs thumped BYU 31-3 last season and led the league series 4-2, but Bronco Mendenhall's bunch should be much improved this year. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps took his lumps as a freshman, but he leads an offense returning 10 starters and could give TCU's vaunted defense one of its stiffest challenges of the season.
Air Force at Notre Dame
Saturday, Oct. 8
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better QB/RB combination running the triple-option right now than Air Force's Tim Jefferson and Asher Clark. They'll create an interesting matchup against an Irish front seven that returns five starters, including All-America candidate Manti Te'o at linebacker. After winning the teams' last meeting in 2007, Air Force is seeking its first back-to-back wins in the series since 1984-85.
Key Conference Game
TCU at Boise State
Saturday, Nov. 12
2:30 p.m. ET (Versus)
A BCS berth could be on the line when these two meet, but that's only part of the draw. Bad blood has developed between these teams dating back to their 2008 Poinsettia Bowl clash, and things are likely to be even more heated this season. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Fort Worth, but was moved to the blue turf at Boise State's urging after TCU decided to move to the Big East in 2012.
Three Key Questions
Will Boise State dominate its new conference? The Broncos' recent stats are staggering. They went 62-2 in WAC play, winning six outright titles, and never lost a conferences game at home. They flat-out owned it. Now they move to a new league against whose members they have gone 13-1. To be fair, five of those wins came against Wyoming. With BYU and Utah gone, the record that really matters is 1-1, which is how Boise has fared against fellow giant TCU since the Frogs joined the MWC in 2005. The stage is set for the Broncos to win the title in Year 1. There are hurdles, particularly replacing their top two wide receivers and dealing with inexperience in the kicking game. But quarterback Kellen Moore is back, as are five of the defensive front-seven. Their two toughest league games, rebuilding TCU and Air Force, are at home.
Can TCU's defense make history? In each of the past three seasons, the Horned Frogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense. In order to become the first group to rank first in total defense in four consecutive seasons, the Frogs will have to overcome losing six starters, including two of their top tacklers. Luckily coach Gary Patterson returns one of FBS' best linebacking duos in all-league picks Tank Carder (60 tackles) and Tanner Brock (106 tackles). The Frogs' line should more than hold its own behind 6-2, 265-pound sophomore end Stansly Maponga, but questions remain about the secondary. Three starters are gone, and while cornerback Greg McCoy could shine, it's going to be hard to replace Tejay Johnson. The defense should still be elite, but it may not live up to the standard TCU has set.
Is Air Force poised for a breakthrough? Troy Calhoun's teams have been solid, finishing with at least eight wins in each of his four seasons and winning back-to-back bowl games. While the Falcons were second in the MWC in Calhoun's first season (2007), they haven't been able to consistently rank with the league's elite, coming in fourth in 2008 and 2009 and third last season and going 0-8 against ranked teams in conference play. But with 14 starters returning, including QB Tim Jefferson (2,253 combined yards and 25 TDs) and leading rusher Asher Clark (1,031 yards and five TDs), Air Force could make strides this season. A run at the MWC title may be a stretch, but if the Falcons can catch a young TCU team at home in Week 2, they could finish second.
Video Preview
Boise State's X-Factor
Source:SI's Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel address the most important question Boise State will be facing this season.

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