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Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Mountain West Conference
The MWC is a place of haves and have–nots, with some desperate teams in the basement, but three nationally–ranked teams — including last year's unbeaten, Utah — battling it out for conference glory and a possible BCS at–large.
If us football pundits are suddenly aboard the Horned Frogs bandwagon, it’s because we’ve rarely seen a defense define a Mountain West team this way. Last season, the only time they conceded more than 16 points was in their loss to Oklahoma. In the Poinsettia Bowl, they beat Boise State, many people’s top–ranked non–’big six’ team. So why not TCU? Because the schedule has them on the road for every major hurdle between here and a BCS berth — Virginia, Clemson, Air Force and BYU. If they are as good as we’re all saying they are… But, hey, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, that defense:
This will be Gary Patterson’s 12th season as either defensive coordinator or head coach at Texas Christian, and the Horned Frogs 4–2–5 defense is never less than tough, The three safeties are key — just one starter returns, although the whole secondary are upperclassmen and corners Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest will be four–year starters this season. The front seven return one starter too, which has us bandwagon–jumpers keeping one eye on he ground. However, the talent is good — the defensive line features DE Jerry Hughes (15 sacks last season), and the next generation has seen time in the rotation (tackle Kelly Griffin was a starter in ‘07, LB Daryl Washington excelled in a bowl game start). And as you’d expect on a team harbouring layers of talent on defense, the special teams are expected to glisten, including the kicking game.
The offense has a part in all this too. The Frogs didn’t just grind out wins last season, but scored 30+ points on 8 occasions, 40+ points on 6 of those, showing an admirable ability to squash lesser teams like bugs on the windscreen. Few offensive players had gaudy statistics but QB Andy Dalton lobbed and legged it for 19 scores as a sophomore. Dalton’s gang of receivers could do with producing a threatening no.2 to Jimmy Young, who snatched almost 1000 of Dalton’s 2240 yards. No back rushed for more than 600 yards last season, but the accumulated 2,863 on the ground still wore down opponents, and while much of that line has graduated, what remains could gel.
Returning from Clemson 3–0 would attract national attention, but if the defense take a step back from last year, October 24th at BYU may find the Horned Frogs and Cougars locked in a conference title battle.
Saying that the Cougars have only four returning starters on offense is misleading. Many members of a shuffling line have experience, and while WR Austin Collie’s graduation to the NFL will be hard to ignore, TE Dennis Pitta (83 catches, and over 1000 yards last year) is still here, kicker Mitch Payne returns, and so do RB Harvey Unga and QB Max Hall. Sophomore WR McKay Jacobson and FB Manase Tonga have also seen significant time, though they weren’t with the team last season.
Unga doesn’t get anything like the attention he should. The senior ran for over 1100 yards, 11 TDs, and caught at least 42 passes for 4 scores in each of the past two seasons. He is the perfect complement to Hall, who is on a pace to break 11,000 yards passing by season’s end. Last year he threw 35 touchdowns and ran in 4 more. Unger and Hall together present a dangerously balanced attack to their MWC foes.
But for Brigham Young to regain command of the conference, they must regain the defensive form they showed early last season when they conceded just 61 points in their first six games, but 190 points in the last seven, starting with a 32–7 collapse against TCU and including a 48–24 drubbing by Utah.
For the Mormons to get their mojo back, it starts with the front seven, who, have five returning starters, including three of four linebackers. NT Russell Tialavea left for his church mission this year, but Romney Fuga returns having completed his. The other part of the defensive equation is the secondary, which will have no position filled by the same player as last year. Scott Johnson a CB–to–FS convert is the only senior on the two–deep, but there is a lot of optimism that the incoming talent will produce something special. The question is, how quickly?
Dreams that the Cougars could succeed Utah by going unbeaten will could founder in week one, when they travel to Dallas to play Oklahoma in what should be a massive media event to launch the new Cowboys Stadium (if Hall pulled off a win then, he would be a serious Heisman candidate) Two weeks later, BYU hosts Florida State, so they’ll need to earn their BSC chops early. Should they need to take solace in the MWC part of their schedule, title rivals TCU and Utah both visit Provo.
Last season, the Utes went unbeaten for the second time in five years, but again were denied the opportunity to play for the National Championship game. Despite finishing last season ranked no.2 in the nation, they begin this year ranked in the 20s in most polls. Another snub?
Actually, being ranked in the top 25 might be a measure of respect considering how much the Utes have lost from their conference–dominating squad of ‘08. They have no returning starters at the offensive skill positions, and just five defensive starters will be playing the same position they were last season. Fortunately, the sustained conference contention under Urban Meyer and now Kyle Whittingham allows the program to reload like a school in the BCS club.
RB Matt Asiata ended up with more carries that theoretical starter Derrell Mack last season, and Asiata could top his 700 yards with a 1000 yard season this time out, especially if shedding a stone in weight translates to breakaway speed. He weighed 230lbs last season, and the projected no.2 back, Eddie Wide is no battering ram, so Asiata’s change of density could backfire. A line three–fifths returned includes 305lb tackle Zane Beadles.
The passing game loses quarterback Brian Johnson and three starting receivers that tallied 176 catches last season. 2008 backup Corbin Louks is transferring to Nevada after sliding below Jordan Wynn and JuCo transfer Terrence Cain on the depth chart. True Freshman Wynn showed impressive arm strength during the Spring. Jereme Brooks and David Reed will be part of the solution at receiver, and had 55 catches between them last season, so the cupboard clearly isn’t bare.
The defense has a lot more returning starters, but still must insert some new names, including two new corners. Fortunately their biggest challenges for the conference title — TCU and BYU — meet the Utes in November, giving the defense time to adjust. The front seven has excellent depth, and a couple of pro prospects in DE Koa Misi and LB Stevenson Sylvester.
Another 13–0 run would have to negotiate both the loss of Groza–winning kicker Louis Sakoda (Utah won by 3 points or less four times last season) on a not–so–Special Team, and a cruel schedule. While all of the opponents are beatable, the Utes will have to go on the road against Oregon, Colorado State, TCU and BYU.
100–Word Dash: Colorado State
The Rams lose two 1000–yard backs, but an experience line will likely spring the next generation, and the team could enter an improved passing era if Klay Kubiak (son on Texans coach Gary) takes up the quarterbacking reins. Son–of–Koob will target WRs Dion Morton and Rashaun Greer, who combined for almost 2000 yards last year. Unlike the lower level MWC teams, they have a worthy secondary. Though no match for the top teams in the conference, they stand at the threshold, and beating Air Force will be a foot in the door (hate mail to my usual address!)
100–Word Dash: Air Force
8–5 last year, the Falcons only lost to good teams — Utah, BYU, TCU, Houston and …erm… Navy. Beating at least one of those first three would be progress, but the Falcons visit Navy, Utah, BYU, and Colorado State, their rival for the MWC middle–ground. The scheme is, of course, run first, run second, and pass only to keep defenses honest. RB Asher Clark is coming off knee surgery, QB Tim Jefferson missed the spring and CB Reggie Rembert is suspended. Despite the senior O–line, it doesn’t sound like a breakthrough year. I am, however, picking them for the Commander–in–Chief Trophy.
100–Word Dash: New Mexico
There are plenty of reasons not to anticipate much from the Lobos this season. Losing two starting corners is rarely a good thing, both the offense and defense are installing new systems, and quarterback was a smudge as fall camp opened. On the other hand, New Mexico lived by the run, amassing 2,500 yards on the ground last season, and while three–time 1000–yard rusher Rodney Ferguson is gone, James Wright and AJ Butler should take up the slack, if the line can regroup. For a couple of years, new coach Mike Locksley’s primary focus will be recruiting the right players.
100–Word Dash: Wyoming
Gipson to the left of them, Gipson to the right. Opponents of the Cowboys face two fine cornerbacks in Marcell and Tashaun Gipson, and a defensive front that doesn’t make passing against Wyoming easy — defensive tackle John Fletcher is a senior menace with a pro future. While the defense is up to the MWC challenge, the offensive is a mess. Projected starting RB Darius Terry has only 17 career carries, and new coach Dave Christensen’s choices at QB are dire. That defense may again prove irrelevant for a team that was blown out by 20+ points six times last season.
100–Word Dash: UNLV
Last year, the Rebels won five games with the arm of Omar Clayton — or more usually the outstretched arms of futire NFL receiver Ryan Wolfe, who caught 88 balls for 1040 yards and 6 scores. Their four–receiver set will again be called upon to route themselves ragged in pursuit or five or better wins. I don’t see it happening. The defense was pitiful last season, and despite the Pacific–sized defensive line of Aaitui, Taumua, Tevaseu, and Kravetz, four of those five victories were by a margin of one drive. Two win seasons might be the norm, 2008 just an aberration.
100–Word Dash: San Diego State
Watch QB Ryan Lindley. His freshman season produced 2653 yards, 16 TDs (9 picks), and now Brady Hoke — who made Nate Davis a star at Ball State — arrives as Head Coach of the Aztecs. Quarterback specialist Al Borges is the new offensive coordinator, and Rocky Long (ex–New Mexico HC) the new DC. That I’m talking more about coaches rather than players is a reflection of the job ahead of them — the five–man secondary is inexperienced, so Lindley–to–Vincent Brown could become a celebrated if overused combination as the Aztecs try to pass their way to more than last year’s 2 wins.