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Mountain West football round-up — Mountain Division

Published August 28, 2013 2:48 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

With the end of the Mountain West's coaches conference call this season, 12 Mountain West beat writers (including myself) have come together to put together a notebook on each of the football programs every week.

You can tune in to the Aggieville blog every week to get a round-up of news around the Mountain West from its top beat writers. I'll put this out in installments — first up is the Mountain Division:

Air Force

The season opener against Colgate will, if nothing else, give Air Force a dress rehearsal against the type of quarterback it will see plenty of this year.

Gavin McCarney threw for 2,372 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 1,406 and 23 scores as he led Colgate to a Patriot League championship last season and a berth in the FCS playoffs.

"He's their team," Air Force linebacker Joey Nichol said. "We're very much ganged up on him. When we have to decide to take the running back or take him, we take him."

McCarney figures to provide a preview of things to come, as Air Force will face a pair of quarterbacks this year in Utah State's Chuckie Keeton and Nevada's Cody Fajardo who threw for at least 2,700 yards and ran for 600 yards. There's also looming dual threats at Boise State, Navy and Wyoming, if not Army, Notre Dame and New Mexico as well.

"For at least five games we're going to play guys who move well, throw well and have some experience," Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said.

Next game: vs. Colgate, 1 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports)

Notable: DL Robert Green (torn meniscus) will miss at least two months but was the only player expected to miss any game action as the result of a preseason injury. ... QB Kale Pearson, a junior, has earned the starting position over sophomore Jaleel Awini.

- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

Boise State

Boise State's season opener has a familiar feel.

The Broncos are ranked No. 19 as they head to Seattle to face an unranked but dangerous Washington team.

They also were No. 19 in the BCS Standings going into the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas in December, when the Broncos beat the Huskies 28-26.

The differences this time: the site - noisy, remodeled Husky Stadium - and the starting lineups. Boise State returns 10 starters; Washington returns 20.

"I think it's tougher (this year)," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "It starts with most of their guys being back, playing not in a neutral environment. Those two things right then and there make it tough. And the fact that whether we won or lost, most of our guys are gone. We'd be talking to air if we were trying to motivate one way or another. All their guys are back."

The Broncos should be electric on offense after last year's sluggish showing but have many question marks on defense, where both cornerbacks and all three linebackers are gone.

Senior quarterback Joe Southwick has seven experienced receivers at his disposal, including two tight ends, and is backed by talented sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi (6.7 yards per carry last year).

"We feel comfortable with what we have," Southwick said. "It's nice having a nice spring, a good summer and a good camp, but now it's kind of change-your-mentality mode. In a couple of days, we're doing this for real. I'm excited to see everyone go out there and cut it loose. We just have to focus and execute."

Next game: at Washington, 8:05 p.m. MT Saturday (Fox Sports 1)

Notable: Junior Dan Goodale, who missed the potential game-winning field goal against TCU two years ago and lost the field-goal job, regained the starting spot in fall camp. He also was awarded a scholarship. ... Junior college transfer Tutulupeatau Mataele, who was projected to start at defensive tackle going into fall camp, is not enrolled in school and won't be with the Broncos this season because of an academic issue tied to his previous school.

- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman

Colorado State

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain wouldn't name his starting quarterback earlier this week, leaving open the possibility that true freshman Nick Stevens could get the nod over two players who started games last season - junior Garrett Grayson and sophomore Conner Smith.

McElwain said he won't choose the starter until after Thursday's practice and that he might not tell the players themselves until they're on the field Sunday warming up for the game.

"Every time we put Nick in, the freshman kid, it's like you go to film and say, 'Whoa, that's how you play the position,' " McElwain said Monday.

McElwain said the young quarterback, who went 27-1 as a starter at Vista Murrieta High School in Murietta, Calif., has shown he has the physical ability, mental understanding and leadership ability to run Colorado State's offense. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder threw for 2,316 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior while running for another 661 yards and 11 touchdowns on 126 carries.

Smith, a 6-5, 220-pounder from Richmond, Texas, had a strong final week of fall camp, McElwain said, to put himself back in the race after seemingly falling out of it in the first two weeks.

The Rams went 3-1 with Smith as the starting quarterback late last season after Grayson and then-senior M.J. McPeek went down with injuries. He completed 80 of 126 passes for 1,022 yards and six touchdowns, with six interceptions.

Grayson, a 6-2, 220-pounder from Vancouver, Wash., started the first five games last fall before breaking his left collarbone while scrambling for a short gain in a loss at Air Force. He completed 78 of 138 passes for 946 yards and seven touchdowns, with three interceptions in the six games he played.

Next game: vs. Colorado (Denver), 4 p.m. MT Sunday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Stevens was one of three true freshmen listed on the Rams' first depth chart of the season. Rashard Higgins (6-2, 180) was listed as the starter at one of the wide receiver spots and Tyree Simmons (5-11, 170) was listed as the No. 1 kick returner.

- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan

New Mexico

New Mexico has been competing in football since 1892, the University Texas-San Antonio just since 2011.

Yet, when New Mexico coach Bob Davie looks at the 2013 Roadrunners roster, he sees a more mature team than his own. The Lobos host the Roadrunners on Saturday.

"I think they have six players on offense that it's their third year starting," Davie said after Monday's practice. "I think they have five players on defense that it's their third year starting. That's where we hope to be in a year or two.

"They are very well-coached. They're not going to give you anything. They know what to expect out of all of their players. That's the advantage they have, but it really doesn't make any difference. We're going to go play. We're just trying to catch up from an experience standpoint, and the only way to catch up is to go play games."

Because of attrition in previous recruiting classes, Davie's second New Mexico team is relatively light on juniors and seniors and heavy on freshmen and sophomores.

"Hopefully," Davie said, "you can look at our roster a year or two from now and you'll see (players with) 22 games, 18 starts, or 20 games, 20 starts. That's what we're building for."

Next game: vs. Texas San Antonio, 6 p.m. MT Saturday

Notable: Sophomore offensive tackle Johnny Vizcaino (concussion symptoms) is doubtful for UTSA. Redshirt freshman tight end Christian Rebhun was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered during camp. ... UTSA Athletic Director Lynn Hickey was the women's basketball coach at Texas A&M while Davie was an assistant there. Davie said Hickey sought his advice during the process of establishing a football program. "We had a lot of discussions when that job first started," Davie said. "... I've followed that program pretty closely."

- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal

Wyoming

The Cowboys face a big test defensively in their opener Saturday at No. 18 Nebraska.

Wyoming allowed 33.4 points, 232.3 rushing yards and 470.3 total yards per game and opponents converted 51 percent of their third-down conversions in 2012. The Cowboys finished 4-8.

Nebraska returns most of its offensive starters from a team that averaged nearly 35 points a game. Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, and ran for 1,097 yards.

"It has a chance to be the best offense in the Big Ten, and maybe one of the top offenses in the country," fifth-year Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said. "They are explosive. They have a lot of variety in what they can do. They give you different looks and disguise things. They are really difficult to defend because they have great players."

Wyoming switched from a 4-3 base defense last season to a 3-4, but it will continue to show multiple formations.

"I think we made some improvements but the big test, as it always is, is when you play a game and see what they do on Saturdays," Christensen said. "We are more athletic defensively, and we play with great energy. But the key will be how we do in a game, and how we leverage the football and tackle."

Christensen is calling the offensive plays this season and returns seven offensive starters including junior quarterback Brett Smith. As a true freshman in 2011, Smith was 17 of 33 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 38-14 loss to Nebraska in Laramie.

"It was one of the funnest games I have played in," Smith said of that game.

Smith has not thrown an interception in 174 consecutive passes dating to Oct. 1 of last season. That is tied for the longest streak in the nation with Central Florida's Blake Bortles.

Next game: at No. 18 Nebraska, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Big Ten Network)

Notable: Wyoming is 0-6 against Nebraska, and has lost all 12 games in the Christensen era against ranked teams. ... This is the second consecutive season the Cowboys have opened the season on the road against a ranked opponent. Last year they lost at then-No. 15 Texas 37-17. ... Wyoming is 1-15 against teams from the Big Ten. The lone win was at Wisconsin, 21-12, on Sept. 27, 1986. ... True freshman Tanner Gentry will start at one of the four wide receiver spots.

- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle