Mountain West spring recap

Originally Published: May 5, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Air Force Falcons
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Washington
9/10 San Diego State
9/17 Wyoming
9/22 at Utah
10/1 at Colorado State
10/8 at Navy
10/15 UNLV
10/22 TCU
10/29 at BYU
11/5 Army
11/19 at New Mexico

2004 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
3-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Shaun Carney* (596 yds)
Passing: Carney* (1,315 yds)
Receiving: J.P. Waller (476 yds)
Tackles: Mark Carlson* (73)
Sacks: Ryan Carter (5)
Interceptions: Nate Allen and Chris Sutton* (2 each)

Spring Answers: It's not quite a sign of the apocalypse, but Air Force football developing an air attack comes pretty close to it in the college football world. Now don't get the wrong idea. While the ball was flying all around the Academy this spring and the Falcons remain committed to letting Shaun Carney fling it some in Year Two, they are still an option team first and foremost. That's why the staff was thrilled to see how confident and comfortable Carney looked with his running and his decision-making. ... It doesn't hurt that last year's young offensive line has grown up and developed some depth. Longtime coach Fisher DeBerry, not one to overstate things, thinks this could be one of the best lines he has ever had. ... Despite a couple of losses at defensive end, the staff also feels good about the D-line after seeing Nelson Mitchell and Gilberto Perez. Perez is not only bigger than most ends have been in Air Force's 3-3-5 scheme but also just as quick. ... One more corner needs to be found, but the secondary looks ready for a turnaround year. Former free safety Mark Carlson looks like a perfect fit at the Falcon position, where he'll join Dennis Poland and John Taibi. At Carlson's old position, a pair of equally capable replacements has been found in Julian Madrid and Bobby Giannini. What was a struggle for much of 2004 should become a strength in 2005.

Fall Questions: If the Falcons are going to pass every once in a while, receiver replacements for J.P. Waller and Alec Messerall need to be found. Greg Kirkwood and 6-foot-5 Jason Brown looked OK, but both are unproven. ... After losing all three starters, linebacker has to be considered the team's biggest question mark — and a couple of injured absentees this spring didn't help solve anything. Coaches like the potential of Marcus Brown and Jared Baxley, but nothing has really been decided at this point. ... Special-teams play, normally a source of pride under DeBerry, was simply awful last season. The team not only had five punts blocked but also failed to block at least three for the first time in 15 years. The unit now has a coach devoted solely to it. The deep snapper position is still a mystery, and so is the confidence of punter Donny Heaton, a good player stuck in a bad situation last fall. At kicker, it'll likely be Scott Eberle, but it's also no secret the staff would like soccer player Brandon Greenaway to commit full-time to the football team. And yes, averaging more than six yards a punt return would help, too.

BYU Cougars
2005 Schedule
9/3 Boston College
9/10 Eastern Illinois
9/24 TCU
10/1 at San Diego State
10/8 at New Mexico
10/15 Colorado State
10/22 at Notre Dame
10/29 Air Force
11/5 at UNLV
11/12 at Wyoming
11/19 Utah

2004 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Curtis Brown* (789 yds)
Passing: John Beck* (2,563 yds)
Receiving: Todd Watkins* (1,042 yds)
Tackles: Cameron Jensen* (103)
Sacks: Brady Poppinga and Matt Bauman (6 each)
Interceptions: Micah Alba and Jon Burbidge (3 each)

Spring Answers: The first answer was elevating Bronco Mendenhall to the head coaching position after an unheard-of three straight losing seasons in Provo. Former coach Gary Crowton often let the players control the show, and that led to poor discipline, both on and off the field. Not anymore. The blunt-spoken Mendenhall is firmly in control and already has universal respect from the team. It's his way or go home. Simple as that. ... For the most part, the old-style uniforms are back. And for the most part, the old-style BYU offense is, too. Mendenhall has made it clear there will be even more throwing than last year. New coordinator Robert Anae brings with him the offensive philosophy of Texas Tech, where he served as O-line coach. ... With Todd Watkins sitting out after ankle surgery, Austin Collie beginning his two-year mission and up-and-comer Matt Smith tearing his ACL, everyone was thrilled to see Jonny Harline come out of nowhere and star at the "Y" position. The redshirt sophomore caught everything in sight and might just beat out incumbent Daniel Coats. ... Behind what is the most talented and deep BYU D-line in years, the linebacking crew also turned some heads. Cameron Jensen was as intense as ever, while redshirt freshman Richard Nehring and Washington State transfer Aaron Wagner looked ready to contribute right away.

Fall Questions: Mendenhall named John Beck the No. 1 quarterback heading into summer workouts. The junior showed some leadership intangibles, and there's no doubt it's his job to lose. The competition will open up again in August, however, and Beck can't take it easy. If he does, Mendenhall won't hesitate to go with Matt Berry or possibly even Jason Beck. ... The Cougars can execute the passing game, but can they stop it? They couldn't last year, giving up 229 yards a game to rank dead last in the pass-friendly Mountain West. Three of four starters graduated, and some things are still unsettled heading into fall drills. One interesting prospect to keep an eye on is K.C. Bills, a linebacker-turned-safety who is fully healthy now. ... Plain and simple, BYU can't turn the ball over 30 times again. The team's turnover margin ranked 107th in the country last season and must improve. It didn't seem to be a problem this spring, but only time will tell. ... The value of graduating Matt Payne cannot be understated. He was a great kicker and an even better punter. At kicker, sophomore Trent Williams doesn't have any experience and always seems hobbled by something. At punter, it'll be a battle of two unrelated McLaughlins, Jared and Derek. Although the latter won't arrive until this summer, he was a freshman standout at the University of Washington before serving a two-year mission.

Colorado State Rams
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Colorado
9/10 at Minnesota
9/24 Nevada
10/1 Air Force
10/8 Utah
10/15 at BYU
10/22 Wyoming
10/28 at New Mexico
11/5 at TCU
11/12 San Diego State
11/19 at UNLV

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-4

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jimmy Green* (436 yds)
Passing: Justin Holland* (1,622 yds)
Receiving: David Anderson* (940 yds)
Tackles: Adam Lancisero (94)
Sacks: Terrance Carter* (3)
Interceptions: Brandon Cathy* and Luke Adkins (2 each)

Spring Answers: Justin Holland is 100 percent and looked in full control of the offense. Remember, this is a guy who threw for more than 1,600 yards in his first five games last year before a broken ankle sidelined him for the rest of the fall. ... A plethora of injuries made spring tough to judge, but the Rams did get the opportunity to try out a lot of younger players. And for the most part, the coaches liked what they saw. Redshirt freshman LB Jeff Horinek and sophomore Jesse Nading, a likely starter, were particularly impressive. ... A few returning starters on an embattled defense that needs to turn it around looked as though they were ready to dial it up a notch. LB Jahmal Hall is becoming the type of hard hitter the Rams desperately need, and Miles Kochevar and Travis Garcia (who split time as starters in '04) are playing as though they want it to be a one-man job in '05. Now in his second year as a safety, senior Ben Stratton also looked good in an improving secondary.

Fall Questions: All you need to know about the worst Rams team in Sonny Lubick's 12-year tenure is this: None of his teams has ever rushed for fewer yards on the ground, and none has ever given up more yards on the ground. It was just one of those years in '04. This time around, Jimmy Green or Kyle Bell — locked in a battle for the starting tailback job at the moment — needs to produce. Both lines also need to get more physical. ... On those lines, a couple of August battles to watch are Justin D'Arcy vs. converted TE Brandon Alconcel at weak tackle and Delroy Parke vs. Erik Sandie at defensive tackle. ... Only two teams in the country averaged fewer yards per punt return (4.8) than the Rams. It's a problem that wasn't solved in the spring, and it really needs to be solved this fall. Also on special teams, kicker Kevin Mark and punter Jim Kaylor really don't have much experience at this level because graduating Jeff Babcock handled both duties in the past.

New Mexico Lobos
2005 Schedule
9/3 UNLV
9/10 at Missouri
9/17 New Mexico State
9/24 at UTEP
10/1 at TCU
10/8 BYU
10/15 at Wyoming
10/22 at San Diego State
10/28 Colorado State
11/12 at Utah
11/19 Air Force

2004 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: DonTrell Moore* (1,091 yds)
Passing: Kole McKamey* (1,272 yds)
Receiving Hank Baskett* (908 yds)
Tackles: Fola Fashola (97)
Sacks: Fashola (8)
Interceptions: Brandon Payne (6)

Spring Answers: Kole McKamey muscled up in the offseason and showed more accuracy in the spring. Although the changes will be somewhat limited, the Lobos are one of what seems to be about 40 teams tweaking their offense to capture a little of that Utah magic. McKamey actually looked like a natural fit with his strong arm and quick legs. If he can recapture the confidence he lost after last year's concussion, the offense might actually be watchable this fall. ... Mike Mohoric is the only returning starter to the linebacking corps, but the coaches feel a lot better about the situation now than they did coming into the spring. Michael Tuohy moved from defensive end to outside linebacker and seemed to be a better fit there, while Quincy Black showed off his physical tools and became one of the session's pleasant surprises. ... So did safety Aleem Harris, who came right in from junior college and looked as though he was fully prepared for Division I football. He and returning starter Charles Brown will battle a host of others for playing time at the two safety spots.

Fall Questions: Can DonTrell Moore, one of the top running backs in the country, recover in time for the season? It's the question on the mind of all Lobos fans. He's still recovering from an ACL tear, and his return date is simply not known. If you're wondering, the current No. 2 among all active NCAA rushing leaders already has used his redshirt. If you're also wondering about the situation behind him, it's not the greatest. Sophomore Rodney Ferguson has 11 carries to his name. ... The other big question rests in the hands of the receivers (the pigskin needs to occasionally reach their hands, too). Take out Hank Baskett, and the receiving corps was a complete nonfactor in 2004. The second most productive member of the group? Travis Brown caught seven passes for 49 yards. No, that's not a joke. The receivers claim to be much improved but still suffered from some "dropitis" in the spring. With Moore's status up in the air, this area must improve in the fall. ... Entering this season, most people are saying CB Jerrell Malone is a decent corner but not much of a playmaker (the same thing they said about his predecessor, Brandon Payne, last spring). Payne turned into a second-team All-American. Will Malone follow his lead? ... Kenny Byrd has a good leg but so-so accuracy. Garth Archibald has good accuracy but a so-so leg. Can the Lobos somehow combine their two kickers into one?

San Diego State Aztecs
2005 Schedule
9/3 UCLA
9/10 at Air Force
9/17 at Ohio State
9/24 San Jose State
10/1 BYU
10/8 at UNLV
10/15 at Utah
10/22 New Mexico
10/29 TCU
11/12 at Colorado State
11/19 Wyoming
12/3 at Hawaii

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
2-5

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brandon Bornes* (578 yds)
Passing: Matt Dlugolecki* (1,349 yds)
Receiving: Jeff Webb* (863 yds)
Tackles: Kirk Morrison (115)
Sacks: Heath Farwell (7)
Interceptions: Josh Dean (3)

Spring Answers: The Aztecs return not only nearly all of their offensive starters but also 2003 starter Lynell Hamilton, a star tailback who was sorely missed last season while recovering from a broken ankle. All in all, they return their top two passers, top six rushers and 10 of their top 12 receivers. If this unit figures out how to score in the red zone, look out. ... SDSU's depleted secondary, where three starters were lost, was one of the team's biggest question marks heading into spring drills. After 15 practices, it doesn't seem like such a problem anymore. Marcus Demps moved back to free safety and was better than ever, while Reggie Grigsby and JC transfer Josh Gomez pushed each other at strong safety. The corners, meanwhile, played so well that coaches are insisting all four will play significant roles in the fall. ... Although sidelined for the last week with a sprained MCL, energetic DT Emil Metroka was turning heads in the spring and should continue to do so in the fall. Redshirt freshman Andrew Schantz put on a similar performance at linebacker.

Fall Questions: The Chargers aren't the only team in town with more than one quarterback option. Dlugolecki got his job back in the spring, but only because Kevin O'Connell was unable to compete after shoulder surgery. That duo will battle redshirt freshman Darren Mougey, a dual threat who had a knack for producing touchdowns during the spring scrimmages. Coach Tom Craft has said he won't wait long to name a starter during fall drills. Should be a fun first week. ... How do the Aztecs recover from the loss of all four linebackers, especially Kirk Morrison and Matt McCoy? Schantz and ultrafast Freddie Keiaho are a good start, but there's plenty of work to be done. ... Punter Michael Hughes and kicker Garrett Palmer are back, and they've brought their past inconsistencies with them. Craft made it clear he'll bring in JC competition for both in August. ... The Aztecs desperately need to figure out how to play in the middle of the season. For the second straight year, the team started out hot and ended hot but posted a disturbingly long losing streak in between. Another one of those seasons and Craft might be in some trouble.

TCU Horned Frogs
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Oklahoma
9/10 at SMU
9/15 Utah
9/24 at BYU
10/1 New Mexico
10/8 at Wyoming
10/15 Army
10/22 at Air Force
10/29 at San Diego State
11/5 Colorado State
11/12 UNLV

2004 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
3-5 (C-USA)

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Robert Merrill* (753 yds)
Passing: Brandon Hassell (1,724 yds)
Receiving: Cory Rodgers* (836 yds)
Tackles: Martin Patterson (131)
Sacks: Marvin Godbolt (7)
Interceptions: Quincy Butler*, Elvis Gallegos* and Mark Walker (2 each)

Spring Answers: QB Tye Gunn no longer has to worry about any serious competition, but it's nice to know sophomore Chad Huffman, known more for his baseball skills, has done enough to solidify the No. 2 spot. To say Gunn is a bit fragile is putting it nicely. He's a three-year starter with 12 starts to his name. ... Cory Rodgers is a well-known entity at receiver. By the time autumn rolls around, coaches say speedy Michael DePriest might be, too. He and Quentily Harmon join Rodgers on the deepest TCU receiver corps in years. ... Keep an eye on sophomore DE Tommy Blake. On a line that has to put more pressure on the quarterback, the sophomore brings big-play capabilities and good speed coming off the corner. ... After his starting job was all but handed to Cincinnati transfer Chris Manfredini before the spring, returning kicker Peter LoCoco won it right back with a surprising performance. With the help of a local kicking coach, the junior finally has the mental part of his position down.

Fall Questions: RBs Robert Merrill and Lonta Hobbs get along fine, and the committee-of-two approach has unlimited potential. The problem is, these guys have never been healthy at the same moment. At times, neither one has been available. If this duo is at full speed, the Frogs' offense could be even more explosive than it was last season. ... The only thing holding the offense back might be the line. TCU lost three starters, and depth is a major issue. ... Coach Gary Patterson insisted his secondary showed marked improvement in the spring. But when you rank dead-last in the country, is there really any other direction to go? We'll wait until the team starts facing the pass-happy MWC to see whether a fully healthy Drew Coleman and fellow cornerback Quincy Butler have indeed improved in one-on-one coverage. At the important safety spot vacated by Godbolt, no one really stood out in the spring. However, the staff is excited about the August arrival of Marvin White, who originally signed with LSU before spending two years in junior college. ... The punting situation needs to be cleared up. JC transfer Brian Cortney battled both hamstring and consistency problems in the spring. As a result, the position battle is wide open. Even QB Huffman, who booted it around in high school, has been mentioned as a possibility. ... Who thought it was a bright idea to play 11 straight weeks without a break? Even if the Frogs survive the gantlet and qualify for a bowl, they'll still have to worry about the rust from a month-and-a-half layoff.

UNLV Rebels
2005 Schedule
9/3 at New Mexico
9/10 Idaho
9/17 at Nevada
9/24 at Utah State
10/1 at Wyoming
10/8 San Diego State
10/15 at Air Force
10/22 Utah
11/5 BYU
11/12 at TCU
11/19 Colorado State

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
1-6

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 3, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dominique Dorsey (1,261 yds)
Passing: Shane Steichen* (1,011 yds)
Receiving: Earvin Johnson (795 yds)
Tackles: Adam Seward (121)
Sacks: Ryan Claridge (9)
Interceptions: Jamaal Brimmer and Jay Staggs* (2 each)

Spring Answers: John Robinson is a legend, but there's no question new coach Mike Sanford has brought some youthful exuberance to a program that had been lacking it for a while. Intense but also upbeat, the former Utah offensive coordinator and his staff worked the players as they'd never been worked before — and the players didn't seem to mind. ... Losing RB Dominique Dorsey hurts, but the star of the spring might have been his replacement, Erick Jackson. He's just 5-foot-6, but he's quick, hits all the holes and is also a weapon in the return game. ... With Marco Guerra out with an injury, the staff moved tight end Jesse Knight to left tackle this spring. He played so well that when Guerra returns, some shuffling might have to be done on the line. ... The Rebels are a little thin at receiver but are fine at the top. Senior Alvin Marshall is established, and junior Donell Wheaton caught everything that came his way.

Fall Questions: How long will it take for the ever-popular Utah offense to work in Vegas? It's radically different from that of ultratraditional Robinson, and it showed early. In the spring, Sanford said the unit was thinking too much, and the coach wasn't thrilled with the offense's performance in the initial learning stage. ... Just who will direct the offense is anyone's guess. Junior QB Shane Steichen certainly has the experience edge, but does that really matter with a new system in place? His competition with more mobile Jarrod Jackson, straight out of junior college, is considered a dead heat. ... The defense lost eight starters, but this was a defense that gave up 33 points per game last year. Can things get any better with some new faces around? With an influx of junior college talent, the line and secondary could be OK, but the linebacking corps is a mess. All four starters are gone, including two to the NFL.

Utah Utes
2005 Schedule
9/2 Arizona
9/10 Utah State
9/15 at TCU
9/22 Air Force
10/1 at North Carolina
10/8 at Colorado State
10/15 San Diego State
10/22 at UNLV
11/5 Wyoming
11/12 New Mexico
11/19 at BYU

2004 overall record:
12-0
Conference record:
7-0

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Marty Johnson (802 yds)
Passing: Alex Smith (2,952 yds)
Receiving: Paris Warren (1,076 yds)
Tackles: Spencer Toone* (115)
Sacks: Tommy Hackenbruck, Marquess Ledbetter* and Steve Fifita* (4.5)
Interceptions: Morgan Scalley (6)

Spring Answers: It was more of a winter answer, but defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham turned down the head coaching job at his alma mater, BYU, to accept the same position at Utah. It was the ultimate double-whammy for Ute fans. ... Whittingham talked up new quarterback Brian Johnson, and the redshirt freshman went out and threw for 258 yards and three TDs in the spring game. And while it's way too early to compare Johnson to Alex Smith on the field, it's hard not to look at the similarities everywhere else. Johnson graduated high school early, was recruited for his versatility in the passing game, and possesses maturity and intelligence beyond his just-turned 18 years. The kid spent a lot of time around Smith last year, and it shows. ... The loss of RB Marty Johnson hurts, but it's hardly a killer. In fact, the Utes will likely split the carries again. Senior Quinton Ganther has plenty of experience — and more slender, change-of-pace Darryl Poston, formerly of USC, also will see plenty of time. ... Redshirt freshman Brent Casteel was unquestionably one of the stars of spring ball — so much so that it'll be hard to keep him off the field. He'll help out at H-receiver and in the return game.

Fall Questions: The Utes better be thankful the NCAA granted Travis LaTendresse a sixth year of eligibility this spring. As it stands, the receiving corps is still frighteningly thin after the departure of Paris Warren and Steve Savoy. JC transfer Brian Hernandez and Casteel are interesting projects, but this group is still without much proven talent. ... Who will emerge at right guard, Eric Pettit or Robert Conley? Everything else on the Jesse Boone-led offensive line is pretty set. ... The same can't be said for the linebacking corps, where only rover Spencer Toone is a sure thing. The rest of the experience in the group comes mostly from special-teams work. ... Utah also needs to figure out which corner will replace Morgan Scalley, the MWC co-defensive player of the year. Casey Evans was the favorite going in, but Tim Harris came on strong toward the end. This one won't be decided until August. ... Apparently, neither will the kicking situation. PK Bryan Borreson underwent offseason groin surgery, which is never a good thing for someone in charge of kicking footballs a long way. His return is iffy, and so is the situation behind him. Meanwhile, at punter the Utes have been left with only walk-on Dan Beardall. Safe to say the summer search is on to fix this mess.

Wyoming Cowboys
2005 Schedule
9/4 at Florida
9/10 La.-Monroe
9/17 at Air Force
9/24 at Ole Miss
10/1 UNLV
10/8 TCU
10/15 New Mexico
10/22 at Colorado State
11/5 at Utah
11/12 BYU
11/19 at San Diego State

2004 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
3-4

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ivan Harrison* (587 yds)
Passing: Corey Bramlet* (2,409 yds)
Receiving: Jovon Bouknight* (1,075 yds)
Tackles: John Wendling* (89)
Sacks: Zach Morris (4.5)
Interceptions: Wendling* and Derrick Martin* (3 each)

Spring Answers: The absence of Jovon Bouknight from last season's all-MWC first or second team should've warranted a full-blown investigation by the league office (Bouknight amassed the second-most all-purpose yards in the league). Instead, the receiving and returning (and even occasionally passing) performer extraordinaire is out to prove the doubters wrong. He'll lead a scary-deep WR group that includes Josh Barge, Tyler Holden and spring standout Jason Wallace. ... Guy Tuell was a stalwart at weakside linebacker, but his potential replacements have eased much of the worrying. Senior Jeff Tatnall has plenty of experience, and the coaches consider redshirt freshman Ward Dobbs a secret weapon. In the middle, junior Jason Prater is fully healthy and good to go. ... The team's punt and kickoff return teams are always raring to go. Barge and Hoost Marsh led the punt group to a 16-yard average, while Bouknight paced the kickoff unit to 22 yards per try.

Fall Questions: Although the coaches are confident senior Drew Severn will continue his smooth transition from guard to center, the O-line still doesn't inspire the ultimate confidence. Four starters return, but the line isn't even close to being deep. It's essential that the first-teamers stay out of the training room. ... Increased production from the running game is also important. Although both Ivan Harrison and Joseph Harris are expected back after surgery kept each out this spring, neither exactly lit the ground on fire last fall. If opponents don't respect the Cowboys' running game, Corey Bramlet might not remember much of this season. ... Wyoming returns 19 starters from a team that won the school's first bowl game in nearly 40 years. To say local expectations are high is putting it lightly. So what happens if the Cowboys go down to Florida and get absolutely swamped in the season opener? Is their confidence shot? With road trips to Air Force and Ole Miss a couple of weeks later, they'd better hope not.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

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