Mountain West spring recap

Updated: May 3, 2006, 5:03 PM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to

TCU blitzed through the Mountain West in 2005. The Horned Frogs went undefeated in their first year in the conference to claim the crown. While this spring showed that the Frogs should be loaded again in 2006, the rest of MWC gained some ground. Take a look at what questions were answered this spring in the Mountain West and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Air Force Falcons
2006 Schedule
9/9 at Tennessee
9/23 at Wyoming
9/30 New Mexico
10/7 Navy
10/12 Colorado State
10/21 at San Diego State
10/28 BYU
11/3 at Army
11/11 Notre Dame
11/18 Utah
11/24 at UNLV
12/2 at TCU

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Shaun Carney* (710 yds)
Passing: Carney* (1,393 yds)
Receiving: Jason Brown (874 yds)
Tackles: Bobby Giannini* (92)
Sacks: Overton Spence and Nelson Mitchell (2)
Interceptions: Giannini* (3)

Spring Answers: Notice the increased use of the forward pass at the Academy the last couple years? Well, hope you enjoyed it. The Falcons gained some semblance of a balanced attack, but the program posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1980-81. That fact, along with the graduation of security blankets Jason Brown (WR) and Greg Kirkwood (TE), has longtime coach Fisher DeBerry ready to get back to Air Force football. He wants to make Shaun Carney a run-first quarterback and the senior began getting in that mindset this spring. … DeBerry already knows his fullbacks can run. But did he know Ryan Williams was this good? Williams reminds many Air Force insiders of Spanky Gilliam from the 12-1 team in 1998. For those who don't remember Gilliam, just think of a bowling ball. Team him up with Jacobe Kendrick and the Falcons are a load at the position. … Nose guard Gilberto Perez might have been on his way to an all-conference season before injuring his knee last fall. No surgery was required, though, and Perez looked better than ever this spring. Good news for Air Force. Bad news for the interior linemen of the Mountain West.

Fall Questions: Even though the focus is returning to the running game, the Falcons aren't going to just abandon the pass. Carney is too good for that. But is there anyone to step in for Brown and Kirkwood, who combined for 79 catches and more than 1,400 yards last year? Let's just say that search is ongoing. … On defense, Air Force loses six starters from a group that wasn't all that good in the first place (allowed 31.7 points per game in '05). Two of those starters played the all-important "Falcon," a safety/linebacker hybrid position. Julian Madrid and Hunter Altman are the probable replacements, but they are relatively unproven. FS Bobby Giannini and CB Chris Sutton are solid, but they will have to carry a secondary that is not only young, but also has plenty of depth issues. Overall, forcing more turnovers and allowing fewer big plays would be a good start. … Will the Academy end up with the same guy kicking field goals and punting? It hasn't happened there in 15 years, but sophomore Ryan Harrison will get a shot if he beats the competition this August. If he ends up punting, it can't get much worse than it's been the last couple years. The Falcons have fallen off the map in that category, finishing 106th in net yardage last fall.

BYU Cougars
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Arizona
9/9 Tulsa
9/16 at Boston College
9/23 Utah State
9/28 at TCU
10/7 San Diego State
10/21 UNLV
10/28 at Air Force
11/4 at Colorado State
11/9 Wyoming
11/18 New Mexico
11/25 at Utah

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Curtis Brown* (1,123 yds)
Passing: John Beck* (3,709 yds)
Receiving: Jonny Harline* (853 yds)
Tackles: Cameron Jensen* (84)
Sacks: Justin Maddux (5)
Interceptions: Justin Luettgerodt (3)

Spring Answers: Is TB Fui Vakapuna back at full strength after a two-year church mission? Well, why don't you ask the four guys he ran over on the first play of the spring game? The bruiser with speed is for real. Believe it. And don't forget about 1,000-yard rusher Curtis Brown. Or Manase Tonga. Or Wayne Latu. Or Ray Hudson. It all adds up to the deepest group of BYU backs in many, many years. … Then there's the tight ends. Jonny Harline and Daniel Coats are well-known commodities, but you might not know about sophomore Vic So'oto, who has NFL tight end written all over him. And redshirt freshman Andrew George could start for most Mountain West teams. Think there will be a few two-tight end sets in Provo? … The Cougars need to find a deep threat to replace Todd Watkins and a return threat. They might have found both in the form of freshman McKay Jacobson, who graduated high school in December and opened some eyes this spring. This Texan can fly. He probably is faster than Watkins and has more moves. He'll contribute immediately. … For the first time in five years, there wasn't even a hint of a quarterback controversy this spring. John Beck is the starter -- and he's getting even better. How good? He'll soon pass Steve Young and Jim McMahon on the school's all-time passing list.

Fall Questions: Having visions of 1984 yet? Careful. We haven't gotten to the defense yet. Outside the stacked group of linebackers, there are still plenty of questions on that side of the ball. The Cougars lost every starter and five of their top six players on the line. So, there's plenty to be decided in August, especially at the ends. BYU is moving to a 3-4 formation to better suit its personnel. That tells you all you need to know. … Until it proves otherwise, the secondary is still a major concern. In 2005, the Cougars gave up 269.3 yards per game, which ranked last in the conference and 104th nationally. The unit returns some experience, but are they any better? Or should we expect plenty of 51-48 shootouts this year? … And how quickly can true freshman Brandon Bradley contribute at corner? Bradley originally committed to Louisville, but changed his mind toward the end of his LDS Church mission in Brazil. … The offense is fairly set, but there is one big battle in the middle. Transfer Tom Sorensen, who started at Vanderbilt as a true freshman, is competing with Jeff Rhea. The Cougars' efforts to develop some depth up front was hindered in the spring by a slew of injuries.

Colorado State Rams
2006 Schedule
9/2 Weber State
9/9 Colorado*
9/16 at Nevada
9/30 at Fresno State
10/7 UNLV
10/12 at Air Force
10/21 at Wyoming
10/28 New Mexico
11/4 BYU
11/11 at Utah
11/25 TCU
12/02 at San Diego State
*at Denver

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Kyle Bell* (1,288 yds)
Passing: Justin Holland* (3,185 yds)
Receiving: David Anderson (1,221 yds)
Tackles: Miles Kochevar (91)
Sacks: Jesse Nading* (4)
Interceptions: Travis Garcia and Robert Herbert (3)

Spring Answers: Much like conference rival Air Force, the Rams are going to back to what made them tick during the best of times. Justin Holland pitching it around to David Anderson had its moments, but Sonny Lubick's power-zone running attack is back -- and it's back with a vengeance. At this time last year, the running game was an unknown commodity and with Holland and Anderson around, it was safer to keep it in the air. Now, it's time to start pounding people again. With the fall emergence of Kyle Bell and the giant spring strides made by fellow 225-pounder Gartrell Johnson, the Rams are poised to do just that. … And don't think that new 235-pound quarterback won't be running around, too. Remember former QB Bradlee Van Pelt? Well, Caleb Hanie is already drawing comparisons to that legendary, cult-like hero of Fort Collins. While he isn't yet Van Pelt's equal as a runner, he is a better passer at this stage of his career. Another similarity? Hanie has that presence about him in the huddle, and his teammates are already rallying around it. … When the Rams throw it -- and yes, they'll still throw it plenty -- the staff now feels comfortable with at least five or six sets of hands. Outside the established group, keep an eye on junior Damon Morton, George Hill and Luke Roberts. That trio looks ready to take the next step. … On a defense that needs to get better in a hurry, spring offered some encouraging individual signs. At end, Jesse Nading looks like he's taken it from good to really good and sophomore Wade Landers is one of those youngsters CSU isn't going to be able to keep off the field. And don't forget about LB Luke Adkins. He established himself as a starter in 2004, but a knee injury caused him to miss all but one game last season. The senior is back now and looked sharp during spring drills.

Fall Questions: Can the offensive line hold up? This one is worth monitoring. The group lost a couple starters, and although the depth appears slightly better than last year, the Rams still can't afford a bout of injuries. The offense has plenty of potential, but it goes nowhere without a healthy and consistent line. … The CSU defense needs to improve its tackling in 2006. Last year, the Rams surrendered a whopping 223 yards per game. Only UCLA and Illinois gave up more rushing yards per game. In 2004, only six teams were worse against the run. Will the bleeding stop? It has to cease. Lack of experience can't be used as an excuse anymore. It's time for Blake Smith and Matt Rupp to plug the middle and it's time for the experienced linebackers to come through when it counts. A little quarterback pressure from the guys up front wouldn't hurt, either. The secondary can't keep getting left out to dry. … Speaking of the back four, how much difference can a healthy Ben Stratton make? There's a vacancy at both safety positions, and Stratton, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, needs to be a key figure. Sophomores Klint Kubiak and Mike Pagnotta show plenty of promise, but this is the high-flying Mountain West. Plenty of promise isn't going to cut it in the secondary.

New Mexico Lobos
2006 Schedule
9/2 Portland State
9/9 at New Mexico State
9/16 Missouri
9/23 UTEP
9/30 at Air Force
10/7 Wyoming
10/14 at UNLV
10/19 Utah
10/28 at Colorado State
11/11 TCU
11/18 at BYU
11/25 San Diego State

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: DonTrell Moore (1,298 yds)
Passing: Kole McKamey* (1,682 yds)
Receiving: Hank Baskett (1,071 yds)
Tackles: Mike Mohoric (85)
Sacks: Cody Kase* (5.5)
Interceptions: Gabriel Fulbright (5)

Spring Answers: Holy Toledo, look who's finally back in college football! It's Bob Toledo. The former UCLA head coach is back to run the offense of one of his former pupils, Rocky Long. Yes, the same Rocky Long who ran the defense for Toledo a decade ago in Westwood. Sound a little odd? Not to QB Kole McKamey, who has embraced Toledo's pro-style playbook, which puts a lot of responsibility on the man under center. McKamey is not there yet and there's still plenty to digest, but that back injury has healed fully and he does appear more comfortable with this style of play. Let's face it, he wasn't scaring anyone in that option-based offense of last year. … Be on the look out for more two-tight end formations in Toledo's scheme -- and for good reason. Sure-handed John Mulchrone can be a matchup nightmare and redshirt freshman Luke Walters was a pleasant surprise this spring, making play after play downfield. … Time will only tell against some of those pass-happy conference opponents, but the coaching staff was happy -- and you could say surprised -- by what they saw from the cornerback position. Two spots were open and junior Juamar Hall and JC transfer Glover Quin scooped them up quickly, which wasn't exactly a common occurrence at many of the other positions.

Fall Questions: There's many to get to, but this team revolved around TB DonTrelle Moore for years, so that's where we'll begin. We're not sure there's much to report, though. If there's another Moore waiting in the wings, he didn't show his face this spring. Junior Martelius Epps has played all over the field in his career and looks to be the leader at this point. But there's still a decent chance this becomes a committee approach in the fall, with Rodney Ferguson and Paul Baker in the mix. If that's going to work, these guys don't need to go down the moment they're hit, as Toledo noticed them doing in scrimmages. … The New Mexico passing game the last couple years? Throw it to Hank Baskett and, uh, throw it to him again. And again. And maybe toss one to Moore out in the flat. McKamey had absolutely no other reliable options. Well, those options are no longer available in Albuquerque. So what now? Speedy juniors Travis Brown and Marcus Smith talked all spring about their upcoming breakout season. We're guessing Lobo fans are taking a wait-and-see approach. … What about that decimated defensive line? New Mexico fared pretty well against the run in 2005, but all three starters up front are gone. And let's just say it didn't go all that well this spring. Either Billy Brittain or Ryan Boyd needs to take charge at nose tackle and a least two ends need to act like they want the spot in August …This team was quite an enigma last season. The Lobos fielded the most first-team all-conference players in school history, but it never quite came together. They'd look great one half and terrible the next. And what's with winning your last three road games, but dropping your last three at home? The team is suddenly young and only 10 or so seniors will see much action at all. If this isn't going to be a complete rebuilding year, the Lobos at least need to take care of business at home.

San Diego State Aztecs
2006 Schedule
8/31 UTEP
9/16 at Wisconsin
9/23 Utah
9/30 at San Jose State
10/7 at BYU
10/21 Air Force
10/28 Cal Poly
11/04 at Wyoming
11/11 UNLV
11/18 at TCU
11/25 at New Mexico
12/2 Colorado State

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Lynell Hamilton* (819 yds)
Passing: Kevin O'Connell* (2,663 yds)
Receiving: Jeff Webb (1,109 yds)
Tackles: Freddy Keiaho (113)
Sacks: Antwan Applewhite* (5.5)
Interceptions: Marcus Demps (4)

Spring Answers: In a traditionally laid-back city, the San Diego State football program has fit right in for years. No more. Enter new head coach Chuck Long. His first practices were so intense and hard-hitting that they started calling it "Camp Contusion" because of all the injuries. Despite his background as a college quarterback, Long has been groomed in the Big Ten and Big 12 and has made it clear he wants to pound the ball in the pass-happy Mountain West. … In case he wants a change of pace, though, the diminutive Atiyyah Henderson emerged as a dangerous scatback-type. The 5-foot-7 redshirt freshman from Florida was the surprise of the spring. … The quarterback controversy that normally develops around these parts never really materialized. Sophomore Darren Mougey and redshirt freshman Kevin Craft had their moments, but incumbent starter Kevin O'Connell did enough to solidify his spot. But check back in August just in case. … The 255-pound Nick Osborn didn't quite fit at defensive tackle, so the new coaching staff moved the junior back to his more natural position on the end. With his quickness off the edge, it's clearly a more advantageous spot for him. … T.J. McKay has a bright future at free safety, but the sophomore was forced to miss spring practice due to a shoulder injury. Seeing a prime chance to impresses the new boss, senior Brett Sturm did not disappoint. He flourished this spring and now looks like the favorite to start. The position also developed some nice depth with redshirt freshmen Josh Walker and Aaron Moore.

Fall Questions: What will the offensive line look like by the season opener? And will it be anything Aztec fans want to see? Only one regular starter returns to the lineup and he was out most of the spring with a knee injury. So it's not a pretty sight at the moment, but will the arrival of three newcomers have a major impact? True freshman Whitley Fehoko and center Peter Manuma and tackle Dan Hathaway, both JC transfers, are expected to get a serious look at starting spots the moment they hit campus ….Long sounds committed to the run, but can TB Lynell Hamilton return to the form of a few years ago? It's essential, because it's pretty evident the imbalance between pass and run in recent years hasn't worked for this program. The Aztecs last went bowling in 1998, when they averaged just 147 YPG through the air. In six of the past seven years since, the team has averaged more than 200 yards passing, which has netted a 30-51 record and no winning seasons. 'Nuff said ….The guys assigned to catch the ball have plenty of questions anyway. The top three receivers  Chazeray Schilens, DeMarco Sampson and Brett Swain  have a combined 12 career starts and have all been hampered by recent injuries. Suffice to say, the Aztecs haven't even sniffed a go-to replacement for Jeff Webb. Way too many dropped passesfor that to happen. The situation is even worse at tight end, where juniors Eric Miclot and Lance Louis both suffered ACL injuries ….It's great the defense returns nearly intact, but will the unit decide to stop anyone on the ground this year? The front seven has some rising young talent, but the team won't go anywhere if it again ranks second-to-last in the conference against the run….Speaking of not going anywhere, how about someone break an occasional tackle in the return game? In 2004, San Diego State ranked 99th on punt returns and 114th on kickoffs. That's the kind of balance this program wants to stay away from.

TCU Horned Frogs
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Baylor
9/9 UC Davis
9/16 Texas Tech
9/28 BYU
10/5 at Utah
10/21 at Army
10/28 Wyoming
11/4 at UNLV
11/11 at New Mexico
11/18 San Diego State
11/25 Colorado State
12/2 Air Force

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Robert Merrill* (911 yds)
Passing: Jeff Ballard* (1,801 yds)
Receiving: Cory Rodgers* (685 yds)
Tackles: Jason Phillips* (71)
Sacks: Chase Ortiz* (9)
Interceptions: Quincy Butler (5)

Spring Answers: After missing most of last season and taking a medical redshirt, Lonta Hobbs looked fine in his return this spring. What does that mean? That means the TCU backfield boasts two 1,000-yard rushers in Hobbs and Robert Merrill) along with Aaron Brown, last year's Mountain West Freshman of the Year. That doesn't seem very fair. … And if you're counting at home, the Horned Frogs return their top eight rushers, four of their top five receivers and a quarterback (Jeff Ballard) who was 8-0 as a starter last fall. … As if the defensive line needed any more ammunition with terrors like Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake, it looks like tackles Lorenzo Jones and James Vess are only getting better. Both played as true freshmen last season and both had really strong springs. That seemed to be a running theme among the defenders. The TCU defense led the country with a mind-boggling 40 forced turnovers in 2005. Well, most of the key contributors are back and don't show any signs of slowing down. … While there's an air of confidence around the Frogs, who own the nation's second-longest win streak (10), there's also a sense that the seniors are keeping this team in line to ensure recent history doesn't repeat itself. The veterans know the feeling of going 11-1 in 2003 and following that up with a miserable 5-6 season. The program also lost six games in 2001, a year after finishing 10-2. It would take a rash of injuries and a rather shocking turn of events for this group to take a similar tumble.

Fall Questions: While the staff is high on many of the young replacements, losing four starters on the O-line is nothing to scoff at. Senior Herb Taylor is a good anchor at right tackle, but the other spots still will be up for grabs in August. Fans have to hope the line performs as admirably as the 2005 edition, which lost three starters from the year before. If this offense is going to live up to its potential, it can't be worrying about the big guys up front. … If there's a vulnerability on defense this fall, it probably will emerge in the cornerback position. The Frogs lost two all-conference performers there and the potential replacements come from a pool of two seniors with limited experience (Mike Salvage and Vernon Russell) and two redshirt freshmen (Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest) with no experience. And did we mention Texas Tech and BYU come to town on back-to-back weeks in September? (Gulp). … Can TCU possibly keep up its fourth-quarter dominance? Since 2003, the always-well-conditioned Frogs are 15-3 in games decided by seven points or less, including 5-0 last year, when they outscored the opposition 69-31 in the final quarter. That's yielding an average of less than three points in the final stanza per game.

UNLV Rebels
2006 Schedule
9/2 Idaho State
9/9 at Iowa State
9/16 at Hawaii
9/30 Nevada
10/7 at Colorado State
10/14 New Mexico
10/21 at BYU
10/28 at Utah
11/4 TCU
11/11 at San Diego State
11/18 Wyoming
11/24 Air Force

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Erick Jackson* (673 yds)
Passing: Jarrod Jackson* (1,321 yds)
Receiving: Greg Estandia (563 yds)
Tackles: Joe Miklos (98)
Sacks: Leon Moore (4)
Interceptions: Miklos (2)

Spring Answers: The three biggest answers came from a trio of transfers with an L.A. postage address. QB Rocky Hinds and CB Eric Wright from USC and CB Mil'Von James from UCLA have found a home in Las Vegas. The Rebels were more than happy to roll out the welcome mat this spring. Hinds hasn't played a down of competitive football since his junior year of high school in 2002, but he is for real. The Trojans weren't happy to lose him. Then there's Eric Wright, who was so good his freshman season that he started in the national title game and grabbed an interception in the team's blowout of Oklahoma. Although charges were never filed, Wright was accused of sexual assault and decided a change of scenery would do him good. The moment he steps onto the field, he'll be the best pro prospect in the Mountain West. As if his cover skills weren't enough, Wright is also a dynamite returner and carried the opening kickoff of the spring game 95 yards for a touchdown. … Don't be surprised if the starting cornerback spots have a certain Pac-10 feel to them. James looked excellent this spring and is giving a serious challenge to incumbent John Guice. And it doesn't even stop there. Transfer U. also raided Oklahoma for Tony Cade, who the coaches expect to challenge for a starting safety spot when he arrives in August. Bottom line? While the secondary was unquestionably the team's biggest weakness last year, it will unquestionably be the team's biggest strength in 2006. … Shall we continue with this theme? Try this one on for size. UNLV has a junior college prospect coming in this summer who will be the team's biggest and fastest receiver. Coach Mike Sanford first recruited Aaron Straiten while at Utah, but he had to hold off a slew of Pac-10 schools this time around. How good is this kid? Sanford swears he's in the same class as three of his former players: Curtis Conway, Keyshawn Johnson and Johnnie Morton.

Fall Questions: As much potential as Hinds has, will he even be starting under center in the season opener? The staff insists senior Shane Steichen still has a shot and it's becoming apparent both will get a chance to play early. Is it just a matter of time before Hinds takes over, though? He seems like a perfect fit for the team's spread-option attack. Hinds might've torn his knee up before his senior year of high school, but the Trojans were still thrilled to get him. There's a reason for that. … Before UNLV fans start making bowl reservations, they should check out the offensive line. Four of five starters are back, but is that exactly reason for celebration? Depth is a nightmare and the returnees are still not picking up on all the nuances of the spread option. How bad is it? Three true freshmen will be given a chance to compete for starting spots in August. … Also, don't forget how bad this defense was last year, ranking 109th nationally (34.6 ppg). That number rose to 44 points per game during the season-ending five-game losing streak. The Rebels lost their top four defensive ends and the replacements are all green. Besides rising star Beau Bell at linebacker, you've got major depth issues there. So the secondary will be fine this time, but the front seven is littered with unproven players.

Utah Utes
2006 Schedule
9/2 at UCLA
9/9 Northern Arizona
9/16 at Utah State
9/23 at San Diego State
9/30 Boise State
10/5 TCU
10/14 at Wyoming
10/19 at New Mexico
10/28 UNLV
11/11 Colorado State
11/18 at Air Force
11/25 BYU

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Quinton Ganther (1,120 yds)
Passing: Brian Johnson* (2,892 yds)
Receiving: Travis LaTendresse (810 yds)
Tackles: Spencer Toone (113)
Sacks: Steve Fifita (6)
Interceptions: Casey Evans* (5)

Spring Answers: Ute fans shouldn't fret much over the loss of WR Travis LaTendresse , folks inside the program still claim it's the deepest position on the team. The reasoning is justified by players like Brian Hernandez and 6-3 sophomore Bradon Godfrey, who redshirted last season after transferring from Southern Utah. Godfrey looked like a gem this spring and will be in the mix in the fall. … A hand injury to Hawaii transfer Jeremy Inferrera opened the door for Kyle Gunther at the center position. Taking advantage, the junior not only walked through the door, but practically slammed it shut. Coach Kyle Whittingham, who called Gunther the team's most improved player, can now rest a little easier about Jason Boone's move back to right tackle. … And the second-year coach certainly doesn't have a problem falling asleep thinking about DT Steve Fifita's replacement. In fact, Whittingham went on the record saying he thought Kelly Talavou would the best defensive tackle in the Mountain West Conference. Talavou, a former walk-on transfer from Idaho, possesses the same incredible strength as Fifita. … The Utes are apparently set at cornerback, where Brice McCain and Eric Shyne played well enough to separate themselves from a large pack of competitors. Elsewhere in the secondary, we're happy to report All-American candidate Eric Weddle is still hitting a lot of things and making a lot of plays at strong safety.

Fall Questions: What will the Utes do at quarterback? Do they go with Brian Johnson, who was fourth in the country in total offense before suffering a knee injury that knocked him out of the last two games and the spring session? Or do they go with Brett Ratliff, who threw eight TD passes as a fill-in during a win over rival BYU and a bowl spanking of Georgia Tech? The decision won't be made until Johnson returns at full strength in August. The only thing we know at this point is that Ratliff separated himself this spring from a capable pair in Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady and redshirt freshman Kevin Dunn. … Having a problem with injuries or turnovers is a worrisome situation for any tailback. Having a problem with both can be a death sentence. So what's it going to be, Darryl Poston? If the Utes are going to adequately replace the always dependable Quinton Ganther, Poston has to have the kind of season everyone expected of him when the prep All-American signed with USC in 2000. He's a senior and basically has yet to prove anything on the field. Is it finally his time? … And is there a worthy replacement for Spencer Toone at middle linebacker? That's not entirely clear because the Utes still are experimenting with all kinds of combinations at linebacker. We do know Kyle Brady and Malakai Mokofisi are locked in a pretty tight battle on the strongside. … Will the special teams mess get cleaned up by the season opener? Utah is replacing all-conference kicker Dan Beardall, and are reluctantly having punter Louie Sakoda take over both duties due to lack of viable contenders. Will one of two true freshman let Sakoda focus on punting this fall? Of course, if the Utes don't handle snapping and holding better than they did in the spring, it might not even matter.

Wyoming Cowboys
2006 Schedule
9/2 Utah State
9/9 at Virginia
9/16 Boise State
9/23 Air Force
9/30 at Syracuse
10/7 at New Mexico
10/14 Utah
10/21 Colorado State
10/28 at TCU
11/4 San Diego State
11/9 at BYU
11/18 at UNLV

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

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

2005 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Wynel Seldon (871 yds)
Passing: Corey Bramlet* (2,610 yds)
Receiving: Jovon Bouknight (1,116 yds)
Tackles: Ron Rockett (85)
Sacks: Mike Groover* (6.5)
Interceptions: John Wendling* and Derrick Martin (3 each)

Spring Answers: The Cowboys got an answer on the Joseph Harris question, but the end result was decidedly mixed. On the field, Harris returned from injury and looked better than ever. He's still only 5-7, but his speed is still there and he looks stronger than he did before an ACL injury knocked him out of 2005. Just when it looked like Harris was doing everything right, though, he and fellow TB Ivan Harrison violated team rules. Both will be suspended for the first three games of the fall. Wynel Seldon proved himself by setting a school freshman rushing record, but he better stay healthy early. … The decision to move to a 3-4 defense looked like a good one this spring. The linebackers were excellent. Senior Austin Hall is listed as the starter for now, but it'll be tough to keep Sean Claffey off the field. In the spring game, Claffey forced a fumble, returned a fumble, returned an interception and recorded three sacks. Would you want to be competing for a starting spot against that guy? The situation looks just as good on the other side, where Mike Juergens and Weston Johnson are locked in a good battle. Both were continually pointed out by the coaching staff and both will see plenty of playing time. … The unquestioned leader of the defense is FS John Wendling. The Wyoming native has good size and can cover the field from sideline-to-sideline. Look for him to have a big season.

Fall Questions: For the first time since the Joe Tiller days in the mid-1990s, the Cowboys had a quarterback controversy this spring. There won't be a Bramlet under center this fall -- that much we do know. Other than that, your guess is as good as ours. Junior Jacob Doss or redshirt freshman Karsten Sween probably will win the job, but neither has any meaningful experience and neither took charge this spring. … The situation at receiver didn't help matters. Michael Ford is really the only proven commodity, and he was held out to nurse an injury. This is a young, inexperienced group that's going to have to grow up fast. … The Cowboys were shocked by CB Derrick Martin's early departure to the NFL. It leaves them with basically three serviceable corners in a conference that feasts on such misfortune. Juniors Michael Medina and Julius Stinson and big-hitting true freshman Marcell Gipson will be fine, but it gets extremely dicey past that. Wyoming cannot afford any injuries here. … They can't afford another avalanche of turnovers, either. What happened to this team after such a promising 4-1 start? Turnovers happened -- lots of them, starting with a whopping seven in a loss to TCU that began a six-game losing streak. The Pokes finished 111th nationally in turnover margin and that simply can't happen again. … Who will punt and who will kick? Wyoming doesn't have a clue. The situation will not be pretty if the true freshman do not show some promise this August.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at