Meyer and Utah taking over


ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit predicts the Mountain West Conference champion, award winners and more:

And the winner is ...

Head coach Urban Meyer has created a confident atmosphere in Salt Lake City and the Utes now approach every game expecting to win. Alex Smith returns at quarterback and has the benefit of one of the best receivers in the conference in Parris Warren and a defense that allowed just 19 points per game last season.

But I wouldn't be surprised ...
If UNLV won
John Robinson is in his sixth year in Las Vegas and is on the verge of putting together something big. The Rebels have a very athletic defense led by stud safety Jamaal Brimmer.

Most Valuable Player ...
Alex Smith, QB, Utah
Smith came on as last season progressed and has a chance to put up some unbelievable numbers this year behind a very good offensive line.

Most Important Player(s) ...
Kurt Nantkes, QB, UNLV
With a solid defense taking the field for the Rebels, Nantkes will be counted on to move the offense. He should get some help from running back JaJa Riley, a transfer from Ohio State who should see plenty of time this year.

Coach of the Year ...
Urban Meyer, Utah
His success at Bowling Green coupled with walking into Utah and leading his team to 10 wins last season should elevate him into a spot among the hottest names in coaching. He will be pursued for a big-name job after this season is over.

Assistant You Should Know ...
Bronco Mendenhall, defensive coordinator, BYU
Mendenhall had great success at New Mexico before coming to Provo and has brought some good young energy to the Cougars. He is among the next wave of great coaches in college and has a bright future.

Player I'd pay to watch ...
Jamaal Brimmer, S, UNLV
A 6-foot-1, 215-pounder who has been an all-conference selection for the last two seasons, Brimmer enters the season as one of the more respected defensive backs in the nation.

Toughest Place(s) to play ...
Rice-Eccles Stadium Utah
BYU has historically had the best home-field advantage in the league, but the pendulum has swung to Salt Lake City. Meyer and his Utes have created a nasty atmosphere of their own and this year get BYU at home.

Game of the Year ...
BYU at Utah, Nov. 20
The MWC championship will more than likely be on the line when these teams meet in the season finale.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit co-hosts College GameDay and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.