There won't be any college football games played for quite a while but that doesn't mean we are going to stop talking about the sport we love.
Each week during the off-season we will bring you the top stories and we will discuss a variety of topics in our roundtables. We started with the ACC, hit the Big 12 , talked Big Ten football, discussed the Big East, dissected the Pac-12 and contemplated Conference USA. This week we are going West, the Mountain West, and we are taking a friend with us. J
oining us is the kingpin of the Mountain West, Jeremy Mauss. Jeremy runs the SB Nation site Mountain West Connection and you can also find him on SB Nation Denver. You can follow him on twitter @JeremyMauss or become a fan of the Mountain West Connection on Facebook. Enough with the chit chat, let's talk college football!
Outside of Boise State and TCU, who will be the third best team in the conference?
Jeremy: San Diego State. The Aztecs have a legit shot at winning the league because they host both TCU and Boise State. Plus, they have a great offense with quarterback Ryan Lindley who if he was an a better team would be getting more recognition on the national stage. Plus, they have a stud running back with Ronnie Hillman who had the most rushing yards by a freshman and 10th most in the nation in 2010. They do lose their top three wide outs in Vincent Brown, DeMarco Sampson and Brandon Sullivan. Their top returning receiver is Dominique Sandifer who had 23 receptions and had 263 yards on the year. The Aztecs do return seven of their offensive starters and only lose one offensive lineman, so Lindley will be well protected in the pocket. If the Aztecs can have a wide receiver step up they will be able to challenge both teams.
Ross: I'll go with Air Force, who tied for third last year. They return six starters on offense, including all-conference performers at running back (Asher Clark) and offensive guard (A.J. Wallerstein). Clark ran for 1000+ yards a year ago and seems poised to do the same in 2011. The Falcons also return a senior QB, Tim Jefferson, who proved to be a skilled operator of their option attack: 1459 yards passing, 10/6 TD/INT ratio, and 794 yards (and 15 TD) on the ground. Air Force also returns seven starters on defense, including tow-thirds of their starters on the defensive line and three-quarters of their secondary. They might not have the power to challenge TCU and Boise State, but they'll give them a scare -- and should do very well against the rest of the league.
Kevin: I'm going to defer to Jeremy here since he's the MWC Kingpin. I like his thought process and San Diego State was a pretty fun team to play with on NCAA 11 (how bout that analysis!). It's hard to fathom anybody outside of SDSU and Air Force being the 3rd place team. One thing to like about both of those teams is that they both beat who they were supposed to beat and didn't lose to any teams that they shouldn't have. SDSU won by two at home last year against Air Force and I think they find a way to get it done behind Lindley this year in that game which gives them the edge in my book for third place.
Which players do you see poised for breakout seasons this year?
Jeremy: Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas. He was the Rams starting quarterback as a true freshman and was second in the Mountain West in yards per game last year, only trailing San Diego State's Ryan Lindley. The Rams will just need to open up the playbook for the former four-star recruit. Last year, the Rams were very conservative allowing Thomas only to throw to running backs or quick passes to wide receivers.
Wyoming running back Alvester Alexander. With quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels transferring the offense will need someone to be the leader. Even though he scored 14 touchdowns his yards per game was nothing special at 66 per game. Expect Alexander to be a 1,000 yard back.
San Diego State wide receiver Dominique Sandifer. The Aztecs lost their top three receivers and Sandifier is the teams leading receiver with 23 receptions for 263 yards. Plus, somebody has to step up and catch the multitude of passes from Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley.
Ross: Someone is going to emerge with big numbers from the Boise State WR corps. Their offense is too high-powered and Kellen Moore is too skilled for anything else to happen, despite losing last year's two standouts (Austin Pettis and Titus Young). Tyler Shoemaker is an obvious choice since he had the third-most receiving yards (582) and touchdowns (5) last year, but it could also be Geraldo Hiwat or Aaron Burks, who contributed sporadically last year but should be in line for more looks with Pettis and Young gone.
I also think Ed Wesley will emerge as a big-time running back at TCU. He ran for over 1000 yards and 11 TD a year ago, but with Andy Dalton taking his ginger powers to the NFL, it's not hard to imagine TCU leaning on Wesley a bit more in 2011 to provide some offensive punch.
Kevin: Casey Pachall of TCU immediately came to my mind when I came up with this question. He's a three-star prospect from scout.com and a 4-star guy from Rivals, who also rated him as the #9 QB in his class. He's been on campus for two years and I just see this being a break-out year for him. The other guy I like is Kirby Moore of Boise State, I think you've heard of his brother Kellen. As a frosh in 2009 Moore caught 21 passes for 241 yards and 2 TD. He red-shirted last year due to Boise State's depth and so that he could refine his skills. Look for him to break-out this year, especially with his brother throwing the ball to him.
Who are the 3 players in the MWC you would pick if you were starting a team from scratch?
Jeremy: Kellen Moore, Boise State, QB - Moore is entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback for Boise State and is a Heisman candidate yet again. He has a record of 38-2 won multiple big games. Super accurate player who can make all of the throws.
Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State RB - Hillman was an explosive runner and made big plays for the Aztecs. He is a workhorse back who only had two games under 20 carries last season and as a freshman rushed for over 1,500 yards and will only get better.
Tank Carder, TCU LB - Carder has already prove that he is the next great TCU defender, and the nation knows him from knocking down the Wisconsin two-point attempt in the Rose Bowl. He is a playmaker who gets into the backfield with ease and can drop into coverage to defend a running back or tight end.
Ross: The three players I'd build around:
1) Kellen Moore, Boise State QB; Quarterbacks win ball games and Moore is one of the best QBs in college football right now. He had off the charts numbers a year ago (3845 yards, 71% completion percentage, 35/6 TD/INT). He's led a Boise State team that's gone 38-2 over the last three years; he's a winner and he's been enormously productive. He doesn't have ideal size (6'0", 187 lbs), but I'll take that trade-off for his excellence in other areas.
2) Miles Burris, SDSU LB; Burris led the MWC with 8.5 sacks in 2010, on top of the 80 tackles and 11.5 other TFL he recorded. He's a playmaker for their defense and you can never go wrong with a guy who likes to wreak havoc on that side of the ball.
3) Ronnie Hillman, SDSU RB; As a freshman, Hillman blew up for 1532 yards and 17 TD (both MWC-leading totals). I repeat: as a freshman. Given more experience reading blocks and getting stronger, smarter, and tougher, he should continue to be a potent running back; he can be the lynchpin of my team's ground game any day.
Kevin: If I'm starting a team from scratch I value youth. So I'm going to go with Casey Pashall with my first pick. He's just a sophomore so I have the chance to develop him over three years and I know who my starting QB is for the next three years. Then I'm going Ed Wesley of TCU. He's just a junior so I have him for two years. He's a stud, no question about it and he will be the focal point of my offense as I get Casey used to being a big-time QB at the college level. Last but not least I have to go to the defensive side of the football and my field general will be TCU MLB Tanner Brock. He too will be a junior so he gets to lead my defense for two years. He had 106 tackles last year, 5.5 for loss, 2 sacks and a pick. Those are the three guys I go to war with. I'm also thinking of getting a nice purple polo shirt, moving to Fort Worth and changing my name to Gary Patterson.
The big question this year in the MWC is Boise State or TCU. Who wins?
Jeremy: I will go with Boise State because they host TCU.
Ross: Boise has to be the favorite to win the league. They return more starters (7 on offense, 7 on defense versus 5 on offense and 5 on defense for TCU), including the most important returning player (Kellen Moore). They also get the Boise-TCU game at home on their smurf turf, where they're nigh-impossible to beat. TCU will no doubt reload, but Boise has better pieces in place to win this year and a schedule that favors them.
Kevin: I've just got this feeling about TCU this year. They are going to be better than people think. I see TCU eeking this one out in a close one. Maybe by a missed field goal at the end (sorry Boise fans but I had to say it!).