March 6, 2008

Mountain West Spring Preview

BYU aims to crash the BCS party this fall and looks to be head and shoulders above everyone else in the Mountain West Conference. Utah has some important spots to fill and could be the Cougars' main competition this fall. Here's a look at the league as its teams open spring football.

SPRING DATES
Air Force: March 4-April 12
BYU : March 17-April 12
Colorado State: March 25-April 19
New Mexico: April 10-April 26
San Diego State: March 25-April 26
TCU: March 18-April 12
UNLV: March 10-April 18
Utah: March 11-April 19
Wyoming: March 26-April 19

NEW COACHES

Steve Fairchild, Colorado State: He played and coached with the Rams, and while the program has sagged in recent seasons, Fairchild also knows how good it can be. He had spent the past seven seasons in the NFL, including the past two as offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. He was offensive coordinator for Colorado State from 1997-2000 under Sonny Lubick, who he is replacing. Fairchild re-hired former CSU defensive coordinator Larry Kerr to be his defensive coordinator. Though the Mountain West is a better league than most think, Fairchild will have the Rams contending for league titles quickly.

BIGGEST POSITION BATTLES THIS SPRING

BYU: There will be six new starters in the back eight on defense. Finding two new starting linebackers is the key.

Colorado State: Fairchild's first priority is finding a new starting quarterback.

New Mexico: Both starting wide receivers are gone. Roland Bruno looks like the front-runner at one spot. But what about the other?

San Diego State: The Aztecs' first priority is finding a new starting quarterback. Junior college transfer Drew Westling may be the guy.

TCU: The Horned Frogs lost both defensive ends. Jerry Hughes looks like a good bet to take over one spot, and redshirt freshman Braylon Broughton has the potential to be a star on the other side.

UNLV: The Rebels need two new starting defensive ends and a linebacker to replace star Beau Bell. Jason Beauchamp should be UNLV's star linebacker this season.

Utah: The Utes need to find a new go-to receiver, and Bradon Godfrey may be the guy. Utah also must find a new starting defensive end (Greg Newman?) and two new linebackers. Mike Wright would seem to be the likely guy at one of the linebacker spots.

Wyoming: Finding two new starting wide receivers and two new starting cornerbacks is important. Keith Lewis is a front-runner at cornerback. The receiving jobs are wide open.

FIVE PLAYERS WHO SHOULD EMERGE THIS SPRING

Colorado State LB Ricky Brewer: He played well down the stretch as a redshirt freshman last season and has the potential to be the Rams' leading tackler this season. He's still a little on the light side (he's listed at 210 pounds), but he can run and he packs a wallop.

New Mexico WR Roland Bruno: The Lobos lost both starting wide receivers, meaning it's a wide-open slate for Bruno - a former walk-on who's now a junior. He finished the season as the No. 3 receiver, but has the potential and quickness to be the go-to guy this season.

Air Force G Nick Charles: He started all 13 games as a sophomore last season. He started at both guard spots and at left tackle. If he is allowed to settle in at one spot, he should make the jump to legit all-conference performer this season. He's a dean's list student, too.

Utah WR Bradon Godfrey: Utah's top two receivers are gone. Godfrey, a senior, is the Utes' leading returning receiver and should be their go-to guy this fall. He began his career at Division I-AA Southern Utah, then transferred to Utah and walked-on, eventually earning a scholarship. He doesn't have great speed, but he has good hands, good size (6-3/197) and is physical.

TCU DT James Vess: Vess, who will be a junior this fall, sat out last season for a violation of school policy. He had played well late in 2006 and his absence was felt last season. He has good quickness for a tackle and has all-league potential.

FIVE IMPACT NEWCOMERS THIS SPRING

New Mexico OT Byron Bell: Coaches rave about Bell's potential. He's a redshirt freshman who is expected to nail down a starting spot at one of the vacant tackle spots.

TCU DE Braylon Broughton: The Horned Frogs lost both starting defensive ends. Junior Jerry Hughes has first dibs on one starting spot, and the rangy Broughton a redshirt freshman should strongly be in the hunt for the other spot.

BYU RB J.J. Di Luigi: Di Liugi, who redshirted last season, rushed for 2,159 yards and 34 TDs as a senior at Canyon Country (Calif.) Canyon High in 2006, when he was a three-star prospect. He's not going to beat out Harvey Unga for the starting job, but Di Liugi should be a nice change-of-pace back who also could be split out wide and used some as a receiver.

Colorado State DT Sevaro Johnson: Johnson, a junior college transfer, already is enrolled and will get a shot to fill one of the two vacant starting defensive tackle spots.

San Diego State QB Drew Westling: The Aztecs are going to have a new quarterback. The question is which "new guy" gets the job. Westling, a junior college transfer who already is enrolled, began his career at Tulsa before moving on to a junior college. He's expected to battle redshirt freshman Ryan Lindley and sophomore Kelsey Sokoloski for the starting job left vacant by the graduation of Kevin O'Connell.

SPRING BREAKDOWNS BY CONFERENCE:
ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC | MAC | C-USA | Sun Belt | Mountain West | WAC

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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