By Brandon Judd
Attention Mountain West Conference football crazies. The trash talk, speculation and looking ahead can now begin.
The MWC announced its preseason media poll and All-MWC team during the conference?s football media days in Coronado, Calif., Monday, naming the University of Utah the team to beat in 2005.
The Utes received 18 first-place votes and 246 points, while New Mexico followed with 215 points (six first-place votes) and Wyoming had 212 points and five first-place votes. BYU came in at the fourth spot with 164 points and one first-place vote.
The final five were, in order, Colorado State, Texas Christian University, Air Force, San Diego State and UNLV.
According to coaches in the MWC, though, the conference title will be as competitive as ever this season.
?The media picked someone as the conference favorite, by a lot of votes from what I remember, but I see this league being very similar top to bottom,? BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I can?t pick the team that?s the true favorite, and I can?t pick the team that?s going to struggle. Of the nine of us that are in the league, I think every Saturday is going to be a battle.?
For Mendenhall, he can look for a battle each week from junior linebacker Cameron Jensen, who was one of four Cougars named to the Preseason All-MWC team. The other BYU players selected include senior wide receiver Todd Watkins, junior right tackle Jake Kuresa and senior left end Manaia Brown.
?(Jensen) is a leader, and he?s already stepped up as a leader,? Mendenhall said. ?He?s the one who wants that role and consumes that role.?
Wyoming dominated the All-MWC selections with seven players ? including all three picks on special teams ? while New Mexico?s DonTrell Moore was named preseason offensive player of the year and Utah?s Steve Fifita earned preseason defensive player of the year honors. The Rams? Nnamdi Ohaeri was named the league?s newcomer of the year.
New Mexico coach Rocky Long said this year?s race for the conference title will be bolstered by a ton of returning talent throughout the league.
?The talent level in this league is very comparable,? he said. ?This year, it?s a very veteran league. Most of these teams have a lot of starters coming back; all but one team has their starting quarterback coming back. I think the league as a whole is better this year than it was last year.?
Long said there are two keys to winning in the MWC.
?The teams in this league are very close,? he said. ?I think that anyone that stays healthy, No. 1, and then gets on a roll, starts playing well and doesn?t lose a really good player has the best chance of winning the conference championship.?
Adding to the intrigue in the MWC this season is three new head coaches and the addition of TCU.
I believe there will be a lot of unpredictability with young coaches,? Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick said. ?They?re very talented coaches. I look for them to give us all a lot of problems.?
Said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry: ?When you don?t know a team, you work twice as hard to prepare for that team. And I really feel that will be good for us.?
But, like the fans, getting the season underway and forgetting about preseason predictions is something the coaches are looking forward to.
?Every year is an exciting year to me, and you don?t ever know how you?ll respond until you get there,? DeBerry said. “That?s what makes it so much fun.?
TOP MWC TEAMS
2005 MWC Preseason Poll:
Rank Team Points
1 Utah (18) 246
2 New Mexico (6) 215
3 Wyoming (5) 212
4 BYU (1) 164
5 Colorado State 153
6 TCU 145
7 Air Force 96
8 San Diego State 87
9 UNLV 32