Early look at the MWC bowl picture

The Mountain West has been a hot topic of discussion recently and, depending on what you’re reading, the conference will either expand or be gobbled up by the Big 12 and Pac-10.

Ahhhh, speculation …

Regardless, that’s not happening for this coming season, so it’s time to look at possible postseason players. The Mountain West has five bowls this year with the addition of the Independence Bowl and there’s always a chance the conference could send a team to the BCS, which it has in each of the past two seasons.

Here’s a look at where I see the Mountain West’s bowl bids going:

Count on it

TCU: Expectations are high for the Horned Frogs to at least match what they did a year ago. They lost just a few starters from that team and have found several competent replacements. TCU could be in the market for a BCS bowl, but the Frogs will have to pry the spot away from Boise State.

Utah: I think the Utes will be one of the surprises this year and likely will finish the season ranked in the Top 25. While quarterback Jordan Wynn faced some tough opponents in his four starts a year ago, he showed some moxie and will only get better with age. The Utes running game should be as good as 2008 and the defensive line should be stout.

BYU: The Cougars have a lot of uncertainty heading into this fall, but it’s hard to count them out just from a talent standpoint. Any of the quarterbacks will do well, but the Cougars need to find a consistent running game. There are also questions about the offensive line and the defense, but I think the Cougars will pull it together enough to get nine wins.

Air Force: This might be the year the Falcons upset the dominance of the Big Three. The offensive line is a work in progress, but the Falcons should be good everywhere else. The defense shouldn’t miss a beat despite losing coordinator Tim DeRuyter during the offseason.

Outside shot

Colorado State: This Colorado State team should be a little closer to 2008 than 2009. There are six wins for the taking on the schedule, but you can’t underestimate a new offensive line and quarterback. How those positions come along will determine the fate of the team.

Wyoming: I’m kind of a glass-half-empty kind of person, which is why I’m putting Wyoming on notice. The Cowboys did get better in the offseason, but they’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year. The nonconference schedule is a bear and they play at BYU and TCU. The second year is always the toughest, just ask Steve Fairchild.

San Diego State: In San Diego State’s case, I think the second year will be better than the first. The Aztecs showed flashes of being a pretty good team last year and with a better weight program and a little more discipline, I think this team could win some of those close games. The nonconference schedule is soft and I think that gets the Aztecs to at least six wins.

Better luck next year

UNLV: I don’t think you can judge Bobby Hauck as a coach on this year’s team. He doesn’t have the pieces in place to play his system and he doesn’t have a game-changer like the Rebels have had in past years. I think the running game will embrace change, but the rest of the team will struggle mightily.

New Mexico: The Lobos are still a few players away from being the team it was earlier in the decade. I think its amazing that coach Mike Locksley was able to keep his team together during a rough first year and it got better as the season progressed. I think it continues to get better, but I think winning enough games for a bowl berth is optimistic, especially with a brutal first five games.