NCF Nation: Paul Madsen

MWC media days preview

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
11:00
AM ET
We are closing in on media day season. The Mountain West is holding its annual media event July 26-27 in Las Vegas, and I will be there to bring you the latest. Down below you will find the student-athletes each school is bringing for interviews. But first, my most pressing questions headed into 2011:

1. How will the reconfigured Mountain West fare and what will that mean for BCS inclusion? This is the biggest question hanging over the league, one that is certain to be asked of commissioner Craig Thompson. Even though we all want an answer, we will not get one until the season ends. Still, there is no debating that teams such as New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State have to be improved for there to be any real shot at becoming an AQ.

2. Along those lines, how will Boise State fare in Year 1? The Broncos are almost certain to be the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West in their first year in the league. This, of course, is not a new position for Boise State, the preseason favorite every year in the WAC. But how does the team feel about these expectations considering it will be facing a new slate of conference games in what is a more difficult conference than the WAC?

3. How does TCU feel about being in its final MWC season? This is a similar storyline to last season with Utah and BYU. These three teams essentially put the Mountain West on the map and all are going to be gone in 2012. But TCU was given what it believes is a raw deal, when its game against Boise State was moved to Boise in November. That one could end up determining the league title. You can bet there is nothing the Horned Frogs would enjoy more than leaving the league as champion. There most definitely is a rivalry that has formed between TCU and Boise State. It's too bad we won't see that play out every year.

4. Is Air Force really a dark horse to win the league? One of the bigger under-the-radar teams that has gotten national attention is Air Force. Some are calling the Falcons a dark horse to win the league. Coach Troy Calhoun is going to do everything he can to avoid talking about or answering that question. But with Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jonathan Warzeka returning on offense, and Jordan Waiwaiole, Jon Davis and Brady Amack returning on defense, the Falcons should have another strong season.

5. Is San Diego State a threat to win the league? The top four teams in the conference should be pretty strong. That includes San Diego State, which had a breakthrough season last year and returns several of its best players, including Ryan Lindley, Ronnie Hillman, Miles Burris and Leon McFadden. But there are some questions within this question -- how do the Aztecs do without Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, and can Hillman avoid a sophomore slump?

List of student-athletes attending MWC media days:

Air Force: WR/KR Jonathan Warzeka, DL Zach Payne
Boise State: QB Kellen Moore, S George Iloka
Colorado State: OL Paul Madsen, LB Mychal Sisson
New Mexico: LB Carmen Messina, TE Lucas Reed
San Diego State: QB Ryan Lindley, DL Jerome Long
TCU: WR Josh Boyce, LB Tank Carder
UNLV: TE Anthony Vidal, DB Quinton Pointer
Wyoming: LB Brian Hendricks, DE Josh Biezuns
Colorado State started the 2009 season 3-0 before a stumble at BYU began a nine-game losing streak. Coach Steve Fairchild made some key moves on his coaching staff and thinks he can put his team back in contention for a bowl. There’s a lot of work to do this spring, but there’s also a lot of returning talent on the roster.

Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for Colorado State this spring:

Strongest position: Running back

Key returners: Senior Leonard Mason (156 carries, 766 yards, two touchdowns), senior John Mosure (124 carries, 650 yards, seven touchdowns), sophomore Lou Greenwood (42 carries, 147 yards, two touchdowns)

Key departures: None

The skinny: The Rams return 92 percent of their running game, including the team’s top two rushers in Mason and Mosure. The depth at running back is probably better than any other position for the Rams when you include Greenwood, UCLA transfer Raymond Carter, redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke and true freshman Tony Drake. The Rams rushing offense averaged 144.25 yards per game last season, but might have some trouble keeping those numbers high if they can’t fill some holes on the offensive line.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returners: Junior tackle Paul Madsen

Key departures: Tackle Cole Pemberton, guard Shelley Smith, center Tim Walter, guard Adrian Martinez

The skinny: In 2009, the CSU offensive line was the deepest and most experienced position on the team. This year, not so much. Madsen returns, but he didn’t even start all of 2009. However, coach Steve Fairchild and offensive line coach Pat Meyer have been preparing for this since last spring and have made sure that there was depth on the line. Players such as Jake Gdowski and Mark Starr have experience and the other positions will be filled by redshirt and true freshmen. Getting the offensive line together will be key for both the running game and the Rams’ new quarterback.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Air Force Falcons

Spring practice starts: Feb. 18

Spring game: March 17

What to watch:
  • Air Force is in a comfy position because it has all of its passing, rushing and scoring back from 2009. The biggest key to next season will be the play of quarterback Tim Jefferson. He didn’t get to go through spring football last year, so this should help the Falcons even more for 2010.
  • While all of the offensive skill positions return, the offensive line is depleted. All five starters are gone and while there are competent backups ready, they’ll need to use the spring to get on the same page and continue to open holes for the Falcons' triple option.
  • The defense returns six starters, but they’ll be learning under a new full-time defensive coordinator in Matt Wallerstedt. Wallerstedt was the co-defensive coordinator last year, but it will be interesting to see what twists he adds to one of the NCAA’s best defenses in 2009.
BYU Cougars

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • The top position battle for the Cougars this season will be at quarterback. Riley Nelson has the edge since he was Max Hall’s backup last year, but returning missionary James Lark and early enrollee Jake Heaps will be in the mix, too. The Cougars will add one more quarterback competitor in the fall.
  • Tight end is another interesting competition since both Dennis Pitta and Andrew George are gone. Devin Mahina, Richard Wilson and Mike Muehlmann all will be competing for that starting spot.
  • The Cougars lost their entire starting defensive line and four of the six on the depth chart. The other two players on the two-deep played and there are some returning missionaries that could step in and help right away.
Colorado State Rams

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback seems to be the popular question for the Colorado State in the spring. This year, there’s much anticipation over early enrollee Pete Thomas. Thomas will challenge senior Jon Eastman, junior T.J. Borcky, and redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri. Borcky will also play wide receiver.
  • A year ago, the offensive line was a position of strength for the Rams, this year they’re trying to replace four starters and the only returner, tackle Paul Madsen, didn’t even start the entire seasons. Guard Jake Gdowski and tackle Mark Starr figure to be in the mix along with several redshirt freshmen and sophomores.
  • The defense should be a strength for the Rams this year. They lose just two starters and return 24 lettermen, including linebacker Ricky Brewer, who was an all-conference performer in 2008 but was suspended all of 2009.
New Mexico Lobos

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With Donovan Porterie still waiting to hear about a sixth year, there will be a quarterback competition this spring. Sophomore B.R. Holbrook is the favorite against juniors Tate Smith and Brad Gruner, but the spring winner will have to fend off top recruits Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey in the fall.
  • Running back Terence Brown, who was the penciled in starter last season before tearing his ACL in the spring, will once again be the favorite to win the top rushing spot for the Lobos. While two freshmen and a sophomore manned the position last year, the Lobos ranked 110th in rushing.
  • In making the running game better, the Lobos have to get better on the offensive line. They lose three starters, including center Erik Cook. There are a few young players waiting in the wings, and the Lobos added three more in this recruiting class.
San Diego State Aztecs

Spring practice starts: Feb. 20

Spring game: March 20

What to watch:
  • The biggest issue facing San Diego State has got to be its running game and coach Brady Hoke has stockpiled running backs in an effort to solve the problem. Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema and Deonte Williams will compete for backfield playing time with returning starter Brandon Sullivan, backup Davon Brown, and three other running backs who were signed in the 2009 class. as well as, Atiyyah Henderson, who is trying to get a sixth year of eligibility. Figuring out which of those players can balance this offense will be the spring focus.
  • The offensive line also will be an interesting competition to watch. Since Hoke didn’t recruit any offensive linemen in his first class and has to replace seniors at right tackle and left guard, the Aztecs brought in junior college linemen Juan Bolanos, Riley Gauld and Joe Unga to compete immediately.
  • The search for speed on the edges of the defense will begin this spring as defensive coordinator Rocky Long looks to get better at defensive end and at the Aztecs hybrid position. Perry Jackson is the only defensive end joining the Aztecs this spring and they return both of their starting ends from last season.
TCU Horned Frogs

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Replacing All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes will be a big task, but TCU has a history of finding diamonds in the rough. In fact, when Hughes replaced Chase Ortiz, no one knew who he was. D.J. Yendrey, who played defensive tackle last season, and Braylon Broughton, who was Hughes’ backup, will compete for the starting role.
  • The Horned Frogs will look for a replacement for Clint Gresham at deep snapper. Gresham was the team’s deep snapper for the past three seasons and in that time TCU never had a bad snap.
  • Aundre Dean, a running back transfer from UCLA will work at strong safety this spring. He worked out at strong safety some last season, but now the move will likely be permanent. It’s just as well. The Horned Frogs have a quite a few running backs lining up for playing time.
UNLV Rebels

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • UNLV’s offense will undergo a makeover with new coach Bobby Hauck at the helm. Instead of the spread style that the Rebels ran the past five season, they’ll switch to a more run-based, possession attack. The transition shouldn't take long to master, but finding the right players to run the scheme will be a chore.
  • One of the top goals this spring will be finding a more consistent power attack that goes along with Hauck’s offensive coaching philosophy. Channing Trotter was the Rebels top rusher with 479 yards and eight touchdowns, but the next two top rushers were the Rebels' quarterbacks. UNLV ranked 86th in the country in rushing with 126.83 yards per game.
  • The speed defense will also be a focus this spring as the Rebels struggled against the run (220.58 yards per game allowed) and ranked 106th in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss. Only two starters from the defensive line return and the depth is not experienced, so finding some players to fill those holes will be a major concern.
Utah Utes

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • One of the things to watch this spring is the development of junior college transfer John Cullen and how he fills in for departed senior Zane Beadles at left end. Cullen was brought in specifically to fill that hole and him jelling with the rest of the line will be important for quarterback Jordan Wynn this spring.
  • The defensive end position is up for grabs this spring with transfer James Aiono, Junior Tui’one, Christian Cox, Nai Fotu and Lei Talamaivao, who is moving from tackle to end. Talamaivao won the starting defensive tackle spot twice, but suffered a broken leg in each of those years.
  • Former backup quarterback Chad Manis is set to be the starting middle linebacker for the Utes. Manis spent some of last year still working at the quarterback position while making the transition to linebacker. The Utes lost all of their starting linebackers from 2009.
Wyoming Cowboys

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Wyoming will spend the spring transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense. The Cowboys, who allowed 393.31 yards per game and 27.31 points per game, will still be multiple, but will work out of the 4-3.
  • The Cowboys graduated both of their top defensive ends, so they moved Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns, two of their better defensive players, to defensive end. Knapton ranked second on the team in tackles and Biezuns was third on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.
  • With Knapton and Biezuns moving to the defensive line, the Cowboys will be entertaining some competition at linebacker this spring. Players such as Ghaali Muhammad and Ben Durbin, who both played in 2009, will have the opportunity to earn starting roles.

SPONSORED HEADLINES