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July 22, 2009Interview sessions are over and it's time to look back on all that happened in the first day. Day one featured the head coaches of each of the nine schools. Although each school had something unique to offer in their outlook of the season, all agreed on one thing: the Mountain West not only made noise last year, but is ready and required to do the same in 2009.
UteZone.com sat down with each coach and got the scoop on how each team will do their part to further raise the national profile of the MWC.
TCU: TCU's challenge will be to replace seven starters on defense, though that is a task head coach Gary Patterson feels the group is up to. "I don't know if we'll ever have another team that will match those [2008's] numbers. 218 yards a game is really hard in this day and age. I think we have a chance to be as fast or faster than a year ago on defense. Daryl Washington's faster than the two linebackers from last year. They key for us will be can we learn to hunt together. Our standard has never been 'it's OK every once in a while to be a good defense' it's been to be a top-25 defense."
Spring Star: "I was really excited with Daryl Washington. I think both of our backup corners are really good players. Ed Wesley on offense."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "I think the two positions on defense will be one of the safety positions and defensive tackle. On offense it will be one of the guards and center."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "Antoine Hicks is a guy you should watch. Signed with Texas out of high school and ended up in our place."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Same as it always is every year. As a head football coach I'm always going to make sure it's the best football team we can have. That's all anyone can ask to do. If we do that, we'll have the opportunity to win a lot of football games."
BYU: The Cougars need to replace quite a bit on offense in 2009, with seven starters from 2008 leaving the program. Though the task is large, head coach Bronco Mendenhall expects the unit to continue to produce yards and points. "It's who we are, we've been productive for four years."
Spring Star: "I really can't say. I don't want to focus on the individual; I want to look at the team as a whole. It's not about the player but about the collective."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "We lost four starting offensive linemen. That position needs to demonstrate a high level of play early in the season."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Do the best we can, that is all I can ask."
Utah: 2008 has come and gone and the Utes are looking to put that perfect season behind them and compete for the MWC crown in 2009. The biggest issue the Utes have to overcome is replacing 2008 MWC Offensive Player of the Year Brian Johnson at quarterback. Right now the Utes have three candidates, a situation head coach Kyle Whittingham wants to solve as soon as possible. "That's a little bit undoable. We have to get to two as soon as possible. There's not enough time nor repetitions in practice to get three guys ready. First order of business is to get it down to do and then down to one."
Spring Star: "Brandon Burton. First couple years here he kind of laid low and didn't make much noise but he had a tremendous spring and really has solidified himself as one of the starting corners. Tony Bergstrom. We knew Tony was ready."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "The cornerback position depth-wise. The starting two, Burton and R.J. Stanford are very good. We play so much man-to-man and we're seeing so much spread offense that we have got to have that third, fourth, and even fifth corner up to speed and ready to go. Right now we're not sure how those guys are going to be."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "Sausan Shakerin. Matt [Asiata] is going to be the go-to-guy. It's not going to be like last year where Matt's splitting time, but Shak is going to be a very good player."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Becoming the best football team we can become, getting better on a week-to-week basis, playing very tough defense - that's kind of a trademark of ours, being prolific on offense, I expect us to be very productive offensively."
Air Force: The question always gets asked, how does Air Force win? The teams they play are almost always bigger, stronger, and faster. "I've always said this, in football 90 percent of games are won by the fastest team," Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun said. "98 percent of games are won if a team is both the biggest and the fastest. But there's still that other 2 percent, and those are the intangibles. Year round our guys work, they have a great attitude, and they absolutely love football. Seeing how motivated they are when they practice, when they lift, they're pretty special. That's our way to make up for some other areas."
Spring Star: "No, I probably make sure we don't have a whole lot of stand out guys, because our guys don't want it that way. That doesn't mean you're going to suppress success, but they like being kind of melded together."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "We've got a couple of spots that don't have a lot of experience that will have to step up. I look at wide receiver as an area where we're going to have to see some guys find ways to create separation, get open and catch the ball. And outside linebacker. They're capable, those guys are really, really mixing it up."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "We're going to have to have a kicker. That comes to the forefront. And yet, that name, I don't have it."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "You know James, it differs probably school by school and team by team. In the NFL, it was always playoffs. That's just not our school. What's probably healthy as a coach is that you get continuous reminders that there's got to be some kilter, their other reasons why they're at the Air Force Academy. They've got to be there for the character development and the leadership qualities that they have got to have for what they're going to do after graduation. They have to understand honor, they have to understand work ethic, and they have to understand what it means to be unselfish. We want to make sure football is an enjoyable experience for our guys."
UNLV: The Rebels return what looks to be a very good offensive unit, but injuries and poor play doomed an often overmatched defense in 2008. Why will the 2009 defense be better? "Competition, especially in the secondary. There's a lot of uncertainty right now as to who the starters are going to be in the secondary, and for us right now I think that's a good thing," head coach Mike Sanford said. "I think we needed competition to create a sense of urgency. That and Dennis Therrell is in his second year as defensive coordinator."
Spring Star: "Probably Malo Taumua. He had a great spring. We give a black shirt out during practice to a guy that had a great day. He got the black shirt five times."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "I don't know about that, but we have a lot of uncertainty about our tailback position. We have five guys that are competing for that job. The other one, I think we've got to find a punter and who our starters are going to be in the secondary."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "Yeah, I would say Star Fuimaono. He's played for us, this will be his senior year, he's been hurt. He was hurt the year before. If he was able to stay healthy, I think he will make some plays."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Conference championship."
Colorado State: Steve Fairchild was the new coach on the block last year, making a solid debut in winning seven games including a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. So how does Fairchild compare his second year to his first? "I think myself, my staff, we're all a little more familiar with the kids. Our players are a little more familiar with what we're asking them to do. When they walked into that gym at six in the morning late last January, it wasn't like the January before when they had no idea what to expect. I think the familiarity with everybody makes it a little easier."
Spring Star: "I thought our tight end play surprised me. I knew we would be pretty good by I was surprised at just how good we are there. Our receiver corps can be something special."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "I think our receivers have not played the way they are capable of. If they ever do this season, they will be special."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "Eric Peitz, our tight end. I am sure he will have a big year for us."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "A lot like last year I don't want to put that in a number of wins. All I asked from our team last year was to get better every time we went out on the practice field and get better throughout the season."
New Mexico: As soon as new head coach Mike Locksley started looking in the Lobos 2008 season, he found something that immediately caused concern. "The first that that jumped to me about this team was that after last season and having a chance to evaluate them, I think we had about eight games where going into the fourth quarter we had a chance to win," Locksley said. "We only won two of those eight. This team very easily could have been a seven win, eight win team and I probably wouldn't be sitting here. One thing we've really stressed is we need to learn how to finish."
Spring Star: "I think Erik Cook met all the things that we had heard about him. He's a guy that is going to anchor our offensive line."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "Ian Clark. I think Ian is a guy that has the ability from what I've seen to be a big time safety and also he's a huge playmaker in the return game."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "To me, we set goals. Unfortunately success is going to be measured by wins and losses by people outside the program. We're going to sit down and put those [goals] together as a team and we're going to use those to measure if we had a successful year or not."
SDSU: New head coach Brady Hoke left the same position at Ball State to take the job with the Aztecs. Why? "I've recruited the west coast, I know the talent base, I know a lot of the coaches," Hoke said. "I think you can recruit good football players at San Diego State. I just think the timing was right to move forward."
Spring Star: "Well, I think Vincent Brown is a talented young man. I think there's a lot of guys that will even be better in the fall. We're excited about our team."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "I think two positions on our team, that's our offensive line and then our defensive line. I know Darrell Funk, our offensive line coach, will do a good job with them. I'm the defensive line coach so I've got my work cut out for me."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "I don't know, I really can't answer that yet. We're still going through evaluations. I think there will be a lot of growth over the summer."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Well, we want to develop consistency, to be a team that plays with toughness, a team that plays with great effort, a team that plays with accountability for each other and a team that plays smart."
Wyoming: Dave Christensen wastes no time painting a rosy picture of a Wyoming program that has fallen on hard times in recent years. "Wyoming was an appealing job to me for a number of reasons," Christensen said. "One is that I felt they had all the intangibles to build a consistent, winning program. In order to recruit you have to have great facilities, and I thought Wyoming had great facilities in place and we'll continue to improve on those right now with our luxury sweets. The other thing that was important to me was to go to a place that had a great fanbase and passionate about football and we're the only show in town."
Spring Star: "The tough thing with our program right now is that we had a number of injuries in the spring that didn't allow us the opportunity to evaluate all the personnel that we had."
Position that needs to step up in fall camp: "That's hard to say. I think we need to improve at every position. There is no area on our football team where I would say 'wow, we're really set there'."
Player no one is talking about, but should be: "That's difficult. I'm hoping there ends up being 10 or 15 of those players (laughs). We're still in an evaluation period right now."
Outside of competing for the conference championship, what are you expectations for the season: "Our expectations are to make sure that each and every day we're a better football team than the day before. If that continues to happen throughout the season we're going to have a chance to compete for a bowl game."