MWC football: Utes, Cougars looking up at TCU

Media tap Horned Frogs as MWC favorite

Published: Wednesday, July 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

HENDERSON, Nev. — TCU on top. BYU second and Utah third.

That's how the media predicts the order of finish in the upcoming Mountain West Conference football season.

"I don't really have a comment regarding the order other than they picked the three teams that have had the most success in the league," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "So regardless of the rankings, I think they've identified the safest picks in terms of consistency. What order will be more important at the end of the year than the beginning."

The annual preseason poll, which was released Tuesday morning at the league football meetings at the Green Valley Ranch resort, included 15 first-place votes for the Horned Frogs. The Cougars netted six and the defending champion Utes got three.

No other teams received first-place votes. Air Force, UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming rounded out the projected order of finish.

While acknowledging the poll's inaccuracy over the years and questioning its credibility, Mendenhall admitted it's a place to start from.

"I don't worry about it," he said before adding that being picked second is reasonable.

It's not, however, where the Cougars expect to finish.

"We have two conference championships in the four years (he's been the Cougars' head coach)," Mendenhall said.

"At BYU, the standard is that and so that's what we'll shoot for."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose squad has won 14 straight games dating back to 2007, isn't all that concerned about being picked to finish third in the league this season.

"You don't really worry about it," he said. "I just know that if I was picking a champion right now, I'd pick TCU as well."

The Horned Frogs return seven starters on offense and four on a defensive unit that led the nation in defending the run.

"I've got to agree with TCU being No. 1. They've got a lot of good athletes coming back," Whittingham said. "Andy Dalton is an exceptional quarterback. I have to agree with that wholeheartedly."

TCU won three of the MWC's four preseason player of the year awards.

Jerry Hughes was the choice for defensive honors, while return specialist Jeremy Kerley earned special teams recognition. Running back Ed Wesley was tapped as the top freshman.

BYU quarterback Max Hall was named preseason Offensive Player of the Year.

Mendenhall said the senior has improved each year and has a good knowledge of the game, his team and leadership skills.

"I have no problem with the pick. I don't think it'll affect him, myself or our team one bit," he said. "I think it's a logical pick and I think everyone will say we expected that and we'll go about our business."

There's a correlation to senior quarterbacks and success at BYU and within the MWC. Mendenhall noted that maturity, consistency, leadership and experience give teams a good starting point.

"All those things give you your best chance to have a solid season," he said.

Hall was joined on the preseason all-conference team by four teammates — running back Harvey Unga, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen and kicker Mitch Payne.

Utah also put five players on the squad — running back Matt Asiata, offensive lineman Zane Beadles, defensive lineman Koa Misi, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and defensive back Robert Johnson.

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