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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Alex Smith, Utah, quarterback

With the Mountain West Conference celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the league has invited fans, media and institutional personnel to vote for an all-decade football team. The results will be announced this week in conjunction with the MWC football meetings in Las Vegas.

But the Deseret News couldn't wait that long.

We decided to create our own all-decade team based on the opinions and observations of staff writers who have covered MWC football since its inception in 1999. Both BYU and Utah are well-represented on our team, and deservedly so. The Cougars and Utes have combined to win four of the last five league championships. Since the league opened for business, Utah has posted the best record overall among MWC teams (72-36) followed by BYU (68-43). In MWC games only, BYU boasts the best all-time mark (46-20) followed by Utah (42-24).

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that of the 25 positions on our all-decade team, 16 are Utes and Cougars. The two schools are split equally with eight players apiece, though that wasn't intentional (honest!).

In formulating our team, we followed similar criteria established by the MWC. Candidates must meet one of the following:

• First-team all-conference selection at least once in his MWC career.

• First-team All-America by a major/national sector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for their consensus All-America during his MWC career.

Here's the Deseret News' version of the MWC all-decade team, with the year each player was named first-team All-MWC in parenthesis.

QUARTERBACK: Alex Smith, Utah (2004).

BYU is widely regarded as Quarterback U., but a former Ute gets the nod here. It's hard to argue, considering Smith led Utah to an undefeated season, a conference championship, a berth in the Fiesta Bowl (making the Utes the first non-BCS team to crash the BCS party), and a No. 4 final national ranking in 2004. Smith earned national player of the year honors from The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Oh, and Smith was the top overall pick of the 2005 National Football League draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

Others considered (in alphabetical order): John Beck, BYU (2005, 2006); Brandon Doman, BYU (1999); Max Hall, BYU (2007); Mike Thiessen, Air Force (1999); Bradlee Van Pelt, Colorado State (2002, 2003).

RUNNING BACKS: Luke Staley, BYU (2001); DonTrell Moore, New Mexico (2002, 2003, 2004).

When healthy, Staley dominated the MWC. During that memorable 2001 season, he rushed for 1,582 yards and 28 touchdowns. Staley averaged 8.1 yards per rush en route to earning the Doak Walker Award, emblematic of the nation's top running back. Moore was a three-time All-MWC first-team selection and holds the MWC's career rushing record with 5,947 yards.

Others considered: Mike Anderson, Utah (1999); Curtis Brown, BYU (2005, 2006); Chad Hall, Air Force (2007); Cecil Sapp, Colorado State (2000, 2002).

WIDE RECEIVERS: Reno Mahe, BYU (2001); Paris Warren, Utah (2003).

There's a wealth of talent at this position, and it was difficult to choose only two. We went with Mahe and Warren, who were key role players for the Cougars and Utes in conference-championship seasons and went on to the NFL.

Others considered: David Anderson, Colorado State (2003); Hank Baskett III, New Mexico (2005); Jovon Bouknight, Wyoming (2005); Travis Brown, New Mexico (2006, 2007); Margin Hooks, BYU (1999); Ryan McGuffey, Wyoming (2001); Kassim Osgood, San Diego State (2002); Steve Savoy, Utah (2004); J.R. Tolver, San Diego State (2002); Todd Watkins, BYU (2004); Ryan Wolfe, UNLV (2006).

TIGHT END: Jonny Harline, BYU (2005, 2006).

Harline was a consistent, big-play tight end for the Cougars who helped create the MWC's most famous (or, infamous, if you're a Ute fan) highlight when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass on his knees from John Beck with no time remaining in the 2006 game against Utah.

Others considered: Joel Dreessen, Colorado State (2002, 2004); Doug Jolley, BYU (2001); Ben Moa, Utah (2003); Dennis Pitta, BYU (2007).

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Jordan Gross, Utah (2002); Chris Kemoeatu, Utah (2004); Herb Taylor, TCU (2005, 2006); Jake Kuresa, BYU (2006); Ryan Cook, New Mexico (2003, 2004, 2005).

A bevy of solid O-lineman have played in the MWC the past decade. Headlining the group is Gross, who was a first-round NFL draft pick (No. 8 overall) of the Carolina Panthers in 2003.

Others considered: Jesse Boone, Utah (2005); Ray Feinga, BYU (2007); Adam Goldberg, Wyoming (2001, 2002); Erik Pears, Colorado State (2003, 2004); Dallas Reynolds, BYU (2007); Dustin Rykert, BYU (2002); Jason Scukanec, BYU (2001); Tim Stuber, Colorado State (2000); Tony Terrell, UNLV (2002); Robert Turner, New Mexico (2005, 2006).

PLACEKICKER: Owen Pochman, BYU (2000).

Pochman, who holds the Cougar record for most points in a career, 333, booted a 56-yard field goal against New Mexico in 2000.

Others considered: Joey Ashcroft, Air Force (2002); Kenny Byrd, New Mexico (2006); Deric Yaussi, Wyoming (2004).

PUNT/KICK RETURNER: Steve Smith, Utah (1999).

Smith possessed confidence and the skill to back it up. He proved that he was one of the best players not only in the MWC, but also in the nation, based on his outstanding NFL career as a wide receiver.

Others considered: Pete Rebstock, Colorado State (2000, 2001); Cory Rodgers, TCU (2005); Dexter Wynn, Colorado State (2002, 2003).

DEFENSIVE LINE: Brady Poppinga, BYU (2002, 2003); Jason Kaufusi, Utah (2001, 2002); Chase Ortiz, TCU (2005, 2006, 2007); Tommy Blake, TCU (2005, 2006).

Ortiz and Blake were a formidable one-two punch for the Horned Frogs in 2005 and 2006. Blake turned in two amazing seasons before suffering from depression during his senior season in 2007. Poppinga, who also made the all-conference team in 2004 as a linebacker, went on to start for the Green Bay Packers, while Kaufusi was a defensive stalwart for the Utes before giving up the sport due to injury.

Others considered: Patrick Chukwurah, Wyoming (2000); Ryan Denney, BYU (2001); Steve Fifita, Utah (2004, 2005); John Frank, Utah (1999); Byron Frisch, BYU (1999); Setema Gali, BYU (2000); Clark Haggans, Colorado State (1999); Jan Jorgensen, BYU (2007); Sione Po'uha, Utah (2004); D.J. Renteria, New Mexico (2003); Bryan Save, Colorado State (2003); Garrett Smith, Utah (2001, 2002); Kelly Talavou, Utah (2006); Evroy Thompson, New Mexico (2005).

LINEBACKERS: Rob Morris, BYU (1999); Kirk Morrison, San Diego State (2002, 2003, 2004); Beau Bell, UNLV (2007).

Morris, who enjoyed a long career with the Indianapolis Colts, leads the way, along with Morrison, who led the Oakland Raiders in tackles last season. Bell was a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns last April.

Others considered: Gary Davis, New Mexico (2001); Justin Ena, BYU (2000, 2001); Drew Fowler, Air Force, 2006; Cameron Jensen, BYU (2006); Bryan Kehl, BYU (2007); Mike Mahoric, New Mexico (2005); Kautai Olevao, Utah (1999, 2000); Jason Phillips, TCU (2006); Anthony Schlegel, Air Force (2002); Spencer Toone, Utah (2005).

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Brian Urlacher, New Mexico (1999); Jamal Brimmer, UNLV (2002, 2003, 2004); Eric Weddle, Utah (2005, 2006); Aaron Francisco, BYU (2003, 2004).

Of the MWC alumni, Urlacher has become the brightest star, thanks to a prodigious NFL career with the Chicago Bears. All-everything Weddle just completed his rookie season with the San Diego Chargers. Brimmer and Francisco were defensive anchors on their respective teams for several years.

Others considered: Carson Bird, Air Force (2007); Quincy Butler, TCU (2005); Will Demps, San Diego State (2000, 2001); Andre Dyson, Utah (2000); Gabriel Fulbright, New Mexico (2005); Erik Olson, Colorado State (1999); Brandon Ratcliff, New Mexico (2002, 2003); Morgan Scalley, Utah (2004); Kevin Thomas, UNLV (2000, 2001); John Wendling, Wyoming (2006).

PUNTER: Louie Sakoda, Utah (2007).

The Ute senior was the MWC special teams player of the year the past two seasons and a first-team All-America selection in 2007. He is Utah's career field-goal percentage leader (83 percent) and has had 17 career punts downed inside the 5-yard line.

Others considered: Joey Huber, Colorado State (2001); Matt Payne, BYU (2002, 2003, 2004).


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com