Originally created 08/20/04

Utah again favored to finish at top of the league



SALT LAKE CITY - Utah coach Urban Meyer doesn't want his Utes to get excited about being the favorites in the Mountain West Conference.

As Utah proved last season when it was picked near the bottom of the league and finished at the top, preseason polls don't mean a thing once the games begin.

Here's a capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

UTAH : Meyer enters his second season at Utah with some of the highest expectations in school history. Utah reached the Top 25 last season for the first time in seven years. Leading rusher Brandon Warfield is gone, but QB Alex Smith, who passed for 2,845 yards and 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions, is back.

COLORADO STATE: The Rams have a new starting quarterback for the first time since Bradley Van Pelt took the job his sophomore season. Coach Sonny Lubick said the transition could be better than most expect because junior Justin Holland has several years in the system.

SAN DIEGO STATE: The Aztecs haven't had a winning record since 1998. San Diego State went from 4-9 two years ago to 6-6 in its second season under coach Tom Craft. Sixteen starters return - eight on each side of the ball. LB Matt McCoy led the league in tackles with 125 as a sophomore. Senior LB Kirk Morrison was fourth with 115 tackles..

NEW MEXICO: The Lobos' 8-5 record was the best in coach Rocky Long's six-year tenure. He took New Mexico to the Las Vegas Bowl for a second straight season. The Lobos return six offensive starters, including RB Don Trell Moore.

AIR FORCE: The Falcons and coach Fisher DeBerry are going for their 11th straight winning season. Only six starters are returning - three on both offense and defense. Quarterback Chance Harridge, the Falcons' leading rusher, passer and scorer, will be tough to replace.

BYU: Gary Crowton needs a winning season. Until last fall, the Cougars hadn't finished with a losing record two straight years since 1970-71.

QB John Beck was the starter entering fall camp though Matt Berry could reclaim the job he lost because of a broken hand last year. The bright spot for BYU is on defense, where six starters return for a second season.

UNLV: The Rebels have a solid returning cast of 13 starters - six on offense and seven defensive - as they hope for their first winning season since 2000. UNLV ended a two-year skid of losing records with a 6-6 finish.

WYOMING: Joe Glenn's first season coaching the Cowboys after three years at Montana was a success, even at 4-8. It matched Wyoming's win total from the previous two seasons. Wyoming has six starters to build around on both offense and defense, but will miss Casey Bramlet - the school's all-time leading passer.