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Boise State Favored In New-Look Mountain West

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NEW YORK (AP) - Boise State leapt at the chance to leave behind the Western Athletic Conference and join the Mountain West.

It’s just a far different looking conference than the Broncos were anticipating.

“What makes it a lot tougher is the new environments, new situations, new teams, new stadiums, new fans. We were comfortable in the WAC because we had been there, we had been all those places,” Boise State offensive tackle Nate Potter said. “Mountain West has a bunch of good teams we’re going to look out for.”

Boise State’s move is the big news, but the arrival of the blue turf on the Mountain West footprint comes knowing that TCU is on their way out, headed for the Big East after this season.

Also gone is BYU, choosing independence over staying in a watered down Mountain West thanks to the departure of Utah for the Pac-12 and TCU’s impending move East.

Beginning in 2012, the Mountain West will look like an amped up WAC with Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii joining.

Still, it’s the Broncos and Heisman Trophy finalist Kellen Moore grabbing most of the attention. The Broncos are likely to open the season with a Top 10 ranking after barely missing out on another Bowl Championship Series berth last season. Boise State’s only misstep was a wild 34-31 overtime loss at Nevada.

TCU is most likely to challenge the Broncos, but the Horned Frogs must travel to the blue turf on Nov. 12 and are looking to replace 14 starters, including QB Andy Dalton.

BOISE STATE

Key players: QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, OL Nate Potter, DL Billy Wynn, LB Byron Hout.

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Opener is another national spotlight game, facing Georgia in Atlanta. … Moore needs just eight wins for most by any QB in college football history, passing Colt McCoy. … Finding replacements for hard-hitting linebacker Winston Venable and safety Jeron Johnson among the early needs for the Broncos. … Boise State will not be allowed to wear all blue uniforms at home in Mountain West games, part of agreement in joining conference.

TCU

Key players: RB Ed Wesley, WR Josh Boyce, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Tanner Brock, LB Tank Carder.

Returning starters: 3 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Horned Frogs get pair of early tests, opening at Baylor and at Air Force and two other toughest conference games are on the road: at San Diego State and at Boise State. … Challenge of replacing Dalton at falls first to sophomore Casey Pachall. … Wesley was a first-team conference selection after rushing for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns as sophomore. … Carder was conference defensive player of the year, but Brock was leading tackler with 106 tackles.

AIR FORCE

Key players: QB Tim Jefferson, RB Asher Clark, LB Jordan Waiwaiole, CB Anthony Wright.

Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Most returning starters in Troy Calhoun’s tenure with the Falcons. … Jefferson combined for more than 2,200 yards last season running and passing, including 15 rushing touchdowns. … Clark averaged 5.7 yards per carry as junior. … Three starters return on offensive line, anchored by G A.J. Wallerstein. … Four of five October games on the road — at Navy, at Notre Dame, home for San Diego State, at Boise State, at New Mexico.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Key players: QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ronnie Hillman, LB Miles Burris, CB Leon McFadden.

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Defensive coordinator Rocky Long takes over for Brady Hoke, who left for Michigan. … Aztecs travel to Michigan in Week 4. … Lindley threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 TDs last season, but no returning WR had more than four catches last season. … Hillman ran for 1,532 yards and 17 TDs, breaking Marshall Faulk’s freshman record at the school. … Play just two games between Sept. 24 and Oct. 29 but those games — vs. TCU and at Air Force — are just five days apart.

COLORADO STATE

Key players: QB Pete Thomas, WR Lou Greenwood, LB Mychal Sisson, SS Ivory Herd.

Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Steve Fairchild enters fourth season in Fort Collins but coming off consecutive 3-9 marks with plenty of grumbling fans. … Thomas threw for more than 2,000 yards as a freshman, but the Rams’ offense faltered late in the year getting outscored in their final two games 93-10. … Sisson is the center of a rebuilt 3-4 defense that last year allowed more than 200 yards per game rushing and passing.

WYOMING

Key players: QB Brett Smith, RB Alvester Alexander, DT Patrick Mertens, LB Brian Hendricks.

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Two-year starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels announced in January he was transferring. Smith, a freshman, enrolled early and has the leg up on the QB competition. … Alexander rushed for 792 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. … Leading tackler Shamiel Gray also transferred in the offseason. … Wyoming opens with pair of FCS teams — Weber State and Texas State — meaning the Cowboys needs seven wins to be bowl eligible.

NEW MEXICO

Key players: QB B.R. Holbrook, TE Lucas Reed, LB Carmen Messina, FS Bubba Forrest.

Returning starters: 6 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: Pressure on Mike Locksley who has just two victories in two seasons. … Holbrook made four starts last season due to injury and threw for 619 yards in seven total games, but may be challenged for starting spot by sophomore Tarean Austin. … Reed was only Lobo selected to all-Mountain West first-team last season. … George Barlow takes over as defensive coordinator after unit ranked 120th in the country in scoring defense.

UNLV

Key players: RB Tim Cornett, WR Phillip Payne, DE James Dunlap, CB Will Chandler.

Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Bobby Hauck in second season as head coach after going 2-11 in his first year. … Cornett rushed for nearly 550 yards as a freshman. … Rebels allowed 40 or more points in eight of 13 games last season. … Chandler had five of UNLV’s seven interceptions last year. … UNLV plays seven road games including season opener at Wisconsin. Rebels close season at Air Force, home for San Diego State and at TCU.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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