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MWC Unit Preview: Passing Attacks

TCU- Read 'em and weep, defensive coordinators: Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, Antoine Hicks. They're all back, and like last season, they'll be giving Andy Dalton targets at every level of the field last on just about every down. Then there're the backups: Curtis Clay, Bart Johnson, and Jonathan Jones (who is playing healthy for the first in a while). Now add the new guys: sophomore speedster Skye Dawson (who has been almost uncoverable in practice), redshirt freshman Josh Boyce, and true freshman Curtis Carter. This is a positively lethal receiving corps, which compliment their fifth-year quarterback extremely well. TCU rarely passes to its tight ends.

One of the most pressing questions in the Horned Frogs' fall camp concern Dalton's backup. Sophomore Yogi Gallegos doesn't appear to have held off challenger redshirt freshman Casey Pachall, who is taller, faster, and has a stronger arm. Expect Pachall to handle the Frogs' garbage minutes this season.

San Diego State- Vincent Brown, DeMarco Samson, and Dominique Sandifer are as good a receiving trio as any in the league, and Ryan Lindley is as good a passing threat as any quarterback in the league. So why aren't the Aztecs first on this list? Because the list behind those game-breakers lacks punch. Lindley has a year's experience now with the pro-style schemes that SDSU now uses, and the return of his top three receivers from 2009 has Aztec fans thinking post-season.

Utah depends on a rinkadink passing game to move the ball. Only in 2010, the Utes have one of the most robust backfields in the conference, and are breaking in a long list of new or lightly experienced receivers, so expect a more balanced attack this season. Jordan Wynn, perhaps the most exciting underclassman quarterback in the conference will be throwing mostly to Jereme Brooks, who is barely 5-9. After Brooks, look for returners Shaky Smithson, Luke Matthews, DeVonte Christopher, and newcomers Reggie Dunn and walk-on Griff McNabb to haul in the pigskin frequently.

BYU- Quick: which did BYU do more of in 2009, run or pass?

Nope.

The Cougars ran (exactly once) more than they passed last season. And with the graduation of three year starter Max Hall at quarterback, and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, the Cougars appear poised to start 2010 with a quarterback who has never taken a college snap, and tight ends who have never caught a college pass. (Unless senior Riley Nelson wins out over true freshman Jake Heaps for the starting QB role, in which case BYU's starter will have all of ten passes under his belt.) In '09, tight ends accounted for more than a third of the team's receptions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. I predict BYU will run more than pass for a second consecutive year in 2010.

But it is a testament to the program that BYU will have a viable, and even dangerous, passing game this season. Wide receivers McKay Jacobson, Luke Ashworth, O'Neill Chambers, Spencer Hafoka all return. Highly touted freshman Ross Apo is in a battle with utterly un-touted freshman Cody Hoffman for a spot on the two-deep.

And about tight end? There are six on the roster, but the early leaders to start appear to be Mike Muehlmann, a returned missionary who practiced this spring, and redshirt freshman Devin Mahina.

So whoever's under center will have plenty of targets. But the only pieces of the air attack with any experience to speak of will be the wide receivers. Look for BYU to rely more on their ground game

Wyoming- needs a passing game. Carta-Samuels can chunk the pigskin around, and finally it appears he has a nice list of receivers to chunk it to. Leonard, Bolger, Burkhalter, are joined by newcomers Mazi Ogbonna, Dejay Lester, Robert Herron, and Jonathan Aiken, who appear to be the Cowboys' "good but unproven" list. If Wyoming's passing game upgrades, look for the Cowboys to bowl a second season in a row.

Air Force is not usually what comes to mind when we think of passing games. But Jefferson and Dietz showed that they can add an air attack to their option offense, and they have targets. The tallest, Kevin Fogler (who is 6-5. At Air Force!) is the most productive (25 receptions for 567 yards in 2009). Jonathan Warzeka is a typical short playmaker, and hauled in 18 passes last season. Jared Tew and Asher Clark are handy at catching passes out of the backfield. So while they won't put up the kind of stats that TCU and SDSU will, the Air Force passing game will be a devastating compliment to its ground-eating run game this season.

Colorado State was supposed to be going into a down year offensively in 2010, having graduated two terrific wideouts Moore and Greer) and a senior quarterback. But unless the down year turns out to have been 2009, Coach Fairchild may be looking for a job come Christmas. The Rams were awful last season, and look now to new faces to brighten the passing game in Fort Collins. For sure the quarterback will be new: redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri likely will play second fiddle to early-enrolled Pete Thomas, who is an NFL-prototype passer and surprise Colorado State recruit. Thomas decommitted from Arizona when Sonny Dykes quit as the Wildcats' offensive coordinator to take the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech. Now he's the man to beat to start at Colorado State.

And, perhaps surprisingly, he has some good targets to throw to. Byron Steele looks like Thomas's go-to receiver, and Tyson Liggett, T.J. Borcky, Lou Greenwood, Marquise Law, and Matt Yemm have all showed well in fall drills.

New Mexico- the Lobos remain one of the biggest mysteries of the conference, for a second year running. B.R. Holbrook had a tremendous spring, and was recently named New Mexico's starting QB when freshmen Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey played like the true freshmen they are in fall drills. Holbrook moved the ball-- something UNM was simply awful at last season-- and appears to have developed a passing game that will complement the surging Lobo rush. A returning sophomore is the focus of the new attack, Ty Kirk. Kirk led conference freshmen in catches last season, and hopes to break out this season. Seniors Chris Hernandez and Bryant Williams may shine, but all eyes will be on Michael Scarlett-- who injured his knee, perhaps badly, in the spring game. Scarlett may be the Lobos' best experienced receiver. Freshmen Josh Ford, converted QB Detchauz Wray, and ++++ expect to play plenty this season, as well.

UNLV- the Rebels graduated a great deal of proven depth at receiver, including all-time best-Rebel receiver Ryan Wolfe. The dean of the new crew is junior Phillip Payne. Junior Michael Johnson and sophomore Mark Barefield (who has rarely practiced this fall due to injuries) are the clear choices for #2 and #3 receiver. Freshman Marcus Sullivan has made some plays of the day, but we yet do not know if he'll play this season. Similar to his counterpart in San Diego, tight end Austin Harrington looks to capitalize on the newly balanced offense at UNLV. Harrington so far has outplayed returning starter Kyle Watkins.