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MWC wrap: Some thrills but future uncertain

Steve Megargee
Yahoo Sports

The Mountain West Conference's streak of three consecutive seasons with a team in a BCS bowl ended this year.

Even more changes are on the horizon.

TCU is leaving for the Big 12, and Boise State and San Diego State appear on their way to the Big East. All those departures leave the Mountain West with an uncertain future.

MOUNTAIN WEST AT A GLANCE
Coach of the year:
TCU's Gary Patterson
Player of year:
Boise State QB Kellen Moore
Freshman of year:
Wyoming QB Brett Smith
Coordinator of year:
TCU offensive coordinator Justin Fuente
Defensive player of year:
TCU LB Tank Carder
Defensive freshman of year:
Wyoming CB Blair Burns
Defensive coordinator of year:
Boise State's Pete Kwiatkowski

As for the present, the MWC delivered an interesting season, even though the league again had a serious lack of balance. TCU and Boise State stood head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. TCU's 36-35 victory at Boise State was one of the most exciting games in the entire nation this season. Those programs have garnered so much respect of late that they contended for BCS bids this season even though neither team finished unbeaten.

Wyoming also provided plenty of highlights by emerging as one of the nation's most improved teams. One year after going 3-9, the Cowboys have posted an 8-4 record. Air Force and San Diego State also earned bowl bids.

But the bottom of the league was dreadful, continuing an annual problem for the Mountain West. Colorado State won three of its first four games, then lost its last eight. UNLV was maddeningly inconsistent and finished 2-10. New Mexico produced its third consecutive one-win season. Colorado State and New Mexico fired their coaches.

With the MWC's top teams soon heading out the door, the teams at the bottom must start playing much better as the league heads into a murky situation.

[Video: Bowl games to watch ]

Conference superlatives

Player of the year: Boise State QB Kellen Moore. The winningest quarterback in FBS history dominated Mountain West defenses as thoroughly as he toyed with WAC defenses in the first three seasons of his career. Moore has thrown for 3,507 yards with 41 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, and ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency. If Boise State makes a field goal in the final seconds of its 36-35 loss to TCU, Moore likely is on his way to New York this week and preparing to lead the Broncos into the BCS championship game.

Freshman of the year: Wyoming QB Brett Smith. This true freshman won the starting quarterback job before the season and wasted no time revitalizing Wyoming's offense. In his debut performance, Smith threw a game-winning touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to beat Weber State. That set the tone for the rest of his season. Smith threw for 2,495 yards with 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions to make Wyoming one of the nation's most-improved teams. He also rushed for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Coach of the year: TCU's Gary Patterson. I was tempted to pick Wyoming's Dave Christensen, who led the Cowboys to an 8-4 record one season after a 3-9 finish. But I decided to go with Patterson, who won the Mountain West title with a team that improved tremendously from the start of the season to the finish. Patterson had to replace two-time MWC offensive player of the year Andy Dalton and retool his defense, but the Horned Frogs still finished 10-2 and ended Boise State's 35-game home winning streak.

Coordinator of the year: TCU offensive coordinator Justin Fuente. Since he doubles as TCU's quarterback coach, Fuente deserves much of the credit for Casey Pachall's emergence. Pachall threw for 2,715 yards and 24 touchdowns, with only six interceptions, as a first-year starter. Even with a new starting quarterback running the offense, TCU ranked ninth nationally in scoring at 41.7 points per game. The Frogs showed remarkable balance, as they average 233.8 passing yards and 210.2 rushing yards per game.

Biggest surprise, team: Wyoming. The Cowboys went 3-9 last season and didn't seem likely to fare much better this season after the transfer of Austyn Carta-Samuels left them without an experienced quarterback. Smith's emergence turned a perceived weakness into a strength. Wyoming's production at quarterback helped the Cowboys deliver road upsets of San Diego State and Air Force on their way to an 8-4 record and a third-place finish in the MWC standings.

Biggest disappointment, team: Colorado State. Wyoming made the improvement that many were expecting from Colorado State. Even though the Rams went 3-9 a year ago, they returned promising QB Pete Thomas and four starters on the offensive line. When the Rams won three of their first four games, they had legitimate hopes for a bowl bid. But they wouldn't win again, and coach Steve Fairchild was fired. Injuries decimated Colorado State's defense and also wreaked havoc with the offensive line.

Biggest surprise, player: Colorado State DE Nordly Capi. In truth, the biggest surprise of the season was Smith's rapid development as Wyoming's quarterback. Since we already named Smith the conference's top freshman, we decided to spread the wealth and use this space to honor the MWC's sack leader. Capi didn't even open the season in the starting lineup, but an injury to Broderick Sargent pressed him into duty. Capi responded by forcing four fumbles and recording 3.5 sacks in a season-opening victory over New Mexico. Capi led the nation in sacks for the first month of the season and finished with 10 sacks. His seven forced fumbles ranked him second among all FBS players.

Biggest disappointment, player: Colorado State QB Pete Thomas. Rams fans still are waiting for this former four-star recruit to live up to that billing. Thomas showed plenty of promise to go along with his inconsistency as a true freshman starter in 2010, but he didn't improve much as a sophomore. Thomas threw for 1,607 yards with seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions before a knee injury knocked him out for the last three games. Thomas still has plenty of time to deliver on the expectations that accompanied his arrival in Fort Collins. Assuming Thomas chooses to stay at Colorado State now that Fairchild has been fired, it will be interesting to see how he responds to a new coaching staff.

Best game: Nov. 12: TCU 36, Boise State 35. TCU's Pachall threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns to outduel Moore as the Frogs ended Boise State's dreams of a perfect season. TCU continually took advantage of Boise State's injury-riddled secondary and capitalized on a late fumble to score the go-ahead touchdown. Boise State drove into scoring position in the final seconds, but Dan Goodale's 39-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right as time expired. If that kick had split the uprights, Boise State might be playing for the national title.

Biggest upset: Oct. 29: Wyoming 30, San Diego State 27. Although Wyoming entered this game with a 4-2 record, a 63-19 loss to Utah State a couple of weeks before this game made it easy to doubt the Cowboys' credentials. That's what made it so shocking when Wyoming raced to a 30-13 halftime lead at San Diego State. Wyoming's offense did absolutely nothing the rest of the game, but the Cowboys still managed to hang on for the win after San Diego State's Abel Perez missed two field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Wyoming overcame a 224-yard performance from Ronnie Hillman, whose 99-yard touchdown run started the Aztecs' comeback.

Underclassmen liable to turn pro: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State CB Leon McFadden

Bowl outlook: Boise State and TCU will have to guard against overconfidence in their bowls. Both teams woke up Sunday hoping they would receive BCS bids. Boise State instead is facing a 6-6 Arizona State team in the Las Vegas Bowl, while TCU tackles Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl. Both MWC teams are double-digit favorites. San Diego State is a five-point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette in the Independence Bowl. Air Force and Wyoming are underdogs in their bowls.

[Video: Oklahoma State isn't the biggest BCS snub]

FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QB Kellen Moore, Boise State; 6-0/191, Sr.; Prosser (Wash.) High
RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State; 5-10/190, Soph.; La Habra (Calif.) High
RB Doug Martin, Boise State; 5-9/208, Sr.; Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s
WR Josh Boyce, TCU; 6-0/203, Soph.; Copperas Cove (Texas) High
WR Tyler Shoemaker, Boise State; 6-1/213, Sr.; Meridian (Idaho) Mountain View
TE Gavin Escobar, San Diego State; 6-6/245, Soph.; Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita Catholic
T Tommie Draheim, San Diego State; 6-4/295, Sr.; Lakeside (Calif.) El Capitan
T Nate Potter, Boise State; 6-6/295, Sr.; Boise (Idaho) Timberline
G Kyle Dooley, TCU; 6-3/315, Sr.; Papillion (Neb.) Papillion-LaVista
G A.J. Wallerstein, Air Force; 6-4/285, Sr.; Canyon Country (Calif.) Canyon
C Weston Richburg, Colorado State; 6-4/302, Soph.; Bushland (Texas) High
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
E Tyrone Crawford, Boise State; 6-4/273, Sr.; Bakersfield (Calif.) College, preceded by Windsor (Ontario) Catholic Central
T Jerome Long, San Diego State; 6-5/285, Sr.; Morro Bay (Calif.) High
T Billy Winn, Boise State; 6-4/300, Sr.; Las Vegas High
E Stansly Maponga, TCU; 6-2/265, Soph.; Carrollton (Texas) Hebron
LB Miles Burris, San Diego State; 6-3/235, Sr.; Granite Bay (Calif.) High
LB Tank Carder, TCU; 6-3/237, Sr.; Sweeny (Texas) High
LB Carmen Messina, New Mexico; 6-2/236, Sr.; Addison (Ill.) Addison Trail
CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State; 5-10/185, Jr.; Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
CB Larry Parker, San Diego State; 5-11/170, Sr.; Grossmont JC (Calif.), preceded by San Diego St. Augustine
S Jon Davis, Air Force; 6-1/210, Sr.; Cincinnati Winton Woods
S George Iloka, Boise State; 6-3/213, Sr.; Sugar Land (Texas) Kempner
FIRST TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS
K Parker Herrington, Air Force; 6-0/185, Jr.; Clearfield (Pa.) High
P Brian Stahovich, San Diego State; 6-0/190, Sr.; San Diego Cathedral Catholic
KR Greg McCoy, TCU; 5-10/181, Sr.; Dallas Woodrow Wilson
PR Mitch Burroughs, Boise State; 5-9/186, Jr.; Meridian (Idaho) High
SECOND TEAM OFFENSE
QB Casey Pachall, TCU; 6-5/216, Soph.; Brownwood (Texas) High
RB Asher Clark, Air Force; 5-8/190/Sr.; Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge
RB Chris Nwoke, Colorado State; 6-0/214, Soph.; Highlands Ranch (Colo.) ThunderRidge
WR Deon Long, New Mexico; 6-0/190, Fr.; West Virginia transfer, preceded by Washington (D.C.) Dunbar
WR Matt Miller, Boise State; 6-3/213, R-Fr.; Helena (Mont.) Capital
TE Kyle Efaw, Boise State; 6-4/227, Sr.; Boise (Idaho) Capital
T Clayton Kirven, Wyoming; 6-6/305, Sr.; Buffalo (Wyo.) High
T Paul Madsen, Colorado State; 6-4/309, Sr.; Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley
G Nick Carlson, Wyoming; 6-4/290, Jr.; Mount Prospect (Ill.) Prospect
G Blaize Foltz, TCU; 6-4/310, Jr.; Rose Hill (Kan.) High
C Thomas Byrd, Boise State; 5-11/290, Sr.; Oakland McClymonds
SECOND TEAM DEFENSE
E Nordly Capi, Colorado State; 6-3/249, Soph.; Ocoee (Fla.) High
T D.J. Yendrey, TCU; 6-4/273, Jr.; Edna (Texas) High
E Shea McClellin, Boise State; 6-3/255, Sr.; Marsing (Idaho) High
LB Brady Amack, Air Force; 6-0/227, Sr.; Concord (Calif.) De La Salle
LB Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State; 6-2/241, Soph.; Nebraska-Omaha transfer, preceded by Omaha (Neb.) Boys Town
LB Kenny Cain, TCU; 6-1/210, Jr.; River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian
LB Brian Hendricks, Wyoming; 6-1/228, Sr.; Burlington (Colo.) High
CB Greg McCoy, TCU; 5-10/181, Sr.; Dallas Woodrow Wilson
CB Anthony Wright, Air Force; 5-10/200, Sr.; Maple Heights (Ohio) High
S Tekerrein Cuba, TCU; 6-4/210, Sr.; Tyler (Texas) Robert E. Lee
S Tashaun Gipson, Wyoming; 6-0/203, Sr.; Dallas Kimball
SECOND TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS
K Ross Evans, TCU; 5-9/185, Sr.; Burnet (Texas) High
P Pete Kontodiakos, Colorado State; 6-3/219, Jr.; Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside
KR Deante Purvis, UNLV; 5-11/195, Sr.; Pinole (Calif.) Pinole Valley
PR Momo Thomas, Colorado State; 5-9/183, Jr., Kissimmee (Fla.) Osceola
ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM OFFENSE
QB Brett Smith, Wyoming; 6-3/195, true freshman; Salem (Ore.) West Salem
RB Dionza Bradford, UNLV; 6-0/210, true freshman; Phelan (Calif.) Serrano
RB Crusoe Gongbay, New Mexico; 6-0/196, true freshman; Rockville (Md.) High
WR Brandon Carter, TCU; 5-11/161, true freshman; Euless (Texas) Trinity
WR Deon Long, New Mexico; 6-0/190, true freshman; West Virginia transfer, preceded by Washington (D.C.) Dunbar
WR Matt Miller, Boise State; 6-3/213, redshirt freshman; Helena (Mont.) Capital
L Brett Boyko, UNLV; 6-7/300, redshirt freshman; Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) St. Joseph
L LaMar Bratton, New Mexico; 6-2/275, redshirt freshman; Riverside (Calif.) John W. North
L Cameron Jefferson, UNLV; 6-6/290, redshirt freshman; Las Vegas Desert Oasis
L Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State; 6-5/294, redshirt freshman; Watsonville (Calif.) St. Francis Central Coast Catholic
L Robert Waterman, UNLV; 6-2/280, redshirt freshman; Stevenson Ranch (Calif.) West Ranch
ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM DEFENSE
L Nick Fitzgerald, Air Force; 6-4/255, true freshman; Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus
L John Froland, Colorado State; 6-5/259, redshirt freshman; Snohomish (Wash.) Glacier Peak
L David Johnson, TCU; 6-2/270, redshirt freshman; Argyle (Texas) High
L Jon Lewis, TCU; 6-2/275, true freshman; Spring (Texas) Klein Oak
LB Jake Fely, San Diego State; 5-10/200, redshirt freshman; Oceanside (Calif.) High
LB Deryck Gildon, TCU; 6-2/225, true freshman; Arlington (Texas) Martin
LB Max Morgan, Colorado State; 6-1/212, redshirt freshman; Greeley (Colo.) Greeley West
CB Blair Burns, Wyoming; 5-10/170, true freshman; Plano (Texas) High
CB Lee Hightower, Boise State; 6-1/183, true freshman; Los Angeles Loyola
S Jonathan Anderson, TCU; 6-3/208, redshirt freshman; Corpus Christi (Texas) Carroll
S Austin Gray, Colorado State; 6-3/209, redshirt freshman; Abilene (Texas) Wylie
ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS
K Daniel Sullivan, Wyoming; 5-10/185, true freshman; Mill Creek (Wash.) Jackson
P None
KR Lee Clubb, Colorado State; 5-10/185, true freshman; Iowa Park (Texas) High
PR Brandon Carter, TCU; 5-11/161, true freshman; Euless (Texas) Trinity

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