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Q+A with Mountain West Connection

Well, we got the Poinsettia Bowl coming up soon.  I know a lot of people are less than pleased with this bowl, but what is nice is that, for once, the Pac10 seems to have great tie ins.  This year, the games seem to be really solid from top to bottom.  And the Poinsettia Bowl, the Pac10's final bowl tie-in, looks to be another great bowl.  A solid Cal team versus a dangerous Utah team.  This is the, yknow kinda, same Utah team that obliterated this year's potential national champion in the BCS last year. 

This is a team so amazing, they have 2 (2!) SBN blogs blogging about it.  Where's *our* second Cal blog?  Oh well, I guess we should put all that energy into doing that fake Stanfurd blog I wanted to put together.

We're doing Q+As with both Utah blogs.  Here, we discuss this bowl with MountainWestConnection, which blogs about Utah from a Mountain West Conference perspective.  We discuss the MWC's rise as the next power conference, how Utah will (or will not!) defeat Cal, and what to expect in the bowl game.  Many thanks to the team over there, led by Jeremy Mauss, for their answers.  GO BEARS!

1.  Let's replace Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon State in the Pac-10 with TCU, BYU and Utah, then replay the 2009 season.  What sort of conference record do those three end up with?  How many of them beat Cal?

 Big question right out of the gate.  I think TCU would still have gone undefeated and in the Pac-10 they would be in the title game, because they are just that good.  However, they most likely would not have as many blowouts since they would be playing Oregon and Stanford.  BYU has the offense to play like the Pac-10 and would be able to hang with most of the league.  I could easily see BYU winning or losing to Oregon, Cal, USC, and Stanford.  BYU would be a slight favorite without Cal RB Jahvid Best, but if he were healthy then the Cougars would have a difficult time stopping him, since BYU's defense is not that fast.  BYU probably would finish in the top half of the league with a 7-2 conference record, with loses coming to Oregon and Stanford.  Utah is the real question since they play Cal next week in San Diego, but for the rest of the league the Utes would have more problems since their offense and even their supposed defensive strength have been inconsistent. Utah all ready lost to Oregon this year in a tough game, so one could assume that Utah would not get blown out in any game against the Pac-10.  The league was so good this year that Utah probably would finish around the same record as Cal in league play with a five or six win league season.  The 2.5 to 3 points favoring Cal is about right in this game and honestly it can go either way, but the way Cal played against Washington and was blown out the edge goes to the Utes and they beat Cal.

The edge should go to TCU and yes you can say that I am biased, but TCU blew out every opponent they played with the exception of the ACC runner up in Clemson and Air Force.  That Air Force game was played in sub freezing weather with a rain snow mix, and had TCU not turned the ball over inside the Falcons ten that game would have been a blowout.  In TCU's  biggest games Utah and BYU they crushed those opponents, but when you look at Texas' big games Oklahoma was 16-13 and then the Big XII game against Nebraska where they barely made that last second field goal to win.  The only real good win was a blowout over Oklahoma State, besides that they barely beat their 6-6 rival Texas A&M by 10 as well as a below average Texas Tech team also by ten.
TCU is a more complete team as they are top ten in offense and defense.  Texas has no real running threat outside of Colt McCoy, and a bad offensive line.  TCU DE Jerry Hughes is right behind Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh as the best defensive end in college football, and everyone saw how the Texas line allowed 4.5 sacks to Suh and nine over all.  TCU would provide a better matchup, but since there is no playoff to see how the five undefeated teams would do if there was a playoff.

3.  In recent years, the MWC has risen in stature.  BYU and Utah, in specific, have many HUGE victories, culminating in Utah's dismantling of Alabama last year.  And then we got TCU this year.  What do you credit to the rise of the Mountain West?  Do you believe that the Mountain West will get a BCS Auto-Bid?  Do you fear that other conferences might try to steal some of the teams away?

 I really think coaching is the reason, because in the early years of the Mountain West all the coaches were legends but old.  LaVell Edwards at BYU, Sonny Lubick at Colorado State, Fisher DeBerry at Air Force, and John Robinson at UNLV.  Now, all of those coaches were very succesful but they were old and in a way losing their touch. Then came in Urban Meyer who brought his spread offense to the Utes who just crushed everyone by using former Utes coach Ron McBride's players in making a BCS run.  The BCS run that Urban lead Utah in 2004 was thought to be a flash in the pan, but the league and Utah kept going. Urban's offense opened the eyes of the league to the nation and recruits who would eventually come to Utah.

Other hires that kept the train going was that BYU advanced Bronco Mendenhall who who went ahead and recruit 'the right' BYU players who would abide by the honor code unlike his predecessor Gary Crowton who brought in anyone.    Then that same year Utah advanced Kyle Whittingham after Urban left he had a bump in the road, but after a few ok years he lead them back to the BCS.  The expansion of TCU did two things, first it brought in a very good program and in their first year in 2005 ran throught he league undefeated, and the second thing is that it opened up more recruiting efforts in Texas.  Utah has always tried to go to Texas to recruit, but with no schools in the area it was tough, but by bringing in TCU that allowed high school kids from Texas allow their family to attend a few games in their home state. 

I think the Mountain West is very, very close to a BCS bid.  This is the second year in a row that the MWC has an undefeated team in the BCS and three in the top 25.  This is year two of the BCS evaluation period, but to be certain the Mountain West must invite Boise this summer -- which is expected to happen.  If they get Boise then the Mountain West will get a BCS auto-bid because during the four year cycle all of Boise State's rankings from the WAC will go toward the Mountain West's evaluation.

A snag in that is the topic of the week in expansion with the Big 10 looking to add a 12th team.  The Big 10 expansion may not have an effect, well unless Missouri goes to the Big 10 which would open up a spot to the Big XII.  That team could be replaced by BYU since the Big XII wanted them back in 1996 with the last major expansion in college football.  However, this past summer new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said the Pac-10 also wants to add two teams in the same 12-18  month time frame. The two schools on the list he mentioned were Utah and Colorado.  Now, if the Mountain West is guaranteed a BCS auto berth prior to any invitation the Utes should stay in the MWC.  The reason is that they are all ready at the top of the Mountain West, but if they go to the Pac-10 they would be in the upper half, but it may take a few years of the BCS money to kick in to build up facilities and getting better recruits.  Utah would have to go against USC, Oregon and Cal who are typically near the top of the league.  If there is no word on any guarantee of the MWC becoming a BCS league then Utah should bolt for the payday.

4.  What is Utah's offensive game plan to defeat Cal?

The offensive plan will be the same that Utah has done all year, which is they want to run the ball with RB Eddie Wide who is a speed back and has a similar style to Jahvid Best.  He is not as good but a similar style and had a 1,000 yard season after RB Matt Asiata tore his ACL early in the season.  Also, look for the passing game to go deep with true freshman Jordan Wynn who took over for Terrance Cain at mid season.  The defensive backs for Cal will have their hands full becasue Utah will have at a minimum three wide out sets up to five and throw bubble screens and slants to WR David Reed.  Utah will attempt to be balanced in running the ball and passing to keep Cal off balanced.  The Utes also will continue using the Wildcat offense which at times has been a momentum killer and will most likely just run the ball in that situation.  

5.  Name a player on Utah's defense that Cal should fear.

The biggest playmaker for Utah is defensive back Robert Johnson who has five interceptions with one returned for a TD, two fumble recoveries with one for a score, and then 66 tackles and four for a loss.  A stat that I was unable to look up was passes defended, but Johnson is always near any pass attempted and either gets a big hit, knocks the ball down, or picks it off. 

6.  Utah managed to lose to Oregon by a much less humiliating score than Cal did.  What do you credit to this non-humiliating loss?

Utah was able to force Oregon QB Jeromiah Masoli to 4-16 for 95 yards, and the Ute defense was able to force four turnovers.  The defensive backs were able to provide excellent coverage which made him stay in the pocket longer then he wanted to, and then when he did decide to run the Ute defense swarmed Masoli and stopped him before he was able to make a big play.  However they did allow LaMichael James run all over their defense for 152 yards and two scores which was the reason Utah ultimately lost.