Mountain West Conference Preview

TCU should dominate the MWC again in 2008


Feb. 17, 2008


 
 

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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TCU has come into the conference and made everyone else its personal servants. This year should be no different as the Frogs still have the favorite's tag firmly on its shoulders. But when it comes to teams like San Diego State, UNLV and BYU, it's like they are major volcanoes just waiting to explode. So tread lightly on your hike through the Mountain West Horned Frogs, there's potential pitfalls every where your cleats leave a mark.

 

Favorite: TCU

Contenders: San Diego State, BYU

Darkhorse: New Mexico

 

Air Force (8-44, 0-23)

 

The Good News:

All things considered, the team average of .272 ain't bad, especially since OF Chay Derbigny (.301, 16SBs), SS K.J. Randhawa (.280) and OF Matt Alexander (.270) should improve that number. The winningest pitcher on the team returns in starter Jake Petro (3-9, 6.28).

 

The Bad News:

Oof! As you might guess, there's a lot. Since finishing 2002 MWC play at 14-15, the win totals for Air Force since have been 3, 0, 4, 1, 0 and 0. Team ERA of 8.36 is butchered by some brutal out-going winds at Falcon Field.

 

The Intangible:

The J.V. team.

 

Yes, you read correctly, Air Force has a Junior Varsity team. Hard to believe, I know. But the junior Falcons play a 13-game schedule against the likes of Luna C.C., Kansas Wesleyan, McCook (Nebraska) C.C. and New Mexico Military Institute. Not sure if those games really do prepare players for Mountain West play, but it's cool anyway.

 

Schedule Note:

Oh man, that three game set at Mississippi State in week two? Ouch. But then again, five of the first nine games of the season are against NCAA Tournament teams. On the plus-side, five games will be against non-Division I competition.

 

Brigham Young (37-20, 17-7)

 

The Good News:

It starts on the hill for Vance Law's Cougars as starters Jake Wortham (8-4, 4.43) and Jordan Muir (6-4, 5.28) return from the staff that set a Mountain West record of 3.88 ERA. All American candidates in OF Kent Walton (.350-8-45, 12SBs) and 3B Steve Parker (.347-6-38) will join strapping 1B Kasey Ko (.358) to keep the offense clicking as well.

 

The Bad News:

Three draftees and six missionaries will be missing from this year's team, including MWC pitcher of the year Jesse Craig. Must develop a bullpen since only two relievers return form '07 as well. BYU has been to the MWC title game three straight years, but no brass ring.

 

The Intangible:

No seniors. Seven returned missionaries.

 

Yep, there isn't a single senior on the team this year. But Coach Vance Law does welcome the return of 2B Sean McNaughton, who was a Freshman All-American before going on a mission to Washington D.C., among a group of missionaries returning.

 

Schedule Note:

North by Northwest in the midweek. BYU will play mid-week games against the likes of Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Portland this season. In addition, tough weekend opponents include a trip to Oral Roberts.

 

New Mexico (28-30, 12-12)

 

The Good News:

New coach Ray Birmingham built a monster at New Mexico J.C. He's got Bobby LaFromboise (7-3, 3.35, and really, who doesn't love that name?), who was a 14th round pick of the D-backs last June. OF Matt Hibbitts (.341-7-44) and 3B Ian Hollick (.312) will use that thin mountain air to their advantage.

 

The Bad News:

The Rich Alday era is over after 18 years as the head coach in Albuquerque. The top three hitters, including four-year mainstay Daniel Stovall, are gone. As usual, the Lobos aren't pitching heavy. Weekend starter Stephen Smith (6-9, 6.64) returns, but needs to improve his numbers.

 

The Intangible:

The J.C. pipeline.

 

As you might expect, Coach Birmingham has his connections in the Junior College circuit, so he's brought with him OF Brian Cavazos-Galvez from New Mexico J.C. and SS Mike Brownstein from Pima C.C. Both were J.C. All Americans last season.

 

Schedule Note:

Here's to hoping for a warm front. The Lobos open their season at home with games against Eastern Michigan set for February 22-24 and a single game against Texas Tech on February 26th. That is, if those games don't get snowed out.

 

San Diego State (29-30, 12-12)

 

The Good News:

Two former MLB draftees lead the returnees as CF Brandon Glover (.276, 50th round pick of Pittsburgh last June) and 3B Nick Romero (.310, 41st round pick by Kansas City in '05) are All-MWC stalwarts. But the best player could be SS Garett Green (.324), a Wallace Award candidate.

 

The Bad News:

The Aztecs limped down the stretch, going 2-13 from April 24th on, preventing a winning season. Relief ace Stephen Strausburgh (1-3, 2.43, 7svs, top pro prospect of the New England Collegiate League) is one of few pitchers returning. All three weekend starters are gone. There's almost zero power bats in the SDSU lineup.

 

The Intangible:

Tony.

 

Though much revered in Aztec circles, the fact remains that Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has had just one winning season and zero NCAA tournament bids since he took over the program in 2003. I'm pulling for you Tony.

 

Schedule Note:

Typically tough, it's another schedule seemingly made to prevent a plus-.500 season. San Diego, USC, Missouri, Cal, Fresno State, UC Riverside, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, UCLA, Houston, Arizona and Cal State Fullerton offer no relief.

 

TCU (48-14, 20-3)

 

The Good News:

In short order, TCU has made the MWC its domain, winning by a comfy 3.5 games in '07. Last year's win total was a school record. Five .290+ hitters come back led by All-MWC CF Clint Arnold (.326, 13SBs), 2nd team All-MWC 1B Matt Vern (.319-5-36) and 2B Ben Carruthers (.303-4-31). Soph righty Tyler Lockwood (5-2, 4.09) will move to the rotation this season.

 

The Bad News:

Seven Frogs were drafted last June, including the entire starting rotation and the shut down reliever. The top four hitters on the team also flew the coop. Other than Lockwood, very little mound experience returns. This will be coach Schlossnagle's toughest coaching job in his four years in Fort Worth.

 

The Intangible:

Good at the right time.

 

The Frogs were outstanding in crunch time, going 10-2 in one-run or extra inning games last season.

 

Schedule Note:

Best schedule in history? Ever? Fans at Lupton Stadium will get plenty of great baseball this season thanks to visits from Cal State Fullerton (in the opener), Ole Miss, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. TCU was 27-3 at home last year.

 

UNLV (24-36, 10-14)

 

The Good News:

Relievers Marc Baca (4-3, 3.51, 5svs) and Adam Moser (5-2, 4.50, 5svs) will take on bigger roles. 3B Xavier Scruggs (.289-9-36) is a legit power hitter and C Michael Brenly (.278, just 3Es) is a solid backstop. The influx of Arizona State transfers Jay Sferra (.323 in '06) and Jeff Urlaub (5-3, 4.82 in '06) will help exponentially.

 

The Bad News:

The Rebels are in a two-year down-cycle after going to three straight NCAA tournaments in 2003-04-05. The top five offensive threats have left the lineup, along with the two best weekend starters.

 

The Intangible:

Is that win total a typo?

 

If you look at some of the teams that the Rebs beat last year, it's a veritable who's-who of college baseball powers: Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, San Diego, UC Irvine and Arizona. How did this team only win 24 games?

 

Schedule Note:

A tough month of ball. From March 20th to April 16th, UNLV will play Cal State Fullerton (3), in-state rival Nevada (1), BYU (3), TCU (6) and Texas Tech (2).

 

Utah (24-31, 12-12)

 

The Good News:

After a 4-12 start last year, this team didn't trip over its lip. Instead Utah turned it into a 3rd place finish in the MWC, its best finish since placing 2nd in 2002. OFs Corey Shimada (.346-6-45, 12SBs) and Nate Burnham (.326-5-32, 21SBs) lead a good offense. Stephen Fife (6-2, 4.43) is a serviceable hurler.

 

The Bad News:

The Utes must rebuild their confidence after a poor 3-10 finish last year. Three starters and the saves stud are gone from the mound corps. The gloves need to improve the .953 fielding percentage to stay in contention.

 

The Intangible:

The transfer of power.

 

Well it's obvious coach Bill Kinneberg likes the constantly changing dynamic of his team. Of the 30 players on Utah's pre-season roster, a full 20 of them are transfers from either the J.C. route or a four-year school.

 

Schedule Note:

Of Utah's first 16 games, 13 will be played in the state of California, including the Pepsi Johnny Quik Classic at Fresno State. In the MWC rotation, Utah will only have to play TCU and BYU three times each and will get six games against the Air Force.

 

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