2001 NCAA Football Preview

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Can Colorado State be topped?

Sonny Lubick and Colorado State are favored to three-peat.
 Brian Bahr/Allsport
    Colorado State
    Air Force
    San Diego State
    New Mexico
Career wins by Air Force's Fisher DeBerry, now the league's longest-tenured coach (17 years) following LaVell Edwards' retirement at BYU.
"I'm too old and too stupid to figure it out, so I don't even talk about it."

-- CSU head coach Sonny Lubick on how hot it might be when his Rams play a crucial conference opener at UNLV on Sept. 14.

By Michael C. Lewis, Special to CNNSI.com

Some teams lose the starting quarterback from their championship squad and are considered to be rebuilding the next season. When it happens to Colorado State, though, the Rams are simply penciled in for another title run.

"What you're talking about is consistency," UNLV head coach John Robinson says. "And they have established that."

Such a notion would have been unheard of in Fort Collins, Colo., a decade ago, when the Rams were steeped in a long tradition of mediocrity. But since the Rams hired Sonny Lubick away from Miami in 1993, they have helped set the standard in the old WAC and now the Mountain West.

The Rams are 67-29 under Lubick, and won the first two MWC championships. They also have 14 starters returning from last season's 10-2 team -- the third 10-win team in school history, all under Lubick -- including All-MWC wide receiver Pete Rebstock, tight end Jose Ochoa and running back Cecil Sapp. Exciting kick returner Dallas Davis also is back, after missing most of last season with back and hamstring injuries.

Clearly, that's why members of the news media picked CSU to win its third consecutive championship, even though quarterback Matt Newton, the league's offensive player of the year last season, has finished his eligibility. Sophomores Bradlee Van Pelt and D.J. Busch will battle to replace him, although Lubick says it's possible that both will play.

"The quarterback is a key ingredient on every team," Lubick says. "But if everybody else plays great, then the quarterback won't have to be the most important part."

The most important part, Lubick says, is attitude.

"We think that we can beat anybody," he says. "And it's genuine. I can remember when we played CU in '82 or '83 or '84, whenever it was, and there was not one person getting on that bus who believed we could win that game. ... Now, we believe we can win and we think we can, and we have won, and all of that compounds itself and gets rolling."

Just like the Rams.

The Wyoming Cowboys already have two of the top three wide receivers in NCAA history on their alumni list.

Could they be shooting for No. 1?

Sophomore Ryan McGuffey might be the man to make UW fans forget Marcus Harris and Ryan Yarborough, who combined to catch nearly 500 passes for almost 9,000 yards in their careers with the Cowboys. After all, McGuffey caught a Wyoming freshman record 63 passes last season for 696 yards -- far more than either Harris or Yarborough caught in their first years at Wyoming.

"He's as good as there is," head coach Vic Koenning says.

The biggest question might be whether new quarterback Casey Bramlet can get him the ball the way former quarterback Jay Stoner did. The Cowboys also might not need to throw as much this season, if they have improved enough from their 1-10 season a year ago to avoid playing from behind all of the time.

HOT: UNLV QB Jason Thomas Getting attention as long-shot Heisman Trophy candidate

NOT: Colorado State RB Cecil Sapp

Runs for 841 yards and 10 TDs, then breaks leg in spring

HOT: Commissioner Craig Thompson

Secured three bowl berths and five games on ABC

NOT: BYU Cougars' legal standing

Five players arrested since Gary Crowton became head coach

HOT: New Mexico DE Brian Johnson

Made 9 1/2 of the Lobos' 46 sacks -- fourth-most in the country

NOT: Utah coach Ron McBride

Shuffled staff to appease critics, still faces schedule that screams 5-6


San Diego State head coach Ted Tollner continues to toe the Mountain West party line about the importance of playing high-profile, non-conference opponents, even though his Aztecs are 1-12 in the past four years in non-conference games against teams from the Pac-10, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. That has contributed mightily to Tollner's mediocre 40-40 record at SDSU and helped fuel speculation about his job security.

Nonetheless, the coach still scheduled games against Arizona and at Arizona State and Ohio State to start the season, before having to play CSU in the conference opener Sept. 22.

  • Colorado State WR Pete Rebstock

    With teammate Davis hurt last year, led league in punt returns and all-purpose yards

  • San Diego State LB Jomar Butler

    League's top returning tackler after ranking third with 113 stops last year

  • Air Force WR Ryan Fleming

    Caught 53 balls for 930 yards -- a league-leading 84.5 per game -- and five TDs

    The Mountain West is one of those leagues whose non-conference games are probably more alluring than the conference ones -- especially in a year when Air Force gets a shot at Oklahoma at home, CSU gets Colorado again in the first game at Denver's Invesco Field, and UNLV tries to survive a schedule with Arkansas, Northwestern and Arizona in the first month.

    Yet if one stands out, it would probably have to be the Sept. 14 matchup pitting Colorado State at UNLV.

    The Rams are the two-time defending conference champions, but they are replacing key figures on the roster and the coaching staff. The Rebels are the sudden media darlings, after a turnaround season that saw them win six consecutive home games and beat Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl. The winner might go all the way.

    Crowton will be the first new boss at BYU in nearly 30 years when the Cougars open the season against Tulane on Aug. 25. Crowton took over when legendary LaVell Edwards retired after 29 seasons. ... Air Force begins the season Sept. 1 at home against Oklahoma, marking the third consecutive season in which a MWC team has opened against the defending national champion. Wyoming lost 42-17 at Tennessee to open the '99 season, while BYU fell 23-9 to Florida State last year. ... UNLV may have QB Thomas, but the Rebels need Washington transfer Jabari Johnson to take up some of the slack from departed Jeremi Rudolph, Kevin Brown and James Wofford, who combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards last season. ... Wyoming safety Al Rich and linebacker Leo Caines were awarded medical redshirts after missing almost all of last year's 1-10 season with injuries, and both were named team captains for 2001. ... Colorado State's Lubick lost longtime offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to the NFL's Buffalo Bills, but hired son Matt Lubick to coach wide receivers. ... New Mexico was by far the worst passing team in the MWC last season -- only 118 yards per game -- and needs quarterback Rudy Caamano to become more proficient in the offense. ... San Diego State's Tollner turned down a job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

    Michael C. Lewis covers the Mountain West for the Salt Lake Tribune. His "This Week in the Mountain West" column will appear weekly during the season.


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