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January 14, 2010

Mountain West Breakdown: All about TCU

ALSO: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | C-USA | MAC | Sun Belt | WAC

A disappointing finish couldn't spoil an otherwise perfect season for TCU.

TCU dominates our Mountain West season-ending awards the same way the Horned Frogs ruled the conference all season long. The Horned Frogs posted a perfect regular-season record and finished sixth in each major poll for their highest season-ending ranking since 1955.

Jerry Hughes didn't put up the same numbers as 2008, but still carried one of the nation's top defenses.

Player of the year: TCU DE Jerry Hughes.
Although he actually put up better numbers last season, Hughes remained the best performer on one of the nation's best defenses. Hughes had 16.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks while helping TCU lead the nation in total defense. Hughes won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end and the Lott Trophy that goes to the game's top defensive impact player.

Rivals.com 2009 All-MWC Team
The league had plenty of other highlights.

BYU stunned Oklahoma in the season opener and finished 12th in the nation for its highest final ranking since 1996. Utah finished 18th in the country, giving the MWC three ranked teams in the season-ending polls for the second consecutive season.

The MWC was 4-1 in bowl games. TCU's 17-10 setback against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl was the MWC's only postseason loss.

Here's a look back at the MWC's 2009 season.

Coach of the year: Gary Patterson, TCU. Patterson benefited from having the most talent in the conference, but he also made sure the Frogs made the best of the situation. TCU sailed through the regular season unbeaten and came oh-so-close to having a shot at the national title. A Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State was the only blemish on one of the greatest seasons in school history. Wyoming's Dave Christensen deserves honorable mention for leading the Cowboys to a New Mexico Bowl win in his first season.

Freshman of the year: Wyoming QB Austyn Carta-Samuels. Wyoming's quarterback situation looked like an absolute mess before the season, but Carta-Samuels has solidified the position for the short term and the long term. Carta-Samuels, a true freshman, rushed for 363 yards and threw for 1,953 yards with 10 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He was at his best in the New Mexico Bowl, as he threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries to help the Cowboys rally from a 28-17 deficit to beat Fresno State 35-28 in overtime.

Offensive coordinators of the year: Jarrett Anderson and Justin Fuente, TCU. Anderson and Fuente were named co-coordinators to replace Mike Schultz, who left to join Ron Zook's staff at Illinois after the 2008 season. TCU ranked seventh in the nation in total offense and fifth in scoring in its first season under the co-coordinator format; Schultz was fired at Illinois.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Dick Bumpas, TCU. The honor has to go to Bumpas, who led a defense that allowed fewer yards per game than any team in the country. TCU also ranked third in the nation in run defense, fourth in pass efficiency defense and sixth in scoring defense. Honorable mention goes to Air Force's Tim DeRuyter, who helped the Falcons rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense and 11th in total defense.

Biggest surprise: Wyoming. Picked to finish last in the MWC before the season, the Cowboys instead finished fifth and capped the season by upsetting Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. The emergence of Carta-Samuels helped the Cowboys win three of their last four games. Four times this season, Wyoming won after rallying in the fourth quarter.

Biggest disappointment: New Mexico coach Mike Locksley's debut season. On the field, New Mexico went 1-11 while ranking 113th in the nation in scoring offense and scoring defense. Off the field, Locksley received a one-game suspension for fighting receivers coach J.B. Gerald and was hit with an age discrimination accusation that was resolved during the season. New Mexico fans can only hope Locksley fares better in his second season on the job. Things hardly could get much worse.

Best postseason performance: BYU. Oregon State was one win away from the Pac-10 title, but the Beavers couldn't even stay close to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. BYU QB Max Hall threw three touchdown passes in a 44-20 victory over Oregon State, but the Cougars' defense also deserves plenty of credit. BYU held Jacquizz Rodgers to 63 yards on 18 carries and caused Sean Canfield to go 19-of-40 with no touchdown passes and one interception.

Worst postseason performance: TCU. There aren't a whole lot of contenders here, since TCU is the only MWC team that lost its bowl. The Horned Frogs didn't play all that bad in a 17-10 Fiesta Bowl upset loss to Boise State, but the performance could have long-range problems for the MWC. If the MWC had completed an unbeaten bowl season by remaining perfect in BCS games, it would have provided plenty of support for the argument that the league champion deserves an automatic BCS bid. TCU's loss to Boise State could slow that momentum for the time being.

Underclassmen liable to leave early: BYU RB Harvey Unga.

Next season's breakout offensive player: Utah QB Jordan Wynn. After taking over as Utah's starting quarterback midway through the season, this true freshman threw for 1,329 yards with eight touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Wynn threw three touchdown passes in a 37-27 Poinsettia Bowl victory over California. Look for him to challenge TCU's Andy Dalton for All-MWC honors next season.

Next season's breakout defensive player: Wyoming OLB Ghaali Muhammad. As a true freshman, he showed a knack for making big plays. Muhammad returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Texas and made a game-clinching interception in a 17-16 victory over Colorado State that made the Cowboys bowl eligible. Muhammad could move into the starting lineup next fall and will get a chance to develop into even more of a playmaker.

Players most on the spot next season: BYU QBs Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. Nelson will begin the season as BYU's starting quarterback if he can hold off a challenge from Heaps, an incoming freshman rated as the top pro-style quarterback in the 2010 recruiting class. Whichever candidate wins the job will have his hands full replacing Hall, who ranked fourth in the nation in passing efficiency this season.

Next season's conference champion: TCU. The Horned Frogs must replace Hughes, LB Daryl Washington and CBs Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, but history suggests TCU still will find a way to have one of the MWC's best defenses. The more discouraging sign for TCU foes is that the Horned Frogs return just about everyone other than LT Marshall Newhouse and RB Joseph Turner on offense.

National title contenders: TCU. TCU's Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State could have long-range implications because it likely means Boise State will rank ahead of the Horned Frogs in the 2010 preseason polls. The Frogs still have an excellent shot of earning a BCS bid and perhaps emerging as a national title contender if they go undefeated, and they could be favored in every game they play next season.

ALSO: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | C-USA | MAC | Sun Belt | WAC

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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