1. BYU: Yes, BYU. The very same Cougars who have had three consecutive losing seasons.
However, BYU returns almost every offensive starter. Quarterback John Beck will be back. So will Curtis Brown. Todd Watkins. Four starters along the offensive line. Combine that with new offensive coordinator Robert Anae and the Texas Tech playbook, and the Cougars could be very explosive offensively.
The key to BYU's success next year will be the performance of a young defense, in particular the secondary, where they'll have to replace Brandon Heaney and Aaron Francisco.
And, of course, nobody knows what players will still be on BYU's roster. Since the hiring of Bronco Mendenhall, there's been a steady stream of players leaving the program. The Cougars must retain their key players to have a shot at the conference title, but I think they'll surprise everyone in 2005.
2. Colorado State: 2004 was a terrible year for the Rams, but you can bet they'll be back. CSU returns quarterback Justin Holland and receiver David Anderson, and their defense was young in 2004.
Look for the Rams to make a major comeback in 2005.
3. Utah: Unfortunately for Utah fans, the Utes will come crashing back to earth in 2005. In fact, picking them third might be a tad high.
Utah loses all of their offensive weapons in Alex Smith, Marty Johnsen, Paris Warren and Steve Savoy.
Magic man Urban Meyer moves on to Florida, and whoever takes over the QB job will be learning a new offense.
Look for Utah's defense to keep them in games, as they always do, but the Utes' offense will be a far cry from the 2004 version. Utah goes 6-5, maybe 7-4 next year. And with all of the departures, that ain't half bad.
4. New Mexico: Having gone to three straight bowl games, the Lobos have established themselves as one of the elite of the Mountain West Conference.
Their defense is always tough, and their offense returns quarterback Kole McKamey and Dontrell Moore, by far the best running back in the conference.
The Lobos could be the darkhorse MWC champion.
5. Wyoming: Joe Glenn has taken Wyoming from 2-10 in 2002 to a bowl game in 2004, and the Cowboys should be competitive in 2005.
Wyoming returns most of their offensive starters, but loses five starters on defense.
6. UNLV: Mike Sanford implements Utah's spread offense in 2005, and how soon the players pick up on it will determine the outcome of the Rebels' success.
That might be tough considering UNLV graduated six offensive starters in 2004, and eight on the defensive side.
7. Air Force: The Falcons are still probably one more year away from respectability, but will be competitive in every game.
8. San Diego State: How is it the "Dark Side" defense plays teams like Michigan very tough, and then gets torched by the Mountain West?
As always, the Aztecs are the MWC cellar-dweller, even though they are loaded with talent.