MWC Week Day Football Predictions: UNLV, San Jose State go for bowl eligibility (yet again)

935_-mountain_west_conference-primary-2011The Mountain West has become the almost conference this year, with UNLV and San Jose State sitting on the edge procrastinating on whether or not they want a postseason.

The Spartans were 5-3 after beating UNLV, and have lost two straight. The Rebels have had just one win in their last four games (over a Nevada team San Jose State couldn’t be bothered to show up against), and after looking like a sure bet for a bowl game at 4-2, sit at 5-5 and must take care of business down the stretch to have a shot.

They both play early: UNLV with its last good shot to reach the postseason, the Spartans needing to take care of business against a tough team this week or a more difficult one next week just have a shot at a bowl game.

UNLV (5-5, 3-3) at Air Force (2-8, 0-6), 6:30 p.m. Thursday; TV: ESPNU

The Rebels got to Utah State’s 16 yard line with a chance to take the lead in the waning seconds of their last game before stalling out and losing. The odd part was Bobby Hauck’s decision to put the ball in quarterback Caleb Herring’s hands for four straight plays with three timeouts rather than give it to Tim Cornett, the team’s workhorse running back. Herring was just 4 for 12 on that final drive and took two sacks, while Cornett saw the ball once on a 3-yard run; clearly the Aggies were looking for him to throw and the Rebels obliged.

UNLV remains one of the worst against the run this year. They did an admirable job against the Aggies (44 carries, 143 yards), but Utah State still punched in all of its TDs via the run. In Air Force, they are going to get a a slightly above average running team with a suspect defense. After Anthony LaCoste, the Falcons don’t have a big play threat in the back field, and stopping him has not proven to be super difficult this year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rebels lost, but that seems highly unlikely. If this is the team that showed up against Utah State two weeks ago, it will be win No. 6. But if this is the same defense that showed up against San Jose State, they could be in for a long night and a loss.

Prediction: UNLV wins 34-24.

Navy (6-4) at San Jose State (5-5), 6:30 p.m. Friday; TV: ESPN2.

San Jose State is the only team to hold a Midshipmen team coached by Ken Niumatalolo under 100 yards (they held them to 70 last season.) That being said, this year’s defense is not last year’s defense, as fans learned the hard way last week in Reno. Add in that Navy’s defense is middling, but pretty good by college football standards, and it could be a long one for the Spartans on Friday night. The 209.9 yards/game they the Midshipmen are allowing is 29th in the nation.

As should have been the case every week of conference play, the Spartans are going to have to bank on the ground game. They moved away from it each of the last two weeks in the second half, against San Diego State because the Aztecs were stopping it early and often, and against the Wolf Pack because the coaching staff’s collective brains all turned to porridge. Without being able to move the ball on the ground, David Fales isn’t going to find open receivers down field. It’s worth noting that Navy’s weak point this season has been against the run: they allow 191 yards per game on the ground (91st in the nation).

Another valid question? How the heck are the Spartans going to stop Navy’s option offense. Aside from an anomaly in its 19-7 loss to Western Kentucky earlier this season, and especially considering the way Cody Fajardo burned them last week, that the Spartans can stop Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who mostly runs the ball (284 carries, 887 yards, 17 TDs) but is more than able to parlay that strength to throw the ball also (54.3 completion percentage, 982 yards passing, 7 TDs.)

I don’t have confidence that San Jose State can win this one. They are going to have to shake off two deflating losses to play the type of game they played against Colorado State or Wyoming just to have a shot. If they fall here, the Spartans will need to beat a projected BCS buster in Fresno State, which isn’t likely.

Prediction: I can’t pick the Spartans in this one. Navy wins 34-28.

Note: Game preview for Friday’s game will appear either Thursday or Friday, when I finish it. The rest of the predictions will run Saturday morning.

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