Breaking down who I think is going to win in this weekend’s Mountain West football games.
UNLV was picked to finish at or near the top of the Mountain West by almost everyone, but the luster of those predictions seems like a long, long time ago.
The Rebels are 2-3 to open the season, not really putting up much of a fight against stronger competition they were supposed to go toe-to-toe with, and losing badly to two teams that no business coming to the Thomas and Mack Center and doing such things.
UNLV is lucky one of those games didn’t count.
San Jose State has won two in a row with a strong win over Pepperdine. It still isn’t enough to get them out of the rankings early doldrums.
Here are this week’s Mountain West Conference men’s basketball rankings for the first few weeks of the season.
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.
It’s been a hard year for the San Jose State men’s soccer team. They didn’t get into the win column until late September, a month and a half into the season. They struggled to score at times, and lost a lot of games by wide margins to mediocre competition (5-0 to Houston Baptist; 6-1 to Cal Poly).
So, they were going to be easy pickings at the WAC tournament at the Air Force Academy on Thursday, right? Wrong. the Spartans, the sixth seed in the tournament, knocked off No. 3 UNLV on penalty kicks, 9-8, after playing to a 2-2 tie through two overtimes.
They got a lift from freshman Uriel Ayala, who score the game-winning goal in a shootout. Frankie Beauchamp had a goal and assist, and team scoring leader Rory Knibbs added his eighth goal for San Jose State.
The Spartans entered the WAC soccer tournament at the Air Force Academy not exactly riding a high. Yes, they were better in their last five games — 2-2-1 — then they had been all season. It helped that the Spartans had beaten UNLV for their first win of the season.
If the Spartans are to run the table at the WAC tournament, it will likely have to include defeating the conference’s top three seeds. They knocked off UNLV Thursday, will have to knock off No. 2 seed Cal State Bakersfield on Friday to reach the final, where top-seeded Seattle will likely be waiting.
They face the Roadrunners at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Vermeil-Walsh Athletic Complex, which will be the new North end zone at Spartans Stadium, is set to break ground soon at San Jose State and will make the stadium in general more hospitable. Spartan Gym, which houses the volleyball and gymnastics teams, is also getting a sorely needed facelift along with the rest of the Spartan Complex. The facility is also privately financed which, considering the hard times the school has fallen on financially, is a relief.
Athletic director Gene Bleymaier hopes its the first step of a rebuild of Spartan Stadium, he said back in May. The stadium hasn’t had significant renovations since the 1980s.
San Diego State is building a new basketball practice facility on campus. But with the future of Qualcomm Stadium uncertain and likely short, the Aztecs are looking at all options, including building an on-campus stadium.
There are some matchups from the Mountain West that you’ll have to hold your nose to watch, even if you pull for either one of those teams. Nevada against Air Force earlier this season, or anytime the 2013 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors take the field, which also made it onto national TV this week against Navy.
Seriously, who decides which games make it on TV from this conference? Because they need to be fired.
Air Force (2-7, 0-5) at New Mexico (2-6, 0-4), 6 p.m. Friday, TV: ESPNU
Someone is coming away with a conference win in Albuquerque on Friday whether they want it or not. These are two teams that do everything the same: Strong running offenses with no passing attack and no defense to speak of. Air Force is riding the high of a big win over Army, while the Lobos made a spirited attempt at a comeback Saturday against San Diego State, but fell short.
New Mexico’s running attack has proven to be multifaceted, while Air Force’s, when it has worked, has been more or less Anthony LaCoste. New Mexico just strikes me as a deeper team right now, although Air Force is finally finding stability in the back field in an offense that sorely needs it going forward. I would expect LaCoste to have another big game, even if the Falcons do lose.
Prediction: New Mexico wins 49-45.
Fresno State (8-0, 5-0) at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2), 7:15 p.m. Saturday, TV: ESPN2
If the Bulldogs are going to get tipped before the Mountain West championship game, this is where it’s most likely to happen (Sorry Spartans). It’s a night game, and the temperatures are most likely going to be in the 30s for game time. The one saving grace for Fresno State? No snow or rain.
Derek Carr set an almost 30 year old team record for passing yardage in the closing seconds of Saturday’s game against Nevada, one that was way closer than it should have been. Fresno State has spent way too much time playing down to its competition (Nevada, Hawaii, San Diego State), which suggests to me that they are listening to the hype. Wyoming has a potent offense that, thanks to Shaun Wick, can run the ball effectively all evening long. They are 21st in the nation in both rushing yards and passing yards.
It’s foolish to pick against the Bulldogs until they actually lose. But Wyoming is going to give Fresno State’s defense all they can handle, and it may well break them. This is the first time all season where a potentially close game has all side factors — weather, crowd, time — trending in the opponents direction (remember, the Bulldogs got Boise State and Rutgers at home, and didn’t have to play Colorado). This is the game we finally learn if Fresno State is a true BCS buster or just another pretender.
Prediction: Fresno State wins 42-38.
Utah State (5-4, 4-1) at UNLV (5-4, 3-2), 5 p.m. Saturday, TV: ESPNU
This is a big one for both teams. The Aggies and the Rebels are each a win away from bowl eligibility, but that means different things for both teams.
For the Aggies, it’s a continuation of recent excellence, but it also keeps alive their chances for the Mountain division title should Boise State stumble. For the Rebels, a win would likely end a streak of 13 years without a bowl berth (and another would guarantee it) and probably saves coach Bobby Hauck’s job.
The thing is, this one isn’t going to be close. The Aggies have underachieved a lot this year, but are statistically a top 40 offense (37th in passing yardage per game at 266.3 and 28th in rushing yards at 203.2) and a strong defense that punished Utah and USC, even in defeat. Imagine how bad this would be if Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton hadn’t been hurt against BYU?
UNLV just doesn’t have the defense to slow Utah State down. If Tim Cornett rebounds from a bad performance, and that’s a big if given how good the Aggies are, the Rebels can make a game of this. They will also need Caleb Herring to be the dual threat he showed glimpses of being against the Spartans, sans the interceptions.
Prediction: Utah State is going to run the Rebels off the field, 45-16.
Hawaii (0-8) at Navy (4-4), 12:30 p.m. Saturday, TV: CBSSN
You know what time it is in Hawaii when this game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. In Annapolis? 10:30 a.m. It could be worse, but for a team that’s already logged a lot of air miles this year with little to show for it wins wise, that’s a pain.
Sean Schroeder will get another start, and maybe Hawaii finds enough defense to slow down the Midshipmen’s top ranked running game.
Unlikely, but maybe?
Yeah, no. The Warriors’ sad defense has struggled all year, and facing a team that has some pretty impressive showings under their belt (and a bad loss or two also, but that’s not the point) doesn’t figure to end their misery this week.
Maybe next week when they bust out the retro unis against San Diego State?
Prediction: Navy 31, Hawaii 17.
Nevada (3-6, 2-4) at Colorado State (4-5, 2-2), 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Colorado State had a chance to grab control in the Mountain division last week, but couldn’t slow Boise State down enough to win. Now, they just need to win in order to avoid missing out on a bowl game for the fifth straight season. That three-point loss to Tulsa early in the season is really beginning to hurt Colorado State, that’s for sure. Rams coach Jim McElwain has made a lot of progress this season, but this season would feel like a loss if the Rams can’t seal the deal and make a bowl game.
Enter Nevada. A team going in the opposite direction as Colorado State.
Cody Fajardo is a big concern for them, especially since he’s been a reasonably efficient passer this season and is more than capable of running too. He’s one of the few bright spots for a beleaguered Nevada team that just can’t catch a break this season. They’ve been in each of the last four losses, including leading Boise State at the half and staying close to Fresno State through three quarters.
Colorado State is just a far more talented team than the down-on-its-luck Wolf Pack, whose defense hasn’t done it any favors this year. The Rams should get back on track in this one.
Prediction: Colorado State wins this one 33-24.
San Diego State (4-4, 3-1) at San Jose State (5-3, 3-1), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, TV: CBSSN
Every conference game — all three of them — for the Spartans are extremely important, and not just because of bowl eligibility. Winning out in conference, which means beating Fresno State to close the regular season, means a berth in the Mountain West title game against more than likely Boise State.
San Diego State needed a little extra oomph from Adam Muema to beat lowly New Mexico last week. San Jose needed its running game to beat UNLV, and will need it again against the Aztecs, who will be gunning for David Fales the same way they effectively game planned for Derek Carr.
David Fales has never been down long. Each time he’s turned in a poor effort, he’s bounced back and put up at least a decent game. San Diego State, though, isn’t as bad on the defensive side of the ball as many other Mountain West teams, and can certainly stop high octane offense (just ask Fresno State).
This one is going to be a close one, but I think the Spartans should come away with a win. San Diego State seems to be the perpetually in a state of almost and not quite against decent teams. San Jose State has made a habit this year of being on top of those battles.
Prediction: San Jose State wins but doesn’t beat the spread, 30-27.