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.
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.
Pulling numbers from my bum in an attempt to predict this Saturday’s Mountain West football action:
Boise State at Colorado State, 5 p.m. on CBSSN
Record-wise, this looks like it should be a close game. Boise State looks like it’s on the down slide, having lost three games at this point in the season for the first time since 2001 and having the most losses in a season in the Chris Peterson era, while Colorado State has an even record and is playing meaningful games in November for the first time in a while.
The problem is that it ignores the truth of it. Boise State is still a top 40 offense and has a good defense. Senior quarterback Joe Southwick has quietly put together a strong season, completing 72 percent of his passes and a TD to interception ratio of nearly 2 to 1. Jay Ajayi has also put together a strong year, ranking 11th in the nation in rushing yards with 917 yards, and his 12 rushing TDs is tied for the most in the nation with several other rushers. None of the Broncos three losses have been to bad teams (that doesn’t mean they haven’t been bad losses, though.)
Garrett Grayson and Kapri Bibbs have been every bit the match of Boise State’s tandem this year, with Grayson throwing for 1,847 yards, completing a shade under 60 percent of his passes with 14 TDs and 6 interceptions. Bibbs has reached the end zone 12 times this year, with 767 yards and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. It won’t help the Rams one bit that Grayson has been hurting this week, but likely will play.
The difference here is going to be on defense. Colorado State is allowing more than 30 points per game. The Broncos should be able to get a couple of stops against the Rams offense, but I don’t think the Rams can slow down Boise State enough to win this one.
Prediction: Boise State wins 44-31.
Hawaii at Utah State, 1 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
Even without Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies should win this going away. The Rainbow Warriors are in the throes of a wretched season in which they can’t stop even rudimentary offenses, and can’t run the ball. It’s left them forced to throw all the time, and it’s producing a lot of turnovers.
Prediction: Utah State wins in a laugher, 52-16.
Nevada at Fresno State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
The Wolf Pack’s defense has resembled bowling pins this season more often than not, they are allowing 36.3 points per game, good for 111th in the FBS, with the bowl subdivision teams they’ve beaten having a combined one win (Air Force and Hawaii). Fresno State may have had a couple of close calls against average teams, particularly San Diego State, so far this season. Nevada may look like an average team this season, but Colin Kaepernick isn’t running through that tunnel to save them.
Fresno State may also be looking to shake off a D-plus performance against San Diego State, in which they needed late heroics on a field goal as time expired just to force overtime. The Bulldogs are 7-0 for a reason, and they are going to take out their frustrations from last week in San Diego on the Wolf Pack at home in front of a rowdy sellout crowd.
This one has the potential to be a laugher because everything is trending the Bulldogs’ direction: the crowd, the field, the offense. Fresno State’s defense, though, might not allow that. They have been suspect even against bad teams, and Nevada’s offense has just enough firepower to steal some points.
Prediction: Fresno State wins 48-24.
New Mexico at San Diego State, 5 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports Networks
San Diego State has paper tiger written all over it. After dropping the first three games of the season, including a humiliating 21-point loss to FCS Eastern Illinois, they hit what can only be termed as the easy part of their schedule. They won three straight by beating New Mexico State, Air Force and Nevada before losing a tough one they should have won against Fresno State last Saturday.
That being said, New Mexico isn’t exactly a world beater. They run the ball well, and that’s really about it. Expect the Aztecs to get to .500 on the season in this one.
Prediction San Diego State wins 27-17.
San Jose State at UNLV, 1 p.m. Saturday
Both teams enter riding a high tide, and both would be best served by winning this game too. San Jose State is riding a three-game win streak, but needs this one to avoid having to beat some decent teams down the stretch to get into a bowl game. UNLV needs only one win to get to bowl eligibility and will likely get it one way or another since Air Force in on the schedule, but winning this one will mean likely seven wins and probably a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl in front of a friendly crowd.
San Jose State’s running game, which as found its footing since freshmen Tim Crawley and Jarred Lawson started getting regular carries, could be the difference. Yes, David Fales is one of the conference’s best, but what could likely lift the Spartans is their ability to abuse one of the worst running defenses in the nation. Given how the two freshmen have performed, they should be able to do it easily.
Prediction: San Jose State wins 38-27
Army at Air Force, 9 a.m. Saturday, ESPNU
These are two bad teams, and there’s no way to really be nice about it. They are the most boring of teams in the worst possible way.
Army is first in the nation in rushing yards and last in the nation in passing yards, and it’s all by design thanks to the the option offense they have always run. But they have feasted on some poor teams this year, which is why they have three wins. Air Force also runs the ball first and throws it never (122nd in passing yards, 12th in rushing yards), but hasn’t been able to take advantage of playing bad teams because, aside from a Nevada team that barely beat them, they haven’t played any.
The problem is that the Falcons don’t have enough constant contributors. For a running offense, Air Force’s running backs have put up rather pedestrian numbers. They have also used seven different quarterbacks this year, although it looks like Nate Romine has won the battle for that job … for now.
The Falcons schedule eases the next three weeks with Army, New Mexico and UNLV, and that may give them a chance to win. This game is essentially a pick’em – Army’s defensive numbers are superior because they have played lesser competition than the Falcons. Expect this one to fly by fast.
Prediction: Air Force wins 35-31.