Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009 | 11 p.m.
Each week during the 2009 football season, we'll take a look at the winners and losers from the weekend in the Mountain West Conference.
Winner: TCU (Surprise, surprise ...)
It now appears as if it will be a three-team race for this season's BCS Buster honors, with TCU, Boise State and Houston doing the jockeying. For all of those who want to see the Mountain West carry that flag into college football's premium tier of bowl competition, the Horned Frogs appear right now to be the only shot.
In their first try against an ACC foe — a 30-14 handling of Virginia two weeks ago — they proved that they could win convincingly. This time, in a 14-10 grinder over Clemson in the rain at Death Valley, they proved they could win a slugfest.
The schedule now loosens up for Gary Patterson's club, with their three toughest challenges being road trips to Air Force (Oct. 10) and BYU (Oct. 24) and a home date with Utah (Nov. 14).
Right now, TCU looks like a team that could hold its own in any of the so-called "power conferences." The Frogs will just have to win convincingly enough the rest of the way to make the entire nation — and a few voters — see that.
On the surface, outsiders may see the Rebels' 2-2 record, notice that those two setbacks came by a combined five points and say that 2-2 sounds about right for Mike Sanford's team.
Truth is, the only cause for UNLV not being 3-1 right now — or even 4-0, for that matter — is itself.
Against Wyoming, failed opportunities to produce touchdowns early in the red zone and an uncharacteristic four turnovers left the Rebels on the short end of a game they needed in the worst way if they want their postseason dreams to come true.
Is 6-6 and bowl eligibility out of the question? No. But they'll now need to make some bigger strides, as their next three games include a contest on the road against rival UNR, then back-to-back home dates with BYU and Utah.
The fact that UNLV's conference road losing streak reached 20 games — which ties Duke for the nation's longest such drought — is just salt in a very raw wound.
After getting throttled and destroyed (and embarrassed) in their home opener by Florida State, BYU rebounded in very impressive fashion, using a 21-point first quarter outburst to rout Colorado State, 42-23.
The BCS dream may be dead, but the Cougars' drive toward their fifth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl appearance? Well, it's alive and kickin'.
Loser: New Mexico
If New Mexico's rivalry game against New Mexico State was going to be televised by The Mtn. instead of a conference opener between UNLV and Wyoming, then the Lobos needed to make the network's decision look solid.
Instead, New Mexico remained the league's lone winless club. On the bright side, the Lobos scored a season-high 17 points. However, they've now been outscored 142-46 in four games. That's an average of 35.5 to 11.5. Ouch.
The 30-27 victory over UNLV included offensive firepower that had yet to be seen under first-year coach Dave Christensen.
But the combination of home games being played at 7,200 feet above sea level and Christensen's tricky no-huddle offense will make Wyoming a tough road game for just about everyone in this league for as long as he's at the helm.
It will be very interesting to see what kind of team he's fielding in, say, two years, when more pieces are in place to make that offense consistently pop.
Loser: Gamblers who rode the Falcons
Air Force was favored by 16 points in a home contest against San Diego State, who was coming off of a draining road loss at Idaho a week earlier. It was a play of choice on the board over the weekend.
SDSU spoiled the fun for many, as a touchdown pass from Ryan Lindley to Vincent Brown on the game's final play made it a 26-14 final, helping the Aztecs cover the spread for the first time under Brady Hoke.
Hey, it's something, right?