college football:

Mountain Best: Three teams control their destiny for the league crown

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Associated Press

Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse jumps over UNR’s defensive line to score in the Bulldogs’ 52-36 victory in Reno.

First of all, apologies to the four of you upset at the Mountain Best’s unplanned hiatus last week. I spent that time working on various UNLV basketball preseason stories.

Now we’re back to examine a Mountain West landscape that has shifted quite a bit in the past two weeks. It starts at the top, where the first team is the same, but it has a new blemish.

Boise State lost at home, 21-19, to San Diego State two weeks ago, just another victim in the Aztecs’ six-game winning streak. That victory, plus the results from last week, has created an interesting scenario for the league title, or should I say titles.

SDSU and Fresno State lead the league with 6-1 records while Boise is a half-game back at 5-1. All three have played each other and went 1-1, creating a probable three-way co-champion situation.

The former teams are both idle this week while the Broncos host CSU, which I’m comfortable marking as a win. If Boise takes care of business, here’s what’s left: Boise State at UNR, Fresno State vs. Air Force and San Diego State at Wyoming.

If you count the CSU game, Boise has the toughest road just because it has to win twice, though a road game at UNR may be the most difficult game anyways. It’s debatable, though, because the Wolf Pack are on a three-game losing streak, and Air Force, while not a great team, can always cause problems with its option attack, especially considering Fresno is new to this league.

That extra week comes at a perfect time for the Bulldogs. It’s not good, however, for the Aztecs, who would love to ride their hot streak into any city in the league.

Fans of the Mountain West can’t be thrilled with this scenario, no matter how it plays out, considering it’s a battle among one newcomer (Fresno) and two teams headed for the Big East next season. I give Boise the slight edge because it has fewer overall losses than the other two teams, and if any of the three matchups were played tomorrow on a neutral field, I would feel most comfortable going with the best defense. Since the Broncos, in conference games, lead the league in both scoring and total defense, that’s where I lean, though you could make a case for any of these teams as the best in the league.

    • 1. Boise State (8-2, 5-1)

      Previously ranked first

      Last week: Won, 49-14, at Hawaii

      This week: vs. Colorado State (3-7, 2-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Network

      Line: -28 (6-4 ATS)

      Breakdown: It’s funny Boise State’s clean escape from the league was ruined by the other team bolting for the Big East. This is the first time since 2003 the league champion won’t be undefeated in conference play and likely will be the first time since the league’s inaugural season of 1999 that multiple teams share the title.

      The Broncos still harbor some BCS dreams, so don’t expect them to sleep through this weekend’s game. Boise still feels it has something to prove, maybe even more so after dropping that home game to San Diego State.

      Taking down UNLV would certainly be a nice little boost for Chow and Co., and after the egg the Rebels laid at CSU, it’s not out of the question.

      Chris Petersen on traveling to play Hawaii: “I think everybody who’s been over to Hawaii knows that’s not an easy trip.”

    • 2. Fresno State (8-3, 6-1)

      Previously ranked second

      Last week: Won, 52-36, at UNR

      This week: Idle; next game on Saturday, Nov. 24 vs. Air Force

      Breakdown: If you put $100 on Fresno State to cover the spread in every game this season at -110, you would be up $810 for the year. Few teams have been as much of a moneymaker as the Bulldogs, who are 10-1 against the spread entering the bye week.

      That’s one reason it’s been a good year to follow Fresno State. Another is that the Bulldogs may win a league title trophy in their first season in the Mountain West, though Air Force is no easy task for a team not accustomed to playing them. Fresno hasn’t played the Falcons since 2000.

      Tim DeRuyter on whether he thought Fresno could win the league in its first year as a member: “I knew with the players that were recruited here we were going to have an opportunity.”

    • 3. San Diego State (8-3, 6-1)

      Previously ranked third

      Last week: Won, 28-9, vs. Air Force

      This week: Idle; next game on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Wyoming

      Line: -13.5 (5-3 ATS)

      Breakdown: The Aztecs got the raw end of this grouping by having to play both Fresno and Boise on the road. You could make a case that SDSU deserves the top spot over the other two, and I wouldn’t argue because it’s that close, and their win at Boise is better than anybody else’s win.

      I left the teams in this order for the reason stated above: I just trust Boise’s defense game-to-game more than the other teams, and that matters. It doesn’t mean the Broncos clearly are the best of the bunch; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

      Boise had a seven-game winning streak before losing to the Aztecs, and now SDSU can match that with a victory in two weeks at Wyoming. Personally, I’m pulling for all of them to win so I can hear some coaches posture for their teams’ deservedness as the rightful league champ.

      Rocky Long on being idle this week: “It feels a little weird having a bye week this late in the year, but we’re trying to take a positive approach.”

    • 4. Air Force (5-5, 4-2)

      Previously ranked fourth

      Last week: Lost, 28-9, at San Diego State

      This week: vs. Hawaii (1-8, 0-6) at 7:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN2

      Line: -22.5 (3-7 ATS)

      Breakdown: Lucky for Air Force, and the conference, the Falcons get a gimme game this weekend to move them into bowl eligibility. No one else is going to get there from the bottom five, so an Air Force victory against Hawaii would give the league its fifth team to fill its five Bowl affiliations — the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas as well as the Poinsettia, Armed Forces, New Mexico and Hawaii bowls.

      The Falcons effectively lost their chance at the league crown with last week’s drubbing in San Diego, so it’s all about pride now. That shouldn’t be hard considering they’re cadets and being proud of what they do is a skill they’re taught to carry every day.

      Troy Calhoun on trying to finish strong: “We get to play our best football here down the stretch.”

    • 5. UNR (6-4, 3-3)

      Previously ranked fifth

      Last week: Lost, 52-36, vs. Fresno State

      This week: at New Mexico (4-7, 1-5) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday

      Line: -10 (2-8 ATS)

      Breakdown: Last Saturday, the Wolf Pack tied the Bulldogs in two quarters and actually won another by a touchdown, but what happened in that other 15 minutes told the story of the game.

      UNR was outscored 23-0 in the third quarter against Fresno State, as sure a sign as any that the Wolf Pack have packed it in. This season had so much promise, but close losses gave way to embarrassments the past two weeks.

      Looking back, that two-point conversion by San Diego State in overtime may have broken UNR’s back, though it’s possible coach Chris Ault’s team would have been blown out the following week at Air Force anyway since the Wolf Pack aren’t accustomed to playing the academies.

      Ault on the Lobos’ quirky offense: “The pistol formation adds to the flexibility of teams like New Mexico of running the triple option.”

    • 6. Wyoming (3-7, 2-4)

      Previously ranked ninth

      Last week: Won, 28-23, at New Mexico

      This week: at UNLV (2-9, 2-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: Off (6-4 ATS)

      Breakdown: Wyoming’s season would look a whole lot different if it hadn’t dropped back-to-back games at the beginning of October by a combined eight points.

      First, the Cowboys lost 35-28 in overtime at UNR. They followed that up with a now infamous one-point home loss to Air Force. Two or three plays go the other way and Wyoming is coming in to Las Vegas aiming for a bowl game.

      Of course, whenever you play the “What if?” game, you have to look at contests they won that they could have lost, such as a three-point overtime victory against Idaho. Still, in games in which they weren’t clearly overmatched (see: State, Boise and Fresno, and Texas), the Cowboys have either lost by a single score — three times by a field goal or less — or won.

      With UNLV freshman quarterback Nick Sherry’s health still in doubt and both teams proving mostly incapable of winning a close game, you’ve got to side with the one on a two-game winning streak.

      Dave Christensen on his team’s close losses: “We’ve had some opportunities. We didn’t make the plays in those situations.”

    • Surrounded by a cloud, Colorado State running back Chris Nwoke (6) joins teammates in taking the field against UNLV in the third quarter of Colorado State's 33-11 victory in an NCAA college football game in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

      7. Colorado State (3-7, 2-4)

      Previously ranked seventh

      Last week: Won, 33-11, vs. UNLV

      This week: at Boise State (8-2, 5-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Network

      Line: +28 (3-7 ATS)

      Breakdown: Christmas presents don’t come gift-wrapped as neatly as Colorado State’s victory last weekend.

      UNLV did everything it could to give the game away, and the Rams were happy to take it. Sure, Donnell Alexander finished with a career-high 139 rushing yards, but more than half of that was in the final 30 minutes, after the game had already been decided.

      This game was about the Rebels giving the ball away four times in the first half, which led directly to 21 points. Not only did UNLV go and lose to a bad CSU team, it didn’t even force the Rams to play that well to win the game.

      Put a bow on this disaster and let us never mention it again.

      Jim McElwain on Saturday’s 33-11 victory against UNLV: “(Our) players had that spark, had that attitude, and that’s good to see.”

    • UNLV defensive lineman Tyler Gaston, front, joins teammates on the bench as time runs out in the fourth quarter of Colorado State's 33-11 victory over UNLV in an NCAA college football game in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

      8. UNLV (2-9, 2-4)

      Previously ranked eighth

      Last week: Lost, 33-11, at Colorado State

      This week: vs. Wyoming (3-7, 2-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: Off (8-3 ATS)

      Breakdown: See the Colorado State entry. The Rebels’ performance doesn’t deserve any more words.

      Bobby Hauck on CSU’s scores off of turnovers: “We’re not a football team that’s prepared to overcome anything like that, let alone three of them. It killed us.”

    • 9. New Mexico (4-7, 1-5)

      Previously ranked sixth

      Last week: Lost, 28-23, vs. Wyoming

      This week: vs. UNR (6-4, 3-3) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday

      Line: +10 (5-6 ATS)

      Breakdown: After his team got to four wins in mid-October, New Mexico coach Bob Davie said it was going to be difficult to win another game. That’s certainly proved to be the case, as four straight losses have dampened what was, and in a way still is, a nice story down in Albuquerque.

      The Lobos were never very talented this season, but it seemed as if Davie may be able to scheme his way to six or seven victories. That wasn’t meant to be after close losses to Boise State, Air Force and Wyoming — the Lobos lost by a combined 13 points to those three — and a beating at UNLV that looks even worse after the Rebels’ disaster at Colorado State sunk New Mexico’s outside shot at a bowl.

      With a trip to CSU still on the schedule, there’s a decent chance the Lobos win again this year, but at this point, it’s more about being happy with the wins they already have and readying the program for Davie 2.0.

      Davie on UNR’s program: “They truly are kind of a model for us.”

    • 10. Hawaii (1-8, 0-6)

      Previously ranked 10th

      Last week: Lost, 49-14, vs. Boise State

      This week: at Air Force (5-5, 4-2) at 6:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN2

      Line: +22.5 (2-7 ATS)

      Breakdown: There’s not much left to say about Norm Chow’s first year off the mainland. The Warriors have dealt with a ton of injuries, and they weren’t very good to begin with, so that was very difficult to overcome.

      Hawaii does close out the year with two straight home games, so there’s a chance the players could rally around each other and put something together, especially considering the competition. The Warriors welcome UNLV next weekend and then closes with South Alabama, a team in its final transition year to becoming a full member at the FBS level.

      Taking down UNLV certainly would be a nice little boost for Chow and Co., and after the egg the Rebels laid at CSU, it’s not out of the question.

      Chow on the upside of inexperienced guys getting playing time now when they’re young: “It gives you some hope.”

    Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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