College football:

Mountain Best: Marquee matchup taking place near top of the standings

While UNLV and UNR do battle in Las Vegas, the most intriguing game is Fresno State’s search for revenge at Boise State

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Associated Press

Boise State has crushed Fresno State in recent years with the help of guys like quarterback Kellen Moore (11), who completed a pass during this 51-0 rout in 2010. The Bulldogs are looking to go into Boise this Saturday and snap that streak in a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams.

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

Battle about the Battle for the Fremont Cannon

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern butt heads over the necessity of a UNLV victory against UNR and then breakdown the upcoming UFC event in Brazil.

This is the first weekend with all 10 Mountain West teams playing conference games, and it also presents the season’s first marquee intraleague matchup.

If you think I’m talking about the Battle for the Fremont Cannon then you haven’t seen that game in recent years. I’m not saying it’s going to be as ugly as UNLV’s 37-0 loss last year — in fact I think it will be a close game — but the in-state battle is at least second fiddle to the game between my second and third best teams in the conference: Fresno State (4-2, 2-0) at Boise State (4-1, 1-0).

You could make an argument for either one of these teams to eventually win the conference, and Saturday’s game on the Smurf Turf could go a long way in deciding that race. The Broncos finally found some offense at Southern Miss last weekend, but the Bulldogs haven’t had to search for anything on that side of the ball. In quarterback Derek Carr and running back Robbie Rouse, first-year coach Tim DeRuyter has arguably the best combo at those positions in the Mountain West.

On the other side, the teams rank first and second in the league in total defense, scoring defense and turnover margin, with the Broncos holding a slight advantage in each category. This is an incredibly even matchup that is must-see for every Mountain West fan outside Nevada.

Both games kick off at about the same time, and while both could be close, it’s the battle in Boise that should most entertain the casual fan as well as affect the rest of this conference race.

On to the rankings, where the Rebels’ neighbors to the north hold on to the top spot after surviving at home:

    • 1. UNR (5-1, 2-0)

      Previously ranked first

      Last week: Won, 35-28 in OT, vs. Wyoming

      This week: at UNLV (1-5, 1-0), Saturday at noon on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: -10 (2-4 ATS)

      Breakdown: It took the Wolf Pack one quarter to adjust to quarterback Cody Fajardo’s absence.

      Fajardo had suffered a back injury in practice two weeks ago and in the first half against the Cowboys, it became too much for him. Backup Devin Combs entered the game for one series in the second quarter with UNR ahead 21-14. In the fourth quarter, the Wolf Pack trailed 28-21. On one potential game-tying drive, Combs fumbled at the 9-yard line, and it wasn’t until Combs connected with Richy Turner for a 44-yard score with 1:18 remaining that the Wolf Pack could breath a little.

      Wyoming held UNR to 127 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. Still, the Wolf Pack couldn’t be completely silenced as Combs and Fajardo together averaged nearly 10 yards per pass attempt.

      It’s unclear who will start at quarterback against UNLV, but no matter who it is, odds are running back Stefphon Jefferson, the nation’s leading rusher, will be the focus of the offense. Surprisingly, he did little against the league’s worst rushing defense. It would be a big surprise if that happened again.

      This rivalry means a lot to both teams, and after barely surviving last week, the Wolf Pack would love to bury the Rebels early on Saturday.

      Chris Ault on pulling out a victory in overtime against Wyoming: “That was the cherry on the cake.”

    • 2. Fresno State (4-2, 2-0)

      Previously ranked second

      Last week: Won, 28-7, at Colorado State

      This week: at Boise State (4-1, 1-0), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

      Line: +7 (6-0 ATS)

      Breakdown: On Tuesday morning, the Idaho Statesman’s Brian Murphy tweeted this quote from Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr: “This one has been circled forever.” That pretty sums up the feelings heading into Saturday’s showdown at Boise State.

      The teams were league foes in the Western Athletic Conference from 2001-10 and recently the rivalry has been completely one-sided. The Broncos have won the past six, and in the past two, including a non-conference matchup last year, they’ve outscored the Bulldogs by a combined 108-7.

      Getting dominated like that sticks with you long after the game is over. Fresno State wants revenge, and this team has a great chance to pull it off as both the offense and defense are very balanced.

      The game opened with the Broncos as nine-point favorites and was quickly bet down to seven, most likely due to Fresno’s prolific success for gamblers so far this year. If Carr gets his way Saturday, Bulldogs’ backers are going to be smiling at the ticket counter once again.

      Tim DeRuyter on winning last weekend on the road: “I was happy with the way we finished up there. Having said that, going to Boise is a totally different situation.”

    • 3. Boise State (4-1, 1-0)

      Previously ranked third

      Last week: Won, 40-14, at Southern Miss

      This week: vs. Fresno State (4-2, 2-0), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

      Line: -7 (3-2 ATS)

      Breakdown: The last time Boise State lost in October was in 2001, a stretch of 45 games that’s at risk at home this weekend.

      Fresno State is talented and more motivated than most teams would be considering the embarrassing losses the Bulldogs have suffered to the Broncos in recent years. If anybody’s going to end that streak before Boise gets out of the conference, this is the week to do it.

      The Broncos broke through on the scoreboard after their recent offensive struggles but there are clearly some issues still left to address. Southern Miss actually outgained Boise by more than 100 yards and the Broncos went just 2-for-11 on third downs. Those kinds of numbers could lead to disaster against a quality team like Fresno.

      Chris Petersen with a statement most would disagree with over the past few seasons: “We’re always a work in progress around here.”

    • 4. San Diego State (3-3, 1-1)

      Previously ranked fifth

      Last week: Won, 52-14, vs. Hawaii

      This week: vs. Colorado State (1-5, 0-2), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: -20.5 (3-3 ATS)

      Breakdown: The Aztecs had little to gain and everything to lose in Saturday’s blowout against Hawaii.

      If they struggled against the Warriors, it would invite all kinds of questions about this team’s ability to finish with a winning record this year. The victory itself, while positive because it’s the Aztecs' first conference win of the year, doesn’t really prove anything. They steamrolled a team they should have beaten soundly.

      The same thing could be said for this weekend’s home game against Colorado State. San Diego State is nearly a three-touchdown favorite against the Rams. Win by that much and it was expected. Struggle and it raises warning flags.

      The best thing for the Aztecs would be another forgettable blowout that gets them out healthy for next week’s game at UNR.

      Note: Rocky Long missed the conference call. In place of his quote I offer you one of the training montages from Rocky IV. Enjoy.

    • New Mexico coach Bob Davie talks to an official during the second quarter of the Lobos' 45-0 loss at Texas on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Austin, Texas.

      5. New Mexico (3-3, 0-1)

      Previously ranked sixth

      Last week: Won, 35-14, vs. Texas State

      This week: at Hawaii (1-4, 0-2), Saturday at 9 p.m. on Root Sports

      Line: -4 (4-2 ATS)

      Breakdown: The most impressive thing about New Mexico’s near upset against Boise State two weeks ago was that the Lobos, under first-year coach Bob Davie, nearly pulled it off while attempting just one pass in the second half.

      Davie said Tuesday that while he was a broadcaster, as he considered whether he was going to return to coaching, he often thought of what system he was going to use. After playing the academies year after year, he always came back to the option.

      So far Davie has used that with some success, though he’s never gotten it off the ground and into the passing game. That may change this week against a defense he expects to pressure with its battered front — the Warriors are down several defensive lineman — and cover on the outsides in man-to-man.

      If they are successful through the air against one of the worst defenses in the country, it won’t say a whole lot, but the confidence they could take from that positive performance may pay dividends down the road.

      Davie on the passing game: “I’m kind of anxious to watch us throw it. … There’s a point when we’ve got to let it rip and this may be the week.”

    • Air Force running back Cody Getz (28) celebrates his touchdown in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game with Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

      6. Air Force (2-3, 1-1)

      Previously ranked fourth

      Last week: Lost, 28-21 in OT, vs. Navy

      This week: at Wyoming (1-4, 0-1), Saturday at 4 p.m. on Root Sports

      Line: -4.5 (2-3 ATS)

      Breakdown: On Tuesday afternoon’s conference call, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun seemed to balance between praising stellar running back Cody Getz and knocking him with back-handed compliments.

      “He’s not a top-end speed guy at all,” Calhoun said, “but he does have really good acceleration.” Or, “Sometimes you think he’s too polite to play football.”

      What no one can deny is that despite being undersized for the position — 5-foot-7, 175 pounds — Getz is one of the best running backs in the country right now. He leads the nation in yards per game (177.4), trails only UNR’s Stefphon Jefferson in total rushing yards and has the most yards per attempt (7.9) of anyone with at least 500 yards.

      He’s even great in defeat, picking up 204 yards and a score on 29 carries in last week’s overtime loss to Navy. Too bad for the Falcons it wasn’t enough against a really mediocre Midshipmen squad.

      Calhoun on getting tougher with his players: “We’re going to move past the nurturing phase.”

    • Louisiana Tech's Ray Holley (32) scores a touchdown ahead of UNLV defender Princeton Jackson during their NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, in Ruston, La.

      7. UNLV (1-5, 1-0)

      Previously ranked seventh

      Last week: Lost, 58-31, at Louisiana Tech

      This week: vs. UNR (5-1, 2-0), Saturday at noon on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: +10 (4-2 ATS)

      Breakdown: If the Rebels were guaranteed one more victory this season and could pick the game it would be, they would choose this one. Making it a conference game adds even more significance to a rivalry UNLV cares about deeply yet hasn’t been competitive in since 2007.

      The outcomes during UNR’s seven-game winning streak in the series have been mostly bleak, culminating with last year’s 37-0 beating. It was the first shutout in series history.

      With UNLV’s offense this year, that’s unlikely to happen again, but there’s a great distance between not getting blanked and winning against a superior team.

      Playing at home hasn't translated into victories for the Rebels, even against backup quarterbacks, which they may face again Saturday as UNR’s Cody Fajardo recovers from a back injury.

      The Rebels will be plenty fired up. Turning that passion into performance is a whole different question, one they haven’t really answered in recent years. Can this one be different?

      Bobby Hauck on freshman quarterback Nick Sherry: “He’s not a guy that’s flittering about out there.”

    • 8. Wyoming (1-4, 0-1)

      Previously ranked eighth

      Last week: Lost, 35-28 in OT, at UNR

      This week: vs. Air Force (2-3, 1-1), Saturday at 4 p.m. on Root Sports

      Line: +4.5 (3-2 ATS)

      Breakdown: Whatever the Cowboys’ season turns out to be (and thus far it doesn’t look good), they can hang their hat on last Saturday’s defensive performance.

      They held the nation’s leading rusher to less than 75 yards and nearly pulled off a stunning victory on the road against a team that’s a Hail Mary away from being undefeated. That’s impressive.

      And if you’re a Wyoming supporter, there’s reason for optimism. Three of the Cowboys' four losses were decided by a combined 12 points and they can throw the ball a little bit.

      Unfortunately for Wyoming, because of the conference schedule, it doesn’t get to play Hawaii this year. There are some winnable games left on the slate, including this week at home against Air Force. If the Cowboys fall short this week, they likely won’t have another chance for three weeks because the next two are at Fresno State and home against Boise State, which could be going for its 48th straight October victory in that one.

      Dave Christensen on Air Force running back Cody Getz, whom he’ll face Saturday: “He can cut, he’ll run you over, he’s got speed; they get him on the perimeter and he does some really good things.”

    • 9. Colorado State (1-5, 0-2)

      Previously ranked ninth

      Last week: Lost, 28-7, vs. Fresno State

      This week: at San Diego State (3-3, 1-1), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on Time Warner Cable SportsNet

      Line: +20.5 (1-5 ATS)

      Breakdown: The last two teams on this list, Colorado State and Hawaii, are in a difficult part of their schedule. There are enough games behind them to know for certain they’re not very good, but too many ahead to focus on the offseason.

      Of course, both first-year coaches Jim McElwain and Norm Chow are going to do what they can to salvage their respective seasons, but they’re smart guys. They know what they have and that it’s not going to suddenly get better.

      McElwain has to go with his fifth-year senior backup quarterback again this week against San Diego State, which just stomped Hawaii 52-14.

      The good news for both teams is that they play each other on Oct. 27. Someone’s gotta win, right?

      McElwain on quarterback M.J. McPeek, a fifth-year senior who just made his first career start: “He had to dust the cobwebs off a little bit.”

    • 10. Hawaii (1-4, 0-2)

      Previously ranked 10th

      Last week: Lost, 52-14, at San Diego State

      This week: vs. New Mexico (3-3, 0-1), Saturday at 9 p.m. on Root Sports

      Line: +4 (2-3 ATS)

      Breakdown: The Warriors rank third to last in the nation in total offense, second to last in scoring defense and ninth to last in turnover margin.

      So, basically, they can’t move the ball, they can’t stop the ball and they keep giving the ball away. That pretty much sums things up right now.

      Norm Chow on Saturday’s game at San Diego State getting out of hand: “The huge mistakes that were made, you don’t do that against good teams like them because they take advantage of them.”

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

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    1. The University of Nevada Wolf Pack will be well prepared to defend keeping The Fremont Cannon Blue and it should be a good game to watch.

      Fresno State is playing very well but will be playing on that ugly Smurf Turf in Boise