Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern diagnose UNLV football's heartbreak against that team to the north while giving Rebels fans some life with info on the newest basketball recruit.
- Rebels can either embrace challenge of Boise State or wither after UNR loss
- The Fremont Cannon returns to Reno after UNLV’s second-half collapse
- Brewer: This loss to UNR will be tougher for UNLV to stomach
- The Fremont Cannon visits Las Vegas this weekend and UNLV plans to keep it here
- Brewer: With the exception of football rivalry, UNLV is clearly superior to UNR
- Mountain Best: Marquee matchup taking place near top of the standings
- All UNLV Football Coverage
It’s time for a shakedown, or up, as the case may be. Whichever direction they’re moving, six teams occupy new spots in the Mountain Best rankings this week.
This is a result of several factors, including last week’s results, injuries and, in one case, personal spite.
Let’s start at the top, where Boise State (previously ranked third) takes over the No. 1 ranking following a 20-10 victory against Fresno State, which inhabited the second spot in last week’s rankings. The Broncos offense is coming together behind running back D.J. Harper, a positive sign for a team that already has the league’s best defense. Boise State leads the Mountain West in total defense, scoring defense and turnover margin.
You could look at this move as more of a slight against UNR after its 42-37 comeback at UNLV, and in a way it is. The Wolf Pack’s offense took nearly a full half to come together without starting quarterback Cody Fajardo, whose health will be crucial for UNR down the stretch. And, more importantly, the Wolf Pack defense gives up twice as many points per game as the Broncos. That alone is enough for me to vault the Broncos to No. 1 for now.
Elsewhere, there’s some shifting in the middle of the pack, a situation that should clear itself up a bit after this weekend’s games. I’ve got one double-digit upset on my mind and reflected it by moving a new team into the top five, one spot ahead of its opponent this week. Take that, You Know Who You Are.
Also, just to throw a quirk into this week, each of the 10 teams are summarized by a lyric in one of the 10 songs atop the iTunes singles chart as of Tuesday morning. Who’s getting down to “Gangnam Style”? Read on to find out.
1. Boise State (5-1, 2-0)
Previously ranked third
Last week: Won, 20-10, vs. Fresno State
This week: vs. UNLV (1-6, 1-1), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Line: -28 (4-2 ATS)
Lyric: That magic that we got / Nobody can touch — Ke$ha, “Die Young"
How it relates: No losses in October since 2001. Three home losses since 1999, all of them played on a spectacular, some may say, magical blue field known simply as the Smurf Turf.
Breakdown: Boise State coach Chris Petersen said he has seen UNLV improvements from week to week this year. In all of his campaigning to convince people of this idea, that’s one guy UNLV coach Bobby Hauck probably would have preferred didn’t get the message.
The odds of the Rebels going up to Boise and pulling of the upset are incredibly low. And if the Broncos actually take the game seriously and play to win from the start, UNLV’s chances are down to none.
That may be a reason for Boise State’s “black-out” this Saturday, which will see the Broncos don black jerseys, pants and helmets. Boise busts out a lot of different uniforms — this is the sixth combination in the first seven games — but there’s something special about black. Watch these Ohio players last year freak out when they find out they’re wearing black against Marshall (the fun starts at 1:10).
By the way, Ohio won that game 44-7.
Petersen on UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry: “If you didn’t tell me he was a freshman, I wouldn’t know it. Big, strong, classic passer.”
2. UNR (6-1, 3-0)
Previously ranked first
Last week: Won, 42-37, at UNLV
This week: vs. San Diego State (4-3, 2-1), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Line: -7 (2-5 ATS)
Lyric: You come around and the armor falls / Pierce the room like a cannon ball — Taylor Swift, “State of Grace”
How it relates: Just picture someone dressed in red and sitting in a dark room last Saturday afternoon after UNLV lost its eighth straight game to UNR.
Breakdown: After seeing the Wolf Pack in person, I put their ceiling slightly lower than I had it leading into the game. Part of that, certainly, is the absence of Fajardo, although by the end of the game, backup Devin Combs looked very comfortable on the field.
The bigger problem is UNR’s defense. It’s not bad by any means, just a tick toward average, and that’s enough to drop them a bit this week.
The great news for UNR is that its three toughest remaining games — San Diego State, Fresno State and Boise State — all are played in Reno. That Dec. 1 showdown against the Broncos, a battle pitting a first-year Mountain West member vs. one on the way out, could very well be for the title.
Chris Ault wasn’t able to make Monday’s conference call. In lieu of a quote, I typed “alt rock” into YouTube and picked the top result that didn’t feature a picture of Breaking Benjamin or a cartoon. It’s for the best because we could all use more “Seven Nation Army” in our lives.
3. Fresno State (4-3, 2-1)
Previously ranked second
Last week: Lost, 20-10, at Boise State
This week: vs. Wyoming (1-5, 0-2), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Root Sports
Line: -14.5 (6-1 ATS)
Lyric: Once upon a time / A few mistakes ago — Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble”
How it relates: Like UNLV against UNR, Fresno State was finally able to keep it close against Boise State, though that hardly comforts the Bulldogs. They had a chance Saturday, if only a few more plays had gone their way.
Breakdown: This will be tough to get over. Fresno State players arguably put as much into this game as the Rebels did into Saturday’s game, but the Bulldogs had to walk away knowing that they may have also lost a shot at the conference title.*
Fresno State tailback Robbie Rouse couldn’t get anything going against Boise State’s front, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry as the team compiled only 56 rushing yards in the game. Keep in mind, this is the same defense facing UNLV’s Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle this week.
As a result of Rouse’s struggles, Fresno quarterback Derek Carr dropped back a lot and couldn’t consistently avoid the Broncos’ pass rush. The Bulldogs have the talent to bounce back, though they must do so knowing Boise State is still clearly the superior team.
Tim DeRuyter on the diminutive Rouse: “If you just met him on the street … you would never guess that he’s, one, a football player, and that he’s, two, a football player at the level he is.”
*I mean, technically, UNLV did, too, but realistically, that wasn’t happening.
4. San Diego State (4-3, 2-1)
Previously ranked fifth
Last week: Won, 38-14, vs. Colorado State
This week: at UNR (6-1, 3-0), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Line: +7 (4-3 ATS)
Lyric: And I know I’ve said it a million times — Maroon 5, “One More Night”
How it relates: It seems like nobody’s more eager to bash the Aztecs’ defense than coach Rocky Long. His weekly conference calls generally consist of someone trying to point out that unit’s positive qualities and Long shooting them down over and over.
Breakdown: The Aztecs may be the most difficult team in the conference to figure out. The three squads above them — Boise State, UNR and Fresno State — are all very talented teams with a few question marks or deficiencies.
On the other hand, San Diego State may be a completely average team. There seems to be a great divide between those top three teams and the rest of the league. The last best chance to bridge that gap comes Saturday when the Aztecs travel to Reno.
Pull off the upset and San Diego State could shake up the conference race and threaten to get eight victories once again this year. Lose, especially by a couple touchdowns or more, and Long may be staring down 6-6 at best.
Rocky Long, after a writer complimented his team’s run defense: “They just spread us out and do so good passing they don’t need to run it anymore."
5. New Mexico (4-3, 1-1)
Previously ranked sixth
Last week: Won, 35-23, at Hawaii
This week: at Air Force (3-3, 2-1), Saturday at 4 p.m. on Root Sports
Line: +10.5 (5-2 ATS)
Lyric: At first sight I felt the energy of sun rays — Rihanna, “Diamonds”
How it relates: OK, maybe not at first sight, but just more than halfway through his first season in Albuquerque, Bob Davie has energized the city. He already has more wins than the last three years combined.
Breakdown: Mark it down right now (so you can make fun of me later): New Mexico will go into Air Force and win.
Based on what I’ve seen from both teams this year, the Falcons aren’t that much better than the Lobos. Davie has a chance to pick up his second road victory in a row and third of the season. That alone is amazing for this program.
It’s too good of a story to end now. In fact, I see it coming to a close in a bowl game, the Lobos’ first since 2007.
Davie: “We are what we are now, and we’re trying to maximize everything we have.”
6. Air Force (3-3, 2-1)
Previously ranked fourth
Last week: Won, 28-27, at Wyoming
This week: vs. New Mexico (4-3, 1-1), Saturday at 4 p.m. on Root Sports
Line: -10.5 (2-4 ATS)
Lyric: I’ll spend the rest of my time / Laughing with the windows down — Kelly Clarkson, “Catch My Breath”
How it relates: I’m convinced Air Force coach Troy Calhoun isn’t as straight forward and, often, boring as he comes across. Jane Fonda references aside (see below), there’s some fun in there.
Breakdown: First-year New Mexico coach Bob Davie said he modeled his team’s offense after the service academies and, specifically, Air Force. Calhoun said he sees them as remarkably different.
Whomever you agree with in the semantics of figuring exactly what version of the option each of these teams run, it’s just important to know they both run. A lot.
Air Force ranks second in the nation in rushing yards per game (363) while New Mexico comes in at seventh (279.4). With little passing this figures to be one of the shortest games of the year, which could conceivably give Calhoun more time to drive around with his windows down.
This quote needs a lead-in, so here’s the scenario. Last weekend’s Air Force victory ended in a bit of controversy (read more about it in Wyoming’s section, but basically Air Force was accused of cheating or at least bending the rules) and Calhoun was asked about the accusation …
Calhoun, um, defending his team maybe? I’m not really sure: “For our guys, I think anytime you are an officer candidate, there are different scenarios in life from which you must learn. I’m not saying it’s the same. But there’s definitely some learning experiences that can occur. When Jane Fonda, in 1972, went and was cozy with the North Vietnamese and denounced those that were in the Air Force, there’s something drawn from that. I think, Saturday, there’s something you can draw from different instances in life. Certainly that’s the case. I think as you go through and you progress forward, as an officer, you are going to fight for those freedoms, for the First Amendment. And that First Amendment can be used in various ways. If you go fly a bunch of missions, or you're deployed, or you’re involved in combat and return to your country, there could be different marches or different things that are said to you. You’ve got to know that can occur. But you march forward, too.”
7. UNLV (1-6, 1-1)
Previously ranked seventh
Last week: Lost, 42-37, vs. UNR
This week: at Boise State (5-1, 2-0), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Line: +28 (5-2 ATS)
Lyric: Some nights I stay up / Cashing in my bad luck — Fun., “Some Nights”
How it relates: If you’re a UNLV football fan, there hasn’t been much to celebrate in recent years. If you’re a UNLV football fan who bets on coach Bobby Hauck to cover the spread against D-I teams at home (now 12-2), at least you’ve got tickets to cash.
Breakdown: The way the schedule was laid out, UNLV really needed to do more with those first four home games. Four straight home games meant the road trips would swoop in and drown the Rebels if they weren’t able to keep their head above water. At 1-6 coming off a devastating loss to UNR, it’s fair to say UNLV is treading water at best.
Despite all those defeats, this is just the second week where going into the game it’s pretty clear it won’t be a close final score. That was true at Louisiana Tech, and it seems to be the same at Boise State on Saturday. Going onto the Smurf Turf and putting up a fight is potentially great for UNLV’s psyche. Just don’t count on it happening, because the Rebels match their ability to cover at home with an inability to do so on the road — 1-14-1 under Hauck.
Hauck, from Monday, on possible changes to the defense in the offseason: “I don’t want to go down that path until Dec. 1. … I love our guys, I like our team, and I think we can have a great season before this is all said and done. You can look at our record and think, ‘This guy is insane,’ but I’m not. We’re doing good things.”
8. Wyoming (1-5, 0-2)
Previously ranked eighth
Last week: Lost, 28-27, vs. Air Force
This week: at Fresno State (4-3, 2-1), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Root Sports
Line: +14.5 (4-2 ATS)
Lyric: I’m really gonna miss you picking fights — Taylor Swift, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together”*
How it relates: The Mountain West on Monday reprimanded Wyoming coach Dave Christensen for his remarks against Air Force after Saturday’s game. That was the source for Air Force coach Troy Calhoun’s truly bizarre Jane Fonda reference on Tuesday. (If you missed that quote, I encourage you to go back two slides and check it out … waiting … Super weird, right?)
Breakdown: At issue for Christensen was Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz, whom the coach believed faked an injury in order to give Air Force time to prepare its eventual game-winning play.
Dietz walked toward the sideline and then went down, prompting a trainer to attend to him for a couple minutes. After he was off the field, backup quarterback Kale Pearson came in for one play and scored on a five-yard bootleg. Before you suggest Pearson’s appearance tosses out Christensen’s claim, all players are required to sit out one play if their helmet comes off.
“There was nothing wrong with (Dietz) except that his helmet came off,” Christensen said. “And I have a real problem with that.”
Christensen on staying optimistic: “We know before long we’ll find a way on to the winning side.”
*Man, I had no idea that Taylor Swift basically took over pop music. I’m sad for our youth as this particular song contained arguably the worst lyrics I’ve ever seen (apologies to you Swifters out there).
9. Colorado State (1-6, 0-3)
Previously ranked ninth
Last week: Lost, 38-14, at San Diego State
This week: Idle; next game vs. Hawaii (1-5, 0-3), Oct. 27 at 4 p.m.
Lyric: Hold your breath and count to 10 — Adele, “Skyfall”
How it relates: The Rams have a week off to rest and then a week to prepare for the battle of the bottom feeders. If they’re not careful, they’ll slip to 10.
Breakdown: You don’t prepare for a season by thinking what you’ll do when you get to your third-string quarterback. It’s just not a scenario you can (or frankly want to) fathom. So when you’re thrust into it, as Colorado State was last weekend, you try to make the best of it.
M.J. McPeek, a fifth-year senior starting his second career game in place of starter Garrett Grayson, went down early in the game, giving way to freshman third-stringer Conner Smith. And the kid did well, completing 18-of-22 for 165 yards with one interception. Still, he started the year behind two other guys for a reason.
In that regard, the bye week comes at a good time. The Rams also are down three defensive lineman, and the time off at least gives them some hope of getting a little healthy.
Jim McElwain on mistakes: “Anytime you turn the ball over three times in the 30, you’re not going to beat anybody.”
10. Hawaii (1-5, 0-3)
Previously ranked 10th
Last week: Lost, 35-23, vs. New Mexico
This week: Idle; next game at Colorado State (1-6, 0-3), Oct. 27 at 4 p.m.
Lyric: Eh, sexy lady — Psy, “Gangnam Style”
How it relates: The week off gives Hawaii players a chance to focus more on hula girls and less on their 1-5 record. Also, coach Norm Chow said Monday that Duke transfer tight end Ryan Hall moved to the island not for football but for a girl. So there’s that.
Breakdown: Like Colorado State, Hawaii gets an extra week to prepare for the most winnable conference game on its schedule. Both teams want this one badly because they may not get a Mountain West win any other way.
Considering the number of people (or lack thereof) who will care about that game on Saturday, Oct. 27 at Colorado State, both of these teams may be on a quasi-two week bye week until they enter the conference consciousness again.
Norm Chow on state of the team: “We’re beat up pretty good.”