Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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It's another week and there's another UNLV football loss to break down and dig in to for the Las Vegas Sun sports staff. The guys also get into some NFL betting and the UFC's return in Toronto.
As UNLV prepares to open conference play Saturday by hosting Air Force, it’s time to take a look around the league and roll out the Sun’s Mountain West football rankings: The Mountain Best.
Record will always be the most important statistic taken into account with these rankings, but beyond that we’ll look at strength of schedule, offensive and defensive efficiency and simply call it like we see it week to week. The best way for a team to move up in the rankings? That’s simple: win.
So, without further ado, the best team in the Mountain West right now is …
1. UNR (2-1)
Last week: Won, 45-34 vs. Northwestern State
This week: at Hawaii (1-1), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC Sports Network
Breakdown: The top spot is really a debate between two teams — UNR and Boise State.
This week the nod goes to the Wolf Pack mostly because they’ve had one more week to prove themselves. And while you won’t find a choke job much worse than UNR’s last-minute giveaway to South Florida two weeks ago, the team still looked really good for most of the game. And with Stefphon Jefferson rolling through teams on his way to being the nation’s second-leading rusher, the Wolf Pack look poised to keep rolling for a while, starting with Saturday’s game at Hawaii.
Chris Ault on playing games at Hawaii: “It’s different; I don’t want to say it’s tougher. We have time for preparation … but we have not figured out a way to finish four quarters of it.”
2. Boise State (1-1)
Last week: Won, 39-12 vs. Miami (OH)
This week: vs. BYU (2-1), 6 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Breakdown: Neither Broncos coach Chris Petersen nor BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall are exactly thrilled about their teams’ 12-year series that begins Thursday.
Both of them like the game this year, and probably in the next couple of seasons, too, but who knows what either of these teams will look like even eight years down the road? The deal makes more sense for the independent Cougars than the Big East-bound Broncos, who basically have to mark this matchup down like a conference game for more than a decade. Unless, of course, someone smartly reworks that contract.
Oh well, at least this one should be good. They’re both good but not great teams that would love to have this victory on their resume.
Chris Petersen on a short week: “It’s tough on the preparation but the kids want to play. That’s what they do, they’d rather play than practice.”
3. Air Force (1-1)
Last week: Lost, 31-25 at Michigan
This week: at UNLV (0-3), 7 p.m. Saturday, Me-TV (Ch. 8.2 and Cox ch. 129)
Breakdown: Under the spotlight of the Big House in Michigan, Air Force’s triple-option attack was as good as ever. And that bodes very well for the Falcons as they prepare to come into Sam Boyd Stadium off a bye week.
Air Force nearly took down Michigan, and its 290 rushing yards actually brought its nation-leading average down to 387 per game. Considering UNLV’s obvious struggles in the secondary, it’s possible the Falcons will go to the air a little more than usual. Whatever they decide to do, it seems clear Air Force will be the one dictating the tempo.
Troy Calhoun on the negatives of a bye week: If we had our way you’d play 12 straight. At the Academy it’s a little different, and the reason why is just trying to simulate size you like to have that recall. … For instance UNLV is really, really large up front. Any time you’re going to play against who are 300-pounders, we just don’t have anyone in our program that’s close to that.
4. Fresno State (2-1)
Last week: Won, 69-14 vs. Colorado
This week: at Tulsa (2-1), 5 p.m. Saturday, CBS Sports Network
Breakdown: Senior Robbie Rouse is now the leading rusher in Fresno State history. That he broke the record on a 94-yard touchdown run only adds to his legend.
Rouse’s scurry tied the longest single rush in school history and helped him finish with 144 yards in the game to surpass Ron Rivers as the Bulldogs’ all-time leading rusher with 3,519 yards. Rouse’s 144 yards came on just nine carries, with two of those finishing in the end zone for the nation’s third-leading rusher. He also caught four passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
Tulsa has two rushers in the top 40 nationally and the Golden Hurricane rank 14th in scoring (44.7 points per game), just two spots ahead of the Bulldogs (43.7 ppg). Last week, Fresno State scored 35 points in the first quarter, a feat both teams will be capable of Saturday.
Tim DeRuyter on the Colorado victory: “From a confidence standpoint, having our guys have success against a team from the Pac-12 … obviously helps and hopefully it helps carry us through this season.”
5. San Diego State (2-1)
Last week: Won, 49-41 vs. North Dakota
This week: vs. San Jose State (2-1), 5 p.m. Saturday
Breakdown: The Aztecs got caught in a shootout last week and were lucky to survive after giving up 434 passing yards. That performance doesn’t bode well for this week with future Mountain West member San Jose State coming to San Diego.
The Spartans were just three points away from an opening victory against Stanford, which last week upset second-ranked USC. Since then, they dispatched UC Davis and Colorado State with ease, thanks in large part to junior quarterback David Fales and the 18th-ranked passing attack in the country. Fales is completing nearly 75 percent of his passes, which means the Aztecs’ best defense may be the offense chewing up yardage on the ground and keeping Fales on the sidelines.
Still, SDSU is hoping to air it out a little bit on its end, too.
Rocky Long on the Aztecs’ passing attack: “We’ve got pretty good skill at the receiver position, so if they have time, they’ll get open and if he has time, (quarterback Ryan) Katz will find them.”
6. Colorado State (1-2)
Last week: Lost, 40-20 at San Jose State
This week: vs. Utah State (2-1), 4 p.m. Saturday
Breakdown: Sophomore quarterback Garrett Grayson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another against San Jose State, but the Rams weren’t able to do much else, losing 40-20 to a team that joins the Mountain West next season. This week they host another future member in Utah State, which was a missed field goal away from winning at Wisconsin last week.
Much like UNLV, which gets the Aggies one week after the Rams do, Colorado State is entering a difficult stretch of its schedule. After Utah State, the Rams open conference play at Air Force and then play Fresno State and San Diego State before their next best chance for a victory against Hawaii at the end of October.
Jim McElwain on Utah State’s defense: “I told the guys if we run the ball one time, we’re stupid. We’re going to throw the ball every down because they can stop the run.”
7. Hawaii (1-1)
Last week: Won, 54-2 vs. Lamar
This week: vs. UNR (2-1), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC Sports Network
Breakdown: Hawaii’s Scott Harding is a true renaissance man. The sophomore, a six-year veteran of the Australian Football League, is both the Warriors’ punt returner and punter (he can kick with both legs) as well as a receiver and holder on special teams.
Hawaii will need him to excel at every one of those spots to take down UNR, especially after the Warriors last week lost defensive line leader Moses Samia for the year with an ACL injury. That’s bad timing with the Wolf Pack’s pistol offense coming to the island, so Hawaii needs to step up in other areas.
Norm Chow on defending UNR’s pistol offense: “We need to study, work and get our kids believing. The pistol offense is difficult to stop. … You really have to play assignment football.”
8. New Mexico (1-2)
Last week: Lost, 49-14 at Texas Tech
This week: at New Mexico State (1-2), 5 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
Breakdown: A rivalry generally requires some competition on the field, but lately this one’s been all Aggies.
New Mexico State has won the past three in a series that dates back to 1893, and first-year New Mexico coach Bob Davie didn’t try to downplay the game’s importance. He said it’s a measuring stick for the Lobos, which is probably not something the “big brother” Lobos want to hear, but it’s true. Neither team looks particularly good — New Mexico can run but not pass, New Mexico State is the opposite — and a victory would mean a lot to both teams.
Bob Davie on Saturday’s rivalry game: “This is the biggest game of the year. Let’s call it what it is.”
9. Wyoming (0-3)
Last week: Lost, 24-22 vs. Cal Poly
This week: at Idaho (0-3), 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
Breakdown: This is the week for Wyoming to get its first victory, or else the Cowboys may be waiting a long time.
A blowout at Texas and close home losses to Toledo and Cal Poly, an FCS team, have set the Cowboys back alongside the Rebels as the only winless teams in the conference. The difference is Wyoming has a good chance to get off the schneid this week. Idaho can’t run the ball (39.2 yards per game), it can’t score (10 ppg) and it looks to be the lesser of the winless clubs in this game despite being at home.
In October, the Cowboys face arguably the league’s top four teams. It’s win now or November.
Dave Christensen on being 0-3: “It’s all new ground to me. It’s not where we want to be and I’m sure it’s not where Idaho wants to be.”
10. UNLV (0-3)
Last week: Lost, 35-27 vs. Washington State
This week: vs. Air Force (1-1), 7 p.m. Saturday on Me-TV (Ch. 8.2 and Cox ch. 129)
Breakdown: The nation’s leading rushing offense comes to Sam Boyd Stadium this weekend, and the only thing Rebels fans can say is, "At least it’s not the leading passers."
The bottom spot could have gone to either of the league’s two winless teams, but UNLV gets the dishonor this week after dropping what was essentially a two-touchdown game at home to a bad Washington State team. Also, Wyoming has still got a good chance at winning this weekend. You can’t say that for the 10.5-point underdog Rebels.
Bobby Hauck on his team’s effort: “I’d be prouder of them if we were 3-0, but I am proud of the fact that our guys have got some persistence and determination. It’s permeated through the team and it kind of fires me up.”