As the Mountain West season is less than a month away from its second ever title game there is still a battle brewing for who will be representing the conference in that game. The Mountain division is a total mess, at best. There are only two teams in the six team division who are mathematically eliminated from winning the division, Wyoming and New Mexico. In the Pacific division only UNLV is mathematically eliminated, but through tie-breakers Hawaii is also eliminated.
So who wins out to take the Mountain division? You have to like the odds of Colorado State winning out in that division. They have a bye coming up, then at home vs New Mexico and on the road at Air Force. Air Force looks like it could be a small stumbling block in the Rams’ way to wrapping up the division, but that doesn’t mean the Rams will be representing the Mountain.
A hiccup early in the season, a loss at Boise State, is throwing a monkey wrench into their plans. That loss is haunting the Rams’ season, they even had Boise at a good time, coming off of being thumped by Ole Miss on the road. So what happened? Well, Boise gashed the Rams defense for 600+ yards and didn’t look back. The Rams only managed 28 rushing yards, Dee Hart being mostly ineffective. Fast forward to this past weekend where New Mexico rushed for 505 yards against the Boise defense. That loss may keep Colorado State from hosting, or participating in, the title game.
Colorado State would love nothing more than a Boise loss.. because that means clear sailing to the title game. The Rams are #23 in the latest AP top 25 poll, but that doesn’t matter for the championship game. Nor will it matter when the selection committee is looking for a Group of Five team to play in a New Year’s Day game. They are taking the best team from the Group of Five, which right now looks like a race between Colorado State, Marshall, or Georgia Southern. Colorado State will be eliminated from this discussion if Boise State wins out.
Which leads me to Boise State. Boise State is in the driver’s seat for the Mountain division right now because of their win over Colorado State. Being tied at the top at 4-1 the head to head matchups matter. However, Boise State doesn’t have as easy for a road to the championship game as Colorado State. The Broncos have three game left on their schedule, San Diego State, at Wyoming, and Utah State. Boise should cruise to the Utah State game, but do the Aggies have enough fire power on defense to shut this potent offense down on the road? Will the inexperience of whatever QB the Aggies start that week factor in against a stout Broncos defense? Legitimate concerns if you’re Utah State.
Boise State’s kryptonite this season seems to be the rushing attacks of opposing offenses. New Mexico ran for 500+ yards on them, and Air Force piled up 287. How are they going to fare against a team like Wyoming who has running back Brian Hill putting up eye-popping numbers for a true freshman? How will they fare against a strong rushing attack with Utah State? But before they even get to that point, will they slow down Donnel Pumphrey enough to beat the Aztecs? Can the Boise defense survive that to win the Mountain division? If I was Boise I’d be figuring how to stop the run in a hurry because their next three games will be a test.
Utah State is also tied for first at the top of the Mountain division with games against New Mexico, San Jose State, and at Boise State to finish things up. Other than an odd blowout loss to Tennessee to start the season, the Aggies are very close to a 9-1 record. An OT loss to Arkansas State on the road, and a three point loss to Colorado State in Fort Collins are all that is stopping this team from being considered the best of the Group of Five. They’re doing this without superstar quarterback Chuckie Keeton. They’re also doing this without competent backup Darell Garretson. They’re also doing this without third string quarterback Craig Harrison. Now it’s all on the shoulders of true freshman Kent Myers who hasn’t been Keeton or Garretson, but he’s filled in nicely.
Utah State is playing some pretty good defense right now, ranked 36th in the country in total defense. Utah State is going to need every bit of that defense if they want to play in the Mountain West title game. However, short of Colorado State losing a game Utah State will not be playing in the title game. Their chances of winning the Mountain is on life support right now, but they’re still a contender.
Air Force needs a lot of help to get into the title game, in the form of them winning out and Colorado State, Utah State, and Boise State all losing. Utah State would have to lose twice, as they control the head to head against the Falcons. The one positive from the season for the Falcons though is that they own the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy with wins over Army and Navy. Although the Falcons are not mathematically eliminated, they are basically eliminated.
The Mountain division is a total mess. The Pacific division, on the other hand, is a mess too but that’s because all of the teams are bad.
On the Pacific side of the Mountain West there is only two teams that have a winning record, Nevada and San Diego State.
Nevada controls their own destiny at this point. Cody Fajardo is having a good season for the Pack. The schedule sets up fairly favorably for the Pack to win out and wrap up the Pacific division. With games at Air Force, home against Fresno State, and on the road at UNLV there’s no reason they can’t win out. Air Force may give the Pack some fight. Fresno State is always a tough out even though they’re down this year. UNLV is basically playing dead at this point, so I would assume that the Fremont Cannon will be returning to Reno for a paint job to finish the season.
Seriously, UNLV.. stop playing dead, you’re making us all look bad.
San Diego State has a slightly tougher road to finish the season, they play at Boise State, then finish up with two home games against Air Force and San Jose State. I don’t think they’ll escape Boise with a win, and they lost the head to head with Nevada. That leaves them with needing an upset in Boise, while possibly, is not much a reality. They should either win or split the following two games. I can’t put my finger on Air Force.. are they good, are they bad? I don’t really know. SDSU could legitimately lose two of their last three. Goodbye Mountain West championship!
Fresno State isn’t totally out of the Pacific division race, and actually have a shot if a couple things go their way. They finish at Nevada, and home against Hawaii to finish out. If they win out they’ll be playing in Fort Collins or Boise for the Mountain West title. Pretty simple for the Bulldogs. Now can they accomplish those things? I think their chance is as good as Nevada’s at this point, and better than San Diego State’s. Plus they own a tie-breaker against SDSU. Getting hammered by Wyoming a couple weeks ago didn’t really help their cause, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Don’t count out the Bulldogs, there’s a glimmer of hope there!
The last team with a chance to win the Pacific is San Jose State. They have three wins on the season, they’ve lost their last three games, and they finish with Hawaii, at Utah State, and at San Diego State. Would it be rude of me to kill them off? No? Okay, San Jose State is pretty much dead at this point. One more loss and they will be eliminated from contention, and if Utah State doesn’t give it to them, the Aztecs probably will. Bye Spartans.
Now that we’ve settled who the contenders and pretenders are, who are my picks for the title game? I’d really like to see Colorado State and Nevada in this game, as Colorado State winning the Mountain West would certainly bolster the reputation of the league as they would likely represent the conference in a New Years Day game playing against a Power Five team. However, common sense here Boise State will be playing in that game instead of CSU? Why.. I just don’t think Boise is going to lose again, and that’s a terrible break for Colorado State.
It certainly wouldn’t diminish a great season for the Rams, but it doesn’t get this conference any notoriety when some schlub team like Marshall could get in with their god awful schedule. And really, I just don’t see how Marshall is going to lose again. Rice might beat them at home, but unlikely.
Georgia Southern is a fun option, brand new to FBS this year and steamrolling the Fun Belt. A one point loss to NC State and a 4 point loss to Georgia Tech is all that’s keeping them from perfection. Bowl eligibility will be a problem for the Eagles, as they are not eligible unless there are not enough eligible teams to fill all of the spots, or they could be eligible for a New Year’s Day bowl. Otherwise the Eagles will be on the outside looking in, even though they might be the Sun Belt champions. Confusing? Yup.
So is everyone now rooting for Wyoming to beat Boise? I will be, for more than one reason this time!
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