It's shaping up to be another wild week in the Mountain West, with more than a few teams talking about competing for a conference championship. We start in the Mountain Division, where the Aggies and Broncos match-up takes center stage.
An injury to Chuckie Keeton does not mean the Broncos are taking Utah State lightly. Boise State says it's treating this game like the championship itself. Meanwhile, Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming are all hunting for conference wins - the Lobos and the Cowboys are facing each other. Here's perspectives from around the Mountain West, written by the beat writers who cover the teams.
Quick note: This notebook was written before the Air Force-San Diego State game was confirmed. In lieu of a note from Air Force beat writer Brent Briggeman, I'll just link to his latest story on the game.
Boise State's Mountain West championship hopes could be on the line Saturday at Utah State.
The Broncos are 1-1 in league play and would fall two games behind the Aggies (2-0) with a loss. The Aggies also would hold the tiebreaker.
For Boise State to get back into the race, Utah State would have to lose at least two of its five remaining conference games - vs. New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming.
If the Broncos win, they would control their own destiny in the division race despite a September loss at Fresno State.
"Both teams will come out playing their hearts out," Boise State senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. "We both know it's an important game. I'm expecting both sides to scratch and claw."
Added sophomore safety Dillon Lukehart: "We're preparing for this game like it's the Mountain West championship itself - just like every game for the rest of the season. We still have a chance, we see it all in front of us."
Next game: at Utah State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: No. 2 tailback Aaron Baltazar (knee), a true freshman, and backup safety/key special-teamer Ebo Makinde (pectoral muscle), a senior, will miss the rest of the season. ... The Broncos are 3-0 at home and 0-2 on the road. ... They are 9-0 after byes under Petersen. ... Boise State has finished in the top 10 in sacks allowed each of the past three seasons but has allowed nine this season. Utah State has recorded seven sacks.
- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
A Colorado State football team that had last weekend off to recuperate, regroup and refresh after its five nonconference games gets a fresh start Saturday, when the Rams (2-3, 0-0 Mountain West) host San Jose State (2-3, 1-1) in the first of eight straight conference games to close out the regular season.
"It's kind of like a new season," second-year coach Jim McElwain said Monday at his weekly news conference.
It really is a do-over of sorts for a CSU team that blew fourth-quarter leads in losses to Colorado and Tulsa and played well in a loss at top-ranked Alabama that was sandwiched around a pair of confidence-building wins at home over Cal Poly and UTEP. CSU is the only team in the MW that has yet to play a conference game and one of just three in the six-team Mountain Division without a loss already in league play. Utah State (3-3, 2-0), which lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury Friday night in a loss at BYU, is the division leader, a half-game ahead of Wyoming (3-2, 1-0). Air Force (1-5, 0-4) already is out of the race.
A favorable schedule not only gave the Rams a nice break between the end of the nonconference season and the start of MW play, it also spared them games against the top three teams right now in the West Division - Fresno State (5-0, 2-0), UNLV (3-2, 1-0) and San Diego State (2-3, 1-0). The Mountain Division champion will face the West Division champion Dec. 7 in the conference's first championship game, and five games into the season, CSU still has a chance to be in that game.
"It's a totally fresh start," junior tight end Kivon Cartwright said. "Our first nonconference games, those were good warm-ups and tune-ups. But conference; that's where it all counts.
"... We're very excited. We look at our schedule coming up, we know it's a tough one. But we're excited to just attack it head-on and win the conference."
CSU won or shared three of the first four MW titles from 1999 to 2002 but hasn't been close since, going 25-52 in league play over the past 10 seasons.
Next game: vs. San Jose State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
Notable: CB Bernard Blake, taken off the field on a backboard with a neck injury in a Sept. 28 game against UTEP, was practicing again Monday without restrictions and is expected to play this week. ... WR Charles Lovett, the Rams' leading receiver a year ago, also is due back after missing the first five games with a knee injury suffered during an Aug. 20 scrimmage. ... ESPN has dropped the Nov. 9 Nevada-CSU game from its lineup and replaced it with the Fresno State-Wyoming game that day.
- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
The Lobos will take their No. 1 national ranking in rushing offense and, yes, run with it.
"I think it's a huge accomplishment," UNM coach Bob Davie said after Monday's practice. "To be No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense (367.8 yards per game) is, I think, a good start.
"We've talked about building an identity in this program. ... It all does start with the running game. Once we've established that trademark, it's pretty impressive."
The Lobos (2-3, 0-1 in Mountain West play) rushed for 395 yards in a 42-35 overtime victory at UTEP; 497 in a 56-42 loss to UNLV; 541 in last Saturday's 66-17 rout of New Mexico State. The Miners, Rebels and Aggies rank 118th, 122nd and 123rd in rush defense among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision's 123 teams.
Saturday, the Lobos will attack a Wyoming rush defense that ranks 114th. Last year, in a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys in Albuquerque, UNM rushed for 396 yards.
Next game: at Wyoming, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports)
Notable: Backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem has exhibited concussion symptoms this week after taking two hard shots in the victory over New Mexico State. Davie said that, as of Monday, Mitchem was doubtful for Wyoming. If Mitchem can't play on Saturday, junior walk-on David Vega becomes the backup. True freshman Lamar Jordan would be the No. 3, though Davie would prefer to redshirt him. Mitchem actually has started four of UNM's five games, but sophomore Cole Gautsche, when healthy, has taken far more snaps and clearly is the No. 1 quarterback.
- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
The Cowboys (3-2 overall, 1-0 MW) gave up 256 rushing yards and five touchdowns in their last game a 42-21 loss at Texas State on Sept. 28. They had a week off to address their run defense, which ranks 114th out of 123 FBS teams, but now must prepare for the nation's best rushing team in New Mexico (2-3, 0-1), which visits Saturday for homecoming.
The Lobos average 367.8 rushing yards per game, and 21 of their 24 touchdowns have come on the ground.
"It nerves me up a little bit," coach Dave Christensen said. "They have a lot of variety and show a lot of different formations. More importantly, they execute it at a very high level.
"We have to be very disciplined in what we do defensively. We are going to have to have a great game on defense to have a chance."New Mexico is coming off a 66-17 home win over New Mexico State last week in which it ran for 541 yards. Senior running back Kasey Carrier ranks ninth in the nation with 137 rushing yards per game and has eight touchdowns.
Wyoming allowed more than 300 rushing yards at Nebraska (37-34 loss) and Air Force (56-23 win). It is on pace to allow more than 230 rushing yards per game for the third consecutive season.
"We are tired of hearing (we can't stop the run) but the numbers don't lie," junior safety Darrenn White said. "We want to improve our numbers and stop hearing the critics."The Cowboys also want to get their offense going. They were held to a season-low 356 yards at Texas State, and the 21 points tied for the season low generated by the offense. Junior quarterback Brett Smith was sacked three times and hit several other times and Wyoming ran for a season-low 64 yards.
Christensen said the offensive line struggled against Texas State, but Smith said it was more than that.
"It was a complete collapse of everybody on the offensive side of the ball, myself included," he said.
New Mexico allows 35.6 points, 230 rushing yards and 237.8 passing yards per game.
Next game: vs. New Mexico, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports)
Notable: Wyoming hopes to get redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Awrabi about 10 plays Saturday. Awrabi has been out with a broken foot and has yet to play a snap for the Cowboys. Awrabi will back up sophomore Eddie Yarbrough. ... Sophomore running back Shaun Wick, the team rushing leader, got only four carries at Texas State because of two fumbles the week before at Air Force. Wick is listed as the starter this week, and Christensen said he and senior Brandon Miller will get equal time and get the bulk of the carries this week. ... Wyoming will recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Saturday with pink Steamboat logos on their helmets and with pink towels, wristbands and socks.
- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle