As Utah State takes a week off, it's time for other Mountain Division teams to feel the heat.
That starts at Boise State, which leads the division race, but needs to stay perfect to assure it can get into the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 7. Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs is coming off a spectacular week, but is feeling the heat again to prove that he's no fluke. New Mexico and Wyoming find themselves in the bottom half of the conference, and the Cowboys have a make-or-break game this weekend against the Broncos.
Read all about it, and you can check out the West notes, starring BCS hopeful Fresno State, by clicking here. Please note that the Air Force note is excluded because the Falcons have a bye this week.
The Broncos returned from their second bye week Sunday evening to face a stark reality.
The season is almost over. And for the seniors, that means their careers are almost over.
The Broncos (6-3 overall, 4-1 Mountain West) begin a three-game sprint toward the postseason Saturday with a home game against Wyoming (4-5, 2-3).
"You've worked an entire year really for these last three weeks," coach Chris Petersen said. "There's still a lot to play for. These games are all big for everybody at the end of the season. So that's where we've got to keep our focus and stay excited about those things. ... Those who can stay focused and be excited about this time of year are the teams that are going to come out and play well."
The Broncos need to win their last three games - vs. Wyoming, at surging San Diego State (Nov. 23) and vs. New Mexico (Nov. 30) - to win the Mountain West Mountain Division and qualify for the conference championship game on Dec. 7.
They also can win the division with two victories if Utah State (6-4, 5-1) loses at home to Colorado State (Nov. 23) or Wyoming (Nov. 30).
The Broncos' finish also will determine their bowl fate, which could involve a fourth straight trip to Las Vegas (Dec. 21) to play a Pac-12 team.
"As long as we continue to do our job, we can achieve all our goals," senior center Matt Paradis said.
Next game: vs. Wyoming, 8:21 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: Petersen expects senior starting quarterback Joe Southwick (broken ankle) to return before the end of the regular season. Junior backup Grant Hedrick accounted for six touchdowns in the last game, at Colorado State. ... The Broncos' injury list by the end of the Colorado State game included safety Darian Thompson, linebackers Blake Renaud, Tanner Vallejo and Ben Weaver, defensive tackles Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Justin Taimatuia, wide receiver Kirby Moore, tailback Jay Ajayi, Southwick and right tackle Rees Odhiambo. Petersen won't say who will be back this week but none of the injuries are season-ending. Ajayi spoke to the media last week and is expected to play. ... Moore has not played since the Sept. 20 game at Fresno State because of a foot injury. Each week he tries to get back on the field but has not been able to get to full speed. "You hope he can be in there soon," Petersen said. Moore is fourth on the team with 25 catches in just four games. ... The Broncos could go 5-0 in the Mountain Division and not win it. They drew the stronger half of the West Division - with a loss at Fresno State already, they'll play at San Diego State next week.
Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Kapri Bibbs certainly didn't have to come to Colorado State.
Not after being denied initial eligibility by the NCAA Clearinghouse, spending a year at a junior college and watching from afar as Steve Fairchild and the coaching staff that recruited him were fired following the 2011 season.
Yet Bibbs came to Fort Collins anyway and is making a huge impact for second-year coach Jim McElwain's program.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound sophomore ran for a school-record 312 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries in the Rams' 38-17 win over Nevada. His 19 rushing touchdowns this season lead the nation, and his 1,148 rushing yards is tops in the Mountain West and No. 8 nationally.
"That's why we stuck with him, because we knew he was a difference-maker," said Daren Wilkinson, a former Colorado State assistant who helped get Bibbs into Snow College in Utah when the NCAA Clearinghouse balked at his test scores coming out of high school. "We felt like we got a steal, even though we had to place him at a junior college."
Tim Kane, Bibbs' coach at Plainfield (Ill.) North High in suburban Chicago, said Bibbs was the kind of athlete who always had to prove he was the best player on the field. Not by being cocky, but by simply outworking everyone else on every play. He ran for 1,556 yards and 23 touchdowns as a high school junior and 2,654 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior, earning national attention with a 520-yard, seven-touchdown game.
That also drew the attention of several big-time college football programs who wanted him to reconsider the commitment to CSU he had made before the season began, Kane said. But many of them backed off when they learned he might need to go to a junior college first.
McElwain has repeatedly declined to make Bibbs, or any other first-year player in his program, available for interviews. Kane said Monday that Bibbs is as determined as ever to show those big-time programs what they missed out on.
"When he puts his mind to something, nothing's going to stop him," Kane said. "He's a kid that's very strong-willed. He's just a fiery competitor on the field and he wants to prove how good he can be every single down, so there was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a success."
Next game: at New Mexico, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/Mountain West Digital Network)
Notable: Bibbs was named the Walter Camp Foundation's national offensive player of the week and also received the offensive player of the week honor from the Mountain West. But he wasn't the offensive player of the week on his own team, with McElwain opting to give that award to receivers Joe Hansley and Rashard Higgins for the downfield blocks they made to help spring Bibbs on touchdown runs of 28, 59 and 85 yards (he also had a 1-yard TD run). "It's not what shows up in the box score, it's what caused the things to show up in the box score because somebody did a great job," McElwain said. "That guy that scores the points, it's because guys were setting picks for him and getting him open. They were doing things to help him to get those shots. That's, to me, what it's all about." ... Running backs Donnell Alexander (shoulder and leg) and Davon Riddick (ankle) are questionable this week because of injuries, McElwain said, so senior Chris Nwoke - a 1,130-yard rusher two years ago - should see more carries. The Rams also are getting true freshman walk-on Eric Williams, a special-teams regular, ready to play in the backfield if needed this week. ... CSU needs to win two of its final three regular-season games to qualify for a bowl for the first time since 2008.
Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
The Lobos' formula for victory is simple: run, run and run some more.
Oh, and it helps if the opposing team's rush defense is among the nation's worst (UTEP, New Mexico State, Air Force).
That won't be the case Saturday, when Colorado State (5-5, 3-2) comes to Albuquerque to face UNM (3-6, 1-4). The Rams have statistically the third-best rush defense in the Mountain West and the 32nd-best in the nation.
Last year, CSU held New Mexico to 137 yards on the ground and an average of 3.7 yards per carry. The Lobos lost 24-20, coming that close because since-departed quarterback B.R. Holbrook passed for 205 yards.
"It will be how a lot of teams have played us. They're gonna cover those guards up," UNM coach Bob Davie said, when asked what he expects from CSU on defense. "They'll be in a four-man front.
"They play a lot of man coverage. They get up there and they crowd the box on you, like Utah State played us."
Clearly, the best way to attack the Rams' defense is through the air; CSU ranks 118th nationally and last in the Mountain West in passing yardage allowed (303 per game).
But can the New Mexico offense, which averages a shade under 100 yards passing per game, throw if it has to? The Lobos have averaged six passes per game in the games it was won, about 19 (nine completions, 119 yards) in its losses. It's a study in diminishing returns.
Davie noted that, though UNM threw only three passes in last week's 45-37 victory over Air Force and completed just one, that completion was a 28-yard strike from quarterback Cole Gautsche to wide receiver Jeric Magnant for the Lobos' first touchdown.
"I felt like we could have thrown it some more against (the Falcons)," Davie said. "We certainly have more confidence in throwing the ball now. I'm kind of anxious to watch Cole get a chance to throw it more."
Next game: vs. Colorado State, 5 p.m. MT (Root Sports)
Notable: UNM's linebacker corps will be missing two top-level backups inside LB David Orvick and outside LB Tevin Newman for Colorado State because of injuries. Starting boundary cornerback SaQwan Edwards, who missed the Air Force game with a shoulder stinger, is expected to return. ... Saturday's game is the final home contest for 16 seniors, including 11 starters.
Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
Coach Dave Christensen said the best thing to help his struggling and undermanned defense is for the offense to control the ball and be better on third down.
Wyoming (4-5 overall, 2-3 Mountain West) lost its third straight game to No. 16 Fresno State 48-10 last Saturday night at home. The offense had the ball for only 23 minutes, 30 seconds, and less than 10 minutes in the second half.
The offense also converted only 5 of 16 third downs and 2 of 7 in the second half.
The result was season lows in plays (64), passing yards (140), total yards (296) and first downs (14).
Christensen said the defense was on the field for 95 plays against the Bulldogs as they scored 48 unanswered points after UW led 10-0 early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs also rolled up 600 yards of total offense.
"That's not a good combination," Christensen said. "We're not going to be successful when we're playing 90-something plays right now."
Christensen may want the offense to possess the ball more, but he wants to score points even more no matter how long it takes. UW is second-to-last in the nation in time of possession (24:24) and has no plans to possess the ball if it doesn't result in points.
"You can turn the time of possession any way you want," he said. "I could say if we're not scoring points, we need to have time of possession. If we're scoring points, time of possession isn't that important. I would like to focus on scoring rather than come up with a scheme to keep the ball longer."
Wyoming averaged 17.6 points per game in three of its five losses. But even when it's scored a lot of points it hasn't always resulted in victory. The Cowboys scored 78 points in losses at Nebraska and San Jose State, but allowed 88.
The Cowboys have converted 43 percent of their third-down attempts during their three-game losing streak, and 37 percent in their five losses. They are 58.4 percent on third down in their four victories.
Wyoming plays at Boise State (6-3, 4-1) Saturday. The Broncos allow fewer points per game (25.2) than Fresno State, and opponents average 42.2 percent on third downs.
Next game: at Boise State, 8:21 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: Wyoming is 0-7 against Boise State, and has lost the last three by a combined score of 132-36. ... Senior running back Brandon Miller, Wyoming's third-leading rusher with 384 yards, is doubtful after being injured against Fresno State. Backup strong safety Jesse Sampson, a junior, also is doubtful. ... Junior Albert Perez is listed atop the depth chart this week at center. Perez started the first five games, but alternated with sophomore Rafe Kiely, who started the last four games. ... Junior cornerback DeAndre Jones will make his second straight start at cornerback over true freshman Tim Hayes.
Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle