The Mountain Division is ready for a big finish, and Utah State-Wyoming is right at the head of it.
The Aggies are looking to clinch their ticket to the Mountain West championship, but what's on the line for the Cowboys? Just a shot to go to a bowl. Then there's Boise State, which is stewing a bit over having to play a tougher conference schedule but still looking to handle business against New Mexico, who can't stop anyone. Colorado State has a big problem after Kapri Bibbs was injured against Utah State, and Air Force has a big problem facing its in-state rival.
Many teams are limping to the finish with injuries, not just the Aggies. Read up on teams around the Mountain West and what the news is this week. And for notes from the West Division, featuring Fresno State which could play USU next week, click here.
The Cowboys are hoping to get bowl eligible for the third time in coach Dave Christensen's five seasons, but they face one of their most daunting tasks when they play at Utah State on Saturday.
Utah State (7-4 overall, 6-1 Mountain West) leads the conference in seven defensive categories and is seventh nationally in scoring defense (17.6 points per game), 10th in third-down conversion defense (31.5 percent) and tied for 12th in total defense (333.4 yards per game).
The Aggies are coming off a 13-0 home win over Colorado State last Saturday.
Wyoming (5-6, 3-4) is 13th in total offense at just under 500 yards of total offense per game. It is coming off a record-setting day with 793 yards of total offense in a 59-56 overtime win at home over Hawaii last Saturday.
However, Christensen knows it won't be nearly that easy for his offense this week.
"Most people haven't had a lot of success that has played them," he said. "Every single player plays extremely hard the entire play for every single play. They're very talented players that have great motors. They have a lot of experience. They can get great pressure on the quarterback. They are tight as can be in man coverage. They pressure, they blitz and they get there. They definitely are the best defense we've played this year."
Wyoming is 0-5 against teams with a .500 or better record this season. Against two of the better MW teams No. 16 Fresno State and Boise State it was outscored 96-17 and posted season lows in terms of total yards (fewer than 300 in both games) and offensive plays.
Up next: at Utah State, noon MT (ROOT Sports)
Notable: Junior quarterback Brett Smith was the Co-Offensive Player of the Week with Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr. Smith set a MW and school record with 640 yards of total offense (498 passing, 142 rushing), his seven touchdown passes tied a MW record and his eight touchdowns responsible for also was a new conference record. ... Junior center Albert Perez will miss his second consecutive game with an injury. Redshirt freshman Chase Roullier is expected to make his second straight start there, and Wyoming has started three different centers this season. ... The Cowboys played the majority of the Hawaii game with four backup offensive linemen due to injuries. ... The Wyoming-Utah State game will be called "Bridger's Battle" from now on in honor of mountain man Jim Bridger. The two teams will play for a .50-caliber rifle that Wyoming had custom-made, and the score will be etched in the maple stock.
- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
A difficult season for the Falcons (2-9) continues to take its toll physically, as three more players are dealing with the aftermath of concussions.
Last week in a 41-21 loss to UNLV, Air Force defensive end Nick Fitzgerald, linebacker Connor Healy and wide receiver Alex Ludowig each left with head injuries.
That continues a season-long trend that has seen, among others, fullback Broam Hart, receiver Ty MacArthur, cornerback Chris Miller, quarterback Karson Roberts and receiver Sam Gagliano each miss time with concussions.
It's the most concussions coach Troy Calhoun has seen in his seven seasons with the Falcons. He contributes at least part of it to bad luck - Fitzgerald's injury, for example, occurred when he flew over a defender and rammed head-first into the turf - but also to the growing size disparity between Air Force players and their opponents.
"If a Volkswagen runs into a big truck or if two big trucks collide, there's a little bit of difference in terms of impact," Calhoun said.
Next game: at Colorado State, noon MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Air Force needs a win in Fort Collins on Saturday to avoid what would be its first winless conference season in program history. The Falcons have played in conferences continuously since joining the WAC in 1980. ... Senior tailback Anthony LaCoste needs 144 rushing yards in the finale to reach 1,000 yards this season. LaCoste has averaged 137 yards over his past five games.
- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
The Broncos' Mountain West title hopes took a major hit with an overtime loss at San Diego State on Saturday.
It was the third straight year that the Broncos lost a Mountain West game in November by three points or fewer. Now at 5-2 in the Mountain West, they'll need Wyoming to beat Utah State to have a chance to reach the championship game.
The Broncos have lost to the four best teams they've played this season - Washington, BYU, Fresno State and San Diego State, all on the road.
"It's kind of heartbreaking because we had a lot of excitement about this year," sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi said.
The Broncos are learning about the potential pitfalls of divisional play. They are 4-0 against the Mountain Division, with a game Saturday at home against New Mexico, and haven't lost to a team in the division since 1997.
But in part because the Broncos played at Fresno State and San Diego State, and Utah State didn't play either of them, they are in second place in the division.
"There's no perfect system," coach Chris Petersen said. "Yeah, certain guys get the luck of the draw. ... We've just got to go play and win."
Next game: vs. New Mexico, 8:21 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: QB Joe Southwick, who missed all but one snap of the past five games because of a broken ankle, is expected to start Saturday on Senior Day. However, he might not last long. "I expect for him to play, and that's all I know," Petersen said. "We'll kind of see. ... This week in practice will tell us a lot. We don't want to put a guy out there ... who can't defend himself." ... Leading receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes left last week's game with a leg injury and is questionable. ... RT Rees Odhiambo has missed four of the past six games because of injury. ... Of the 16 outgoing seniors, 10 are starters or co-starters. The offensive line will be the hardest-hit position, losing the left tackle, left guard and center.
- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Record-breaking running back Kapri Bibbs is expected to miss the Rams' regular-season finale Saturday against Air Force, with a bowl bid on the line, because of an injury.
Colorado State (6-6 overall, 4-3 Mountain West) needs to beat Air Force (2-9, 0-7) to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Bibbs was injured during the Rams' 13-0 loss Saturday at Utah State.
"Kapri Bibbs is probably out. He won't practice," coach Jim McElwain said at his weekly news conference.
McElwain wouldn't disclose the nature of Bibbs' injury, saying only, "it's a lower-extremity injury." The CBS Sports Network broadcasters who televised the game said the injury was to a toe. The running back could be seen limping at times during the game.
"It happened early in the game, and he never was able to recover," McElwain said.
Bibbs, who had run for 603 yards and 10 touchdowns in the previous two games, had 54 yards on 18 carries at Utah State and was held without a rushing touchdown for the first time in six games, ending a school-record run of scoring three or more touchdowns in five consecutive games.
Bibbs ran for a school-record 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 win over Nevada on Nov. 9 and for 291 yards and a school-record six touchdowns Nov. 16 in a 66-42 win at New Mexico.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound sophomore from Plainfield, Ill., is No. 2 on CSU's all-time list for rushing yards in a season with 1,493 108 shy of Cecil Sapp's 2002 school record. He's the fifth-leading rusher in the nation and the second-leading scorer with 25 touchdowns and 150 points, trailing only the 26 touchdowns and 156 points of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
Chris Nwoke, who ran for 1,130 yards in 2011 but has just 349 yards on 90 carries this season, will get the start in CSU's one-back offense on his Senior Day, McElwain said, with sophomore Donnell Alexander sharing the load. Alexander has missed the past two games with a knee injury but is expected back this week. He has run for 364 yards on 61 carries this season.
"The way I look at it is here's the opportunity; step up and take advantage of it, and let's go," McElwain said.
Next game: vs. Air Force, noon MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Linebackers Aaron Davis and Cory James, two of the Rams' leading tacklers, and backup DE Joe Kawulok also suffered injuries at Utah State that likely will keep them from playing this week, McElwain said. The coach declined to say what the specific injuries to each player were, fearing Air Force players might target those areas should any of them be able play. Davis is the Rams' second-leading tackler with 105, including six tackles for lost yardage. James has 54 tackles, including 10 tackles for lost yardage and six quarterback sacks. ... K Jared Roberts bounced a 24-yard field goal try into the wind at Utah State off the left upright. It was just the third miss on 19 attempts this season for Roberts and only his fourth in 28 career attempts. ... McElwain let most of the out-of-state players not on the Rams' 64-man travel squad go home for Thanksgiving break, leaving his team with about 75 players for practices this week about 33 fewer than the Rams had on the field for practices when fall-semester classes began.
Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
In 1991, Bob Davie was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. That year, the Aggies led the nation in total defense and held opponents to an average of just under 13 points per game.
Last week, Davie's New Mexico Lobos gave up an all-time program-worst 820 yards of total offense to Fresno State in a 69-28 defeat.
For Davie, the Bulldogs' onslaught wasn't merely an assault on UNM's record book. It was an assault on his sensibilities.
"How do you stop the madness?" he asked this week, as the Lobos (3-8, 1-6) prepared for their season finale Saturday at Boise State (7-4, 5-2).
Answering his own question, he noted Fresno State's huge advantage at the skill positions not withstanding that the Bulldogs bludgeoned UNM on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
"You just look at the body types out there," he said. "The teams that are the real teams, compared to our body types. That has to change.
"The young players we have here now, they have to mature. There's no other way around it than they have to mature."
But, he said, there's a schematic piece to the cure as well. While there may be no defensive equivalent to the option-based, pistol-formation attack that has served the Lobos so well on offense, that won't stop Davie and his staff from looking.
"We've got to do as much (as possible) schematically on defense to try to be as unique as we are on offense," he said. "But at the end of the day, regardless of what scheme you are, it still comes down to how you match up. That's the first thing we have to address, and that's what we've tried to do."
Next game: at Boise State, 8:21 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: New Mexico is a physically battered team. The Lobos played their nickel defensive package throughout the Fresno State game because they didn't have enough healthy linebackers to play a 3-4 front. The defensive and offensive lines also are depleted, and running back Crusoe Gongbay, who started against Fresno State in place of Kasey Carrier (concussion symptoms) is questionable with knee and hip injuries. ... Junior quarterback Clayton Mitchem, who started at Fresno State in place of Cole Gautsche (concussion symptoms), again will start at Boise State. He was 8-of-11 passing for 157 yards and ran for a 24-yard touchdown against the Bulldogs. But he was sacked three times, and UNM converted on just 2 of 13 third-down plays.
- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
If you've enjoyed this feature, please let me know. I'd really like to thank the beat writers of the Mountain West for making this possible, particularly Chad Cripe of the Idaho Statesman. We'll be looking into doing this against next year, but if the feedback is positive, hopefully there can be another for basketball season.