While the first half of the MW season has seen its ups and downs, the second has the potential to produce some interesting twists and turns. Has TCU reclaimed enough of its trademark defensive swagger to give Boise State a run for its money in two weeks? Is San Diego State destined for its second consecutive Poinsettia Bowl appearance, or do the Aztecs have enough to post their first double-digit win season since 1977? Can Air Force regroup, become bowl-eligible and go for a third consecutive bowl game win?
While those issues remain unresolved, there were plenty of answers, some of them emphatic, to other questions through the first half of the MW season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Kellen Moore, Boise State. While the NFL's have-nots salivate over the potential of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, all Moore does is win. And win. And win. And win. With his next victory, Moore, currently 45-2, will become the all-time NCAA career wins leader, surpassing former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Did we mention that McCoy was a Heisman Trophy finalist? Moore has been there, done that (2010), and should be on hand again when the trophy is awarded this year. I don't care if you've thrown for enough yards to circumnavigate the globe. When you're the winningest quarterback in the history of college football and completing 76.3 percent of your passes, it's time to hand over the hardware. Also considered: Doug Martin, Boise State; Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State.
Defensive Player of the Year: Larry Parker, San Diego State. When the season began, the word among opposing offenses was to stay away from Aztecs cornerback Leon McFadden, a first-team all-league pick in 2010 who led the MW and tied for 17th nationally in passes defended per game (1.08). Now it's McFadden's running mate, Parker, who is wreaking havoc. In the team's last outing at Air Force on Oct. 13, Parker posted his fifth interception in the last 11 quarters (a four-game span). He also has three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Parker ranks second nationally in interceptions per game and ninth in forced fumbles per game. Also considered: Nordly Capi, Colorado State; Brady Amack, Air Force.
Coach of the Year: Rocky Long, San Diego State. It would be easy to lay this honor at the doorstep of Boise State's Chris Petersen, whose team is 7-0 and ranked No. 4 in the latest BCS standings. Yet Long, who spent the previous two years as the Aztecs' defensive coordinator, walked into a very delicate situation when the much-loved Brady Hoke exited in December to become the head coach at Michigan. SDSU's record clearly isn't spotless, but the Aztecs are coming off an impressive 41-27 win at Air Force, which was picked third in the MW preseason poll behind Boise State and TCU. Long may not come off as gregarious and affable as Hoke, but he garners no less respect and admiration from his players. Also considered: Chris Petersen, Boise State.
Freshman of the Year: Brett Smith, Wyoming. When Cowboys coach Dave Christensen announced in August that the team would be quarterbacked by a true freshman for the just the third time since 1974, many envisioned a repeat of last year's 3-9 season. Instead, in a span of six games, the multi-talented Smith has become one of the most exciting players in the league. He has accounted for 14 touchdowns (nine passing, four rushing, one receiving) and is the third-leading passer in the MW with an average of 220.7 yards per game. In 2011, only seven players in the Football Bowl Subdivision have thrown at least one touchdown pass, rushed for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. Also considered: Matt Miller, Boise State, Deon Long, New Mexico.
Surprise: Wyoming. Heading into Saturday's game at San Diego State, the Cowboys (4-2, 1-0) are one of only three teams (Boise State, TCU) unbeaten in MW play. Picked to finish sixth in the preseason media poll, Wyoming, led by true freshman quarterback Brett Smith and a rushing attack that ranks third in the MW, has already surpassed last year's win total (three). Whether the team can maintain that tack over the final six games, however, remains to be seen. After facing a road test at San Diego State on Saturday, Wyoming, which needs to win seven games to garner a bowl bid, must contend with TCU, Air Force and Boise State over the course of the next month.
Game of the Year (to date): Air Force at Navy. There have been some classic battles in the annual chase for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, but this was one to remember. In a game that featured nine touchdowns and saw Navy rally from an 18-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson scored on a 1-yard run in overtime to give the Falcons a 35-34 win. Navy took its first lead of the game on a 1-yard run by Kriss Proctor on the first possession in overtime, but Proctor was subsequently penalized for a personal foul. With the extra-point attempt moved back to the 35-yard line, Falcons linebacker Alex Means blocked the kick. Jefferson scored and Parker Harrington added the game-winning PAT on Air Force's ensuing possession. Also considered: Boise State-Georgia, Wyoming-Bowling Green, Colorado State-Utah State.
Game of the Year (to come): TCU at Boise State. Assuming TCU gets past Wyoming and Boise State beats UNLV next week, the stage will be set for a meeting of the only two teams in the current MW to have ever won BCS bowls. The teams have met three times (all in the postseason) with the Horned Frogs edging the Broncos 17-16 in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, and BSU returning the favor the following year with a 17-10 win in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos also topped the Frogs 34-31 in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl.
Mountain West Champion: Boise State. With the possible exception of placekicking, a liability that could certainly come into play against a top-notch opponent, the Broncos simply have few weaknesses. Led by a senior quarterback in Kellen Moore who is absolutely unflappable, and boasting depth across the board, the Broncos have won 35 straight home games and are an eye-popping 71-2 at home since 2000. Also considered: TCU, which undoubtedly took note of Air Force's ability to run the ball against BSU last week.