If Troy Calhoun is a free-wheeling gambler at heart, he's a master at concealing his cards. Despite falling 42-41 to Toledo on a fumbled fake extra point call that could have won the game for the Falcons, the courage to make the decision and show his players how much he trusted them once again shows the leadership by one of the best coaches in college football.
Never one given to tipping his hand, Air Force's fifth-year football coach is a reflection of the very institution that employs him: disciplined, dogged, determined to wring every ounce of effort out of a football program that more than makes up for in tenacity what it may lack in talent.
So when Calhoun was faced with a decision in Wednesday's Northrop Grumman Military Bowl of playing it safe or playing to win, safe never entered the equation.
And for that, Calhoun, who could make an airtight case for being tabbed Coach of the Year in the Mountain West on an annual basis, is to be congratulated.
Once upon a time, bowl games were more about fun than win-at-all-cost affairs that serve to pad popularity in the polls. They weren't button-down business trips arranged by a corrupt cartel (read BCS) that has taken away the magic and made it all about the money.
To be sure, many will question Calhoun's decision to roll the dice. Rather than kick an extra point and take his chances in overtime, Calhoun took a peek at the odds and realized the future wasn't exactly flush with fortune. Air Force, which had allowed an average of just 15.8 points in its last five games, had surrendered 42 against the Rockets and given little indication that the barrage would soon abate.
With 52 seconds left, Calhoun opted to go for two. That he came away with none, while certainly inducing dismay, was no less worthy of laud. In a situation where most coaches would take the easy way out rather than risk their reputation, Calhoun threw caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they would.
In a game in which the Falcons converted on fourth down on five of six attempts, twice scoring touchdowns in the process, Calhoun conveyed a message that he had every confidence in his players.
If it was a calculated risk, it was no less commendable --- and a comfort to know that college football hasn't entirely been fleeced of fun.
Air Force wrapped up the 2011 campaign with a 7-5 regular-season record, including a 3-4 mark in Mountain West play. The Falcons, who are making a program-record fifth-straight and 22nd bowl appearance overall, will face Toledo (8-4, 7-1) out of the Mid-American Conference. AFA is coming off back-to-back bowl wins over Houston (2009 Armed Forces Bowl) and Georgia Tech (2010 Independence Bowl), and will be making its first-ever appearance in the Military Bowl.
Did you know?
Air Force has allowed an average of just 15.8 points in its last five games. The Falcons have yielded only 6.8 points in the second half of those games. Toledo ranks No. 8 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 42.25 points per game.
The Series - First meeting.
Difference Makers (Air Force - 7-5 Overall, 3-4 MW)
Offense: Senior quarterback Tim Jefferson completed 98-of-161 passes for a career-high 1,478 yards during the regular season, with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. His 60.9 completion percentage ranks fourth-best on the Academy's single-season list and is the best since Shaun Carney posted a .642 mark in 2007. Jefferson's 146.36 career quarterback rating is the second best in school history. He became the first player in school history to have consecutive seasons with 10 or more touchdown passes and just the third player at Air Force to have 30 or more career TD passes (32).
Defense: Senior linebacker Brady Amack ranks second in the Mountain West and 15th nationally in tackles with an average of 10.4 per game. Amack has led the team in tackles in eight of the last 10 games, posting double-digit totals in six of the last nine. Amack is also fourth in the MW and 19th nationally with four forced fumbles. His 125 stops are the most in a season since Air Force All-American Chris Gizzi had 179 in 1997.
Special Teams: Senior Jonathan Warzeka set the Air Force career record for kick return yards in the Falcons' win over Army in Week 10. He has 58 career returns for 1,477 yards and ranks third in school history with a career average of 25.5 yards.
Quote of Note
"It's pretty amazing, and nothing short of astounding when you look at the schedule we've played, it's very, very impressive. He's just one of those guys that makes his teammates better, which leaders do." --- Coach Troy Calhoun on senior Tim Jefferson, the winningest quarterback in Air Force history
Difference Makers (Toledo - 8-4 Overall, 5-3 MAC)
Offense: Eric Page, a first-team all-MAC selection as a receiver, kick returner and punt returner, ranks third in the nation with an average of 9.3 receptions per game. The junior also ranks sixth in the country with an average of 169.3 all-purpose yards per contest and is 22nd in receiving yards per game at 93.6.
Defense: Senior cornerback Desmond Marrow leads the Rockets in tackles with 78 this year. Marrow, who has three interceptions, ranks second in the MAC and 14th in the nation with 14 passes defensed.
Special Teams: The do-everything Page ranks 17th in the nation and third in the MAC with an average of 10.9 yards per punt return and is averaging 23.4 yards on kickoffs. He was a first-team All-America selection by the Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation as a kick returner in 2010 when he averaged 31.1 yards per return and scored three TDs.
Quote of Note
"It's going to be a great challenge for us. Their style of offense is something we haven't seen before. It's going to be exciting just to prepare for it and have a different kind of game plan than we're used to." --- Junior linebacker Danny Molls on Air Force's triple option attack
In its ongoing quest to find the perfect gag gift for Boise State, sticking the Broncos with another stiff to stuff their Christmas stocking, the BCS outdid itself this time.
As if further evidence were required to condemn a system soiled by greed and the pervasive air of pomposity, it came wrapped with a ribbon at Thursday night's MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
In a game that was less about football than a full-blown farce, Boise State, which should have been gearing up for a Sugar Bowl date with Michigan, was instead left with the leftovers.
This time, the consolation prize was Arizona State, which made its case for the postseason by firing its head coach three weeks ago weeks ago and losing its final five games.
This is what Boise State gets for finishing No. 7 in the BCS standings? This is what Kellen Moore gets for winning an NCAA-record 50 games and going 7-0 against BCS teams? This is what a group of seniors is left with after losing three times in four years?
"Everybody is just very tired of the BCS," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said earlier this month. "I think that's the bottom line. Everybody is frustrated. Everybody doesn't really know what do anymore. It doesn't make sense to anybody. I don't think anybody is happy anywhere."
Oh, but they are in Blacksburg, Va., where Virginia Tech, having made its argument for a BCS bowl by suffering its worst loss ever to an ACC opponent in the league's championship game, will meet Michigan in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.
Never mind that Boise State already numbers Virginia Tech among its victims from the so-called "power conferences." Forget the fact that being assigned to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl marked the fourth time in eight years that the BCS bowl-worthy Broncos were bypassed in favor of a substandard stand-in.
This is the realm of the BCS, a gated community where the have-nots would do well to keep their dirty feet off the well-manicured lawn, where the well-heeled while away the hours goading the golden goose.
It was a question asked of TCU coach Gary Patterson so many times during the course of the season that he could have rattled off a response while juggling bowling balls on a high wire in the midst of a Texas twister.
Ah, the quarterback question. The passing of the mantel from Andy Dalton to Casey Pachall. Exchanging a legend for a leap of faith, supplanting a proven winner with a suspect sophomore whose game experience consisted of a cap, a clipboard and six completions.
You do remember Andy Dalton, don't you? Because in the eyes of Frog fans, the memory has likely grown a bit murky.
Pachall, who in Week 11 laid waste to Boise State's 35-game home win streak, capped his 2011 coming out party on Wednesday with a 31-24 win over Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
In the process, Pachall not only led TCU its sixth victory in its last seven bowl games, he also broke Dalton's single-season record for completions (228) and yards (2,921) while yanking the Frogs out of the fire in the fourth quarter.
Pachall, whose reaction to pressure is accompanied by all the anxiety of someone hauling themselves out of hammock, was nothing if not a study in steady. With TCU trailing 24-17 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, he proceeded to direct a scoring drive that spanned 18 plays (the team's longest of the season) and consumed more than seven minutes.
But the kicker was yet to come. On a night when he was admittedly more pedestrian (15-of-29, 206 yards) than a picture of perfection, Pachall officially distanced himself from Dalton by tossing a game-winning 42-yard touchdown pass to Skye Dawson with 4:26 to play.
In Cincinnati, as the Bengals' starting quarterback, Andy Dalton is being discussed as a candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year honors. Who knows? At some point, the news might even reach Fort Worth.
Former Broncos' Walk-On Will Walk Off With Myriad Memories
Boise State wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker dared to dream --- and came away with a school-record 15 touchdown catches this season. The former walk-on needs 41 yards in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Boise State All-American Continues to Master His Craft
Nate Potter's pursuit of perfection will serve him well in the NFL. The Broncos' senior All-American tackle will make his 35th straight start in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
It's Not About the Bottom Line for Air Force WR Warzeka
The numbers may not add up, but Air Force senior wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka remains focused on the final goal as the Falcons continue preparations for the Northrop-Grumman Military Bowl.
With Attrition Taking its Toll, Cowboys are Looking for Leaders
Wyoming's football team is hardly bereft of young talent, but coach Dave Christensen is more concerned with identifying players who can fill leadership roles.
MEN'S BASKETBALL HEADLINES
After Ho-Hum Start, Rams Hope to Make Hay During Holidays
A year ago, the Colorado State men's basketball team made the most of the holiday break, winning six of seven games to take a 10-3 record into MW play. After starting 5-4 this season, the Rams are going to need to replicate that effort.
Opponents Find Boise State's Taco Bell Arena too Hot to Handle
Picked to finish last by MW media members this year in its inaugural season in the league, Boise State is 8-0 at home, its best mark since 1997-98. Now all the Broncos need do is get word to their fans, who aren't exactly making a mad dash for the ticket office.
Have you seen a news article on the Mountain West, its teams and its players to share with fellow fans? E-mail them to Webmaster@TheMWC.com!
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday that Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow has accepted a five-year deal to become Hawai'i's next head football coach.
Hawai'i will join the Mountain West next season as a football-only member.
Chow, 65, has 38 years of coaching experience but has never been a head coach. A native of Honolulu, he has served as the offensive coordinator for three national championship teams, including BYU in 1984 and USC in 2003 and 2004.
The No. 7 Boise State Broncos finished their inaugural campaign in the Mountain West with an 11-1 regular season record, including a 6-1 mark in the Conference. Boise State will face Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The Sun Devils posted an over record of 6-6 this year and went 4-5 in the Pac-12.
Did you know?
Boise State boasts a three-game win streak against teams from the Pac-12, defeating a ranked Oregon squad in both 2008 (37-32) and 2009 (19-8), and defeating No. 24 Oregon State in 2010 (37-24).
The Series - Arizona State leads 1-0
The Sun Devils, then ranked No. 5 in the country, beat the Broncos 56-7 in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 5, 1996.
Difference Makers (Boise State - 11-1 Overall, 6-1 MW)
Offense: Senior Kellen Moore, the MW Offensive Player of the Year and the winningest quarterback in NCCA history (49), is the first player in the history of the NCAA to record four seasons with both 3,000 yards of total offense and 3,000 passing yards. Moore has thrown multiple touchdown passes in every game the last two seasons, a streak of 25-consecutive games - the longest active streak in the country. He has also thrown multiple touchdowns in 45 of 52 career games. He currently ranks as the nation's active career leader in passing efficiency (169.24), completion percentage (69.64) and is second in passing yards (14,374), passing touchdowns (140) and completions (1,131).
Defense: Senior defensive end Shea McClellin's 19.5 career sacks are tied for 17th among the nation's active career leaders. The total ranks seventh all-time on Boise State's career list. McClellin has two of the Broncos' seven non-offensive touchdowns over the course of the past two seasons.
Special Teams: Junior wide receiver Mitch Burroughs ranks first in the MW and seventh in the nation with an average of 13.28 yards per punt return.
Quote of Note
"Everybody is just very tired of the BCS. I think that's the bottom line. Everybody is frustrated. Everybody doesn't really know what to do anymore. It doesn't make sense to anybody. I don't think anybody is happy anywhere." --- Boise State coach Chris Petersen, after the Broncos were snubbed for a spot in a BCS bowl for the fourth time in eight years
Difference Makers (Arizona State - 6-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-12)
Offense: Sun Devil RB Cameron Marshall has posted 29 career rushing touchdowns, making him one of only 11 Arizona State players all time to score at least 20 touchdowns on the ground. The 29 TDs put him in fourth place all-time in ASU history. Marshall, who rushed for 1,038 yards this season, is the first Sun Devil to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since Ryan Torain (1,229) in 2006.
Defense: Senior safety Clint Floyd, a second-team all-Pac-12 selection, led the Sun Devils in total takeaways, forcing two fumbles and intercepting three passes. Floyd is also fourth on the team in total tackles with 62.
Special Teams: As if ending the season on a four-game skid weren't enough, the Sun Devils are expected to be without one of their top players in return specialist Jamal Miles, a second-team all-Pac-12 selection who did not make the trip because of personal reasons. Miles had 1,020 return yards for ASU during the regular season, returning two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns.
Quote of Note
"It hurts a lot, just because we as a team worked so hard this off-season. I mean, there was a group of guys who didn't even go home for Christmas (last year) to stay here, to make sure that this stuff didn't happen ever again in this program, and to have that happen, it hurts." --- Quarterback Brock Osweiler on the team starting 6-2 before losing its final four games.
2011 Mountain West Champion TCU faces WAC champion Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. PT on ESPN. The 18th-ranked Horned Frogs finished the regular season with an overall record of 10-2, including a perfect 7-0 mark in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs went 8-4 overall and posted a 6-1 record in the WAC.
Did you know?
TCU will be making its second appearance this season at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, having defeated San Diego State 27-14 on Oct. 8. The Poinsettia Bowl will also mark the seventh time in seven years the Frogs will have played at Snapdragon Stadium. TCU is 6-0 in that stretch. The Frogs had four regular-season wins over the Aztecs while posting Poinsettia Bowl victories over Northern Illinois (2006) and Boise State (2008).
The Series - First meeting
Difference Makers (TCU - 10-2 Overall, 7-0 MW)
Offense: Sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall, a second-team All-Mountain West selection, is closing in on a number of TCU single-season records, including completions, completion percentage, passing yards and touchdown passes. Pachall ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency with a 161.87 rating (the highest ranked non-senior or junior), having completed 67.8 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He has thrown for at least one touchdown in nine of 12 games, including multiple scores in eight contests.
Defense: Senior linebacker Tank Carder, the two-time MW Defensive Player of the Year, posted 66 tackles during the regular season, second only to fellow linebacker Kenny Cain. Carder's 224 career tackles rank first among active TCU players. He has returned three interceptions for touchdowns, more than any other player in TCU history.
Special Teams: Senior defensive back Greg McCoy, the MW Special Teams Player of the Year, leads the league and ranks fourth nationally in kickoff return average at 31.6 yards. McCoy, who returned a kick 94 yards for a touchdown in Week 3 against Louisiana-Monroe, also had 99-yard return for a score against UNLV in Week 14. He totaled a TCU single-game record 229 kickoff return yards on six attempts (38.2 avg.) in Week 1 against Baylor, highlighted by 73- and 68-yard efforts to set up TCU touchdowns.
Quote of Note
"(Louisiana Tech) won at Ole Miss and fell to Mississippi State in overtime. They took barely lost at (Conference USA champion) Southern Miss. They got beat 35-34 by Houston. They are a really good football team. They are right there with Boise State and Baylor as far as skill players. They are all over the place with their wide receivers. They've got a good quarterback and a great running back with a big offensive front. Defensively, they've shown they can hold an SEC team to seven points." --- TCU coach Gary Patterson
Offense: Junior wide receiver Quinton Patton, a first-team all-WAC selection, led the Bulldogs with 74 catches for 1,135 yards and 10 touchdowns. Patton ranks 20th in the nation with an average of 94.6 yards per game.
Defense: Senior linebacker Adrien Cole, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the Bulldogs with 121 tackles. On the season, Cole recorded one interception for a touchdown (46 yards), two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He also led Louisiana Tech with 12 tackles for loss.
Special Teams: Junior punter Ryan Allen became only the second player in team history to earn national distinction when he was named the winner of this year's Ray Guy Award. Allen finished the regular season ranked first in the nation in punts inside the 20 (37), punts inside the 10 (20) and third in punting average (46.31 yards per punt). He has 29 punts of over 50 yards this season, with four ranking in the top 10 in school history.
Quote of Note
"We're a blue-collar team. I appreciate that more than anything ... we're kind of like the ugly fat kid that sits alone at lunch. It's who we are, but we enjoy that role and have relished it." --- Bulldogs coach Sonny Dykes, the WAC Coach of the Year
For the San Diego State fan who continues to fidget over the possible flight of Ronnie Hillman to the NFL, brace yourself.
While your worry is warranted, it doesn't even begin to compare to the conundrum forthcoming at quarterback.
You see, while Hillman is eligible for the NFL draft, being three years removed from high school, Ryan Lindley is not only eligible, he's already out the door.
Concluding a career in which he became the Mountain West's all-time passing leader, Lindley's curtain call at Saturday's R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, while not triumphant, was nonetheless a final scene suitable for framing.
A fifth-year senior who was making his 49th career start, Lindley exited with aplomb, completing 28-of-49 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns. The performance marked his highest passing total since throwing for 528 yards against Utah in 2010.
In the process, it also served as a startling reminder of just how understudied his understudies truly are. While an early exit by Hillman, the MW's all-time single-season rushing leader, has the potential to leave less a void than an abyss, consider:
Since installing Lindley as the starting quarterback in 2008, the Aztecs have thrown 1,812 passes. Of those, fewer than five percent have been thrown by someone other than Lindley. In 2011, Lindley, who leaves as the school's career leader in starts, attempts, completions and touchdowns passes, accounted for all but two of the team's 449 pass attempts, one of which came from punter Brian Stahovich.
Indeed, in the past two years, only two other SDSU quarterbacks have attempted passes. Sophomore Jake Bernards is 1-for-1, while redshirt freshman Adam Dingwell is 0-for-1. When the Aztecs reconvene for spring drills in a few months, the quarterback position will be less about auditions than introductions.
Granted, a bolt by Hillman to the NFL would be a staggering blow. But those fretting over unconfirmed fears would be better served by hoping that the vacancy left by Lindley doesn't portend a knockout punch.
If it was a collective collapse, it was no less an opportunity to define deficiencies.
While almost nothing Wyoming did during Saturday's 35-17 loss to Temple in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl resembled its respectable run through the Mountain West this season, one disquieting characteristic remained.
The Cowboys, who struggled to slow quality backs during the regular season, were again undone by that debility against the Owls, surrendering 255 yards on the ground, 100 of them coming from the nation's seventh-best running back, Bernard Pierce.
Whether it be scheme or lack of productive personnel, Wyoming will head into the offseason knowing that while true freshman quarterback Brett Smith can virtually do it all on offense, asking him chase down opposing tailbacks might be a tad over the top.
The Cowboys entered their second bowl game in three seasons allowing 230.1 rushing yards per game, a total that fixed them at 115th among the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. It was too tempting for Temple, whose average of 256.7 rushing yards per game ranked seventh-best in the country.
In nine of its 13 games this season, Wyoming yielded 200 or more rushing yards. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys' generosity in those nine games produced a mark of 4-5. Also not surprisingly, 51 of Temple's 63 plays were runs.
"They just played physically better than us," said Wyoming coach Dave Christensen. "My hat's off to them. They're a good running team. They're a good football team."
So is Wyoming, a team that will be a whole lot better when the dents in its defense are the result of collisions, not collapses.
San Diego State (8-4, 4-3) takes on Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns (8-4, 6-1) out of the Sun Belt Conference in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Did you know?
San Diego State, which beat Navy (35-14) in last year's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, is playing in consecutive bowl games for the first time in its 43-year Division I history. The Aztecs are playing in their seventh bowl game in program history and are looking for the second consecutive bowl victory for the first time.
The Series - First meeting
Difference Makers (San Diego State - 8-4 Overall, 4-3 MW)
Offense: Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman, who was named to the Associated Press All-America third team this week, broke the MW single-season rushing record with 1,656 yards. He ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (138.0), 11th in all-purpose yards per game (156.4) and 12th in points per game (12.00). Hillman's 1,656 rushing yards are the second most in school history, eclipsing each of NFL Hall of Famer and former Aztec Marshall Faulk's three seasons, and trail only George Jones' 1,842 set in 1995. Hillman has nine, 100-yard rushing games and six, 150-yard contests, both which have tied a school record. Additionally, his 19 rushing touchdowns are fourth most in a season in school history.
Defense: Senior cornerback Larry Parker, a first-team All-MW selection, established career highs in every category this season, including tackles (56), tackles for loss (2.5), interceptions (7), pass breakups (7), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (1). Parker's seven interceptions are tied with two others for second-most in the nation and are the most by a San Diego State player since 1969. His 14 pass break-ups are tied for 24th (1.17 per game) in the country.
Special Teams: Senior punter Brian Stahovich ranks 24th nationally in punting average at 43.37. Of his 57 punts this season, Stahovich has landed 17 inside the 20-yard line. Additionally, 44 of his 57 punts have not been returned. He has had 16 punts this season of 50 or more yards.
Quote of Note
"It makes me nervous, but they remind me of Wyoming. They run the same offense. They're a team that wasn't expected to be any good. Wyoming wasn't expected to be any good, but Wyoming turned into a really good football team by the end of the year and they're going to a bowl game, too. (Louisiana) has turned into a really good football team as the season has gone along. Not as many (trick plays) as Wyoming. They are very skilled; they have a lot of seniors on their team so they've got great leadership. They've got really good speed, they're very physical and it's going to be a great football game. I think that the two teams match each other very well. We think we're fast, we think we're tough; they think they're fast, they think they're tough. That's what a bowl game should be." --- San Diego State coach Rocky Long
Difference Makers (Louisiana - 8-4 Overall, 6-2 Sun Belt)
Offense: Junior quarterback Blaine Gautier has thrown for 2,488 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, completing a career-best 63.2 percent of his passes. Gautier, who has thrown for more than 300 yards on four occasions this year, is tied with former Louisiana and current Houston Texans quarterback Jake Delhomme for the school's single-season record for touchdown passes.
Defense: Defensive backs Jemarlous Moten and Dwight Bentley both have returned two interceptions for touchdowns as part of a Ragin' Cajun defense that has returned an astounding seven interceptions for scores in 2011. The mark ties the NCAA single-season record set by Tennessee in 1971.
Special Teams: Sophomore Darryl Surgent ranks second in the Sun Belt Conference and 29th nationally with an average of 9.24 yards per punt return.
Quote of Note
"This is a tremendous day for the Ragin' Cajuns and our football program. I think it's one of the biggest days in the history of our athletic department. It's a great testament to our fans that have been with us for the past 41 years. It's been so long, and there are a lot of people who have put a lot of sweat and a lot of tears into making this day happen." --- UL Athletic Director Scott Farmer, on the team receiving its first bowl invitation since 1970
The Wyoming Cowboys and Temple Owls kick off the 2011 college bowl season on Saturday, Dec. 17 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at noon MT on ESPN. Wyoming enters the contest with an 8-4 overall record and a 5-2 mark in the Mountain West. Temple is also 8-4 overall and finished 5-3 in the Eastern Division of the Mid-American Conference.
Did you know?
This season marks the first time Wyoming has appeared in two bowl games in a three-year span since 1988-90. Overall, it will be the Cowboy's 13th bowl trip. Wyoming is returning to the site of its most recent bowl victory in 2009, 35-28 double-overtime victory over Fresno State. Mid-American Conference member Temple has appeared in a bowl game just three times, with two of those appearances coming in the last three years. The Owls lost to UCLA in the Eagle Bank Bowl in Washington, D.C., in 2009, 21-30.
The Series - Wyoming leads 1-0
The Cowboys beat the Owls 38-23 in their season opener in Laramie on Sept. 1, 1990.
Difference Makers (Wyoming - 8-4 Overall, 5-2 MW)
Offense: True freshman quarterback Brett Smith, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year, was named to both the College FootballNews.com and Yahoo! Sports Freshman All-American teams. Smith leads all FBS freshmen in total offense with 3,140 yards. He set the MW record for total offense by a freshman, eclipsing the previous mark of 2,691 yards set by TCU's Andy Dalton in 2007. His 3,140 yards of total offense is the fifth best single-season total in Wyoming history. Smith has thrown for 2,495 yards in 2011, placing him third on the MW freshman list for passing yards in a single season. He needs 168 passing yards against Temple to set the MW freshman record.
Defense: Senior defensive end Gabe Knapton ranks No. 5 in school history with 361 career tackles. Knapton's career tackle total places him 10th among active players in the FBS. He also ranks sixth in total tackles in MW history.
Special Teams: True freshman placekicker Daniel Sullivan connected on 70 percent of his field goals (7-for-10) and made 29-of-33 PATs during the regular season. He was the only freshman and one of four MW placekickers with a field-goal percentage of better than 50 percent.
Quote of Note
"It's great exposure. Everyone that is a college football junkie has taken two weeks off and can't wait for it to come back. So, by 12 o'clock on ESPN, we will be that game. I know the exposure we got (at the New Mexico Bowl) in 2009. I walked into the locker room and grabbed my phone and had over 70 text messages. I haven't had more than 20 text messages for any other game. The exposure is tremendous. It's from coast to coast and goes to every household and sports bar. It's huge." --- Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, the MW Coach of the Year
Difference Makers (Temple - 8-4 Overall, 5-3 MAC)
Offense: Junior running back Bernard Pierce has turned in six 100-yard rushing performances this season and ranks seventh in the nation with an average of 125.5 yards per game. Pierce, who has 25 rushing touchdowns in 2011, ranks No. 2 in the nation in scoring with an average of 13.6 points per game.
Defense: Senior defensive end Adrian Robinson, a two-time first-team All-MAC selection and the 2009 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, has started 31 consecutive games. In 12 games this season, Robinson has 47 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss. He has a team-best six sacks, an interception and a blocked kick.
Special Teams: Junior Brandon McManus, who handles both the placekicking and punting duties, leads the MAC with a perfect 46-of-46 on PATs. In his first season as the team's punter, McManus has averaged 45.8 yards per punt, with 15 of his kicks landing inside the 20. Sixteen of his punts have exceeded 50 yards.
Quote of Note
"We're playing a great team in Wyoming. Coach Christensen has done a phenomenal job there. I've watched their team on film. They play really, really hard on both sides of the ball, and they're really well coached. They play in the Mountain West Conference, which is a great football conference, a lot like the MAC-- two strong football conferences with great tradition." --- Temple coach Steve Addazio
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that Georgia Tech wide receivers coach Al "Buzz" Preston has applied to become the next head football coach at Hawai'i, which will join the Mountain West next year as a football-only member. Preston, who played at Hawai'i, also spent seven seasons with the Warriors as an assistant coach under Paul Johnson, now the head coach at Georgia Tech. Preston has also been an assistant in the Mountain West, serving as New Mexico's running backs coach under current San Diego State head coach Rocky Long in 2007, as well as serving as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at UNLV in 1998.
Fresno State, which is joining Mountain West next season, announced Wednesday that it has hired Tim DeRuyter as its new head football coach.
DeRuyter, who formerly served as the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, is the second coach to be hired by a Mountain West school in as many days. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was appointed as head coach at Colorado State on Tuesday. DeRuyter will join the Bulldogs following Texas A&M's game against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31.
A graduate of the Air Force Academy who played linebacker for the Falcons in the early '80s and later served as the the team's defensive coordinator (2007-09), DeRuyter comes to Fresno State with 22 years of experience as a college coach, 16 of which have been spent as a defensive coordinator. He has spent the past two seasons as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.
All three of DeRuyter's defenses at Air Force ranked in the top 25 nationally in takeaways. The Falcons' 2009 defensive unit ranked fifth in the country with 34 turnovers gained. Over the past seven seasons, DeRuyter's defenses have averaged 32 sacks per year. Texas A&M's 43 sacks this season tied for most in the FBS.
Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that a second Utah assistant --- defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake --- has been contacted by Hawai'i about its head-coaching vacancy, but that Sitake has not applied for the job. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported earlier this week that Utes' offensive coordinator Norm Chow was among 30 applicants to replace Greg McMackin, who announced his retirement at season's end. Hawai'i will join the Mountain West next season as a football-only member.
Colorado State has Montana native Jim McElwain, 49, currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama, was named Colorado State's head football coach on Tuesday. McElwain has spent the past four seasons with the Crimson Tide, helping direct Alabama to a victory in the national title against Texas in 2010. The Crimson Tide, which is averaging 36 points and 433 total yards per game, will meet LSU in the national title game next month.
The Fresno Bee reports that Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has emerged as a possible candidate to replace Pat Hill as head football coach at Fresno State. DeRuyter served as defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Air Force from 2007-09, and was defensive coordinator at Nevada from 2005-06. He also served as an assistant on two different occasions at Ohio, where Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh spent his previous 10 years before joining the Bulldogs in 2005. Fresno State is expected to join the Mountain West next year as one of three new members, along with Hawai'i (football only) and Nevada.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that at the end of business hours on Monday, the University of Hawai'i had 30 applicants for its head-coaching vacancy in football, including Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a native Hawaiian. The Warriors are expected to join the Mountain West next season as a football-only member.
The Denver Post is reporting that the hiring of a new football coach at Colorado State could take place this week. The newspaper said that candidates known to be interested in the position include former CSU player and current Notre Dame receivers coach Tony Alford; LSU wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez; former Colorado head coach Gary Barnett; Maryland offensive coordinator and former BYU head coach Gary Crowton; and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
The Fresno Bee reported over the weekend that former Fresno State and current Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has withdrawn his name as a candidate to replace Pat Hill as the Bulldogs' head coach. Fresno State is expected to join the Mountain West next year as one of three new members, along with Hawai'i and Nevada.
The Oregonian newspaper is reporting that Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker has surfaced as a candidate to replace Greg McMackin as head football coach at Hawai'i. The Warriors are expected to join the MW as a football-only member next season.
With the Mountain West 2011 regular season behind us, we look ahead to next year, when three new schools --- Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada --- will join the league's current lineup (sans TCU). There are some monster holes to fill (read quarterbacks Kellen Moore and Ryan Lindley), yet there are some highly-talented younger players ready to assume center stage in the new 10-team MW.
Air Force 2011 record: 7-5 overall, 3-4 MW MW finish: 5th Next game: Military Bowl vs. Toledo, Dec. 28 All-MW players returning*: PK Parker Herrington, Jr.; LB Alex Means, Jr. Comment: The loss of senior quarterback Tim Jefferson, the winningest QB in Falcons' history, leaves a sizable void. However, the return of current senior Connor Dietz, who will be back for a ninth semester next fall and has ample experience, should make for a smooth transition.
Boise State 2011 record: 11-1 overall, 6-1 MW MW finish: 2nd Next game: MAACO Las Vegas Bowl vs. Arizona State, Dec. 22 All-MW players returning: None Comment: The Broncos will need to develop experience in a hurry. The team's 11 players receiving All-MW honors this year were all seniors.
Colorado State 2011 record: 3-9 overall, 1-6 MW MW finish: 6th Next game: None All-MW players returning*: RB Chris Nwoke, So.; TE Crockett Gilmore, So.; OL Weston Richburg, So.; P Pete Kontodiakos, Jr.; DE Nordly Capi, So.; LB Shaquil Barrett, So.; LB James Skelton, Jr.; DB Momo Thomas, Jr. Comment: The Rams are hardly bereft of talented young players, including quarterbacks Pete Thomas (sophomore) and Garrett Grayson (true freshman). All that awaits is the appointment of a new head coach, who could do considerably worse than inheriting this roster.
Fresno State 2011 record: 4-9 overall, 3-4 WAC WAC finish: 6th Next game: None All-WAC players returning: RB Robbie Rouse, Jr.; WR Jalen Saunders, So.; OL Bryce Harris, Jr.; LB Travis Brown, Jr. Comment: Rouse, the WAC's leading rusher, finished the season ranked ninth in the nation in rushing with an average of 119.2 yards per game. Saunders averaged a WAC-best 21.3 yards per catch with a league-high 12 TD receptions. As with Colorado State, the Bulldogs are in the process of identifying a new head coach.
Hawai'i 2011 record: 6-7 overall, 3-4 WAC WAC finish: 4th Next game: None All-WAC players returning: DL KanielaTuipuloto, Jr. Comment: Quarterback Bryant Moniz concluded the season as the No. 15 passer in the nation, but a team that throws the ball as much as Hawai'i can ill afford to rank 114th among 120 FBS teams in sacks allowed. The Warriors are also in search of a head coach after Greg McMackin announced his retirement this week.
Nevada 2011 record: 7-5 overall, 5-2 WAC WAC finish: T2 Next game: Sheraton Hawai'I Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi, Dec. 24 All-WAC players returning: OL Chris Barker, Jr.; OL Jeff Nady, Jr.; DB Duke Williams, Jr. Comment: With the makings of a solid offensive line and the return of junior running back Mike Ball, the Wolf Pack doesn't lack for offense, particularly with the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Fajardo. In nine games this season, Fajardo has completed 71.4 percent of his passes (142-of-199) for 1,647 yards and six TDs.
New Mexico 2011 record: 1-11 overall, 1-6 MW MW finish: 8th Next game: None All-MW players returning*: WR Deon Long, Fr. Comment: Plain and simple, the Lobos are in desperate need of continuity and productive recruiting, something they hope they've found with the recent hiring of new head coach Bob Davie. Long is a star in the making, having concluded his first season as the leading receiver in the MW.
San Diego State 2011 record: 8-4 overall, 4-3 MW MW finish: 4th Next game: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec.17 All-MW players returning*: RB Ronnie Hillman So.; TE Gavin Escobar, So.; DB Leon McFadden, Jr.; OL Alec Johnson, Jr.; DB Nate Berhe, So. Comment: Hillman heads into the postseason as the third-leading rusher in the nation at 138 yards per game. Yet being three years removed from high school, he is also eligible for the NFL Draft. The only quarterback to throw a pass for the Aztecs this season other than Ryan Lindley, the league's all-time leading passer, was freshman Adam Dingwell, who had one attempt.
UNLV 2011 record: 2-10 overall, 1-6 MW MW finish: 7th Next game: None All-MW players returning*: OL Brett Boyko, Fr.; DB Sidney Hodge, So.; OL Robert Waterman, Fr. Comment: The Rebels have some talented young players across the offensive front, a group that began to assert itself in the second half of the season as evidenced by the productivity of running backs Tim Cornett and Dionza Bradford. The No. 1 priority in the offseason must be to identify a capable quarterback and to shore up a defense that allowed more than 40 points a game.
Wyoming 2011 record: 8-4 overall, 5-2 MW MW finish: 3rd Next game: Gildan New Mexico Bowl vs. Temple, Dec. 17 All-MW players returning*: QB Brett Smith, Fr.; WR Chris McNeill, Jr.; OL Nick Carlson, Jr.; DB Luke Ruff, Jr.; DB Blair Burns, Fr.; OL Tyler Strong, So. Comment: Few players did more for their team this season than Smith, the MW Freshman of the Year, who enters the postseason ranked 31st in the nation and second in the MW behind Kellen Moore in total offense. Dave Christensen, who earned MW Coach of the Year honors, has a foundation in place that could pay dividends for a long time to come in Laramie.
*Indicates 2011 MW first or second team and honorable mention honorees.
Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton, who played at Colorado State in the late 1970s, told the Denver Post he's interested in the school's head-coaching vacancy in football. In an interview with Post columnist Dave Krieger, Crowton, who is currently the offensive coordinator at Maryland, said he's contacted the school but has not heard back. Crowton, 54, has served as an offensive coordinator at Oregon and LSU, where in 2007 he was part of a national championship while on the staff of head coach Les Miles. He was also an offensive coordinator with the NFL's Chicago Bears and head coach at Louisiana Tech. Crowton led BYU to the Mountain West championship in 2001 during four seasons with the Cougars.
In the Land of Enchantment, the Albuquerque Journal reports that Florida assistant Coleman Hutzler, a football intern for special teams, has been hired by recently-appointed New Mexico coach Bob Davie. According to the newspaper, a Florida media spokesman confirmed on Thursday that Hutzler was taking a position at UNM. Hutzler has also served as a defensive assistant at Stanford. Davie previously hired former Lobos player and New Mexico State assistant Jason Lenzmeier as offensive line coach.
Even though Fresno State doesn't join the Mountain West until July 1, 2012, we're all still interested in who will roam the sidelines for the Bulldogs next football season.
The Fresno Bee reports that former Fresno State offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is drawing strong support from boosters to become the Bulldogs' next head football coach. McElwain, who coached at Fresno State in 2007, has spent the past four seasons as offensive coordinator at Alabama. A former assistant at Louisville, Michigan State and with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, McElwain's Fresno State offense in 2007 averaged 419.5 total yards and 32.9 points.
Whither the Cowboys? Far be it from me to question the voice of the voters, but is anyone else surprised that Wyoming, which pulled off one of the most successful turnarounds in the nation this season, did not place a single player on the All-MW first team? Granted, Cowboys' coach Dave Christensen was a slam dunk as Coach of the Year, and quarterback Brett Smith had no equal in the Freshman of the Year voting, but I gotta believe there's something more to a team that went from 3-9 last season to winning eight games for the first time since 1998. I know Smith accomplished much this season, arguably as much as any player in the league. But for a team that posted a third-place finish after being picked sixth in the preseason media poll, the first-team honors are a tad lean, no?
Bowl bytes: Of all the pending MW bowl matchups, I'm most intrigued by the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, which will pit three-time defending league champion TCU against WAC champion Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs, who lost to Houston by a point and dropped a two-point decision to Conference USA champion Southern Mississippi, are capable on both sides of the ball. Louisiana Tech will enter the Dec. 21 game in San Diego with the nation's No. 11-ranked passing attack and is ranked among the top 30 in both rush and pass defense. Only 16 teams in the country have more sacks. This is one of only four bowl games this year matching conference champions. TCU will be making its second appearance this season at Qualcomm Stadium, having defeated San Diego State 27-14 in Week 6. The Poinsettia Bowl will also mark the seventh time in seven years the Horned Frogs will have played at Qualcomm. TCU is 6-0 in that stretch.
Youth Movement: Aside from the dearth of Wyoming players earning first-team honors, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this year's all-league team is that more than one-third of the players (8) on the first team are underclassmen and five (20 percent) are sophomores. Indeed, very talented sophomores. Among the five are TCU wide receiver Josh Boyce; San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman; San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar; Colorado State defensive end Nordly Capi; and TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga. Boyce finished second in the league with nine touchdown catches, while Hillman set the MW single-season career rushing record with 1,656 yards and led the league in scoring. Escobar was the only tight end in the league to rank among the top 10 receivers (No. 5) in yards per game. Defensively, Capi and Maponga ranked 1-2, respectively, in both sacks and forced fumbles.
Passing Fancy: Two of the most prolific passers in the history of the league --- Boise State's Kellen Moore and San Diego State's Ryan Lindley --- will make their final curtain calls over the course of the next 15 days. Lindley will lead the Aztecs against Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17, while Moore will make his last appearance in the Broncos' meeting with Arizona State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22. Lindley is the leading passer in MW history, while Moore is the winningest quarterback in NCAA annals. Together, the two have combined to throw for 227 touchdowns and more than 15 miles of passing yards (26,651).
Rare Encounters: Of the five MW teams making bowl appearances, only two --- Boise State and Wyoming --- have previously faced their opponent. Even at that, the Broncos and Arizona State, as well as the Cowboys and Temple, have met only once. Wyoming topped Temple 38-23 in its season opener in 1990, while Boise State fell to then No. 5-ranked Arizona State 56-7 in 1996.
We've reached the end of 2011 Mountain West football regular season, with champion TCU having concluded its third straight unbeaten season in league play. The Horned Frogs, who will face WAC champion Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21, will be joined in the postseason by Air Force (Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman), Boise State (MAACO Bowl Las Vegas), San Diego State (R+L Carries New Orleans Bowl) and Wyoming (Gildan New Mexico Bowl). It's the fifth straight year the MW has sent five teams to bowl games. But before any postseason prognosticating, let's rewind to the best of the Mountain West in Week 14.
Player of the Week: Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State. It somehow seems fitting that the Aztecs would wind up in the New Orleans Bowl. Some 20 years ago, a running back out of New Orleans' Carver High signed with SDSU and went on to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. The majority of schools that recruited Marshall Faulk envisioned him as a defensive back. At least one school, Fresno State, saw Ronnie Hillman as a wide receiver. The Bulldogs are likely ruing that assessment now, particularly after Hillman scored four of his team's five touchdowns and rushed for 178 yards in a 35-28 win over Fresno State on Saturday. In the process, Hillman joined Faulk as the only player in SDSU history to post consecutive 1,500-yard seasons. He also set the MW single-season rushing record with 1,656 yards, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,601 set by Colorado State's Cecil Sapp in 2002. In 25 career contests, Hillman now has 15 100-yard games and 12 150-yard games.
Player of the Week Part Deux: Brett Smith, Wyoming. When Brett Smith was asked what he thought of the team's invitation to face Temple in the New Mexico Bowl, the quarterback's response was typical of a true freshman. "Just the thought of going to a bowl game is crazy to me," Smith said. What's really crazy, however, is what Smith has done over the course of 12 career games. In Saturday's regular-season finale against Colorado State, he accounted for 281 yards of Wyoming's 416 yards of total offense, finishing with 191 yards passing and 90 rushing. His 3,140 yards of total offense this season rank as fifth-best single-season mark in Wyoming history. Crazy, alright. And it's only just begun.
Take of the Week: You have to appreciate TCU coach Gary Patterson's reaction to his team being bypassed for BCS bowl game, saying the Horned Frogs have no one but themselves to blame for being snubbed. Had TCU taken care of business against either Baylor or SMU, the argument would be moot. Nonetheless, and at the risk of further damaging my skull while pounding my head against the wall, Virginia Tech has absolutely no business being in the Sugar Bowl. This is a team that is coming off a 38-10 loss to a pedestrian Clemson squad in a game that marked Virginia Tech's most lopsided defeat ever against an ACC team in a league hardly teeming with talent. Topping it off, executive director Paul Hoolihan said that the Hokies' fan base was vital to the Sugar Bowl committee's decision to invite Virginia Tech. Oh, and TCU fans would have stayed away in droves, particularly being within driving distance. No way Boise State gets any fan support if the Broncos are invited to the Sugar Bowl. Give me a break. This is only more of same bombastic BCS drivel that we're subjected to year after year. Rich fat cats getting richer. Ex-San Diego State coach Brady Hoke has had a fabulous first year at Michigan, one that for my money will be made only sweeter by exposing a fraud.
Take of the Week II: A fond farewell to Steve Fairchild, one of the class guys of the MW who will not be back as head coach at Colorado State. Whoever Fairchild's successor may be, he'll inherit some of the finest young talent in the league. And while wins and losses are the bottom line in college football, the new hire will also need to rein in a team that was undone by far too many issues off the field this season. The Rams are not without gifted athletes. What they're lacking is the discipline to put that talent into play. Successful teams are built on character, not a few characters bent on undermining the common goal.
Stars and Stats of the Week
Kellen Moore completed 28-of-33 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in Boise State's 45-0 win over New Mexico. Moore's efficiency rating for the game was 194.52 and his completion percentage of .849 was the sixth best-single performance in school history. Moore set the school record for completions in a season with 300, which is also the third-most in Mountain West history. He also set the MW and Boise State single-season record for touchdown passes with 41. Moore, who moved into fifth place on the NCAA's career passing yards list with 14,347, has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 25 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the country.
Wyoming wide receiver Josh Doctson had three catches for a career-high 129 yards to go along with touchdown receptions of 80 and 35 yards in Saturday's win at Colorado State. As with Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith, Doctson is a true freshman.
TCU senior kick returner Greg McCoy's 99-yard kickoff return against UNLV made him the first Horned Frog since Cory Rodgers in 2005 to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same season. McCoy also had a 94-yard return for a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 3. His 99-yarder was the second longest in the team's 11 seasons under head coach Gary Patterson, surpassed only by Rodgers' 100-yard return at BYU in 2005.
San Diego State senior linebacker Miles Burris had six tackles (five solo), including two sacks, in the Aztecs' win over Fresno State. Burris now has 19 career sacks, fourth in SDSU history and the most all time by an Aztec linebacker. He ranks third in school history with 46.5 tackles for loss, a category in which he ranks first in the MW for the second consecutive year.
Quotes of the Week
"We had a lot riding on this game because nothing was promised to us in terms of the postseason. We knew the importance of playing four quarters. At the end we (bore down) and played football." --- Wyoming senior cornerback Tashaun Gipson on the Cowboys' third straight win over Colorado State, the first time it's happened since 1987-89.
"Only a certain number of teams get the opportunity to go (to BCS bowls), and you have to be very lucky. We were fortunate a year ago that Boise State got beat. The key to it is you've got to be good, and you have to be a little bit lucky. I believe the football gods make sure things happen the way they are supposed to happen. We had our two losses. It's a compliment to the program, just where we've come in three years to be considered an outside shot to a BCS game with two losses." --- TCU coach Gary Patterson
"We're ecstatic. The Military Bowl in Washington D.C. is us. That's who we are. When the door came open, you thought, what a perfect fit." --- Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose team will face Toledo on Dec. 28
"I do like jambalaya." --- San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley on the team's invitation to face Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl
"This team's as good as any of the teams we've had. We lost a one-point, hard-fought game to a really good TCU team that continually got better throughout the year. I think it's our most difficult schedule that we've played, but that's as far as it goes for us. We don't have anything else to say....Look at the record, it speaks for itself." --- Boise State coach Chris Petersen
It seems like only yesterday that we were asking whether Casey Pachall could fill the shoes left by Andy Dalton at TCU and wondering if Boise State could once again take down a BCS opponent in its season opener against Georgia. We speculated on whether Air Force or San Diego State could pose a potential threat to either the Frogs or Broncos in the race for the MW title, and raised an eyebrow when Wyoming coach Dave Christensen announced that his starting quarterback would be a true freshman. Fourteen weeks later, we've reached the end of the regular season, with all of the aforementioned questions answered, some of them resoundingly. All that remains is the crowning of a league champion, with UNLV serving as the final hurdle to TCU's bid for a third straight unbeaten MW season. For some, there are bowl bids waiting; for others, the specter of another offseason of what-ifs and might-have-beens looms. In the interim, there's unfinished business. It's the fourth quarter, and the clock is ticking.
Wyoming at Colorado State. Despite Wyoming coach Dave Christensen unleashing the "you can throw the records out the window" cliché earlier this week, it nonetheless carried with it more than an ounce of truth. Since the Cowboys and Rams began their tussle for the Bronze Boot in 1968, the game known as the Border War stands at 22-21 in favor of Wyoming. While this year's contest figures to match a pair of talented true freshmen quarterbacks in Wyoming's Brett Smith and CSU's Garrett Grayson, it's the running game that will likely dictate the outcome. Rams sophomore running back Chris Nwoke has been phenomenal of late, rushing for 269 yards last week against Air Force, the third-highest single-game total in school history. The Cowboys have allowed an opposing back to run for more than 100 yards seven times this season, going 4-3 in the process. Conversely, only four other FBS teams are allowing more rushing yards than the Rams. Wyoming, which can post its first eight-win season since 1998, took a one-game lead in the battle for the boot last year with a 44-0 win in Laramie.
Mick's pick: Wyoming.
Did you know? Wyoming is bidding for its third straight win over CSU for the first time since the 1987-89 seasons.
UNLV at TCU. It's probably safe to say that TCU did not need a bye week to prepare for an opponent it has beaten by an average of 30 points in the teams' four meetings in Fort Worth. It's also probably safe to say that if it doesn't happen again, Frogs coach Gary Patterson might spontaneously combust. TCU is averaging 40.36 points per game, while the Rebels come in averaging 18. Only three FBS teams in the nation are allowing more points per game (39) than UNLV. And while the Rebels have had success running the ball of late, they'll be sorely tested against Frogs' run defense that is allowing just 127 yards per game. TCU still has an outside shot at a BCS bowl should Houston stumble against Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA championship game.
Mick's pick: TCU.
Did you know? A win over UNLV would give TCU at least 10 wins for the fourth straight year and eighth time in the last 10 seasons under Patterson. Prior to his arrival in 1998, the Frogs had four 10-win seasons in their history.
New Mexico at Boise State. When your team is trying to put the brakes on a 20-game road losing streak, as is the case with the Lobos, there are likely better places to do so than at Boise State, which had won 35 straight home games before falling 36-35 to TCU on Nov. 12. It's the final time that Boise State senior quarterback Kellen Moore, the NCAA's winningest quarterback with 48 career victories, will take the field at Bronco Stadium. Moore will be directing the top offense in the MW against a New Mexico defense that ranks 117th among the nation's 120 FBS teams. The Lobos, who will be under the direction of former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie next season, are trying to avoid finishing 1-11 for the third straight year. Although remote, the Broncos still have a shot at gaining an at-large BCS bowl bid, and should over a lower-ranked Michigan team if BSU finishes in the top 7 and the Wolverines right on the cusp of worthiness at No. 14.
Mick's pick: Boise State.
Did you know? With a win over New Mexico, Chris Petersen would become the winningest head coach in Boise State history, surpassing Tony Knapp, who went 71-6 from 1968-75.
Fresno State at San Diego State. As the only California school in the Mountain West, it's been some time since San Diego State could boast of a Border War ala Colorado State-Wyoming, or play for a treasured piece of hardware like the Ram-Falcon Trophy, annually presented to the winner of Colorado State-Air Force. Rivalry is a term seldom tossed about at SDSU, simply because a rivalry would dictate that the Aztecs face a team within the state, or at least one closer than UNLV, nearly 350 miles distant. Enter future MW member Fresno State, a team the Aztecs have faced more than any other (50 times) in a series that began in 1923. The contest marks the final appearance at Qualcomm Stadium for senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, the league's all-time passing leader. In addition, two of the top running backs in the nation --- SDSU's Ronnie Hillman and the Bulldogs' Robbie Rouse --- will match talents. Hillman is currently the No. 4 rusher in the nation with an average of 134.4 yards per game, while Rouse, a former San Diego prep standout, ranks No. 8 at 124.4.
Mick's pick: San Diego State
Did you know? Over a span of 50 games, a mere six points separate the teams in the series, with the Aztecs having outscored Fresno State 1,017-1,011.
Game of the Week: Wyoming at Colorado State. The Border War. The Bronze Boot. Two schools separated by 65 miles. A rivalry that began in 1899. Never mind that Wyoming is bowl eligible while Colorado State is headed home for the postseason. Pride has a funny way of leveling the playing field. In the 43 years that the Bronze Boot has been at stake, the series stands at 22-21, the Cowboys having gained the upper hand with wins in each of the last two seasons. What CSU desperately wants to avoid is a repeat of last year, when a then 2-9 Wyoming team sent the Rams back to Fort Collins lugging the offseason burden of a 44-0 loss. While the Cowboys have proven they can win away from War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, having beaten both San Diego State and Air Force on the road, CSU has struggled mightily at home. The Rams have not won at Hughes Stadium since defeating Northern Colorado in Week 2.
Trophy of the Week Part 2: While Wyoming and Colorado State will square off for the Bronze Boot, San Diego State will renew acquaintances with former rival and future MW member Fresno State. The game has been billed as the "Battle for the Oil Can," a reference to fans who needed a can of oil for their thirsty cars when making the trip between San Diego and Fresno during the rivalry's early years. The "Battle for the Oil Can" was coined as the result of a contest that was run jointly by the Fresno State and San Diego State Alumni Associations this fall. Entrants were asked to suggest a name for the game as well as a commemorative trophy. Of the 65 entries received, one told of the discovery of an oil can from Fresno (circa 1935) that was supposedly recovered during a San Diego State campus building project. Though the series has been interrupted by changes in conference membership, it dates back to 1923, with the Aztecs holding a 26-20-4 lead. This is the first meeting between SDSU and Fresno State since 2002.
Take of the Week: When New Mexico concludes its season at Boise State on Saturday, Lobos interim head coach George Barlow will step aside for Bob Davie, who was announced as the school's 31st head coach two weeks ago. Barlow, who took over when Mike Locksley's position was terminated in September, has been nothing if not the epitome of integrity during his time at the helm. The team's former defensive coordinator, Barlow inherited a job rife with turmoil, low on morale and one strained by persistent struggle. And while he may not have achieved the desired result, he certainly gained the admiration of his players and peers, doing what he could to mend a program dogged by far too many desultory days. Here's hoping Davie at least gives Barlow ample consideration for a staff position. Nice guys don't always have to finish last.
Quarterback Matchup of Week: Wyoming's Brett Smith vs. Colorado State's Garrett Grayson. While there's little question that Smith is the future of Wyoming football, Grayson, who has started two straight games, has provided evidence that these two true freshmen could be doing battle for a long time to come. Both are multi-dimensional, with the ability to hurt opposing defenses with their feet as well as their arm. Despite enduring his share of struggles in last week's loss at Boise State, Smith has a combined 15 touchdowns over the past six games (nine passing, six rushing). Grayson, in his two starts, has completed 22-of-41 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns. He has also rushed 23 times for 96 yards.
Keep an Eye on: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman. While 21 seniors will be playing in their final home game for San Diego State this weekend, Hillman could also be making his final appearance at Qualcomm Stadium. A sophomore, Hillman is eligible for the NFL Draft in April because he is three years removed from high school. He signed with SDSU in 2009, but his admission to the university was delayed while an entrance requirement issue was being resolved. The fourth SDSU player to break the 3,000-yard rushing mark and the fifth player to do so in MW history, Hillman has 14 100-yard performances in 24 games and has rushed for more than 150 yards in a game 11 times.
Mick McGrane has covered the Mountain West since the league's inception in 1999. He spent 12 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he served as the beat writer for San Diego State football and men's basketball. He currently represents the MW as a member of the Football Writers Association of America All-America Committee and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. McGrane serves as senior writer to the Mountain West, providing readers with exclusive, in-depth information about the Conference by highlighting its 10 member institutions and contributing feature stories on student-athletes that participate in the league's 18 sponsored sports.
Mark Knudson is a Colorado State journalism school graduate and a 12-year veteran of professional baseball. During his playing career, Mark pitched for three major league teams, including the Colorado Rockies, where he was the first Colorado native to play for the hometown team. He recorded wins over three of the four legendary pitchers who make up the 4,000 strikeout club: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. His win over Ryan came for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day in 1991.
Since his retirement, Mark has been a feature writer and columnist for Mile High Sports, a radio talk show host and TV analyst for numerous sports media outlets. For the past six years, he was a columnist and baseball analyst for The Mtn., along with being one of Colorado's six Heisman Trophy voters.