Tag Archives: Utah State Aggies

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

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Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State

The 19th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl features the Zips of Akron against the Aggies of Utah State. Akron enters the bowl season with a record of 7-5, representing the Mid-American Conference. Utah State climbs in the ring with a record of 6-6, representing the Mountain West Conference.

Akron Zips:

Coming off of their first winning season in several years, Akron finished third in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. The Zips were on a tear down the home stretch of the season, winning 4 of their last 5 games. The most decisive and winning-season clinching of those victories was the 20-0 shutout of cross-town rival, Kent State.

Bright Spot:

Defensively, Akron is quite stout. Against the run, Akron gives up only 89 yards per game. The Zips give up a total of 328 yards per game. Defensive stalwart, linebacker Jatavis Brown leads the team and conference in several key statistical categories including: sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (17.5), tackles (108) and forced fumbles (3).

Low-Light:

Offensively, the Zips are very balanced, yet low-churning, yardage wise. Akron averages about 193 yards through the air and 170 yards on the ground. They have some very decisive victories scoring wise throughout the season, but in their defeats, they have suffered just as much.

Utah State Aggies:

The Aggies finished the season on a bit of a tough stretch. Winners of two of their final five games, Utah State is limping into the bowl season having suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of rival BYU, 51-28. This season could be categorized as the season that could have been. Mid-way through the season, senior quarterback, and unquestioned leader of the Aggies, Chuckie Keeton missed several games due to injury. Now, without him, they actually boast a better record (4-2). In his absence, sophomore Kent Myers did more than enough to keep Utah State afloat.

Bright Spot:

As I mentioned earlier, quarterback Kent Myers was a Godsend for the Aggies this season. Without his production, Utah State wouldn’t have been nearly as successful-if at all. Like Akron, Utah state has a very strong and aggressive defense. Giving up only 336 yards per game, they have the ability to keep the games close.

Low-Light:

With an injury to one of their key players, I can say that the biggest hit the Aggies suffered was that of team continuity. Yes, back up Kent Myers did an outstanding job filling for Chuckie Keeton, but who’s to say how the season would have turned out had Keeton not suffered his injury. Of course we can’t play a college football season in a vacuum. Injuries will occur. But, one has to wonder, what if.

X-Factor:

Both teams are quite similar statistically. What it comes down to is offensive play. Both teams have solid defenses, but turnovers will be crucial. The forecast in Boise, Idaho calls for rain so don’t expect either team to sling it around the yard. Solid running, field position, and special teams play will determine the victor in this one.

Prediction:

In just his third game back from injury, I don’t think Chuckie Keeton has enough juice to pull this one out. I see Akron putting the finishing touches on an impressive season. Zips take it, 24-17.

Week 7 Rundown: What. Just. Happened.

 

I struggled to find a place to start the Rundown this week since there wasn’t anything that interesting that happened this past weekend. Oh yeah..except one of the most insane finishes we’ll see in our lifetime. That Michigan State/Michigan finish is an all-timer and had everything you’d look for in an all-time type of finish: rivalry game, uniqueness, improbability, and context. If the game would have ended on a punt return touchdown or even a blocked punt it wouldn’t have been that crazy. We’ve seen those plays before. But a botched snap on the last play of the game? And the way the Spartans were able to take it to the house? As I watched the punter drop the snap I thought, “Well this is a disaster, but at least he can fall on it and Michigan State will still have to try a 50+ yard field goal or hail mary for the win.” Nope, the ball inexplicably floated sideways perfectly into the hands of a Spartans player with no Wolverine in sight. Then throw in the fact that both teams were ranked Top 10 with only one real challenge the rest of the season after Saturday. In 50 years when we’re watching TV in like 5D and kids are asking their parents (grandparents?) how we ever watched television like this, they’ll be showing replays of this finish.

The Michigan State-Michigan game overshadowed a dominant performance from Iowa in which they went into Evanston and beat Northwestern 40-10. On any other Saturday that win may have really put the Hawkeyes on the map, but they’ll still be flying under the radar more than normal. I think that’s fine, since I’m still not convinced they are that good and it’s hard to take any Big 10 West team seriously until we see what they do against Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State. And we won’t find that out anytime soon because Iowa avoided all three on the regular season schedule. So that matchup would happen in the Big 10 championship game, one that would have 2014 Ohio State-Wisconsin written all over it.

One team we don’t have to wonder if it’s any good is Stanford. That opening week loss to Northwestern seems like forever ago as the Cardinal have been a completely different team in the last month. Stanford housed UCLA 56-35 in a game that was never in doubt. They’ve scored at least 40 points in their last four games, which seems almost as improbable as the finish we saw in Ann Arbor. That should continue though with the emergence of do-it-all back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey torched the Bruins to the tune of 243 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go alone with 122 kick return yards on just two opportunities. Oh, and this happened. The easy comparison for Stanford is last year’s Ohio State, who unexpectedly lost an early-season game only to roll the rest of the way undefeated. Stanford certainly isn’t as talented as that Buckeyes team (or this year’s for that matter) but the schedule sets them up for a similar run. At 5-1, the Cardinal only have to go on the road for two games the rest of the season, and those two contests are against Washington State and Colorado. In a Pac-12 that isn’t nearly as good as its pre-season projections, they should coast into the Pac-12 title game at no worse than 10-2.

Though the Cardinal may have a conference championship game spot locked up at that point, they’ll have to remain focused if they want to remain in the playoff hunt since they have a fascinating non-conference game the last week of the regular season against Notre Dame. The Irish could still be in the playoff hunt themselves and it may be the only game left the Irish have to impress the committee. The Irish play consecutive ranked opponents the next two weeks, but I don’t think they’ll be soaring into anyone’s Top 4 with wins over Temple and Pitt. And what would’ve been a marquee win over USC before the year started now is just another W. The Irish saved their best for last, outscoring the Trojans 17-0 in the fourth quarter to take a 41-31 victory.

A team that didn’t save their best for last, or their best for the beginning, or even bring it on the bus was the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos committed seven turnovers, in the first half. How does that even happen? I’m not sure teams even get seven possessions in a normal half. Boise State’s 1st half drives ended like this: Field Goal, Punt, Fumble, Fumble, INT, INT, Touchdown, Fumble, Fumble, AND A 90 YARD PICK SIX ON THE LAST PLAY OF THE HALF. That’s how you give up 45 first half points to Utah State. The Broncos weren’t done though. After receiving the second half kickoff, they fumbled the ball away on their second play from scrimmage. Incredible.

Boise State was the favorite to earn the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl spot, a spot that is going to require a lot of luck to fall into now. That’s because there are multiple other candidates who are in prime position to make a run. Houston has been rolling this year behind dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. Their success, along with Memphis and Temple’s, has three teams from the American Conference in the Top 25. That should give the eventual conference champ enough of a strength of schedule to waltz into a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s hard not to make Memphis the favorite out of those teams after the Tigers handily defeated Ole Miss on Saturday. After going down 14-0 early, Memphis outscored the Rebels 37-10 the rest of the way. It would take a miracle for Memphis to find their way to the playoff, but they would have a great chance of beating whatever Power 5 team they played in a possible bowl game behind the arm of future NFL-er Paxton Lynch, who is completing over 70% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

The last few weeks make it harder and harder to believe that that Ole Miss team who just lost to Memphis was able to go into Tuscaloosa and defeat the Crimson Tide. The Tide have looked dominant ever since, going into Athens and routing a Top 10 Georgia team and going on the road this past Saturday and beating a ranked Aggie team in a game where the outcome was never really in doubt. Looks like reports of Alabama’s demise were greatly exaggerated. We’re full steam ahead towards another Top 10 showdown between the Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers on November 7th in a game where the winner will be heavily favored to make the playoff. The Tigers did their part as well on Saturday, fighting off a previously undefeated Gators squad who played extremely well considering the shocking news about Will Grier in the week leading up to the game. And this is your weekly reminder that Leonard Fournette is not, in fact, from this planet. Fournette has 1202 yards on just 150 carries (8.0 ypc) and 14 touchdowns in just six games. The cancellation of LSU’s opening week game may be the only thing keeping Fournette from breaking records this year.

Overshadowed by the LSU man-child, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is having nearly as good of a season. The dynamic Seminoles back has been carrying the FSU team while Everett Golson becomes more comfortable in the offense each week. Cook has been the reason the Seminoles have won in half their games and if his hamstring holds up, he should have a spot as a Heisman finalist.

Baylor is a team who has multiple players who could find their way to New York for the Heisman ceremony. WR Corey Coleman has already broken the school’s single-season record for touchdown catches with 16. In six games. Coleman is averaging 21 yards per catch on 41 catches. I would say that TD/catch ratio is unsustainable but with Baylor, you never know. But it’s unlikely Coleman could pass his QB as the team’s leading Heisman candidate. Through six games, Seth Russell has 27 touchdowns and 5 INTs. If that isn’t enough he also has over 300 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground on over 8 yards per carry. The Bears haven’t played much in the way of quality competition thus far, but they’ll have their chances in the last month of the season to make statements.

Finally, the defending champs made a statement of their own on Saturday. Ohio State put together their best game of the season, dominating Penn State on their way to a 38-10 win. The Buckeyes are slowly rounding into form, and they have three more weeks to sharpen their game before finishing the year with Michigan State and Michigan.

Top Four

Baylor

Utah

Clemson

Ohio State

The Five You Must See: Week 2

Here are the five you must see in week two: (chronological order, all time Eastern):

Utah State at #24 Utah, 9pm, Friday on ESPN

There are two real reasons for you to tune in to this game.  First, the previous two installments of this rivalry have been rowdy.  The Aggies snuck away with a 27-20 overtime victory in 2012.  Then the Utes squeaked out a 30-26 win in 2013.  These games were so good the series had to be paused for a season.  Second, it’s Friday night and you don’t have any other football to watch.  Utah is coming off a quality win against Michigan (quality enough to get them ranked, at least).  These two took 2014 off.  Now they’re back at it in 2015.  Make it a football Friday night and check out this wacky western rivalry.

#19 Oklahoma at #23 Tennessee, 6pm, Saturday on ESPN

This seems to be one of those matchups that just doesn’t have people as excited as they should be.  Chalk it up to Oklahoma perpetually playing second fiddle in the Big 12, or Tennessee stumbling around in the college football irrelevance dessert, whatever.  The fact is this game deserves more national attention.  The Volunteers have been tagged by many (myself included) as a team to watch in 2015.  Due to the neutral-site win over Bowling Green last Saturday, Neyland Stadium will get its first live look at the Vols this weekend.  A Sooners’ win would look great on a playoff resume, and set them up nicely for the start of Big 12 play.  It’s too early to tell just how good these teams are, but this game will reveal a lot about both.

#7 Oregon at #5 Michigan State, 8pm, Saturday on ABC

This one’s an early candidate for game of the year; at least it’s got that potential.  It’s a rematch of the classic from a year ago that saw the Ducks mount a second half comeback and drop the Spartans on their way to the playoff.  Again, this matchup pits two clear playoff contenders against one another.  A Michigan State win would be a huge boost for their program, especially with the game in East Lansing.  However, a loss here would not necessarily end their season.  The Spartans could still run the table, beat Ohio State, and earn a playoff bid.  Oregon, of course is in a similar position.  The bonus for them is that this game is great practice for Stanford, who plays a similar style to Michigan State and is the Ducks’ only real competition in the Pac-12 North.  This is a game you cannot miss if you consider yourself a serious college football fan.

#14 LSU at #25 Mississippi State, 9:15pm, Saturday on ESPN

Mississippi State should not be ranked over Northwestern.  The Associated Press pollsters went a bit crazy this week.  Many have suggested the ranking is due to this game being this weekend.  Some site the SEC bias.  Forget the rankings and focus on the football.  LSU didn’t even get to play last week.  Imagine how amped up those kids will be.  Mississippi State beat Southern Miss last Saturday night.  If you didn’t stay up to watch, don’t worry.  You didn’t miss much.  Dake Prescott piled up 300-plus total yards and the Bulldogs won easily enough.  You might be a hater, but this is the first SEC contest of 2015 for crying out loud.  This is big boy football.  So, get your barbeque ribs, grab your beer, sit in your favorite recliner, watch and enjoy the game.

#20 Boise State at BYU, 10:15pm, Saturday on ESPN 2

Once the SEC slugfest is over, flip over for this nightcap.  You’ll probably be seeing a lot of Boise State games on late like this throughout the season.  Apparently the four-letter network has finally recognized that enough of us tune in to watch the Broncos for them to routinely feature them in the ‘graveyard’ slot.  BYU comes off an emotional Hail Mary win over Nebraska, but also learned their quarterback and captain, Taysom Hill, will not return this season.  Therefore, BYU’s defense will have to do the heavy lifting.  Boise State was held scoreless in the second half of their 16-13 win over Washington.  There may be a window of opportunity here for the Cougars to pull off the upset.

The ‘Better as a Basketball Game of the Week’

#9 Notre Dame at Virginia, 3:30pm, Saturday on ABC

This almost made the Five You Must See this week.  Almost, but the Cavaliers aren’t that good, as proven by the whooping they took from UCLA last week.  Notre Dame handed Texas a similar beating.  The Irish are looking to prove they’re legitimate 2016 playoff contenders.  But both these ACC basketball schools were top seeds in the tournament.  Seeing them matchup on the court would be much better than watching the Irish roll the Cavaliers this weekend.

College Quickie: Upset Special

If you missed last weekend’s college football action here’s a rundown of all the upsets you missed. It reminded me of the first weekend of the NCCA basketball tournament. (Rankings shown reflect where each team stood heading into last week according to the Associated Press poll.)
Arizona topples #2 Oregon
We saw this coming, didn’t we? The Ducks can’t stop much on defense. They’ve allowed 31 points in both conference games now, and were lucky to get away with it two weeks ago. Marcus Mariota’s magic was bound to come up short eventually. He threw for two touchdowns and even caught one himself, but it wasn’t enough. The Wildcats’ win was the first game Oregon has lost at home since the overtime thriller against Stanford in November, 2012.
Utah State ruins #18 BYU’s season
BYU felt like this season’s Cinderella squad that would capture the hearts of all those who love a good underdog story. The home loss to Utah State certainly killed the Cougars’ tiny chance of reaching the four-team playoff. To make matters worse, quarterback Taysom Hill broke his left leg during the game and will be unable to return to the field this season.
#12 Mississippi State impressive in win over #6 Texas A&M
Many wondered if the Bulldogs would be able to follow up well on the big win at LSU two weeks ago. Well, they answered the question emphatically. The Aggie defense had no answers, as usual. A recovered onside kick sandwiched by two late touchdown passes from Kenny Hill made the final score closer than the game really was. Mississippi State’s quarterback Dak Prescott is forcing his way into the Heisman conversation. The junior accounted for five touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) on Saturday and added another marquee win to his resume. The Bulldogs have yet another tough test this weekend. They host the Auburn Tigers.
#25 TCU pops #4 Oklahoma
This is what happens when we give too much credit to teams for beating unranked opponents. The Sooners came into Forth Worth planning to grab their first impressive win. TCU wasn’t having any of that. The Horned Frogs played a great game and took the lead for good with a pick six early in the fourth quarter. Craziness ensued when their extra point was blocked and returned for two points. Unfortunately for Oklahoma the TCU defense held strong for the remainder of the game and they were able to escape with a huge victory.
Northwestern surprises #17 Wisconsin
I was ready to give up on Northwestern when they started the season with two losses after losing their best player from last year, Venric Mark. However, beating Penn State and Wisconsin consecutively has them at the top of the wide-open Big Ten West. Wisconsin is the victim of unrealistic expectations due to past success. The truth is they aren’t anything special this season.
#9 Notre Dame survives #14 Stanford
Despite everyone’s yearning to tear down Notre Dame, the Irish aren’t giving them an opportunity. They just keep winning. Everett Golson is quietly one of the most solid quarterbacks in the nation. Stanford is staying true to form. Both their losses this season have been by a field goal. They still play fantastic defense but the offense is coming up just short. Those still waiting for the Irish to drop one will get their best chance to see that happen next week when they travel to Florida State for a showdown with the Seminoles.
#11 Ole Miss comes back to beat #3 Alabama
What a game this was. I am a lover of the old school defensive struggle and that’s what this game was. The offenses did some things right but neither side could find the endzone with as much ease as we’ve grown accustom to seeing nowadays. Turnovers were the key to this one. Alabama’s Cyrus Jones had a scoop-and-score less than a minute before the half. It looked like Ole Miss was in for a long game after the break. On the contrary, the Rebels held the Crimson Tide to just a field goal after that. Senquez Golson made a tremendous play to intercept a Blake Sims pass in the back of the endzone to seal it. We could be witnessing a switch of power in the SEC. Seeing how Ole Miss plays on the road against an angry Texas A&M will help decide that.
#5 Auburn rolls over #15 LSU
Wow. I’m glad LSU dropped all the way out of the top 25 after their performance in this one. 41-7 is an embarrassing defeat for any team to suffer. Considering the fact that both of these Tigers teams were in the top 15 you’d think they’d be at least somewhat evenly matched. They were not. Auburn made LSU look like a bunch of chumps. Nick Marshall racked up over 300 yards of total offense and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and I’m not sure he even broke a sweat. Les Miles has some work to do because, as is normally the case in the SEC, the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
Arizona State shocks #16 USC
The finish to this game was even better than the California- Arizona game earlier this season. I thought the Trojans had it wrapped up a couple different times but they couldn’t put the Sun Devils to bed for good. Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici simply refused to lose. He threw for five touchdowns. Three of which came on the Sun Devils’ last three drives of the game, including the Hail Mary as time expired. Both of these teams have another big game coming up. USC is going to Arizona this weekend; Arizona State has a bye Saturday before hosting Stanford next week. The conference title picture will either be much clearer or completely clouded after these matchups.
#10 Michigan State holds on against #19 Nebraska
The Spartans looked like they were going to run away with this contest in the first half. A 17-point halftime lead for Michigan State is equivalent to most teams being up by about 28. The Huskers scored 22 points in the second half, including 19 in the fourth quarter. Luckily the Spartan offense added some insurance in the third quarter, just enough for the defense to hang on and come out with a victory. Had Michigan State lost this one, the Big Ten would have officially been written off by everyone esle around the country. The Spartans can’t afford any more close calls like this one if they’re looking to sneak into the top four at the end of the season.
Utah hands #8 UCLA their first loss
UCLA was easily the shakiest looking team to have not yet lost a game heading into last weekend. Utah made sure we couldn’t say the same going into this weekend. This was the night cap on Saturday night and with all the other big upsets that had already happened, didn’t we all expect this one to go the way it did? I sure did. A pair of field goal attempts decided it. Utah made one to take a two-point lead. UCLA missed their shot as time ran out. A great lesson to be learned: sometimes the game comes down to the guys who see the least amount of playing time.
Five unranked teams beat a top 25 ranked teams (Arizona, Utah State, Northwestern, Arizona State and Utah). Three ranked teams ‘upset’ a higher ranked opponent (Mississippi State, TCU and Ole Miss). The ‘favorites’ in those games against lower ranked teams went 3-3 (Notre Dame, Auburn and Michigan State won). Numbers 15-18 all fell from the rankings after losses (LSU, USC, Wisconsin and BYU).
Check the Associated Press Top 25 for this week to visualize the impact of last weekend.

Sucking Wind and Pocket Poise

As the Deacs head to Logan, Utah (Elevation 4,534 feet) to take on the Utah State Aggies for their second road game in three weeks to start the Dave Clawson era, the question must be asked, “Who in the heck made this non-conference schedule?”  Did Carmen Sandiego take over the athletic scheduling duties for the football Deacons?
After the Wake Forest football captains shook hands with members of Duck Dynasty in the hot August Louisiana swamps just a mere two weeks ago, let’s hope Bear Grylls can lead the Deacon charge into the Rockies to take on the Aggies in the mountains of Utah.
Following the adventure into the depths of the Rockies, the Deacs return home to face the unique ground attack of the cadets from West Point.  Maybe former DE Nikita Whitlock should have stuck around another year so that he could have completed this schedule to get him ready for his dream of joining the military and serving in the Special Forces.
As Deacon fans that have traveled west of the Mississippi know, once you get past the fly-over states, the altitude increases and the air gets a little thinner causing havoc on a team without a lot of depth, which is an apt description of the state of the current Wake Forest squad.  In this week’s press conference, Coach Clawson stated he usually likes to play anywhere from 18 to 21 players on defense.  However, at the moment, he only feels comfortable with about a 15-man rotation.
In the previous two games, the opponents scored late touchdowns on what looked to be a tired Deacon defense.  ULM took their first lead of the contest with minutes to go after the Wake Forest defense had been on the field seemingly all game due to the inability of the offense to consistently move the ball.  Likewise, against Gardner-Webb, the defense had been pitching a shut out on the evening until Gardner-Webb scored at the end of the game, admittedly against the second-team.  Let’s hope the altitude does not force the Deacons to be sucking wind at the end of this game as well.

Pocket Poise

One of the biggest surprises on the season has been the emergence of true freshman QB John Wolford.  (Between Coach Claw and QB Wolf, there will undoubtedly be a teen wolf sighting in the student section of BB&T field soon.)  The young signal-caller from Jacksonville, FL looks to have the pocket poise and moxy of well… Johnny Moxon of Varsity Blues fame.
Last week against Gardner-Webb, Wolf-man went 30 out of 38 for the game through the air.  Coach Clawson said at the weekly press conference that the coaching staff tallied 5 drops in that total as well.  I’m sure senior WR Matt James would love to have another shot at the fade route in the back of the end zone that went through his hands.
Poise is hard to define, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated regarding pornography “I know it when I see it”, the same can be said for poise.  And Wolford’s got it.
All in all, Wolford has looked impressive.  The accuracy is apparent. The touch is there.  He can add zip when needed.  The only obstacle to his development appears to be minimizing the tipped balls.  Gardner-Webb intercepted a couple of passes last Saturday by batting the ball at the line of scrimmage.  Wolford is listed at 6’1” in the media guide, but he may be an inch or two shorter.  The Deacon offensive line and play calling will need to open up passing lanes for the young quarterback to unleash his, to-date, accurate arm.
The key to winning for the Deacons, as has been mentioned ad nauseum, is the Clawfense and the offensive line.  The offensive definitely improved against Gardner-Webb.  Offensive Coordinator Warren Ruggiero quickened the pace in the second half of the game, and Wolford and WR E.J. Scott connected for two second half scores.  Whether the O-line can continue the improved protection against a higher quality opponent in Utah State is yet to be determined.
The other key on the defensive side of the ball is whether the Deacs can stop the Aggie running attack.  In Utah State’s last game against Idaho State, the Aggies had six players with ten or more yards rushing.  Yes, read that sentence again.
The Aggies gained 311 yards on the ground, and the top rusher only had 74 yards.  And that was the dark-horse Heisman candidate Chuckie Keeton.  Again, can the Deacs adjust to the altitude with a multi-layered running attack like that?
Kickoff is set for 7:00 Eastern.  Here’s hoping the Deacons can show continued pocket poise and avoid sucking wind in the Rockies.

Spragoo’s Spots

The closest I’ve come to eating in Logan, Utah is dining at a Brazilian Steakhouse in Salt Lake City with Sam Barger after coming off the trails of Zion National Park in the The Beehive State (really?) in the early 2000’s.  Any restaurant tastes great after camping, but I can still remember the savory meats.  Having never visted Logan, Utah, I’m gonna have to rely on some others’ experience in dishing out the deets on the delicacy in Aggieland.

Here’s the scoop:

Apparently Logan’s Heroes is the spot for a sandwich before the game or to add to your tailgating spread.  The spicy Italian comes highly recommended.  Be sure to bring cash because cards aren’t accepted.  My kinda place.  Let’s just hope the Deacs don’t add another Logan’s Hero to the list due to any performance on the field.

How the College Football Playoff will Affect Boise State Football, Mountain West Conference

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The beginning of college football is less than 7 weeks away. Since the end of the 2014 National Championship game culminating in the Florida State Seminoles raising the crystal trophy, college football has changed (and will change) significantly in 2014-2015. For one, there will no longer be a crystal football awarded to the champion of college football. This will be replaced by a new trophy awarded at the end of the College Football Playoff (CFP). This is the first year of its implementation as well, and four teams will compete for the college football crown. Finally, you’ll see more conference realignment. Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten and Louisville will join the ACC, to name a few of the big ones. With some of these major changes set for the 2014-2015 season, where does that leave “mid-major” conferences like the Mountain West Conference (MWC)?
The new shakeup begs certain questions to be answered for the mid-major conferences. Will this new format give teams like Boise State and Nevada a better shot at competing with the big dogs of college football at the end of the season? Will the new CFP committee help or hurt in ranking the Cinderella stories of college football? On the whole it should help them. While it may not be perfect, the CFP is at least a starting point and as everything else, will develop and expand to (hopefully) include 8 or even 16 teams over the course of the next few years. As for right now, the new system should benefit the MWC.
One aspect that seems a bit fishy to me is regarding the selection committee. For a full list of the CFP selection members, USA Today does a great job of providing a profile and some of the accomplishments of each. Take a minute to read up on each member. Now imagine you support a team like the Boise State Broncos or Northern Illinois Huskies. Did you notice anything? Not a ton of mid-major representation in this list, huh? This is concerning, because what will stop an alma-mater of Nebraska voting for an 11-1 Cornhuskers squad over an unbeaten Boise State? Nothing seems to be in place to provide a sort of checks-and-balances system to ensure no favorites are played. Hopefully we never experience such a thing, but it is a possibility.
Thankfully for the MWC, instead of competing for the top two spots in the nation, the number of teams given the chance to win the College Football Championship will double. This will lessen the likelihood that, for example, a 12-0 Utah Utes team will land #3 and a 12-1 Florida and Oklahoma will land ahead of them (as happened in the BCS). In theory, Utah would still get a chance to win the championship as they would certainly be ranked in the top four teams. While there will always be teams on the bubble that will not make it into the CFP, allowing four teams with a shot to win it all will go quite far to giving the smaller dogs a legitimate shot to win it all.
This is an exciting time for conferences like the MWC. Remember when Boise State pulled off the miracle in overtime against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl of 2007, or (then MWC) champion Texas Christian University’s 21-19 Rose Bowl triumph against perennial Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin in 2011? While the MWC is constantly ranked below the fold when it comes to top-ranked college football conferences it contains a handful of teams that can hold their own against some of college football’s “best.” The new playoff format should give the MWC a better shot at claiming the College Football Championship, and while there are still some clear flaws within the system itself, it will surely be an improvement over that God-awful system known as the BCS.