Mountain West Championship: Why Utah State Will Win

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

My esteemed colleague Matt K. seems to always be a step ahead of me in getting these articles out; the nice thing about it is that I get a chance to counter his arguments with my own.

My esteemed colleague Matt K. seems to always be a step ahead of me in getting these articles out; the nice thing about it is that I get a chance to counter his arguments with my own articles. Matt pointed out several very impressive qualities and insights into why Fresno St is (and should be) the favored team this weekend. For those of you convinced by his arguments that Utah St doesn't have a chance, however, I offer to you the following:

Utah State doesn't have star players
It may seem counter-productive to make this point. Why is it a benefit to not have star athletes? The reason is simple: there's not a single player or two that the opponent can scheme around and eliminate to gain an advantage. Every single player on the field wearing Aggie blue and white is a threat on every single play. You can't scheme block Kyler Fackrell without leaving Zach Vigil or Jake Doughty loose. You can't focus on taking Travis Reynolds out of the play without freeing up Travis Van Leeuwen or Bruce Natson. This is actually one of the greatest strengths that the Aggies bring to the table, and is one of the reasons why their defense is so dangerous.

Utah State isn't afraid of travelling
USU has lost some tough games on the road this season. However, the Aggies have also had some very impressive wins on the road. They took SJSU (yes, the same team that just ruined the Bulldogs BCS chances) to the woodshed in a 40-12 whipping, in spite of David Fales' 314 yards through the air. Fresno St has won 12 in a row at home, but the Aggies have won 11 in a row on the road in conference games, including a remarkably similar game against a highly favored, ranked Louisiana Tech Bulldogs team in Ruston last year.

Utah State will have a marked advantage with special teams
I covered this a little bit in a previous article, but the Aggies win on special teams plays. Period. They average six points per game scored on special teams, they have the most dangerous kick returner in Bruce Natson (the lead returner in the conference, and one of the best in the country), they have a very smart punter in Jaron Bentrude (Bentrude scored a 76 yard rushing touchdown against New Mexico), and they have, as Matt pointed out, the best punt returns against average in the country.

The Aggies bend but don't break
This season has illustrated perfectly what makes this USU team so special: they never give up. They take a kick to the gut, get up, and punch you in the mouth. When Chuckie Keeton went down and the Aggies lost two games in a row to BYU and Boise St, no one gave them a parent's chance in Toys-R-Us to get to this weekend's title game. With a consistent, dedicated team effort, however, and some help from San Diego St, here they are despite all odds. They are a team in the truest sense of the word; they support each other, rally around each other, and push each other to be their very best, on the field and off.


I'm a stats guy, so the last reason why the Aggies have a very good shot is because, well, the numbers say so. I did the most in-depth statistical analysis I've ever done in preparation for this game, and here's what I came up with:

[For those of you who don't know my method, I take each team's average in any given category, and modify it by their opponent's average in that category and by each team's differential in that category. For example, the first stat, passing yards: Fresno St averages 402.5 passing yards per game; they also average 157.2 more passing yards per game than their opponents usually allow (so +157.2 is their passing yards differential); USU, however, only allows 209.8 passing yards per game, and has a defensive passing differential of -22.6 ypg. So I average Fresno's stat with USU's ((402.5+209.8)/2=306.2), then add each team's differential (306.2+157.2+(-22.6)=440.8). So from this, I figure that Fresno St will get 441 passing yards this game.]

Stat Predictions for the MWC Championship Game

Passing Yds

Rushing Yds

Total Yds

Passing TDs

Rushing TDs

Fumbles

Interceptions

Total Turnovers

Utah St

299

135

434

3

1

0.7

0.5

1.1

Fresno St

441

28

469

4

0

0.7

0.9

1.7

Turnover Differential

Time of Possession

3rd Down %

4th Down %

Penalties

Penalty Yds

Final Score

Utah St

0.4

32.6

51%

32%

6

56

35

Fresno St

-0.4

28.3

30%

99%

5

51

33

So, according to the stats, Carr will indeed have a night of prolific passing. They won't, however, be able to get anything going on the ground, and it will limit their effectiveness overall.  The Aggies will benefit from an aggressive defensive performance and come up with one more turnover than the Bulldogs, and will score 7 points off their special teams compared to 5 for the Dogs. Penalties will be approximately even. The Aggies will have better success on 3rd down conversions, while the Bulldogs will have next to no trouble converting on 4th. The big difference, it would appear, will be the Aggies' ability to move the ball on the ground, the turnover ratio, and the Aggies' special teams play.

There you have it, five reasons (and counters) for why the Aggies are not only strong contenders in this game, but just might pull off the upset.

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