Now that the San Diego State Aztecs’ 21-19 win over the No. 19 Boise State Broncos late Saturday night has settled in, let’s talk about the final four weeks of the Mountain West Conference’s 2012 season and the race for the MWC title.
First things first.
The loss by Boise St. didn’t just knock them out of first place, it also knocked the Broncos and first-year quarterback Joe Southwick out of the BCS picture. With the Nevada Wolf Pack left as the only quality opponent of three left in the regular season for BSU the Broncos are in a tough spot if they expect to again bust the BCS.
The Fresno State Bulldogs and their NFL-ready quarterback Derek Carr are the most immediate beneficiaries of Boise’s poor luck. The Bulldogs’ 53-40 win over SDSU back on Sept. 29 looms large now and gives them the top spot.
But then there’s this:
Of the top three contenders, Fresno State (7-3, 5-1) also has the toughest row to hoe in the next three weeks.
The Bulldogs play at Nevada, which currently sits in fifth place but is looking to move up. A win over their old WAC foe would definitely put the ‘Pack back on course. Fresno then closes the season against title contender the Air Force Falcons. If the Bulldogs get past Nevada in Reno, the title is theirs for the taking. Which the 'Dogs will do.
Air Force (5-4, 4-1) has proven to be inconsistent this season. But they’re fighting for bowl eligibility now, though they’re tied with Boise St. for 3rd place, half a game behind SDSU and Fresno. The Falcons and Cody Getz, currently in the top 5 rushing in the nation, also play at SDSU next week and at Fresno in three weeks (with cellar dwellers the Hawaii Warriors in between.)
A win by the Falcons over SDSU would give Fresno a leg up - but Aztecs head man Rocky Long is one of the few MWC coaches to consistently slow down, and even stymie, the Falcons’ triple option attack. Air Force basically needs to win out, which would earn them at least a piece of the MWC title after beating SDSU and FSU in three weeks. But AFA’s chances of beating both SDSU and Fresno are not good. Scratch the Falcons.
Boise St. (7-2, 4-1) plays at the Hawai’i this week, then hosts also-rans the Colorado State Rams. Baring a major meltdown they should win those games with ease. The Broncos then close the season on Saturday, Dec. 1 at Nevada. The Wolfpack would love nothing more than to kick their old, bitter WAC rival in the aaa.... er, gut on their way out the door. But even with their Pistol running on all cylinders, Nevada may not have the guns to do it. If Nevada fails, Boise wins a share of the MWC title.
Nevada (6-3, 3-2) has a chance to make a statement in its last three games but its recent loss to Air Force bodes ill for the ‘Pack. Coming out of Fresno with a win will be a challenge. Nevada and Stefphon Jefferson, the nation's top rusher, will likely be favored the next week against Kasey Carrier and the New Mexico Lobos down in Albuquerque.
But chances are better than not that the final showdown with the Boise Broncos in Reno will be not for bragging rights but for dragging their old rival into the mud. That’s good for motivation but poor for preparation. Look for Boise to escape Reno with a win.
Which brings us back to San Diego State (7-3, 5-1).
In terms of schedule, the Aztecs and fantastic freshman Adam Muema have the advantage.
They host Air Force this week then travel to Wyoming, where SDSU has lost 3 of the last four games (tho the Aztecs won in their last trip to Laramie in 2010). Also, the Cowboys upset SDSU 30-27 in San Diego last season. That alone is plenty of motivation for the Aztecs, who rose to challenge of beating Boise St. in Boise and will find a way to close out on Wyoming.
Baring upsets, that leaves us with a three-way tie at 7-1 between San Diego State, Boise State and Fresno State. A fitting end to the 2012 MWC season – two on the way out and one of the newest teams winning the championship.