As the Colorado State Rams enjoy their bye week halfway through Mountain West play, now is as good as time as any to take a look at how the rest of the conference is playing out halfway through the season.
On the year, CSU’s two conference losses are to teams who are a combined 6-0 in conference play in Wyoming and Boise State, while their wins come against two teams in UNLV and Utah State with 3-5 records.
High powered offense:
Boise State (7-0, 3-0) and Wyoming (5-2, 3-0) play this Saturday in Laramie, in a game that will go a long way in determining the Mountain division championship this season.
SDSU (6-1, 3-0) leads the West division over Hawaii (4-4, 3-1), and the Aztecs certainly hold the inside edge in that division, as they host the Warriors in San Diego on Nov. 5.
If the Broncos and Aztecs continue to win out, a Boise win in the Mountain West Championship game would almost certainly propel the Broncos into a New Year’s Day bowl game.
The Broncos are getting it done with their offense, mostly off the arm of sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien who leads the conference in passing, and the legs of senior running back Jeremy McNichols who is tied for the nation’s lead in touchdowns (16).
McNichols joins Brian Hill of Wyoming and Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State as some of the best running backs in the nation.
Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing with 1246 yards, Hill is second with 1010 and McNichols is third with 915.
Pumphrey, the Mountain West offensive player of the year a season ago, is well on his way to garnering the award again this season, and if he keeps on pace, will surely find himself in discussions for even bigger awards, namely the Heisman trophy where he has started to get recognition as a legitimate contender.
But the distinction of the number-one offense in the conference goes to the New Mexico Lobos who average 484 total offensive yards a game, and lead the country with 374.1 yards a game on the ground.
Overall, three of the top rushing offenses in the nation reside in the Mountain West in New Mexico (1st), Air Force (5th) and SDSU (14th).
Where’s the defense?
Though the Mountain West does host those top rushing offenses, Brett Rypien and company and Donnel Pumphrey, defensive play in the conference has left plenty to be desired.
The Aztecs sit sixth in the country on total defense, and 13th in scoring defense, but outside of the Aztecs, consistently good defensive play has been hard to come by.
The Rams are sixth in the conference in scoring defense (27.9 ppg) and CSU ranks 75th in the country in total defense, giving up 417 yards per game, but only five MW schools, Boise State, Utah State, Air Force, New Mexico and SDSU sit above CSU in national defense numbers.
And a large part of the rushing success in the conference certainly has been helped by miserable rushing defense played in a large part of the Mountain West.
Colorado State’s defense showed up in the running game last week, only allowing to a potent UNLV rushing attack, but the mostly porous run defense still puts the team 84th in the country and eighth in the conference in run defense giving up 189.5 ypg.
But four teams in the conference, San Jose State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are statistically some of the worst teams in the entire country in rushing defense.
Out of 128 FBS schools, San Jose State sits 117th in the country giving up just over 236 yards per game on the ground–and they are the highest ranked team out of that group of four.
Last year, eight teams from the Mountain West played in bowl games, and the conference as a whole finished with a 4-4 record in bowl play. Two teams, Nevada and San Jose State entered bowl season with only five wins.
This year, that number should decrease, however that remains dependent on the six-win standard. Boise State and San Diego State are already bowl-eligible, while Wyoming is almost a lock to make a bowl. The Cowboys need one win in their last five games, and their remaining slate consists of Boise State, SDSU and Utah State (3-4) at home, and New Mexico (4-3) and UNLV (3-5) on the road.
The Cowboys, who were picked dead last in the conference at Mountain West media days, arguably stand as the surprise of the Mountain West this season after their 5-2 start, which includes wins over CSU, Air Force and Nevada in conference play.
Colorado State also has a great shot to join the postseason party this year. The Rams close out the season with SDSU, but have winnable games at home against Fresno State (1-7) and New Mexico (4-3), along with a road trip to slipping Air Force (4-3).
Losers of three in a row, Air Force should still find a way to win two remaining games against the likes of conference bottom-dwellers Fresno State and San Jose State (2-6), while New Mexico closes the year with winnable games against UNLV, Hawaii and Nevada (3-5).
The other surprise of the Mountain West season could just be the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (4-4) who the media picked to finish last in the coastal division. The Warriors themselves are in good bowl position, as they close out the year with Fresno State on the road, and the 1-6 Minutemen of Massachusetts at home.
Though as many as ten teams still have a shot at a bowl games, those seven teams listed above will be bowling come December.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5