Going into the 2014 season, there were certain teams in the Mountain West conference that were predicted to have great seasons, and others were predicted to not do so well. So far most of the predictions have been correct, but are there a few surprises and upsets that have rocked the conference.
Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs discusses the current situation for each Mountain division team and where they will go from here:
1. Wyoming (3-2, 1-0 conference)
Surprisingly, Wyoming is currently atop the standings in the Mountain division, because there the only team in the division with an undefeated conference record (1-0). Craig Bohl has done a good job in his first season as head coach so far given that his team’s only losses are to what were basically no-win scenarios against Oregon and Michigan St.. Against Florida Atlantic and Air Force, Wyoming quarterback Colby Kirkegaard brought his team back for last-minute victories when they fell behind early. It’s good that the Cowboys can trust Kirkegaard to rally the team late in games, but they’ll be facing much tougher conference opponents soon who won’t leave the game close enough for last minute drives. Wyoming has games against Hawaii and San Jose St. to identify their strengths before they enter a rough four-game stretch against their top conference opponents (Colorado St., Fresno St., Utah St., Boise St.).
2. Boise State (4-2, 2-1 conference)
Right now the Broncos are scratching their heads wondering why they aren’t on the top of the division, but they don’t have to worry about it for long. Boise St. has proven to be about as formidable an opponent as they have been in previous years, but they have certainly made mistakes. Their week one loss to Ole Miss actually bodes well for them since Ole Miss is currently ranked third in the nation, but their debacle against Air Force hurts them, a lot. They also snuck out of Nevada with a win after a close 51-46 shootout. Six games into the seasons Boise’s playmakers are making plays for the blue and orange, with Jay Ajayi running for 709 yards and eight touchdowns and Grant Hedrick passing for 1641 yards and seven touchdowns. The defense has been burned in games and the offense has struggled with turning over the ball, so there are certainly things the Broncos want to work on. Going forward, Boise St. will play tough Fresno St. and SDSU teams and they’ll finish the season against Utah State, which could have huge implications on the conference championship game.
3. Air Force (4-1, 1-1 conference)
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun didn’t want to say that the Falcons win over Boise St. was a ‘signature win’, but we all know better. The Falcons forced seven turnovers (yes, seven) against the Broncos in the huge win, and along with their other contests, the team’s only loss was in Wyoming when the Cowboys scored a last-minute, game-winning touchdown. Last season, the Falcons had a grand total of two wins, so expectations for this season weren’t as high, but you wouldn’t know that watching this team. They’re 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game (298.0) and they’re 40th in the nation in points against (21.2). Those are signs of a tough, determined team. Beating rival Navy was probably another big confidence boost for this team, and now they’ll really see what they’re made of when they match up against Utah State in their next game. If Air Force can keep playing the way they are, other conference teams better watch out.
4. Utah State (3-2, 0-0 conference)
The Aggies were good last year, they were good the year before that, and they’re good this year. Utah State gets a pass for their loss at Tennessee, but the Arkansas State loss hurts. The Aggies were without quarterback Chuckie Keeton in that game after he suffered a nearly devastating knee injury the week before against Wake Forest. But Utah State, like Boise State, is a perennial bowl-bound team, and they want to win big games on the road, wherever that game is. The Aggies want a conference title, but this season will be tough. They face a tougher-than-expected Air Force team next, and then have to travel to Colorado State and square off against the explosive Rams. If they can win those games, and get past Wyoming and San Jose St. further down the line, then it all comes down to a late-season matchup against Boise St.
5. Colorado State (4-1, 0-1 conference)
“The Climb,” as CSU head coach Jim McElwain calls it, has begun in Fort Collins. The Rams are one of three teams in the Mountain Division with four wins, but they probably have the best overall statistics. The Rams are in the top 50 in all four major statistical categories; 23rd in passing yards (317.2), 50th in rushing yards (182.8), 48th in points for (34.0) and 50th in points against (22.6). The Rams beat in-state rival Colorado handily, but then got trounced by Boise State in what could have been a defining moment for McElwain’s squad. But the Rams bounced back from the loss and have picked up three-straight, including a huge upset against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The offense, led by senior quarterback Garrett Grayson, has found it’s stride and balance. Receiver Rashard Higgins is lighting things up, with 582 yards and eight touchdowns in five games, and the Rams’ running game is powerful behind Dee Hart (453 yards, four touchdowns) and Treyous Jarrells (252 yards, three touchdowns). Although the defense failed to stop Jay Ajayi and Boise State, they’ve done well against all the other foes they’ve faced, even rushing juggernaut Boston College.
6. New Mexico (2-3, 0-1 conference)
Things have been rough sledding for the Lobos. Although expectations weren’t that high, the team could have picked up wins against UTEP and Fresno State in what were competitive games. The triple-option offense is interesting and fun to watch, but its effectiveness is questionable. The team doesn’t have playmakers at the receiver position, so their 322.4 rushing yards per game, fifth in the nation, are what keeps them going. The Lobos were able to beat their in-state rival New Mexico St. for the first time in years, so that gives the team something to be happy about this season, but their upcoming schedule is rough. The Lobos have SDSU, Air Force, UNLV, Boise State, Utah State, CSU and Wyoming left. Ouch. Last season, the Air Force Falcons were last in the division. This season, the Lobos will challenge for that position.
Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_.