Three Mountain West BCS Busters Face Three Trap Games Before Crashing the Party
Sometimes you have to suspend disbelief in order for an article to work.
We love the underdog. Well, most of us love the underdog, just as long as that underdog is not upsetting our favorite team!
For those who despise the BCS system, the most revered underdogs are those BCS busters.
Four times a school from a non-BCS conference has reached one of the most coveted bowl games. Three of those four times, one of those schools has shown the college football world that they indeed belong.
Utah (twice) and Boise State have proven themselves on a grand stage. Hawaii—well, at least their fans impressed Sugar Bowl organizers.
As we approach the 2009 season, analysts are attempting to pick this year's BCS buster. It is easy to look toward the two conferences that have sent representatives to BCS bowl games—the Mountain West and the Western Athletic conferences.
With this article, I wish to look at three MWC schools that have a decent chance of gaining an invite to a BCS bowl game. However, instead of examining how those teams can (or will) make it there, I want to look at potential slip-ups along their road to greatness.
The three teams are TCU (preseason media favorite to win the conference), BYU, and Utah.
Now, obviously there needs to be one major assumption, which, maybe in the case of BYU, means we have to suspend disbelief.
We must assume that with whichever team I am examining, the team will be undefeated at the time of the trap game (and obviously, all three teams cannot be undefeated at the end of the season).
So, in the case of the Cougars, we have to assume that they upset Oklahoma.
Also, and this should be obvious, I did not choose matchups between any of the two teams. Those are marquee games and would not necessarily be considered a slip-up (unless, of course, Utah manages to lose to an 0-11 BYU team).
Lastly, I chose three different teams for each of the three teams examined. This is to avoid redundancy.
So enjoy! I welcome any questions, complaints, or comments.
Air Force Falcons at Utah Utes (Oct. 24)
Utah is probably the least likely of the three MWC teams to return to a BCS bowl game. However, given their track record, the Utes warrant at least being in the discussion.
What makes it difficult for the Utes to return to a third BCS game (at least this season) is the number of losses they suffered, especially on offense. Replacing talented QB Brian Johnson will be very tough. Utah is also reloading at wide receiver.
What works in Utah's favor is their schedule. Outside of a tough trip to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks, Utah's most difficult games come at the end of the season—at TCU on Nov. 14 and at BYU on Nov. 28.
Louisville is still trying to find an identity, and Colorado State will be replacing their top two rushers. So, Utah should be coasting until November.
Ah, but that is where traps can appear! It is easy for the Utes to fall into a lull, and one of the worst types of teams to sleep on is one that runs an unorthodox offense. Air Force presents such a challenge.
This is more than simply pulling a team out of the hat amongst those in the middle of the Utah schedule. Air Force has a history of playing Utah tough.
While Air Force is 4-6 versus Utah in the MWC era, the average point differential in those 10 games is 5.7 points. The largest margin of victory for Utah is 14 points (during their undefeated 2004 season), while the Falcons' largest margin is nine (in 2000).
In other words, their games tend to be very close (seven of those 10 games were decided by a touchdown or less).
Also, Air Force is 3-2 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Guess where the game is this season?
Most of the Academy's top rushers return, including sophomore tailback Asher Clark (588 yards, five TDs). Sophomore QB Tim Jefferson, despite some academic issues in the spring, should return to run the option.
Other top rushers returning include tailback Savier Stephens (236 yards), fullback Jared Tew (328 yards), and wide receiver Kyle Halderman (350 yards).
Air Force also returns three senior starters on the line—tackle Chris Campbell and guards Nick Charles and Peter Lusk. The other two linemen are seniors, which means the entire line is experienced with the Air Force scheme. This, along with the returning rushers, could be a dangerous mix for the Utes.
Add to this that Air Force is returning seven starters on defense, and the Falcons could be a formidable opponent not just for the Utes but for many teams.
Utah's defensive strength is their linebackers. If they can contain the ground game of Air Force, then they can avoid the trip-up here. Otherwise, the Utes' chance at a BCS game could be lost in the wild blue yonder!
BYU Cougars at Wyoming Cowboys (Nov. 7)
I was initially tempted to take the Tulane game, as it is a road game following the upset over Oklahoma (remember, suspension of disbelief). But Tulane looks like they will be awful again this season.
Wyoming, despite the potential to lose to Weber State early, is an oddity in the Mountain West. They, along with TCU, play defense—and it is the defense that will give them the best chance here in this game.
It is a late season game, so BYU's offense should be hitting on all cylinders by this point. However, breaking in four new offensive linemen is something that cannot be overlooked. Yes, the Cougars return Max Hall and Harvey Unga, but BYU has to hope their receivers develop.
For Wyoming, it is important that they maintain some consistency on the defensive side of the ball. Marty English remains on the Cowboys' staff and was promoted to defensive coordinator. They also have seven projected starters that played in 11 or 12 games last season, and an eighth player who is a projected backup.
BYU's potential weakness is their defense, and if new Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen can get his offensive scheme in some working order by this point in the season, then the Cowboys could create problems for the Cougars.
The intangible here is this game follows a huge matchup for BYU against TCU. Remember that BYU was undefeated before the Horned Frogs jumped out early and ran away with a victory in Fort Worth. I am sure that BYU has Oct. 24 circled and will look to get revenge.
What might save BYU from a letdown is the fact that there is a week off between the TCU game and the trip to Laramie.
But if a hangover still exists from that game and Wyoming's defense comes to play, then a trip to the Equality State could end in tragedy for the boys from Provo.
New Mexico Lobos at TCU Horned Frogs (Nov. 28)
Okay, not the greatest choice in the world. I do think Wyoming could be a trap for TCU as well, but I decided to pass that game over because it will probably be a defensive battle and TCU has enough offensive weapons to get by the Cowboys.
But the Lobos present an interesting challenge in that it is the final game of the season. TCU has the best chance to make it to a BCS game because they beat two ACC opponents (on their home turf). So there will be a lot of pressure on the Horned Frogs once they get past the two big games in the MWC.
If they get past Utah unscathed, TCU could relax a bit, and even if they get by Wyoming, they could be in trouble against New Mexico. If anything, there should be a lot of pressure on TCU to carry the torch for the MWC to a BCS bowl game.
New Mexico has done little to instill confidence in selecting this as a trap game. The timing of the game is what leads me to believe that the Lobos could pull it off. But there are some positives to be taken from New Mexico as a team.
They are breaking in not only a new coach but also new offensive and defensive philosophies. Under Mike Locksley, they are moving to a spread offense, while the defense is moving from the 3-3-5 to a 4-3 set.
The offense returns three talented offensive linemen, which is good considering they will start a new quarterback and a new running back. But the Lobos have a history of producing quality runners, and both James Wright and A.J. Butler could continue that trend.
The theory here is that New Mexico will have the system down by the last game of the year and should be able to move the ball through the air.
The defense, on the other hand, returns only three starters. They do return five other defensive players who played in 11 or 12 games last season.
In the past, New Mexico has played well defensively under former head coach Rocky Long, and you would expect that consistency to continue under defensive coordinator Doug Mallory. However, New Mexico is not LSU.
This is probably the biggest reach of the three games, I will admit that. TCU is a very talented team returning so many key components on both sides of the ball.
But New Mexico is no slouch, and if TCU comes into this game undefeated, the pressure of the final game itself might be enough to help the Lobos knock off the Horned Frogs.