MWC Power Rankings Week 12: Utah Down, BYU and SDSU Up

Pete MisthaufenAnalyst INovember 16, 2010

MWC Power Rankings Week 12: Utah Down, BYU and SDSU Up

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    For the last several years, there has been a set pecking order in the Mountain West Conference.

    BYU, Utah, and TCU were the Big Three

    Air Force was No. 4, always trying to get to the top.

    The remaining five teams would occasionally have good seasons (CSU in 2008, Wyoming in 2009, New Mexico prior to 2008) and seemingly turn the corner into becoming good programs.  But then they would always fall back away, demonstrating most profoundly by CSU in 2009, which started 3-0 and was just outside the top 25 when the Rams went and lost their next nine games, including all eight conference games.

    Things were going to chance in the MWC with Boise coming into the conference, but with Utah and BYU also leaving and Fresno and Nevada coming in 2012 (as well as a good chance that TCU departs for the Big East), the MWC will be very, very different in 2012 than 2009.

    Now, different can mean good, but potentially losing the Big Three, and replacing them with the WAC's Big Three makes for a very different conference.

    Even without these conference moves, the MWC was changing this season.  BYU was in a rebuilding year, Wyoming had a difficult out-of-conference slate, and second year Aztec coach Brady Hoke was making real changes in San Diego.

    And while BYU has recovered from its early season struggles, winning five of six with at least one more sure win coming up, the story of the year has to be the rise of the Aztecs.

    SDSU looks like it is claiming a spot in the new top tier of the conference and may have done so without the departure of BYU and Utah.

9. Wyoming Cowboys 2-9 (0-7): A Forgetable Season

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    Wyoming was the surprise team of the MWC last season, coming out of nowhere to claim fifth place in conference and go to the New Mexico Bowl, where the Cowboys beat WAC No. 3 Fresno State.

    New head coach Dave Christensen was lauded for his coaching, as four of the Cowboys six regular season win were by four points as less.  Freshman QB Austin Carter-Samuels looked like a solid cornerstone for a team that would continue to contend.

    It was not like the Cowboys were completely hopeless before Christensen, with over Virginia, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Air Force, and TCU in the previous three years, among others.

    Of course, all of this was wasted as the Pokes played one of the hardest out-of-conference schedules in the country, including playing at Austin and playing Boise State.  The Pokes pulled an unexpected win on the road over an improved Toledo squad.

    Even five weeks ago, most folks thought Wyoming would right the ship.  At 2-5, Wyoming still could have pulled this whole thing together.

    Instead, the season has fallen apart and at least Wyoming fans can rest assured that Christensen won't be moving on to another job too some.

    The Cowboys lost three close games to BYU, SDSU and New Mexico before getting blown out by UNLV.

    With only the Border War with Colorado State left, Wyoming just needs to return to focusing on building for the future.

    For now, it owns the MWC bottom.  Maybe better luck next year.

8. New Mexico Lobos 1-9 (1-5): Still Pathetic, Little Hope for the Future

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    After the 2008 season, long time New Mexico head coach Rocky Long quit, citing lack of institutional and community support for football, not an unusual thing at a basketball school.

    Long, a defensive mastermind and the guru of the 3-3-5 system, had taken the Lobos to five bowl games and back-to-back wins over Arizona.  But that was not enough and New Mexico hired Illinois' assistant Mike Locksley to take over, trading defense for offense.

    Locksley has been a complete disaster, both on and off the field, and while Locksley appears to be an excellent recruiter, he has only two wins in two seasons, which is not enough to save his job.

    But the Lobos found a way to defeat Wyoming even though the Pokes had three 100-yard rushers, so New Mexico can avoid the conference cellar this season, even if the Lobos deserve it as much as the Cowboys.

7. UNLV Rebels 2-8 (2-4): 1st Year Coach Bobby Hauck Has Room to Improve

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    When Bobby Hauck left one of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, Montana, for UNLV, some folks questioned the move.

    After all, UNLV is a basketball school that has rarely contended in football.  Its stadium is miles from campus and locals would rather watch sports in the casino sports books rather than in the mistake that is Sam Boyd Stadium.

    UNLV almost broke through last season under former coach Mike Sanford, who should have gone with Urban Meyer to Florida rather than take the UNLV job.  Sanford almost broke through with two 5-7 seasons, which included wins over Arizona State and Iowa State. 

    UNLV decided to dump Sanford even with his near success, pretending that much more could be expected at UNLV.

    Oh well, UNLV is back to square one, and even though Hauck had success at Montana, it looks like the Rebels will still be a work in progress for awhile.

    Somehow, the Rebels put together an impressive beat down of Wyoming last Saturday and showed that the Rebels do have a small chance at improving.

6. Colorado State Rams 3-8 (2-5): Rams Still Have a Lot of Room for Improvement

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    When former Ram player Steve Fairchild came back to Colorado State, most people knew that the Rams had a long way to go to come to return to the top of the Mountain West Conference.

    Experiencing unexpected success in 2008, including a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl, made it look like the road back was much shorter than most had thought.

    And when the Rams started 2009 3-0 and on the verge of the top 25, the Rams looked like the road was very, very short indeed.

    It all feel apart at BYU and the Rams finished 3-9 and have not recovered since, although FR quarterback Pete Thomas has loads of promise and might be able to help CSU become better than pathetic. 

    Of course, a loss in the Border War to Wyoming would send CSU back down the rankings.

5. Utah 8-2 (5-1): The Utes Are Free Falling As the Schedule Gets Harder

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    Was it only two three weeks ago that Utah garnered a No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings with a chance to play for the BCS title if the Utes had finished undefeated?

    Now, the Utes are free falling, from No. 2 in the MWC to No. 5.  Was this drop a little too far?  After all, the Utes have only lost two games and are still ranked in the top 25.

    However, as many pointed out, Utah had run through a pretty soft schedule to get to 8-0 and while the TCU-Utah game might have been the most hyped game in the history of the Utes, the truth about is out.

    Earlier in the season, most folks would have penciled in Utah wins over SDSU and BYU, especially after the Cougars had fallen apart.  But these same folks penciled in a win for Utah over Notre Dame and we saw how that turned out.

    Now, it could be argued that Utah should at least be over 7-4 Air Force.  After all, Utah beat Air Force in Colorado Springs.  But the Utes needed five turnovers to beat the Falcons and were outgained by a hundred yards.

    So, sorry Utah, but based upon current play and likely end to the season, Utah is heading to the New Mexico Bowl to face some random team.  But hey, Utah will likely be going to New Mexico for bowl games anyway once the Utes join the Pac-12, as the Pac-12 is replacing the WAC in the New Mexico Bowl anyway (it will get the seventh or eighth place team or so).

    So, Utes, you need to win a game to move out of the five-spot and two games to get back to No. 2.

    Maybe after K Whitt dumps Wynn and returns to Cain the Utes will have a chance to win a more couple games.

4. Air Force Falcons 7-4 (4-3): Holding Steady Once Again

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    This was the year that everyone thought the Falcons would break into the MWC top three.  And it sure looked that way early, with a dominating win over BYU and near miss at Oklahoma.

    But San Diego State rose up and stole the Falcons spot and BYU is much improved from its early season disaster.

    As such, back to the No. 4 spot for the Falcons once again.

    Air Force is most likely Independence Bowl bound this season, as the MWC starts its first season of the new bowl tie-in.

    The Falcons will defeat UNLV to end the season and finish at 8-4 (5-3), another successful season, but not the breakthrough season most people expected.

3. BYU Cougars 5-5 (4-2): BYU Bounces Back from Early Season Disaster

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    Everyone knew BYU was in a rebuilding year this season.  QB Max Hall went on to the NFL.  RB Harvey Unga unexpected was kicked out of school for honor code violations (read pregnant girlfriend).  Plus both tight ends moved on as well.

    BYU made a couple bad coaching decisions before the season that severely impacted early season play.

    Rather than give the QB job to Jake Heaps, the No. 1 recruit in the country, BYU had a long competition for the position that was unresolved until well into the season when a season ending injury made the decision for BYU.

    Denying Heaps the chance to start from the very beginning put Heaps' development and timing way down, leading BYU to have a disastrous offensive start to the season.

    Additionally, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who came up through the defensive coaching ranks and is a disciple of Rocky Long's 3-3-5, divorced himself entirely from the management and operation of the BYU defense.

    While losses to Air Force and Florida State were very understandable, BYU failed to even be competitive against Nevada (outside of holding the Pack to its second lowest points and third lowest yards of the season), especially on offense.  And losing to Utah State was completely unforgivable, costing DC Hill his job.

    Of course, since BYU canned Hill, the BYU defense has been excellent.  Even in the single loss (to TCU), the BYU defense performed as well as the previous two season (both BYU losses).

    Now, with much more experience under his belt, Heaps is performing at or better than expectations.

    The stats really tell the story.

    Through the first five games, BYU was ranked 94th in rushing offense (119.8 ypg), 80th in passing (192.8 ypg), 96th in total offense (312.6 ypg), 114th in scoring offense (15.2 ppg), 120th in rushing defense (259.2 ypg), and 101 in total defense (433.4 ypg).

    In the next five games, BYU has averaged 208.8 ypg rushing offense (good enough for the top 20 in the country), 380 ypg total offense, 75.8 ypg rushing defense (good enough for third best in the country), and 268.2 ypg total defense (good enough for fifth best in the country).

    Simply put, the BYU team of today, had it been put in place at the beginning of the season, would likely have won at least two more games, if not three, being at 8-2 right now instead of 5-5.

    BYU will defeat New Mexico this weekend to become bowl eligible and will face Utah in the Holy War.  The way BYU has been playing over the last five games, BYU should easily handle the Utes and claim second place in the MWC once again.

    BYU has finished either first or second in the MWC over the last five season, except in 2008 when the Cougars finished third behind top ten Utah and TCU.

    With a second place finish in the conference, a 7-5 BYU will most likely be heading to the Las Vegas Bowl once again.  And while BYU has gone there the last five season, this may be the most rewarding of the years, given the start of the season.

    For the Las Vegas Bowl, it may not get another chance at BYU for several years, given BYU's pending departure.  It will take BYU if it gets a chance.

2. San Diego State Aztecs 7-3 (4-2): Hoke Makes a Monster in Just Two Years

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    For years, San Diego State was the team with "potential" and "talent", loaded with players with future in the NFL.

    But things always fell apart and the Aztecs were always just not quite there.

    Second-year coach Brady Hoke has quickly turned things around in San Diego and is now a very hot commodity.  But don't expect Hoke to jump just for money—he wants a very good situation with a strong chance at winning.

    Hoke built his coaching staff with two solid coordinator, Al Borges (formerly of UCLA and Auburn) and Rocky Long (formerly of New Mexico). 

    The Aztecs are just 11 points from being undefeated this season and two of those losses came about due to very controversial situations.

    The Aztecs also just bounced back from a 34-14 half-time deficit in Fort Worth (with only one first down through 40 minutes) to come within five points of TCU.

    The Aztecs are primed to pound Utah on Saturday and should finish out the season at 9-3 and ranked.

    SDSU should stay at home this season to play in the Poinsettia Bowl versus Navy, which should not only provide a sold out game, but a very, very good one.

    Hoke should stay around at least one more season at SDSU, but he may actually prefer living in America's finest city, with great weather year-round and an incredible recruiting base.  It is sure a lot better situation than coaching at Minnesota.

1. TCU Horned Frogs 11-0 (7-0): Frogs Looking for a Spot at the BCS Title Game

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    With its third conference title in six seasons in the MWC, TCU is poised yet again on the verge of a possible spot in the BCS title game.

    Of course, TCU is also likely on its way to the Big East Conference, so college football's gypsies will likely say goodbye to its fourth conference in less than 20 years.

    TCU joined a MWC with BYU and Utah and the conference is not going to be the same without them.

    Fresno, Nevada, and Boise are all very, very distant from Fort Worth and none are major markets.

    While Boise and TCU have developed a good rivalry over their three postseason matchups, the MWC is just not the same and TCU needs to follow its interests to the Big East.

    In many ways, TCU has out-grown the MWC anyway.  The bottom of the MWC is still along way from improving and a continual drag on TCU's numbers in the BCS computers (although TCU is still No. 3 overall and ahead of Boise State and the AQ one-loss teams).

    And while TCU might take a small step back next season without four-year starter Andy Dalton at QB, the Frogs will still be looking for yet another 10-win season and yet another No. 1 defense.

    Speaking of No. 1 defense, TCU will be claiming that title for the fifth time under Gary Patterson.  Since they started keeping track of this in the 1930s, no team has ever had more than four No. 1 defenses.  With three in a row and five in 11 years, TCU's defensive dominance is very, very clear.