Oct 152006
Authors: MIKE DONOVAN The Rocky Mountain Collegian

As the lead dwindled and eventually slipped away from the Rams during Thursday night’s game versus Air Force, fans could not help but think that CSU’s chances in the conference or of making a bowl faded away along with the game.

But don’t fret Rams fans.

The Mountain West Conference is going back to its roots. No longer are teams like last season’s Texas Christian squad or Urban Meyer and Alex Smith’s Utah team of two years ago going to dominate.

This year’s MWC race is a reminder of the 1990s Western Athletic Conference races, when shootouts were the norm and six wins in the conference was good enough for the crown.

It seems that on any given Saturday or Thursday or Friday, any Mountain West team can beat its opponent. Well, maybe not San Diego State or Nevada-Las Vegas, but for the other seven schools, parity is king.

Halfway through the season and the conference race is wide open and every team has its fair share of strengths and weaknesses.

Air Force and Brigham Young are sitting on top of the conference standings as the only two undefeated teams. However, the Cougars still have road games against Air Force, the Rams and rival Utah. In addition to playing BYU, the Falcons still have to deal with TCU and Utah.

Preseason favorite TCU has suddenly found itself in the unusual position of conference basement. TCU will need to run the table to capture the crown and with their star quarterback Jeff Ballard dealing with a shoulder injury, this seems like a long shot.

Teams in the middle, like the Rams, our Border War rival Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico will continue to take each other out, meaning that many or no teams will emerge. With seven teams vying for one crown, bowl eligibility also comes into play.

The Mountain West has four built-in bowl ties, meaning three teams will be on the outside looking in. With the parity it also means that a team could finish one game behind the conference champ and still miss out of the bowl party.

But the Rams are all right as far as bowl eligibility and championship aspirations are concerned. With both BYU and TCU coming to Hughes this season and the Rams finishing the season with doormat SDSU, there is no reason Sonny’s boys can’t finish with no more than two or three losses in conference.

Even with three losses in conference, the Rams will finish a comfortable 8-4 overall, which would give CSU and its fans a chance to spend the holidays in beautiful Albuquerque, N.M.

So it may not be the bright lights of Vegas or the beaches of San Diego, but it is definitely better than where our rivals down the road will be come December: At their homes in Boulder.

And if that happens it will definitely be a happy holiday season after all.

Sports Editor Mike Donovan can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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