Sep 242002
 
Authors: Jason Graziadei

With several big wins over ranked teams and BCS-conference opponents this season, Mountain West Conference football programs have received not only national attention, but respect as well.

Colorado State is not the only MWC team with a beefed up non-conference schedule this year. Schools such as Air Force, Wyoming, Utah and UNLV have all added tough early-season games against such teams as Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and Michigan.

The result has not always been a win, but there is no doubt that the performance of those teams has made the MWC one of the premier mid-major conferences in the country.

“I think the Mountain West is getting a lot of respect around the country because of the teams we have played,” Utah head coach Ron McBride said.

Last week’s games were no exception. Air Force moved to 3-0 after a 23-21 win over then-No. 23 California. Utah (2-2, 0-0 MWC) ventured into Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and nearly shocked the Michigan Wolverines before falling 10-7.

“Utah sent a message to the Big 10,” Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry said. “To go into the Big House – and they could have beaten Michigan – that would’ve been huge. I think they earned a lot of respect.”

This weekend, four MWC teams will be in action, including a nationally televised game pitting New Mexico (2-3, 0-1 MWC) against Texas Tech of the Big 12.

However, the big game will take place in Salt Lake City, where the Utah will battle Air Force in a game with major implications for the MWC title. The last five games between the two teams have all been decided seven points or less, including last year’s thriller in which Air Force held onto a one-point victory.

The game will be Utah’s first conference game while Air Force will be trying for its second win in the league. Utah will have its hands full trying to stop quarterback Chance Harridge – last week’s MWC Offensive Player of the Week – who is the feature in Air Force’s option offense.

“Obviously this is a big game for both teams,” DeBerry said. “It looks like we’re about to heat up conference play. It’s always a great game, a hard-fought game when Utah and Air Force play.”

In the other two MWC games this weekend, CSU (3-1, 0-0 MWC) takes on Nevada in Reno, while San Diego State (0-4, 0-0 MWC) hosts UCLA at Qualcomm Stadium.

The three other MWC teams have a bye this week, including:

BYU

The Cougars fell to 2-2 on the season after a 28-19 defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech. BYU recorded wins over Syracuse and Hawaii before falling out of the national rankings when it lost to Nevada two weeks ago. The Cougars take on Utah State in their next game on October 4.

Wyoming

The Cowboys continued their losing ways last week, falling to Washington 38-7 in Seattle. The defeat marked the 12th straight loss for Wyoming dating back to last season. The Cowboys will take on the Citadel next weekend.

UNLV

The Rebels of Sin City lost their second straight game, this time to Toledo (Ohio), dropping their record to 1-3. Earlier this year, UNLV set school, stadium and state records for attendance when 42,075 watched the opening game against Wisconsin. The Rebels will play Nevada on October 5.

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