Nov 122002
 
Authors: Jason Graziadei

The CSU Rams control their own destiny in the Mountain West Conference with an undefeated record. But with three games left to play, there’s still room for error.

Should the Rams slip up, the New Mexico Lobos could contend for the MWC championship. Despite their 5-5 overall record, the Lobos are still alive with a 3-1 conference mark.

New Mexico head coach Rocky Long, however, was a little pessimistic about his team’s chances for the MWC crown.

“I don’t think anyone considers us true contenders for the MWC title. Not yet anyway,” Long said.

The conference still may struggle to fill its allotment of four bowl games by the time the season ends. Mountain West teams are scheduled to go to the Liberty Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Seattle Bowl and the San Francisco Bowl. But to be eligible for those games, a team must have at least a .500 record. As of now, only CSU and Air Force can qualify, but both New Mexico and Brigham Young have 5-5 records.

All eight MWC teams are in action this weekend.

New Mexico at BYU, Saturday 4 p.m., ESPN GamePlan

With both these teams at the .500 mark, one will take a step towards a postseason bowl game, while the other will move closer to being eliminated this weekend. The Lobos (5-5, 3-1 MWC) are coming off a 15-8 victory over San Diego State while BYU (5-5, 2-3 MWC) barely held off Wyoming 35-31.

“It seems like every game we play is a close game and we anticipate that to be the same way this weekend against BYU,” Long said. “We’ve been an up-and-down team. Sometimes it looks like we’re a pretty good football team and other days it looks like we’ve never practiced.”

The Lobos haven’t beaten BYU in Provo in 31 years. New Mexico has lost 14 straight games to BYU in Utah, and the last time they won was in 1971 when Long was the starting quarterback and led the Lobos to a 14-0 victory.

Colorado State at San Diego State, Saturday 5 p.m., ESPN GamePlan

The Rams (8-2, 4-0 MWC) put their perfect conference record on the line this week against the Aztecs (3-7, 3-2 MWC) in Qualcomm Stadium. The Rams dropped a close game last year, 14-7, in Fort Collins, and a loss would open up a race for the conference title.

“CSU is an outstanding team and it’s going to present a big challenge for our team,” San Diego State head coach Tom Craft said. “Defensively, they’re always tough.”

The Aztecs have two of the country’s top three receivers in J.R. Tolver, who is averaging 128 receiving yards per game, and Kassim Osgood, who grabs 8.1 catches per game. The Rams, however, are up to the challenge as they rank second in the conference in passing defense.

Air Force at UNLV, Saturday 1 p.m., ESPN+Plus

Fisher DeBerry’s Falcons (7-3, 3-2 MWC) got back on track last week with a 49-30 win over Army, snapping their three-game losing streak. UNLV (4-6, 2-3 MWC), on the other hand, became the first MWC team to lose to Utah, falling 28-17 in Salt Lake City.

“This is a very important week in the conference and for us as well as UNLV,” DeBerry said. “(UNLV) is a team that we haven’t done too well against the last couple of years. They’ve just had our number.”

The Rebels defeated the Falcons 34-10 last season in Falcon Stadium.

Utah at Wyoming, Saturday 10 a.m., KJZZ-SLC

The MWC’s cellar-dwellers meet in this game that pits the Cowboys (2-8, 1-4 MWC), coming off another close loss, against a Utah team (3-6, 1-4 MWC) that won its first conference game of the season last week.

With both programs struggling through difficult seasons, Wyoming head coach Vic Koenning and his Utah counterpart, Ron McBride have had to answer difficult questions about their job security.

“Last week was the second week in a row we stunk it up on defense,” Koenning said. “I have no explanations for it. It’s not fun around here right now.”

Things may be worse for McBride. He has joined a small group of Division-I coaches for whom websites dedicated to their dismissal have been created. FireRonMcBride.com is the newest addition to that group.

“It’s just one thing after another this year,” McBride said. “It’s like a snowball effect. You’re going to take criticism – we all know that. But it’s been a mountain of crap this year. I don’t try to defend myself, but I don’t feel guilty about what’s been done here. I stand by what’s been done here in the last 13 years.”

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