No other conference in college football has surprised critics as much as the Mountain West has so far in 2008. Overall, the nine teams in the MWC have a combined record of 48-11 with three teams in the latest AP Top 25. But above all else, what may be most impressive is the conference’s head-to-head record against the Pac-10, and outstanding 5-0.
New Mexico’s lone win comes at the hands of Arizona; UNLV pulled an upset at Arizona State; BYU had the controversial win at Washington before shutting out UCLA 59-0; and TCU’s third win of the season came against Stanford. The Pac-10 only has two more games left against the MWC to squeak out a win and next on the docket is CSU at California.
“We’d like to win this game, regardless of the other teams in the conference,” said CSU head coach Steve Fairchild, “It’s nice for the Mountain West to have performed as well as they have.”
The Rams are 2-1 this season under Fairchild, with the two latest wins coming down to the final seconds of the game. The 2-1 start is the best for any first year CSU head coach since Sark Arslanian started his nine year tenure in 1973.
Despite the positive start, Fairchild says his team has to remain focused on the rest of the season.
“I don’t want one game here or there along the road to necessarily define what we’re doing. There’s a way we want to practice, a tempo, an accountability and that sort of thing that has to remain to be a good football team, and we’re trying to get there,” he said.
But just like CSU had last week with cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie and his familiarity to Houston, the Rams have a former Pac-10 coach on their staff this season in first year offensive coordinator Greg Peterson.
“Familiarity is always good and even back (when I was at) Kansas State, we played Cal one time at the Eddie Robinson Classic and it’s the same coaches and the same defense,” Peterson said. “Coach Tedford and his staff do a great job, but anytime you play and compete it helps to have a secret or two.”
Peterson spent the last two seasons as the tight ends coach at Washington State. Even though he was recently a staff member in the Pac-10, he denies having any idea that the MWC has excelled so well against them this season.
“I didn’t know we’re 5-0 as a conference, all I was focusing on was this football game, to be honest with you. But it’s like I told the offense after practice today, I said ‘you want to prove to this country and to this Mountain West Conference that the Rams are back. Go fight your tail off at Cal-Berkeley and have a win and we’ll have done something special,'” he said.
Other than Saturday’s CSU-Cal battle, the only remaining game between the MWC and the Pac-10 is Utah and Oregon State in two weeks. The pressure is on for the Rams to keep the conference pride alive.
“Cal’s a good football team and we know we’re gonna be in a dog fight,” Peterson said.
Football beat writer Matt Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.