Final Mountain West football power rankings/picks

My final installment of the Mountain West football power rankings and picks.

1. No. 22 Boise State (10-2 overall, 7-1 MW): Could have easily been at the top the last few weeks as it finished the regular season with seven straight wins. The best offense in the conference and arguably the most physical defense. Should win its first MW championship after Saturday’s title game at home versus Fresno State. This week: vs. Fresno State (MW Championship Game), 8 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS). At home on the blue turf on prime time TV with a New Year’s bowl game on the line. Enough said. Boise State 45, Fresno State 20.

2. Colorado State (10-2, 6-2): A loss at Air Force last week bumped the Rams down, and now must find a new coach as Jim McElwain took the Florida job. Still a great season for CSU, but how will it respond moving forward?

3. Air Force (9-3, 5-3): The only team in the conference to beat both Boise State and Colorado State this season. The transformation from 2-10 last year has been amazing, and most of the talent returns next season.

4. Utah State (9-4, 6-2): Even though the Aggies beat Air Force this season, they drop a spot based on the 50-19 pounding they took at Boise State last week. Still, a great season and one of the most solid programs in the MW. Now, will Utah State keep its coach?

5. San Diego State (7-5, 5-3): I know Fresno State won the West Division and beat San Diego State in the regular season, but the Aztecs were the better overall team and the most consistent (if there was such a thing in that division).

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Border War key to the game; along with notes, quotes and video

Here is WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi’s top key to the game for the Wyoming Cowboys in their Border War game against Colorado State, which kicks off at 5 p.m. today at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Communication: Talking about Wyoming’s defense. With two of its most important starters out with injuries — free safety Darrenn White and outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha — and possibly two other starters (senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi and senior cornerback DeAndre Jones). It is vital the Cowboys know what they are doing against a high-powered Colorado State offense that will use a lot of shifts and motions at the line of scrimmage to set up mismatches.

Gagliardi and WyoSports editor Scott Nulph preview today’s game on their weekly video blog:

This game over the years always has featured players and coaches with ties to both schools.

UW lists 20 players from Colorado on its roster, and 13 have starting experience. Many of them know CSU players going back to when they were in high school. Some were recruited by both schools, others were shunned by Colorado State.

UW senior defensive end Riley Lange, who is from Parker, Colorado, talks about that this week:

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Bohl to see much improved Colorado State team Saturday

On Sept. 8, 2012, coach Craig Bohl took his North Dakota State team into Colorado State and beat the Rams 22-7.

That was the second game for then first-year Colorado State coach Jim McElwain, and the first of six straight losses for the Rams as they finished 4-8.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

A little more than two years later, Bohl will take another team to Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins. This time as the first-year coach at Wyoming. While some of the Rams’ players and coaches will be the same, Colorado State is a much different squad.

Different in the fact that it is the hottest team in the Mountain West. The Rams have won five straight games, are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference and became the first bowl-eligible team in the MW after its 16-13 home win over Utah State last week. The Rams also have won 12 of their last 15 games dating back to last season.

“They’ve made great strides with the program and it will be a big challenge,” said Bohl during his Monday news conference.

“You look at their quarterback and (senior Garrett) Grayson’s a guy who’s played an awful lot of football; he’s got 27 starts. He’s throwing the football well and he’s got a great touchdown-to-interception ratio (16 touchdowns, five interceptions). He’s operated the offense very well and I’ve seen significant improvement in him personally the last couple of years.

“While they replaced an awful lot of offensive linemen, they’re playing well as a group together. And they got good skilled players. On defense they have a strong conviction in their scheme and what they’re doing. Probably their strongest part of their whole football team is their special teams. When you put all three of those phases together, you’ve got a solid football team that’s well coached and that’s why they’re receiving top 25 votes.”

Here is video of Bohl’s news conference from Monday:


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UW-CSU quotes

Here are some quotes from Wyoming and Colorado State players and coaches that didn’t make it into any of our stories this week, but worth noting.

UW and CSU play the 105th Border War game at noon Saturday at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.

— “I never wanted to be mediocre or average. I want to be great at everything I do. I want to stay hungry, scratch and claw to get there.” — UW sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough on his improved play this season compared to last.

— “This is a great opportunity to go out there and remain undefeated in the conference. Plus, it’s the Border War. It’s the biggest game on our schedule and something the fans look forward to each year.” — UW senior free safety Marqueston Huff.

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UW-CSU Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State football for the Fort Collins Coloradoan about Saturday’s Border War with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @KellyLyell

Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.

 

How is Colorado State mentally and physically after its 34-27 homecoming loss to San Jose State? From comments from coaches and players it appeared that was a tough loss for the squad to take.

It was an unusually tough loss for the Rams. It was the conference opener and a chance to get a fresh start after going 2-3 in nonconference games. It was an opportunity to build on the momentum gained from wins over Cal Poly and UTEP, sandwiched around a strong showing in a loss at top-ranked Alabama. There were 26,022 fans — the largest crowd at Hughes Stadium since last year’s Boise State game — there for them to win back after four disappointing seasons in a row.

Plus, they blew a second-half lead in a game they went on to lose again, just as they had done in the first two games of the season against Colorado and Tulsa. It was a real setback for the Rams.

Physically, it took a toll, too, with star linebacker Shaquil Barrett suffering an ankle sprain that has made him questionable for the Border War, and nose tackle Josh Lovingood, a true freshman who made his first start while senior Calvin Tonga deals with “some personal issues” suffering a foot injury that could require surgery. Tonga isn’t expected to play this week, either, so the Rams will be down to a rotation of their third-, fourth- and fifth-stringers at nose tackle.

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Cowboys brave the cold

Just how cold was it during Wyoming’s football practice Tuesday morning at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium?

Water froze immediately once it touched the benches along the sideline.

Temperatures were in the 20s and the wind chill factor was in the teens during much of the two-hour practice in which the team was in full pads in preparation for Saturday’s Border War game with Colorado State in Laramie.

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Targeting rule concerns MW coaches

One of the biggest rule changes this year in college football involves targeting, where a player hits a defenseless player.

This could involve a defender hitting a receiver over the middle, a defender hitting a quarterback, and even a running back lowering his head to a defender down field.

MW logoThe NCAA wants to eliminate players using the crown of their helmets leading into hits. They also don’t any defender hitting anyone above the shoulders in a blatant manner.

Most Mountain West coaches like the merits of the rule, but are leery of how it will be called since most of those plays happen so fast. And, they are leery of the punishment.

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MW football power ratings

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi rates all 10 Mountain West football and why.

1. Fresno State (8-3 overall, 6-1 MW): The Bulldogs remain at the top and end the regular season with a home game with Air Force Saturday. As stated before, this is the most complete team on both sides of the ball in the conference this season — and the most athletic from top to bottom.

2. San Diego State (8-3, 6-1): Has the longest winning streak in the MW at six, and like Fresno State was off last week. After a 2-3 start the biggest turnaround for the Aztecs has been the play of both their offensive and defensive lines. San Diego State has not won a conference title since 1998, when it won the Pacific Division title in the WAC.

3. Boise State (8-3, 6-1): The Broncos are still ranked in most polls, but I can’t put them ahead of San Diego State based on their home loss to the Aztecs a few weeks ago. Boise State has allowed a league-low 158 points. The next lowest is 252 by Fresno State. Both of its losses were by a combined six points. This is still a very good team, despite where it is in these rankings.

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UW-CSU Border War Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State football for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Look for Q&As with writers who cover the opponents of the University of Wyoming football program every Friday.

What are the biggest differences you see in the program with new coach Jim McElwain compared to former coach Steve Fairchild?

The biggest differences are in the attitude of the players and coaching staff. McElwain emphasizes a sense of family and forces players to get to know and respect each other, and one of the first things he did was eliminate the daily competition that Fairchild had set up between the offense and defense. McElwain considers it his job to develop his players and not try to make them do things they’re not likely to be able to accomplish. Fairchild had an NFL coaching style that expected players to motivate themselves, and regularly chewed them out when they couldn’t do what needed to be done to execute his offensive and defensive systems. Players clearly prefer McElwain’s style, even if it doesn’t seem to be producing any more success right now than Fairchild’s did.

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One wild ride back in Washington

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain brought it up first on Tuesday, and all Wyoming coach Dave Christensen could was laugh.

It was the mid-1980s and both were assistant football coaches at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. McElwain was the quarterbacks coach, Christensen was a graduate assistant.

Both dropped a recruit off at the airport in nearby Spokane and were headed back to Cheney. The roads were icy, Christensen was driving and in his words: “I took him for a little joy ride and went off an embankment. Luckily (the vehicle) was front-wheel drive. I put it back in gear, pulled us out of the ditch and away we went. It was quite a spin.”

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