THE FINISH LINE IS IN SIGHT. Division 1-A teams have spent the days of the 2004 season assiduously pursuing conference championships and bowl berths. Nearly half of the 117 schools in big-time college football will be making plans for postseason play. Among MWC teams only Utah is presently assured of playing once its regular season has concluded. BYU, New Mexico, Wyoming and CSU seem the four most likely candidates to join the Utes in bowl play, but not all of them will be so fortunate.
I had a reasonable week with my predictions as October came to a close posting a 2-1 record in MWC action, missing on the Lobos' upset of CSU in Fort Collins. Rocky Long's team has an open date this weekend before returning to action against BYU next Saturday. With November's arrival, I stand at 37-11 (.770) for the season. From my vantage point here's what I see unfolding in this week's games.
@ . It's a tired mantra: Wyoming doesn't win on the road. True enough, the Cowboys haven't authored a win on the road in MWC play since 1999. Joe Glenn's team is 5-0 in Laramie this year and 0-3 on the road. The 'Pokes have outscored their opposition, 184-85, in War Memorial Stadium while being beaten by a collective, 85-20, as a visiting team. Roadkill indeed!
The UNLV Rebels have played well enough to shock BYU in Provo and poorly enough to lose at home to a, 2-6, Utah State team.
This will be coach John Robinson's farewell in Sam Boyd Stadium as the Rebels finish on the road against CSU and SDS. The locals in Las Vegas have plenty of diversions in which to indulge if they aren't football fans and quite frankly, most of them don't seem to know UNLV has--if only nominally--a team.
UNLV is 4-11 in its past fifteen games while resurgent Wyoming is 8-7. One of UNLV's wins in that span came in Laramie in 2003's season finale for both teams. The Rebels topped the Cowboys, 35-24, in that one. Having witnessed Wyoming's offensive decimation of Air Force last weekend as QB Corey Bramlet directed the team to a 559 yard onslaught, I'm confident in saying Joe Glenn's resuscitation of the program left in tatters by his predecessor, Vic Koenning, is nearly complete.
The Rebels may receive a boost in attendance if people turn out to wave goodbye to Robinson, if not, the Rebels will once again be without any advantage derived from having a vocal home crowd inspiring it to greater heights. Wyoming needs one more victory to become bowl qualified this season, a feat that in and of itself would make Glenn a leading candidate for conference coach of the year honors even above Urban Meyer in Utah. At this stage of his tenure any MWC road triumph for Wyoming and Glenn would be viewed as remarkable. UNLV is a slight favorite in the contest, but I feel no hesitation in making my pick to win this game Wyoming.
@ . When the 2004 MWC schedule was released last spring it's understandable that this game between the Utes and Rams may have been viewed as one that could crown the league's champion. The Utes' terrific play from 2003 has continued in 2004 under coach Urban Meyer's direction. Sonny Lubick's Rams played a Herculean non-conference schedule with games versus Colorado, Minnesota and USC. CSU was overmatched in all but the game versus the Buffs and has yet to recover from the devastation of the 0-3 start it suffered. Perhaps it's a Pyrrhic victory for Lubick that one of his former assistants, Meyer, has established Utah as the scourge of the conference.
The Rams are struggling on offense with QB Caleb Hanie playing in lieu of the injured Justin Holland. While CSU has enough talent to be competitive on offense in most MWC games, the Rams' lack of talent and depth on defense has plagued them all year. Defensive coordinator Steve Stanard hasn't been an adequate replacement for Larry Kerr who left for UCLA two years ago.
QB Alex Smith, RBs Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther with WRs Steve Savoy, Paris Warren and Travis LaTendresse have sparked Utah's offense to consecutive games in excess of fifty points and the Utes have scored 160 points in their past three contests. No team has stayed closer than 14 points to the Utes this year and the Rams aren't the team likely to break that streak. Utah is my pick to win the game, solidify its hold on claiming a second consecutive conference title all the while continuing its role as a gate crasher for the BCS' postseason plans.
@ . San Diego State LBs Kirk Morrison and Matt McCoy are the linchpins of the Aztecs' "Dark Side" defense that prides itself in being able to contain opposing offenses. How ironic then that other teams' attacks have turned out the lights on the "Dark Side." After winning two of its first three games this season, SDS has lost five straight and currently serves as the league's doormat owing to its 0-4 record.
It shouldn't surprise anyone who's followed SDS for any length of time. The Aztecs have a regrettably, well-established history for underachievement. After being picked in preseason polls to finish second in the MWC race this fall, Tom Craft's team faces the possibility of going without a victory in conference play in 2004.
BYU began the season with a 1-3 record thanks to the Cougars' willingness to play their customary lethal non-conference schedule (Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Boise State). Gary Crowton has righted the team's ship and BYU has won three of its past four games. The Cougars need two wins in their final three regular season games to become bowl qualified. A running game that was AWOL in the first month of the season, continues to be ably manned by Curtis Brown and Fahu Tahi, and is a contributing factor to a stretch of five consecutive games in which the BYU offense has amassed in excess of 400 yards.
BYU is fully motivated by the attainable goal of becoming bowl qualified while the Aztecs have assumed their habitual, late season guise as folders. This one looks almost too easy. BYU is my pick.
@ . The end of another regular season's football schedule is within plain view for the Falcons. Having lost four its past five games, Air Force is well on its way to a fourth consecutive campaign stained by late season failures. There will be no recapturing of the CIC trophy. The school's first losing season since 1993 remains a distinct possibility that would be fully eradicated only by a season ending three game win streak. It's likely that for the third time in four years the Falcons will be staying home for the holidays rather than going bowling. The 2004 season has not been the stuff of which memories are made.
Freshman QB Shaun Carney's spiraling production against BYU and Wyoming left Fisher DeBerry with no alternative but to elevate Adam Fitch to the starting position. Fitch rallied the team to three, fourth quarter scores in Laramie last weekend in a too-little too-late scenario. Nevertheless, in the past two games in which he has been inserted into the lineup (Northwestern in 2003 and Wyoming last weekend) Fitch has moved the team efficiently and effectively.
The AFA fullback game, which peaked at 32 carries for 156 yards against UNLV, hit rock bottom last week when Dan Shaffer and Adam Cole combined for 6 carries (all by Cole) for 16 yards.
Carney, while a superb passer, has neither the speed nor elusiveness to cause opposing defenses to quake when they see him in full flight. Perhaps Fitch--even though recovering from a severe Achilles' tendon injury this spring--may offer a more evasive target to corral when running the ball. No AFA backfield member has produced a one hundred yard rushing effort against a division 1-A opponent in 2004. It's a wonder how the Falcons have achieved their position as the nation's eighth most prolific rushing team this year.
Introduce to this unseemly mix the team's continuing inability to produce any scoring in the third quarter and there is due and dire concern as to how Air Force might score enough to overcome a rejuvenated Army team. AFA has failed to score a point in the third quarter in fourteen of its past twenty-five games. Perhaps a shot of caffeine at halftime would help matters.
Under Bobby Ross, Army is seeking to escape the murky depths it has plumbed for much of the past four years, while Fisher DeBerry may be attempting to keep his team from becoming denizens of such environs. Each coach will gush forth the politically correct pre-game bromides and platitudes in re to throwing out all the records and such when military rivals meet.
Since 1990, AFA has won 6 of 7 games versus the Black Knights in Michie Stadium and thirteen of the fourteen games the squads have played. Simultaneously, it's easy to see why Army feels it has its best chance in dogs' years to beat the Falcons this Saturday and difficult to fathom why Air Force is a 4 1/2 to 5 point favorite entering the game.
In winning two of its past three games, Army has outscored its opponents, 118-102. RB Carlton Jones has been immense in gaining 844 yards thus far and scoring 12 TDs for the Black Knights. Air Force has been ineffectual in defending the run all season and it's unlikely that will change with Jones churning through the Falcons' ranks.
AFA isn't a team constructed to win low-scoring, defensively oriented games. It hasn't won a game in which it has allowed 24 or more points to be scored by an opposing team since downing Wyoming on September 20, 2003. Ironically, for all its struggles on offense this season and the dangers inherent in having a porous defense, AFA's best chance to beat Army may come from a game that is a high-scoring contest. I'm not at all convinced that at this point in the season Air Force is the better team entering this game.
Summoning all the conviction shown by John Kruk when swinging at a Randy Johnson fast ball, I'll stick with my preseason pick in this game of Air Force.
SQUIB KICKS. Georgia QB David Greene goes for his NCAA division 1-A record setting 40th victory as a starter when the Bulldogs play Kentucky this Saturday.
USC attempts to win for the 30th time in its past 31 meetings with the Beavers when it faces Oregon State in Corvallis this weekend.
Wisconsin, which leads the nation in scoring defense per game (8.5 points), faces a faltering Minnesota team in Madison on Saturday.
The Cal Bears haven't posted three consecutive shutouts since 1938, but have a chance to do so by blanking Oregon in their game this week. Cal has held Arizona and Arizona State without a point in its past two outings.
Utah goes in search of a school record 9-0 start to a season when it faces CSU on Saturday night. Utah holds a commanding 49-21-2 edge in the series.
Miami's beleaguered defense has allowed 1,492 yards in the Hurricanes' last three games. Next up for Larry Coker's team is Clemson.
Oklahoma State began the season with a 5-0 burst, but has lost two of three since then. The Cowboys tackle Texas this in Big 12 play. The Longhorns are 16-2 overall versus OSU and 11-1 against them in Austin, site of this week's game.
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