Mountain West Wrap-up Week #12

Mountain West Conference play came to a close over the weekend, but with the championship long since decided, only the bowl eligibility picture remained unclear.

BYU 34, Utah 41.

With a single game the Cougars managed to salvage a season. Their arch-rival's season, that is. There was much joy in Provo last week when BYU advanced to 6-4 with a win over Wyoming, a record that would work wailing in the Wasatch not so ago. There will still be warm fuzzy feelings about having advanced to a post-season game, no matter how irrelevant it may be. Those feelings are misplaced. On Saturday, BYU let a significant opportunity slip through its grasp.

Consider the turnaround: with a win BYU could have:

1. Sent the Utes home for the holidays. Instead, they'll get a bowl bid. 2. Hung a losing season on their arch rival. Instead, they end the regular season with a record just as good as BYU's. 3. Snapped their three-game losing skid to their in-state rival. Now, it's four straight. 4. Broken Utah's run of three straight bowl games.

On the other side of the ledger, with a win BYU could have:

1. Won a year of bragging rights in the recruiting wars. Instead, Utah can now claim it had as good a year as BYU, even though BYU's schedule included Notre Dame and Boston College, instead of Arizona and North Carolina. 2. Wrapped up sole possession of second place. Instead, they share the spot with Colorado State. 3. Re-established its claim as a dominant football program in the state, and arguably in any neighboring state. 4. Finished the season with six straight conference wins. 5. Had a chance to finish 8-4 with a bowl win.

Here is a wakeup call to everyone in Provo who is still feeling good about "having a winning season." You may have one. The season is not over, but you may wish it was by the time the bowl season is over. After laying another egg, at the most inopportune time, the Cougars could now end 6-6 after a bowl game. Stanford, at 5-5, has to beat Notre Dame to qualify, which probably will not happen. That means Arizona State, which can tie Stanford for fifth place in the PAC, will go if they can beat in-state rival Arizona this week. Six and six is not a winning record. That would make four straight non-winning seasons. You know what else it means? The only BYU coach to turn in a winning season since 1999 would be. . .Gary Crowton.

The Cougars were not ready to play in the first half, and it showed, leading to a 24-3 deficit. John Beck was decent, but not sharp, sailing several passes over the head of receivers and defenders alike. BYU roared back to tie it in regulation, but it was a game of missed chances.

First, at the end of the first half, the missed chance cost the Cougars a shot at a long, but makeable, field goal that could have provided the margin of victory without overtime.

But the most crucial missed chance was BYU's failing to take the game when it was theirs for the taking. After tying the game at 34-34 with 4:27 remaining, a weak BYU defense held Utah and forced a punt, taking possession at their own 36 with just over two minutes remaining. The Cougars needed only 33 yards to give Jared McLaughlin a 47-yard field goal attempt. A run by Beck and a pass to Watkins gave BYU a first down at their own 49, but Beck threw three straight incompletions, the last a throw to Johnny Harline who was open for a first down, but the pass again sailed high, and behind the tight end.

Beck has had a good year, maybe even a very good one, but not a great one. A great year means he hits the big pass in the big game.

The more significant problems are on the other side of the ball. The defense, in particular the secondary, is not just bad it is downright embarrassing. It is one thing to have a veteran Notre Dame team toy with your defense. It is another to have a Utah squad, which was starting a quarterback who had never started a game in the NCAA, and which was without its leading receiver, do so. Making his first start ever in NCAA play, Brett Ratliff threw for three touchdown passes and ran for another. There is no other word for it - embarrassing. The debacle can be, and should be, laid at the feet of one man. In this case it is easy, since he is both the head coach and the defensive coordinator.

Next up: Likely bowl bids for both teams, against undistinguished opponents yet to be determined, in cities no one cares about, and games no one will watch.

Colorado State 31, UNLV 27.

The Rams staggered into Sam Boyd Stadium after an awful game at home last week against San Diego State, and stumbled out with a narrow win against the conference's worst team. A 75-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter was the margin of victory.

Next up: For Colorado State, a bowl game. For UNLV, the off-season.

Air Force 42, New Mexico 24.

Give the Falcons credit; they could have packed it in. With a 3-7 record and a game at Albuquerque that had little meaning for them, they instead played one of their best games of the year. Although the Lobos are bowl eligible, it is questionable whether any bowl will be interested in them at 6-5.

Next up: For Air Force, the off-season. For New Mexico, a very, very, outside shot at a bowl game.

San Diego State 34, Wyoming 21.

The struggling Cowboys traveled to San Diego and gave the Aztecs all they could handle – for just over three quarters. Unfortunately, for the Cowboys, football games are four quarters long. San Diego State scored two touchdowns and two field goals in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.

Next up: For Wyoming, the off-season. For San Diego State, at Hawaii. The Aztecs have an ever-so-tentative chance at a bowl game.

TCU did not play.

Bowl Watch

TCU awaits losses by the teams still ranked ahead of it. After last week they moved up to #14, only two slots shy of the number needed to slip into a BCS bowl should other contingencies also happen. This week, however, of the teams still ahead of the Frogs only #8 Alabama lost, and it is questionable whether the Tide will fall at least six spots, enough to help TCU.

A more likely pickup is on December 3, when UCLA takes its annual pounding from Southern Cal. West Virginia, which hosts arch-rival Pitt on Thanksgiving Day, then finishes at surprising South Florida the following week, will definitely give TCU a boost if should they stumble.

Texas has its grudge match at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Friday, but even an Aggie upset will not drop the #2 Longhorns enough to help their in-state brethren. Miami will slip this week after its loss to Georgia Tech, but will stay ahead of the Frogs unless the ‘Canes also lose this week at home to Virginia. A Notre Dame loss at Stanford is an outside possibility, and would drop the #9 Irish below TCU and out of the BCS picture.

BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico and Utah all sit on pins and needles, having concluded their seasons at 6-5.

San Diego State could qualify at 6-6 if they beat Hawaii.

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