MWC Wrap: Week #11

The Mountain West Conference has a new champion, or at least a new co-champion. BYU clinched a share of the 2006 title with its win over Wyoming and needs only one more win to ensure sole possession of the conference crown. The race for second place also thinned out over the weekend. There are only three two-loss MWC teams left, and two of them will play this Saturday.

BYU 55, Wyoming 7.

It was a nearly perfect game in every respect: the defense shone, picking off two passes and holding the Cowboys to under 80 yards rushing until late in the fourth quarter. Special teams were, well, special, with Nate Meikle returning the opening kickoff 84 yards to the Wyoming three, and true freshman McKay Jacobson taking a punt 77 yards to the house, the first punt returned by the Cougars for a score in nine years.

John Beck finished with an efficiency rating north of 200 for the fourth time this year, something no BYU quarterback has ever done, and he passed Jim McMahon to become the Cougar's second leading career passer.

The big question now is whether the team can keep its collective head together. They are saying all the right things, but to a man they know that looming beyond next week is a grudge match, not only because it is against their archrival, but because of four years of frustration, and three of humiliation, including being shut out in 2003 and a running-up-the-score trick play to let a tackle score a touchdown in 2004. New Mexico has had its struggles this year, but they are good enough to pull off an upset if BYU is caught looking past the Lobos to Utah.

Next up: For BYU, New Mexico. A win over the Lobos will clinch the league championship outright and a trip to the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl. Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona State, and even rematches with Cal or Arizona are all mathematical possibilities at this point, although Oregon State and Washington State appear to be the two most likely candidates.

For Wyoming, at UNLV, a game which the ‘Pokes must win to be bowl-eligible, although realistically a 6-6 Cowboys squad is not going anywhere.

Utah 35, Colorado State 22.

The Rams rode a four-game losing streak into Salt Lake City with only the slimmest of chances at a bowl. Those hopes were easily snuffed. Although the home standing Utes were clear favorites, they resorted to a number of trick plays, including a fake punt, reverses, and several plays in which a DB Eric Weddle took shotgun snaps at quarterback.

Utah is now bowl eligible, but they close with two of their tougher games of the year, at Air Force then BYU at home. If they at least split, they are in. If they lose two they are on the bubble. Would a 6-6 Utah team with a two-game losing streak be attractive to any bowl?

Next up: For Utah, at Air Force. For Colorado State, TCU.

TCU 27, New Mexico 21.

TCU had it on cruise control, leading 24-0 at the half, when they decided to put on a clinic—a clinic on how to fall apart on the road, that is. During the first series of the second half, a three-and-out followed by a short punt gave the Lobos the ball on the TCU 49, and two Rodney Ferguson carries later, the Lobos were on the board. Another three-and-out, another short punt, and New Mexico started their second straight possession in TCU territory, but could not move the ball. An exchange of punts and, yes, New Mexico again started in enemy territory, and this time they took it to the house, 24-14. On the ensuing kickoff, TCU fumbled the ball away, and six plays later, the Frog lead was down to three.

The Lobos, however, showed their guests that they were not the only ones who could throw a game away. After forcing a Horned Frog punt New Mexico had the game in its hands with 5:50 left. Three plays netted a negative three yards, a shanked punt gave TCU the ball at the New Mexico 24, and a field goal gave TCU the final margin of victory. The Lobos managed to rouse themselves for a final drive, which ended when Chris Nelson threw a pick at the TCU 10.

New Mexico falls to sixth place in conference and likely out of bowl consideration, barring an upset in Provo next week. Should BYU prevail next week, even a season ending win at SDSU would not be enough to get the Lobos to a bowl.

TCU stays tied for second place in the loss column with Utah, and with SDSU at home, CSU in Fort Collins, and Air Force at home, the Frogs look likely to finish 10-2. That record should put them into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (formerly the Fort Worth Bowl), or the brand new New Mexico Bowl against the WAC champion, unless Boise State gets a BCS bowl bid.

Next up: For New Mexico, at BYU. For TCU, San Diego State.

Notre Dame 39, Air Force 17.

Twenty Irish first quarter points made the likely outcome a certainty. Air Force out-gained Notre Dame 405 yards to 383, had 24 first downs to the visitors' 19, an astounding 38:35 of possession, and had no turnovers. How on earth did they lose? A blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, and giving your opponent the ball at your own are two pretty good ways to do it.

The Falcons, at 4-5, probably need to win out to reach a bowl. With Utah at home and a trip to Fort Worth still on their schedule, that is unlikely.

Next up: For Air Force, Utah.

SDSU 21, UNLV 7.

What do you do when you're 1-7, including a loss at home to a I-AA opponent? Play UNLV. It is good for what ails you. The game did establish that even between the last two teams in the conference there is a clear division – SDSU has some talent but is struggling under a new coach. UNLV, under second-year coach Mike Sanders, has more fundamental problems.

Next up: For SDSU, at TCU. For UNLV, Wyoming.

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