A hard-fought elimination game left the Falcons holding the short end of the stick. They played hard but not well, giving up five turnovers, including two late in the fourth quarter.
With just under five minutes left in the third, Air Force scored a touchdown to go up 31-28, answering a New Mexico touchdown drive. The Lobos managed a field goal to tie the game with 12:30 left, and two plays later quarterback Shaun Carney fumbled at the Falcon 28. The defense held, however, aided by a Lobo penalty, and New Mexico was forced to settle for a field goal to take a 34-31 lead with 10:10 remaining. Good defense forced an exchange of punts, and with 5:01 left it was the Falcons' game to win or lose, starting at their own 17. Four plays later Chad Hall fumbled at the Air Force 27 and it looked like the game was over. The Falcons played tough again, forcing a field goal attempt from the 32, and after 18 straight makes the Lobos' John Sullivan missed. Air Force was alive.
Shaun Carney hit Mark Root for an apparent first down, but Root fumbled and New Mexico recovered the ball, and with it, their title hopes.
The loss knocks Air Force into a four-way tie for third in the loss column and keeps New Mexico only a game back of BYU.
Utah 27, Colorado State 3
Utah continued to improve, and not just in the win-loss column. The Utes rushed for 315 yards, led by Darrell Mack with 154 and Ray Stowers with 114. Quarterback Brian Johnson should have had a field day, but finished 13-21 for only 112 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Next up: for Utah, a bye, followed by Wyoming. For Colorado State, at BYU.
Wyoming 29, UNLV 24
In a wild one in Laramie, the Cowboys led, then trailed, then led, then trailed, then won it with 5:42 remaining. Kardiac Karsten Sween, benched for throwing more picks than touchdowns, relieved his ineffective substitute Ian Hetrick in the second quarter after Hetrick could complete only 5 of 16 attempts, squandering first downs at the UNLV 20, 14 and 28 all in the first quarter. What could have been a 21-0 first quarter blowout was a 9-0 first quarter yawner. After Hetrick muddled through most of the second quarter, Cowboys coach Joe Glenn had had enough. In came Sween with 2:47 in the half – and he promptly threw an interception.
Sween went on to throw three touchdown passes – but only two were to his own teammates, which kept Coach Joe Glenn pulling his hair out. The Cowboys kept their bowl hopes (somewhat likely) alive, as well as their title hopes (not so much) primarily by rushing for 208 yards.
Next up: for Wyoming, at SDSU. For UNLV, a bye, followed by SDSU at home.
TCU did not play. Next up: New Mexico.
The Bowl Outlook
New Mexico, Air Force and Utah are bowl-eligible, and with each team likely to pick up at least one more win, all three already have good shots at bowl games. Utah, however, has already lost three games, and after a bye week has tough contests the next three weeks with Wyoming and New Mexico at home, followed by a trip to Provo. A three-game losing skid is not impossible and would leave the Utes bowl-eligible but at home.
New Mexico, at 6-2, has near-lock wins with SDSU and CSU both coming to Albuquerque, and should beat TCU in Ft. Worth. Even a loss at Utah would then leave the Lobos at 9-3 and in their own New Mexico Bowl, at worst. Ten wins is not a long shot, but still might not get the Lobos to an out-of-town bowl. Would the Poinsettia prefer a 9-3 Air Force over a 10-2 New Mexico?
Air Force will be a clear favorite versus Army and SDSU at home, and should be a close favorite at Notre Dame in between. Even a loss to the Irish would leave the Falcons at 8-4 and in a bowl.
BYU is 5-2, and has the best shot at 10 wins. However, that will take beating a decent Wyoming team in Laramie, a still-dangerous TCU in Provo and a better Utah team in Provo, not to mention staying alert against CSU and SDSU. Still, the best the Cougars can hope for is a repeat trip to Las Vegas. But will Las Vegas Bowl officials be wary of becoming the BYU Bowl, as Holiday Bowl officials did? It's not inconceivable they would pass over a conference champion BYU in favor of a second-place school with 10 wins rather than play home-away-from-home to the Cougars for the third year running.
Wyoming is likely to finish 8-4, which should be enough, but the ‘Pokes suffer from a small fan base and a miniscule home-state TV market. They could get passed over in favor of teams with poorer records.
TCU will likely end the year 6-6. That may be enough to make it to the Ft. Worth Bowl, if you call that making it.