Blitz Through the Mountain West: Week 1

Overall, it was a strong start for MWC teams, which finished the weekend with a combined 5-3 league record. Wyoming, BYU, TCU, UNLV and Air Force all posted victories and did so—for the most part—in dominant fashion. Colorado State, Utah and New Mexico were not so lucky. Read about the highlights from each contest and see what's next in this week's edition of "Blitz Through the Mountain West."

WEEK ONE RECAP

Wyoming 23, Virginia 3
Perhaps none of the league's victories was more impressive than the Pokes' thrashing of ACC opponent Virginia Saturday—although I'm sure BYU and TCU fans would argue differently. The Cowboys were dominant from the opening kickoff to the final cannon shots at War Memorial Stadium while Virginia message boards overflowed with the virtual shouts of disappointed and angry Cavaliers fans. Whether UVA head coach Al Groh will keep his job the rest of the season remains to be seen. What we do know is that in the minds of the 31,620 fans who came out for the Saturday afternoon showdown, Wyoming left few questions unanswered about the capability of its personnel on either side of the ball. The offensive line all but scraped the proverbial "inexperience" monkey off its back, and the secondary did not seem to have any troubles putting the clamps on the Virginia passing game—even without John Wendling. Karsten Sween distinguished himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference—at least for now—and anyone who made any kind of bold prediction about the impending success of Devin Moore or Greg Bolling should give themselves a self-assured pat on the back. The Pokes will get a bit of a break this week as WAC football underachiever Utah State comes to town. After that, the schedule heats up again with two tough road games at Boise State and Ohio, and then it's back home Oct. 6 for what promises to be a competitive face-off with preseason favorite TCU. Still, if the Cowboys continue to play the way they did Saturday, landing one of the league's four bowl bids shouldn't be much of a problem for Joe Glenn in 2007.

The Pokes defense was dominant Saturday.

BYU 20, Arizona 7
Like the Wyoming-Virginia game, this battle was even less competitive than the score reflected. Arizona didn't score until the last minute of regulation, and BYU looked in control throughout the contest. The Cougars answered some important preseason questions about their quarterback position. After losing 2nd-round draft pick John Beck to the Miami Dolphins, sophomore quarterback Max Hall stepped up in impressive fashion, throwing for 288 yards against a tough Wildcat secondary in his first ever D-I start. It was an important win for Brigham Young, which will play on the road against a top-15 UCLA team this Saturday and then at Tulsa (which looked impressive in a 35-17 rout of UL Monroe last Thursday) Sept. 15. The Cougars will obviously need to bring their "A" game the next two weeks, or they could wind up 1-2 going into conference play. They don't play Wyoming until Nov. 17, but from the looks of both teams' opening weeks, the Cowboys and Cougars will be much more evenly matched in '07 than they were last year.

The BYU Cougars take the field against Arizona, 9/1/07

TCU 27, Baylor 0
No. 22 TCU is living up to preseason media pollsters' predictions—at least for the time being. The Horned Frogs blanked Baylor Saturday, looking especially dominant in the second half, holding the Bears to just 78 total yards and intercepting three passes in the fourth quarter alone. They did it without preseason All-American defensive end Tommy Blake who didn't receive medical clearance to compete in the game. The real test for TCU will come this weekend, however, when the Frogs travel to Austin to take on No. 4 Texas Saturday. The Longhorns left much to be desired in their 21-13 win over Arkansas State in Week 1, but TCU will still have its hands full against a potential Heisman candidate in quarterback Colt McCoy and a Texas team that has a 94-22 record under head coach Mack Brown. The Horned Frogs schedule lightens up considerably after next week—that is, until they come to Laramie Oct. 6.

TCU-Baylor

Oregon State 24, Utah 7
This may have been the most surprising of the Mountain West Conference season openers. Despite sub-par play from their quarterback position, the Beavers ran over, around and through a Utah defense that gave up 241 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Utes quarterback and star player Brian Johnson left the game at halftime with a shoulder injury. Johnson looked decent in the half he got to play, but Utah managed only 196 total yards in the game and will miss their gunslinger if he is not ready to compete against Air Force on Saturday. UCLA comes to Salt Lake Sept. 15, and there is a realistic chance the Utes could be 0-3 before taking on UNLV Sept. 22. Wyoming will have to wait until Nov. 10 to play at Utah, but if Saturday was any indication of what to expect from the teams in '07, the Cowboys can be confident in their chances of proving MWC preseason voters wrong (the Utes were picked to finish third in the league while the Pokes were picked fifth).

Utah Quarterback Brian Johnson

UNLV 23, Utah State 16
The Rebels snapped a 15-game road losing streak at Utah State in last Thursday's season opener. Still, a seven-point victory over the Aggies is nothing to get overexcited about. One of the biggest positives for Rebel fans was seeing their freshman quarterback Travis Dixon get acclimated to his new D-I role. The former high school star ran for 129 yards and one touchdown while passing for another 141 yards. It will take a lot more than that for the Rebels to win any of their next six contests, however. They host Wisconsin, Hawaii and Utah the next three weeks before traveling to Nevada and Air Force after that. Then they are home again to take on BYU Oct. 13. By the time the Rebels come to Laramie Oct. 27, you may be able to stick a fork in their season.

Air Force 34, South Carolina State 3
The Falcons looked terrific in their season opener against former Division I-AA South Carolina State Saturday. Then again, they were playing against a former Division I-AA team. Still, head coach Troy Calhoun's new offense looked impressive and senior quarterback Shaun Carney was efficient, passing for 176 yards and a score. Running back Kip McCarthy racked up 129 yards rushing, and the Bulldogs never got anything going against the Air Force defense. You can't read too much into a game against a former I-AA squad, and the real test for the Falcons should come next week at Utah. If quarterback Brian Johnson sits out the contest, Air Force could jump out to a 2-0 record before coming back home to play TCU Sept. 13. The Falcons will host Wyoming Oct. 20.

Air Force's Shaun Carney

Colorado 31, Colorado State 28
An overtime field goal by Colorado kicker Kevin Eberhart lifted the Buffs over the Rams by three on Saturday. Wyoming fans didn't seem to know whether to cheer or remain silent when the score was announced over the loudspeaker during the Pokes' duel with Virginia. Colorado State fans will likely look back on the game as one they should have won. Up 28-17 after two quick second-half touchdowns, the Rams' defense and special teams faltered down the stretch, letting Colorado back in the game with an 86-yard touchdown drive and a 22-yard Eberhart game-tying field goal with 13 seconds left. The Rams squandered their last chance to win the game when Terrence Wheatley intercepted a Caleb Hanie pass in the end zone. The loss may prove to be the beginning of worse things to come for CSU fans who will see their Rams attempt to shut down an electric Cal offense this weekend. The Golden Bears may well be a top 10 team when they visit Fort Collins. They beat No. 15 Tennessee 45-31 Saturday. CSU's schedule won't get much easier after Cal. The Rams travel to Houston Sept. 22 and then to TCU Sept. 29. It will take a Herculean showing for CSU to avoid an 0-4 start. The Rams host Wyoming in the last game of the season Nov. 23.

Patrick Williams of Colorado and Joey Rucks of CSU battle for the ball in Saturday's game.

UTEP 10, New Mexico 6
Saturday night's UNM-UTEP game featured a story line Lobos fans have grown accustomed to over the years: The defense played well enough to win while the offense squandered opportunities and rode a bevy of conservative calls to a four-point loss. Last year saw the Lobos lose five games by two touchdowns or less while the offense averaged 21.8 points per game (fifth in the league)—not bad, but not stellar, by any means. Saturday's six-point performance was reminiscent of the Lobos' 2006 season-opening loss to Division I-AA Portland State, when they held the Vikings scoreless in the first half but could only muster two field goals. Portland State wore UNM down in the second, reeling off 17 unanswered points, but the frustrating part for Lobos fans was how many opportunities their squad could not take advantage of. Saturday's opener against UTEP was similar. Rodney Ferguson gained 128 yards on 32 carries but never did find the end zone. The Lobos aided UTEP's game-winning touchdown drive with two costly penalties, and even down the stretch, New Mexico's final opportunity to drive the length of the field came to an end when Donovan Porterie was sacked to run out the clock. Of all MWC teams, the Lobos may have the easiest non-conference schedule. They'll face New Mexico State next weekend followed by Arizona and Sacramento State the following two weekends. Still, the schedule padding will do New Mexico few favors in the end if they continue to perform the way they did against UTEP. Once their non-conference games are over, the Lobos will host BYU Sept. 29 after which they'll get a two-week break before traveling to Laramie Oct. 13.

The only team in the MWC not in action this weekend was San Diego State. The Aztecs open 2007 at Washington State this Saturday and then travel to Arizona State Sept. 15. They face Wyoming at home Nov. 3.

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