There’s a full slate of Western Athletic Conference games today and tomorrow, so let’s get right to the previews. Hawaii opened its conference season with a blowout loss at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night. All the other WAC teams are in non-conference action.
Today’s game (all times Pacific):
Utah State (1-2) at #20 BYU (3-1), 6 p.m.
You’ve got to hand it to the Aggies — they don’t lack for strength of schedule. Their non-conference slate: at Utah, at Texas A&M, vs. Southern Utah, at BYU. Unfortunately for Utah State fans, that gumption is likely to mean the Aggies open their season with a 1-3 record.
The Cougars are just too big, too fast and too talented for Utah State to handle. The Aggies’ only hope is for BYU’s senior quarterback, Max Hall, to have a meltdown and start tossing picks left and right. That’s not as forlorn a hope as one might think, though — Hall has thrown 8 TDs and 8 INTs on the season.
Even so, the Cougars are still sore from an ugly loss to Florida State that may have erased any hopes they had of bidding for the national title game. They slipped even further in the national standings after a less-than-impressive (but still big) win over Colorado State last week. The Aggies are visiting Provo at perhaps the worst possible moment. BYU will be intent on taking control from the opening kickoff and never letting go.
There’s no such thing as an Aggie team that doesn’t fight, though, and Utah State certainly has the weapons to make a game of it. Running back Robert Turbin has sprinted for more than 100 yards in each of the season’s first three games, while quarterback Diondre Borel has tossed for nearly 800 yards with just one pick. Unfortunately, the Aggie defense has been awful, with a conference-worst 38 points allowed per game. The Cougars are likely to exploit that at will.
Saturday’s games (all times Pacific):
UNLV (2-2) at Nevada (0-3), 1:05 p.m.
It’s been a dreadful start to the season for the Wolf Pack — picked to contend for the conference title, they’ve instead lost three straight to open the season for the first time since 1999. Now Nevada has a home rivalry game that could either turn the season around or send it into an unrecoverable tailspin. The Rebels, on the other hand, are chasing their first winning season since 2002 and a win over the Pack on enemy territory would be an enormous boost to those hopes.
Chris Ault’s once-vaunted “pistol” offense has looked more like a popgun so far, scoring just 41 points in three games — second-worst in the WAC, barely ahead of woeful San Jose State. The Pack have been blanked by Notre Dame, 35-0, handled by Colorado State, 35-20, and stopped by Missouri, 31-21. Colin Kaepernick has thrown four picks and just two touchdowns.
The good news, if one can call it that, is that Nevada has looked better with each game and UNLV is probably their weakest opponent yet. The Rebels’ only FBS win so far was a squeaker over Hawaii, and after Louisiana Tech dismantled the Warriors on Wednesday night, that victory doesn’t impress much. But at the same time, UNLV’s two losses have come by a combined five points to quality programs and quarterback Omar Clayton is just 17 short of 1,000 yards passing in only four games.
Next week, Nevada faces a tough test against that same ground-pounding Louisiana Tech team. If the Wolf Pack can’t take down the Rebels, just getting to bowl eligibility will begin to look like a longshot — and Ault’s job will look tenuous, at best.
New Mexico State (2-2) at San Diego State (1-3), 5 p.m.
The WAC’s other Aggies mercifully escaped national Pillow Fight of the Week status this time around, but only just. Both teams have lost to Idaho (when’s the last time that could be said about an FBS game?) and the Aztecs in particular need some home cooking. SDSU’s only win came over FCS Southern Utah, and they’ve been dominated by all three FBS opponents — losing by 19, 14 and 12 points to UCLA, Idaho and Air Force, respectively.
Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley has been awful, throwing 8 interceptions for just 7 touchdowns, and he has just one reliable target — Vincent Brown. Hauling in nearly half of San Diego State’s catches, Brown has 547 yards and 5 touchdowns and could be playing on Sundays down the road, but if he’s shut down by the Aggie secondary, Lindley doesn’t have many other options.
New Mexico State, on the other hand, is looking to build momentum after beating in-state rival New Mexico on the road for their first victory over an FBS squad. Admittedly, the Lobos are one of the worst teams in the FBS — but San Diego State isn’t much better. A win for the Aggies could cement the bottom of the WAC as better than the bottom of the MWC.
With what BleedCrimson.net blogger Samuel Wasson called “the reverse air raid,” the Aggies have gone to a rush-rush-rush offensive set powered by breakout sophomore Seth Smith. He’s rushed for 379 yards but no touchdowns — and not surprisingly, as a result NMSU has one of the WAC’s poorer red zone offensive records. If he can finally punch into the end zone a couple times this week, New Mexico State should be looking good for its third win.
UC Davis (1-2) at #5 Boise State (4-0), 5 p.m.
There’s really nothing to say about this game, a throwaway creampuff the Broncos tacked on their schedule to take advantage of the Hawaii exemption. The only drama will revolve around how early Chris Peterson will pull his starters, or the not insubstantial chance that a key Boise State player gets hurt. If starting quarterback Kellen Moore pops his ACL and goes down for the season, the decision to play this cash-grab game will be second-guessed around the nation.
Colorado State (3-1) at Idaho (3-1), 7:30 p.m.
The most interesting game of the day involving a WAC team, hands-down. The Rams and the Vandals are each 3-1 teams, each are looking to solidify potential bowl eligibility and each have something to prove. After upsetting heavily-favored Northern Illinois on the road last week, Idaho is looking to use this nationally-televised showcase to firmly establish itself as a WAC contender. Colorado State, coming off its first loss of the season to nationally-ranked BYU, could use the momentum heading into the meat of its Mountain West schedule.
The Vandals’ remarkable start has been powered by a balanced offensive attack and backed up by the WAC’s best rushing defense. Quarterback Nathan Enderle has silenced his critics with a series of strong and smart performances — he hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 2, and last week at Northern Illinois he tossed 18-of-23 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, DeMaundray Woolridge has been a revelation — dubbed a “bowling ball,” Woolridge simply will not go down on the first touch. He’s smashed his way down the field for 295 yards and five touchdowns — an average of 7 yards per carry.
Colorado State’s three wins look impressive (and they’re a strong team, no doubt) but underneath there’s cause for concern. FCS Weber State took the Rams to the wall in a 24-23 squeaker that Colorado State only pulled out with a fourth-quarter desperation drive. Quarterback Grant Stucker is capable of heaving the long-bomb but has also tossed five picks to go with six touchdowns. Then again, two of those weren’t really his fault — they came after tips by receiver Rashaun Greer.
But those mistakes are the kind of plays that can break a team, and Idaho has been remarkably mistake-free so far. The Vandals have given up just two interceptions and haven’t yet lost a fumble, ranking them among the best teams in Division I in the turnover department. If the Vandals can keep playing clean, keep Stucker’s big-play ability in check and force Colorado State into coughing up the football, it might be partytime in Moscow.
Vandal Nation will have a play-by-play liveblog from the Kibbie Dome beginning at 6:45 p.m.
Wednesday’s game: Louisiana Tech 27, Hawaii 6