September 15, 2011

Week 3 preview in the Mountain West

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After having nearly two weeks to revel in the praise that accompanied its season-opening victory over Georgia, Boise State could have been ripe for a letdown.

Not anymore.

Boise State at Toledo, 8 p.m.
Wyoming at Bowling Green, noon
Colorado State vs. Colorado at Denver, 1:30 p.m.
La.-Monroe at TCU, 2 p.m.
Texas Tech at New Mexico, 3:30 p.m.
Washington State at San Diego State, 6:30 p.m.
Hawaii at UNLV, 10 p.m.
Toledo's near-upset of Ohio State last week took care of that.

Ohio State escaped with a 27-22 victory Saturday only after making a fourth-down stop at its 16 with 48 seconds remaining. Boise State realizes it can't take anything for granted Friday night as it heads to Toledo for a nationally televised showcase.

"We know we have a huge test," Boise State defensive tackle Chase Baker said. "Looking at the [Ohio State-Toledo] game, you kind of feel like Toledo should have won the game. I think honestly that Toledo was the better team that day and just couldn't pull it out."

At least one person wasn't taken aback by Saturday's result. Even though Boise State whipped Toledo 57-14 last season, Broncos coach Chris Petersen believed the Rockets were a team on the rise. Toledo went on to finish 8-5 last season and returns nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters from that team.

"It didn't surprise me,'' Petersen said of the Rockets' performance last week. "Even when we played Toledo last year, things went our way pretty well. We got five turnovers and didn't give up any. When that happens, you know the score's going to be in your favor. But I remember walking off the field thinking these guys are going to be good sooner than later."

Toledo has one of the nation's most explosive players in wide receiver Eric Page, an outstanding kick returner who caught 12 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State. Adonis Thomas rushed for 1,098 yards last season and gained 115 yards on just nine carries in a season-opening rout of New Hampshire. Toledo's ability to rotate Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens at quarterback can throw defenses off-balance.

The Rockets found a way to stay close to the Buckeyes despite gaining just 1.5 yards per carry. Now Toledo goes up against Boise State, whose front four dominated in its 35-21 triumph over Georgia.

"That's a group that's played a lot of football together," Baker said of Toledo. "They know what they're doing. We're not looking at a bunch of fresh guys who are kind of wide-eyed. They know what they're getting into, and they know what we bring. We know we're going to get their best shot."

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Boise State clearly is more talented than Toledo, but the Rockets proved last week they won't be intimidated by anyone. If Boise State isn't at its best, Toledo is capable of pulling the upset. And as a team from outside the six major conferences, Boise State is aware that one loss likely eliminates it from contention from a BCS bid. A Friday night loss to Nevada in late November last season forced the Broncos to settle for the Las Vegas Bowl instead of the Rose Bowl.

They can't afford any more Friday night heartache.

" 'Coach Pete' keeps us pretty well focused and makes sure we don't worry about that stuff,'' Baker said. "In the back of our heads, we all know we need to win each game in order to do anything with the BCS, but honestly that comes later - at the end of the season. We prepare for each game we play and just make sure we bring it."

BEST MATCHUP: Washington State WR Marquess Wilson vs. San Diego State CB Leon McFadden. Wilson, one of the nation's most underrated wide receivers, led all FBS freshmen last season with 1,006 receiving yards. He also ranked second in the Pac-10 with 83.8 receiving yards per game. He has caught nine passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns this season while scoring in each of the Cougars' first two games. McFadden earned first-team All-MWC honors last season and already has a pair of pass breakups and a fumble recovery this season. Wilson's height could give him a major edge in this matchup. Wilson, at 6 feet 3, is 5 inches taller than McFadden. All of San Diego State's starting defensive backs are less than 6 feet tall.

PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Colorado State LBs Shaquil Barrett, Aaron Davis and Max Morgan. One of these newcomers is expected to move into the starting lineup this week as the Rams attempt to replace star LB Mychal Sisson, who fractured his ankle last week against Northern Colorado. The Rams haven't ruled out the possibility that Sisson could return before the end of the season, but his injury will keep him out for at least the next several weeks. Sisson, a fifth-year senior and team captain, topped the nation last season with seven forced fumbles and leads all FBS players with 40 career tackles for loss. He has earned second-team All-MWC honors each of the last two years. His replacement will have much less experience. Barrett, a sophomore transfer from Nebraska-Omaha, made his first career start last week. Morgan is a redshirt freshman, and Davis is a true freshman. Sisson's injury further decimates a Colorado State defense that already was playing without starting DE Broderick Sargent and projected starting LB Michael Kawulok. Sargent suffered a knee injury in the season opener and Kawulok tore his ACL in spring practice.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Wyoming QB Brett Smith. Can he translate his home success to the road? Smith, a true freshman, has performed as well in his first two starts as anyone could have reasonably expected. He ranks 12th nationally in total offense with 323.5 yards per game. Although he has thrown three interceptions, Smith also made a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute against Weber State and accounted for three touchdowns last week in a 45-10 rout of Texas State. But those wins came at home against FCS opponents. Now Smith makes his road debut against Bowling Green, which ranks fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Bowling Green opponents have completed just 38.4 percent of their passes. Smith must maintain his composure and avoid turnovers for Wyoming to have a shot at remaining unbeaten.

NUMBERS GAME: TCU's 35-19 victory over Air Force marked the Horned Frogs' 18th consecutive conference victory, which ties the MWC's all-time record. BYU won 18 in a row from Sept. 28, 2006-Oct. 11, 2008. TCU's last conference loss was 13-10 at Utah on Nov. 6, 2008.

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"I was surprised by the findings. I am also disappointed. However, it will not have an impact on our on-field efforts." - Boise State coach Chris Petersen, in a statement released by the university after the NCAA placed the Broncos on three years' probation, which includes the loss of nine scholarships. Boise State already had instituted self-imposed penalties that included the loss of three scholarships. The NCAA took away six more.

"I'm still optimistic. I'm sure that my team's going to go out there and win some games, and hopefully we can get into a bowl game, where I can get back out there with them." - Colorado State LB Mychal Sisson, to The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan after being diagnosed with a broken ankle that will sideline him for most of the season. Sisson, the Rams' leading tackler in two of the past three seasons, can't apply for a sixth year of eligibility.

"I think we underestimated them. We came in [after] what we did [offensively] against Wisconsin thinking it was going to be given to us. After a while, people started to put their head down. I was trying to get the team riled up. People wanted to give up. I think that's something the coaches will address next week at the start of practices, that we need more intensity, because momentum can change games. That's what I feel we lacked out there today." - UNLV RB Tim Cornett, to the Las Vegas Review Journal after the Rebels' 59-7 loss to Washington State.

"I think he throws it better than the starter. He's not quite as good a scrambler or a runner as the starter was, but he throws it just as well and maybe is even more accurate than the starter was." - San Diego State coach Rocky Long, on Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael, who has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception since replacing an injured Jeff Tuel. San Diego State faces Washington State this week.

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POLL WATCH: Boise State is ranked fourth in each poll and received a couple of first-place votes in The Associated Press top 25. TCU is 23rd in each poll. Boise State has been ranked in the top 10 in both polls for 34 consecutive weeks, a streak that started Sept. 3, 2009. TCU has been ranked in 44 consecutive polls, the longest such streak in school history. The Horned Frogs have been ranked every week since Oct. 15, 2008.

ETC.: Air Force lost more than a game Saturday against TCU. The Falcons also lost starting OLB Patrick Hennessey and NT Ryan Gardner to injuries. Hennessey has a broken bone in his thumb and Gardner hurt the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Both are expected to miss eight to 10 weeks. Jamil Cooks is expected to fill Hennessey's spot in the starting lineup, while juniors Cody Miller and Nick DeJulio are competing for the right to replace Gardner. ... The status of Boise State WR Geraldo Boldewijn, S Cedric Febis and DT Rick Tjong-A-Toe remains uncertain as the NCAA investigates their eligibility status. The three players, who all came from the Netherlands, sat out the Georgia game. ... Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild said the recent injury to Sisson won't cause him to stop using starters on special teams. Sisson got hurt while blocking on a punt return. "If it's going to help us win a game and we think there's a significant difference between the starter and the guy behind him, the starter's going to play on special teams," Fairchild said. ... UNLV is one of only four FBS teams without a single senior offensive lineman. The others are Arizona, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. The only FBS teams that didn't start any senior offensive linemen in their openers were Arizona, Georgia Tech, UNLV, USC, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas A&M. ... New Mexico WR Lamaar Thomas broke a bone in his lower back against Arkansas last week and is expected to miss the Lobos' next two games. Thomas has seven catches for 94 yards and has scored the Lobos' only touchdown this season. ... One bright spot in New Mexico's 52-3 loss to Arkansas: After giving up nine sacks in their season-opening loss to Colorado State, the Lobos didn't allow a sack against the Razorbacks. ... San Diego State has never trailed at any point during its four-game winning streak that began last season. This marks the first time since 1977 that the Aztecs have won four consecutive games without ever falling behind. San Diego State also hasn't committed a turnover in three consecutive games, the first time the Aztecs have gone that long without coughing the ball up since moving up to Division I in 1969. ... TCU RB Ed Wesley and LB Tanner Brock are questionable for Saturday's game with Louisiana-Monroe after sitting out the Air Force game with injuries. Both earned first-team All-MWC honors last season. ... TCU will play its home opener Saturday while Amon G. Carter Stadium undergoes a $143 million renovation that eventually will increase the facility's seating capacity from 43,000 to 50,000. For this season, the stadium can fit only 32,000 fans. The renovation should be finished in time for next season. ... Wyoming is conducting morning practices this week to prepare for Saturday's game at Bowling Green, which kicks off at noon Eastern time (or 10 a.m. Wyoming time). Wyoming is practicing at 6 a.m. on Thursday. "You've got to do what you've got to do to get ready," Wyoming DT Gabe Knapton told the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune. "We'll do whatever it takes."

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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