November 10, 2011

Week 11 preview in the Mountain West

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Don't tell Boise State this isn't a typical TCU team.

Sure, two-time Mountain West offensive player of the year Andy Dalton is playing on Sundays now. The defense doesn't have the lofty ranking it possessed the past few seasons. None of that matters to the Broncos.

THE SCHEDULE
Wyoming at Air Force, 2 p.m.
TCU at Boise State, 3:30 p.m.
San Diego State at Colorado State, 6 p.m.
UNLV at New Mexico, 10 p.m.
"TCU's probably the best team we've seen," said Boise State coach Chris Petersen, whose team defeated SEC East leader Georgia in its opener. "We're obviously extremely impressed. Put the tape on of TCU and it's always the same. They're fast, athletic, well-coached. And they play extremely, extremely hard."

Boise State (8-0 overall, 3-0 in the Mountain West) faces its biggest test since the Georgia game and puts its perfect record on the line Saturday when it plays host to TCU (7-2, 4-0) in the only time these schools will meet as Mountain West rivals.

TCU will leave for the Big 12 next season, while Boise State reportedly is pondering a move to the Big East.

For now, though, this game likely will determine the Mountain West champion.

This game also matches two programs that have won as consistently as just about anyone over the past four seasons.

Boise State is 47-2 and TCU 44-4 since the start of the 2008 season. Alabama (44-6) is the only other FBS program with at least 44 wins during that stretch. Boise State has won 35 consecutive home games, while TCU has won 21 consecutive conference games.

But only one of these teams is playing as well as usual this season.

Boise State is fifth in the BCS standings and still has a shot of playing for the national championship if it remains unbeaten. The Broncos have won each of their first eight games by double-digit margins.

"They don't have a weakness," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

TCU does have a weakness, or at least it did.

After leading the nation in total defense in 2009 and '10, the Horned Frogs started 3-2 this season because of their inability to stop the pass. They lost their opener 50-48 to Baylor by allowing the Bears to throw for 414 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. One month later, SMU's J.J. McDermott threw for 349 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in a 40-33 victory.

TCU's young secondary has grown up quite a bit since then. The Frogs have won four in a row and have allowed an average of 15.5 points per game during that streak.

"As far as I can tell from watching film, they're still the same TCU that we've seen [in the past]," Boise State wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker said. "They've got a lot of good players back there. Their coaches put them in very good position to be successful."

This game should show just how far TCU has come over the course of the season. After getting picked apart by Baylor's Robert Griffin in its season opener, TCU faces another Heisman candidate in Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore is 46-2 as a starting quarterback. One of those losses came in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl against TCU. Moore has gone a combined 45-of-74 for 433 yards with one interception and no touchdown passes in two games against TCU, but Patterson has the utmost respect for him.

"I think in the two times we've played him, I've only fooled him once on a coverage - one play," Patterson said. "I don't think we fooled him any other time. That's a great compliment. We feel we can play pretty decent defense around here, and he's one of those guys who I think has an answer for all those things. We understand going into this ballgame it's a great challenge."

Boise State faces a different type of challenge.

Not only do the Broncos have to beat TCU, they also must overcome the distractions that face any unbeaten team at this point in the season. How does a team maintain its focus on the next game when everyone around is discussing postseason possibilities and BCS implications?

"I think it's very difficult," Shoemaker said. "When the media and TV and the BCS countdown shows are talking about who's going to go where, it's very easy to lose focus. But we do a good job of focusing on one game at a time. ... It's all 100 percent about TCU."

[Heisman update: Andrew Luck leads the way | Video: Luck's to lose?]

BEST MATCHUP: TCU TBs Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley vs. Boise State run defense. The matchup between Boise State's high-powered offense and TCU's defense is garnering much of the attention this week, but one way TCU can slow Kellen Moore and Co. is by keeping them on the sidelines. The Horned Frogs boast the nation's 16th-ranked rushing attack and have three 500-yard runners in James (77 carries, 652 yards), Tucker (97-532) and Wesley (78-528). The Frogs average 5.5 yards per carry this season and ran for 390 yards against Wyoming last week. Boise State has an outstanding defensive line, but the Broncos rank just 51st nationally in run defense and are allowing 4.0 yards per carry. Boise State allowed lowly UNLV to run for 182 yards on 35 carries last week. If Boise State has a weakness that TCU can exploit, this might be it.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Boise State RB Doug Martin. After rushing for a combined 325 yards and four touchdowns against Colorado State and Air Force, Martin mustered just 9 yards on six carries Saturday against UNLV before leaving with a leg injury. Martin is expected to play against TCU, but how close will he be to full strength? Boise State has other quality running backs. D.J. Harper replaced Martin last week and rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. But the Broncos are at their best when they have both Martin and Harper at full strength. If Martin is limited, it could put more pressure on Moore to carry the offense with his arm.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Wyoming RB Kody Sutton. Wyoming has abandoned plans to redshirt this true freshman now that an injury has knocked out junior Ghaali Muhammad for the remainder of the season. Muhammad had rushed for 379 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Sutton, a former two-star recruit from Texarkana (Texas) Texas High, won't be the Cowboys' main running back. Wyoming still has Alvester Alexander, who has a team-high 406 rushing yards. But the Cowboys wouldn't burn Sutton's redshirt unless they planned on using him quite a bit.

NUMBERS GAME: San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley should become the Mountain West Conference's career leader in passing yards this week. Lindley, a four-year starter, has thrown for 11,340 yards; the record is owned by former BYU QB Max Hall, who threw for 11,365 yards from 2007-09. Lindley also should become his school's leading career passer this week. The San Diego State record is held by Todd Santos, who threw for 11,425 yards from 1984-87. Lindley already owns the school career records for passing touchdowns (81) and total offense (11,069 yards).

[Viewer's guide: Boise State's last big test]

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"Certainly it's neat. You have a lot of respect for the guys that are on the list and I've been very fortunate, but I'm kind of focused on a few other things at the moment." - Boise State QB Kellen Moore, to the Idaho Press-Tribune after earning his 46th victory to set the FBS record for career wins by a starting quarterback

"I feel 100 percent. It feels normal, like a normal knee." - Air Force DE Zach Payne, to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette after playing last week with a torn ACL. Payne is wearing a brace on the injured knee. The injury had caused him to miss five games.

"He reminds me of one of those NFL linebackers. ... He's one of those guys that when he hits you, he hits you like he's a 260-pound guy." - Boise State coach Chris Petersen, discussing TCU LB Tank Carder to the Idaho Statesman

"Obviously, there's not a lot to lose. We'd like to get this thing turned around here and play decent down the stretch. We did some things obviously a little different on both sides of the ball at UNLV, just subtle things that we've taken a look at. ... I don't know if I would call it desperate, but you just roll the dice a little bit." - Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild, to The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan on attempting to end a four-game losing streak

POLL WATCH: Boise State's national championship hopes suffered a major blow Sunday when the Broncos were two spots behind Alabama in the BCS standings even after the Tide lost 9-6 to LSU. Boise State still is fifth, the same spot it held last week. TCU is 24th in the coaches' poll, but the Frogs aren't in the BCS rankings.

[Predicting winners: Expert picks]

Etc.: Air Force's Jonathan Warzeka set a school record for career kickoff return yards last week. Warzeka now has 1,398 yards to break the record formerly held by Reggie Rembert, who compiled 1,388 yards from 2007-10. ... Boise State leads the nation in third-down defense. Boise State opponents are converting only 26.4 percent of their third-down situations (29-of-11). Rounding out the top five in that category are Alabama (.265), Georgia (.280), Arizona State (.292) and Stanford (.299). ... Colorado State LB Mychal Sisson returned to practice this week, but his status for Saturday's game with San Diego State remains uncertain. Sisson hasn't played since breaking his right ankle Sept. 10. He is tied for fifth among all active FBS players with 40 career tackles for loss. ... UNLV RB Tim Cornett, WR Devante David, LB Princeton Jackson, LB Tani Maka and DB Peni Vea are expected to return Saturday after serving one-game suspensions. Although Cornett and Maka were in the starting lineup before their suspensions, both were second-teamers on UNLV's depth chart this week. ... Not only does New Mexico have the nation's longest losing streak at 12, the Lobos also have dropped their past 20 road games. That road losing streak also is the longest of any FBS program. ... New Mexico WR Deon Long is expected to play Saturday after missing two of the Lobos' past three games with a foot injury. Long has 36 catches for 609 yards and three touchdowns. ... San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman fell from the NCAA rushing lead despite rushing for 141 yards against New Mexico last week. Hillman is averaging 149.8 yards per game to rank second among all FBS players. Oregon's LaMichael James leads all rushers with 151.6 yards per game. ... San Diego State LB Logan Ketchum tore a pectoral muscle against New Mexico and will miss the rest of the season. Ketchum ranks fifth on the team with 39 tackles. ... TCU coach Gary Patterson and Boise State coach Chris Petersen have faced off in bowls to end the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but their connection actually goes back a quarter-century. Patterson was the linebackers coach for a 1986 UC Davis team that featured Petersen as its starting quarterback. ... Wyoming QB Brett Smith is expected to play Saturday at Air Force after getting knocked out of the TCU game. Smith left the TCU game early in the fourth quarter when a hit from LB Tank Carder knocked the wind out of him.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.



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