Beginning a new tradition at The Wimple is this team-by-team breakdown of the weekend's MWC games, plus a snapshot of the conference performance in the last three opening weeks.
The Tally: 6-2 overall, 2-2 v. the cartel, 2-0 v. '08 bowl teams, 3-0 v. 2A teams.
(2008 tally: 6-2 overall, 1-1 v. the cartel, 1-1 v. '07 bowl teams, 2-1 v. 2A teams;
2007 tally: 5-3 overall, 3-2 v. the cartel, 0-1 v. '06 bowl teams, 1-0 v. 2A teams.)
AFA: Troy Calhoun is sticking with his formula, which he revealed a few days prior to the opener, "I just think you’ve got to begin from scratch." Later he added, "We had a bunch of young ones that I think down the road are going to be good players, and yet what we’re going to do is we’re going to ask them to do it real soon." And so the coach sent in 15 freshmen during the Academy's first game. They joined about a dozen veteran sophomores, making AFA's performance Saturday even more intriguing: they absolutely dominated a 2A team. 72-0 was the final tally. Minnesota only has about 30 minutes' film on the first team, which largely sat out the second half. Key stat: Jefferson was 5-7 through the air for 102 yards and one touchdown, playing only about one half. If he can compliment Air Force's ground game with any semblance of a passing game, AFA will be very dangerous.
BYU: If there's fire where there's smoke, BYU is flaming hot. National title contender hot? Speculation to that effect has sprung up all over the sports chattersphere. This year's Cougars neatly pulled all of Boise State's spotlight onto themselves with the win over OU, and have a firm grasp on the MWC's banner. Max Hall was brilliant when it mattered: down by 6 in the fourth quarter, he led a Brian Johnson-like 8:38 minute, 16-play, 78-yard drive, converting five third or fourth downs, ending with a TD pass to a shockingly exposed McKay Jacobson. Key stat: Harvey Unga's backup, Bryan Kariya, rushed for 42 yards caught four passes for 76 yards. Mendenhall said he should be the player of the game.
If Florida State beats Miami tonight, and both teams meet undefeated in a few weeks, all eyes will be on Provo and the newly impressive BYU defense. The Wimple can't imagine a better showcase for the MWC. Meanwhile, Bronco Mendenhall is passing out earplugs to prevent any echos of '84 from reaching his team's ears...
CSU: The MWC's other upset of a cartel program came in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, in which the Rams beat the Buffaloes for the first time in most of the players' lifetimes. Fairchild's lines won the day, even without their star: Leonard Mason netted 107 yards in 23 carries, while all-MWC LG Shelley Smith sat out with an ankle injury. Defensive frontmen Macon, Morehead, Millerand, and Whittier led the Ram D that held CU to a TCU-esque 29 yards on the ground. Fifth-year senior QB Grant Stucker, starting for the first time, was adequate (10 of 17, 208 yds, 1 touchdown, 1 interception), while his receivers were very good.
New Mexico: the Lobos will want to forget this one. They went to College Station, lost two fumbles, gave up over 600 yards and 40 points. Demond Dennis ran like a freshman, Donovan Porterie couldn't turn redzone snaps into points, and safety Ian Clarke re-injured his shoulder. Key stat: UNM netted 0.9 yard per carry. Texas A&M's rush defense probably isn't as randy as TCU's, BYU's, Utah's, CSU's, AFA's. . . so until somebody lights a fire under the Lobos' line, Albuquerque is going to start talking about bowl-less streaks...
SDSU: The MWC's other unimpressive coaching debut came in the Rose Bowl, where Brady Hoke's Aztecs looked good for about twenty minutes, and then the wheels came off. SDSU gave up 33 unanswered points after scoring two quick touchdowns. Key stats: SDSU netted only 39 yards rushing, while Ryan Lindley and his receivers connected only eleven of 34 attempts after the first quarter. That kind of offense-less streak will make the few remaining Aztec fans pine for Chuck Long if it continues much longer.
UNLV: Few coaches' seats are as hot as Mike Sanford's at UNLV, and the fifth-year leader of the Rebels did what he's done every year since his first: win the first game. This season, his troops did it convincingly, beating a 2A program 38-3. The offense looks very good: Clayton was flawless; UNLV had no turnovers; the running game was fine.
Stopping the 2A team's running game less fine for about a half, but in the second half, the defense rose up and that was that. If Sacramento State's Terrance Dailey netted over 100 yards on the ground; think what JaQuizz Rogers might get in a week... So the Rebels' run defense will continue to add gray hairs to Sanford's head for at least a week, and absent considerable improvement, much longer. Key stat: Channing Trotter also bested the century mark on the ground, netting 102 yards in 16 carries. For now, he's the Rebs' go-to back.
Utah: That giant whooshing sound you hear from the Wasatch Front in fact is not BYU fans' collective sigh of relief that they somehow escaped OU's clutches with a win, but instead is Utah fans' sigh of relief that they are going to be OK at quarterback this season. Terrence Cain performed very well against Utah State, as did new starting receivers David Reed and John Peel. The Utes' run defense may attract concern, giving up 3.8 ypc (not counting Robert Turbin's 96-yard touchdown scamper); clearly DE Koa Misi's absence matters.
Key stat: Jordan Wynn did not play. Whittingham is letting Cain garner all of the game experience so far; he'll need it for Oregon in two weeks. But if Cain goes down, the Utes'll find themselves in a scary place: Cain is presently the only quarterback on the team to have D-1 experience.
Wyoming: This may end up Wyoming's only win of the season, but barely beating a 2A team is better than losing to one. And there's good news amid the flotsam: the offense works some of the time. Robert Benjamin and Austyn Carta-Samuels will only get better, and they ran the scheme decently well, going 16 for 31 for 188 yards, and didn't throw any interceptions. The Cowboys could rely on their ground game to get points: Darius Terry and freshman Alvester Alexander proved adequate, combining for 180 yards and three touchdowns. The youth movement is underway in Laramie, and perhaps by this time next year, it'll net reasonable bowl hopes.
Key stat: David Leonard and Orlando Arnold combined for 11 catches and 134 yards. They are turning into the Cowboys' best weapons.