The Mountain West continues conference play this weekend with four league matchups. Here is a preview of Week 11 of the college football season from the MW's perspective with seven questions that will be answered this week.
1. Will Fresno State or Utah State break .500?
Not many who have thought Fresno State and Utah State would both been sitting at 4-4 through eight games this season. In the preseason poll, the Bulldogs were picked to win the West Division while the Aggies were selected to finish second in the Mountain. Both were expected to compete for their division titles, and while each team still has the chance to do that, neither are in a great place. Utah State has lost two in a row and has struggled on offense while Fresno State has oscillated between wins and losses over its last five games. The teams face off in Fresno this weekend with the winner maintaining division title hopes and the loser falling below-.500 and potentially misses out on a bowl game altogether.
2. Can Hawaii and SJSU top 100?
I don't expect a lot of defense when San Jose State plays at Hawaii on Saturday. The Rainbow Warriors have allowed 187 points in its last four games (that's 46.8 per game) and the Spartans have given up 208 points over the last six (that's 34.7 per game). While these defenses have struggled, both offense have looked excellent for much of the year. Hawaii and San Jose State rank first and second in the conference in passing yards (and third and seventh in the nation), so this game is ripe for a high-scoring affair. The over/under is set for 76.5 points, although would you be surprised to see the teams total 1,000 yards and 100 points? That might be a stretch, but it's going to be a high-scoring affair.
3. Will SDSU improve on offense?
On the other end of the spectrum, the over/under for Nevada-SDSU is 39 points, the lowest for a Pack game since at least 2000 (and probably its lowest ever). It's a miracle SDSU is a Top 25 team given how much its offense has struggled. It's also a testament to the strength of the Aztecs' defense and special teams, which have both been elite. But for SDSU to remain in the Top 25 and win the Mountain West, its offense must improve. This week's game with Nevada is a perfect opportunity. The Wolf Pack is allowing 34.6 points per game, although the unit has been stronger over the last month. SDSU has scored more than 27 points only once this season (and that was a 31-point game against 0-8 New Mexico State).
4. Will Boise State keep pace with AAC?
The American Athletic Conference had four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday while the MW only had one (Boise State). In the AAC, Cincinnati (20th), Memphis (21st), Navy (24th) and SMU (25th) sandwiched Boise State (22nd). The Broncos play Wyoming this weekend and with a loss to BYU on its record, Boise State has no margin for error. If the Broncos lose again, they're not getting the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl slot. Even running the table might not result in that. First thing's first, though. Boise State must win the Mountain Division, and a loss to the Cowboys this weekend would actually drop the Broncos behind Wyoming given the tiebreaker situation.
5. How will Tyler Vander Waal fare?
Wyoming lost quarterback Sean Chambers for the remainder of the season after he injured his knee in the win over Nevada two weeks ago. After a bye last week, sophomore Tyler Vander Waal takes over the starting job, which he held last season after Chambers broke his leg. So Vander Waal has experience, although he's struggled throwing the ball. Vander Waal has completed just 4-of-16 passes this season while completing 47.3 percent of his attempts in his career. He's averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt (an exceptionally low number) and is nowhere near the running threat of Chambers. Vander Waal's first test (at Boise State) isn't an easy one, although the Broncos have allowed 39 points per game in its last three outings.
6. Will Nevada score on SDSU?
The Nevada-SDSU game pits the MW's best defense (SDSU) against its worst offense (Nevada), per ESPN's Football Power Index rankings. The Wolf Pack hasn't been shutout since Sept. 5, 2009 at Notre Dame, a streak of 136 straight games with at least one point. That's the third-longest streak in the MW behind Boise State (287) and Utah State (150). Nevada has been close to a shutout three times this season, scoring three points against Wyoming and Hawaii and six at Oregon. The Aztecs' defense is similar in caliber to Oregon's group. It's going to be hard for Nevada to move the ball on the ground against SDSU, although the Wolf Pack has had decent success against the Aztecs' defense over the last few seasons.
7. Hope will New Mexico cope?
New Mexico was scheduled to play Air Force this weekend but the game was moved back to Nov. 23 following the death of defensive lineman Nahje Flowers. No cause of death has been released, and New Mexico has provided grief counselors to its players and staff. This is the third death of a New Mexico student-athlete in four years after football player Mark Byrd died in a car accident in December 2015 and baseball player Jackson Weller died of a gunshot wound last May. That's far too much tragedy for one athletic department in this short of a time frame.