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Mountain West rankings: Can San Diego State, Air Force seal MW title game deal?

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Chance Bell tries to run through a tackle of Kai Kaneshiro during their game earlier this season. (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

Each week, Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray will rank the Mountain West football teams. Here are this week’s rankings, with each team’s overall record, its ranking last week, its result last week, its next opponent and a brief comment.

1. San Diego State

Rank last week: 1

Record: 10-1, 6-1 MW

Last week: Beat UNLV, 28-20

This week: vs. Boise State (on Friday)

Comment: SDSU moved to 6-0 in one-possession games, including its last five wins, which have come by 29 points (4.8 points per win). There’s some fortune involved in being so good in one-score contests, but SDSU has perfected this over the years, a stingy defense and good rushing attack being just enough. In the last three games, QB Lucas Johnson has been a difference-maker, completing 69 percent of his passes with four TDs against one pick. SDSU is a win over Boise State away from the MW title game.

2. Air Force

Rank last week: 6

Record: 8-3, 5-2 MW

Last week: Beat Nevada, 41-39 (3 OTs)

This week: vs. UNLV (on Friday)

Comment: The Falcons vaulted from sixth to second in these rankings after its triple-overtime win over Nevada, a game Air Force dominated before a sloppy final 10 minutes. But the Falcons prevailed in overtime and now have a viable path to the MW championship game. If Air Force beats UNLV on Friday and Boise State wins this week or Utah State loses, the Falcons will play for the conference crown. Full MW title game scenarios here.

3. Fresno State

Rank last week: 3

Record: 8-3, 5-2 MW

Last week: Bye

This week: at San Jose State (on Thursday)

Comment: Fresno State needs a win over rival San Jose State and a San Diego State loss to Boise State to win the West Division and get into the conference championship game for the fifth time, which could happen (ESPN’s FPI puts it at a 47.5 percent chance, which seems high to me). The bigger question is why is this game being played on Thanksgiving Day, which is traditionally reserved for NFL games?

4. Nevada

Rank last week: 4

Record: 7-4, 4-3 MW

Last week: Lost to Air Force, 41-39 (3OTs)

This week: at Colorado State

Comment: Nevada’s loss to Air Force eliminated it from West Division title contention. In fact, the preseason pick to win the West (Nevada) and Mountain (Boise State) slot in at fourth and fifth in these rankings, which shows you the value of preseason polls (minimal). The Wolf Pack are six points away from being undefeated in MW action, which illustrates the thin line between ecstasy and agony.

5. Boise State

Rank last week: 5

Record: 7-4, 5-2 MW

Last week: Beat New Mexico, 37-0

This week: at San Diego State (on Friday)

Comment: Boise State has won four straight, including last week’s shutout of the Lobos, the program’s first shutout since a 55-0 drubbing of Hawaii in 2015. Boise State also returned two blocked punts for touchdowns in the win over the Lobos. The Broncos have out-scored their opponents, 128-46, during this four-game win streak and could easily be sitting at 10-1 with a couple of breaks during the year.

6. Utah State

Rank last week: 2

Record: 8-3, 5-2 MW

Last week: Lost to Wyoming, 44-17

This week: at New Mexico (on Friday)

Comment: Dropping Utah State from second to sixth seems drastic, but the Aggies were just shellacked at home by mediocre Wyoming, and the two teams above Utah State – Nevada and Boise State – have no such bad losses. The loss to the Cowboys yielded control-of-its-destiny status for Utah State, which needs a Boise State loss to San Diego State coupled with a win over New Mexico to reach the MW title.

7. Wyoming

Rank last week: 8

Record: 6-5, 2-5 MW

Last week: Beat Utah State, 44-17

This week: vs. Hawaii

Comment: Wyoming’s upset win over Utah State – the Cowboys were a 5.5-point underdog – pushed the program into bowl eligibility. Wyoming’s secondary has been strong all season and came up big in the win over the Aggies, holding Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley to 19-of-42 passing for 181 yards. After the game was close at intermission, Wyoming out-scored Utah State, 20-0, in the second half.

8. San Jose State

Rank last week: 7

Record: 5-6, 3-4 MW

Last week: Bye

This week: vs. Fresno State (on Thursday)

Comment: SJSU comes out of its bye needing a win over Fresno State in the regular-season finale to reach a bowl game. The Spartans have lost two straight after winning two straight, which was proceeded by losing two straight. So, deuces have been wild for SJSU, which is 1-4 against bowl-eligible teams this season and must beat one of the MW’s best to play in the postseason for the second straight year.

9. Hawaii

Rank last week: 10

Record: 5-7, 2-5 MW

Last week: Beat Colorado State, 50-45

This week: at Wyoming

Comment: Hawaii hung 50 points on Colorado State after scoring just 54 points combined in its previous three games, all losses. The Rainbow Warriors have shown flashes on offense and defense all season but have struggled with consistency, and never been good on offense and defense in the same game. Hawaii has either allowed more than 30 points or scored fewer than 30 points in all but one game this season (its first contest with New Mexico State).

10. Colorado State

Rank last week: 9

Record: 3-8, 2-5 MW

Last week: Lost to Hawaii, 50-45

This week: vs. Nevada

Comment: The Rams ride a five-game skid into its game with Nevada. Having just given up 50 points to a struggling Hawaii offense, Colorado State can’t be all that confident in its ability to slow down Carson Strong and Nevada’s MW-leading scoring offense (35.3 ppg). The Rams have allowed at least 26 points in its last five games and at least 31 in the last three. The defense is trending in the wrong direction.

11. UNLV

Rank last week: 11

Record: 2-8, 2-4 MW

Last week: Beat Hawaii, 27-13

This week: vs. San Diego State (on Friday)

Comment: UNLV nearly pulled off the upset of SDSU with backup quarterback Justin Rogers fairing well in relief of the injured Cameron Friel. Rogers, a TCU transfer, completed 15-of-21 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. UNLV has made progress over this last month of the season, but it still doesn’t have an answer at quarterback, which is a big question heading into 2022.

12. New Mexico

Rank last week: 12

Record: 3-7, 1-5 MW

Last week: Lost to Boise State, 37-0

This week: vs. Utah State (on Friday)

Comment: New Mexico has lost eight of nine, that skid bookended by shutouts. In fact, the Lobos have scored 10 points or fewer in six of their last nine games, and there’s nothing more demoralizing that not being able to move the ball and score points. Maybe having punts blocked and returned for touchdowns is more demoralizing, and that happened to New Mexico twice in the first half of last week’s loss to Boise State.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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