We got the first monumental upset of the season with the king of the mountain, defending champion Alabama, falling on the road to South Carolina. The Tide dropped to eighth, and everyone underneath them in the polls were the beneficiary. Boise State is back up to third, TCU to fourth, and Utah is right behind with solid position in the top ten.
We could realistically call the Mountain West the fifth-best conference in the nation. The WAC has held its own as well, every bit the rival of the ACC and Big East. If you look at how three of these four BCS Buster candidates will be joining forces in the Mountain West next season, the conference will be right there alongside the Big XII and Big Ten as an elite power conference on the national stage. The only difference? They’ll still have to scrap for qualification into the BCS bowls. But should one of the remaining four go undefeated and force their way into the title game, it will be one more blow that renders it all the harder in the future to shut them out of the show…
1. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (WAC/5-0)
- LAST WEEK: 1st
- LAST GAME: W v. Toledo 57-14
- NEXT GAME: October 16 @ San Jose State
Boise State got the biggest stroke of good luck they possibly could’ve received for their title bid when Nick Saban’s crew saw a 19-game winning streak snapped against inter-divisional foe South Carolina. But they still have to take care of their business week in and week out, and against MAC challenger Toledo the Broncos did everything necessary on the Smurf Turf to walk away with another rout. Kellen Moore was his usual consistent self, and the running game proved effective as can be without any one feature back — five different players carried the ball six or more times, with no one getting more than nine rushes. All together the team ran 40 times for 207 yards and four touchdowns, paced by Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin. The Broncos once again have a top-five offense and defense, as balanced as any team in the country. It is that balance that makes them as valid as any of the other top national contenders of a spot in the title game.
2. TCU HORNED FROGS (MWC/6-0)
- LAST WEEK: 2nd
- LAST GAME: W v. Wyoming 45-0
- NEXT GAME: October 16 v. BYU
Don’t discount the Horned Frogs, though, the only team that allows fewer yards a game to opposing offenses than Boise State. Once again Gary Patterson’s success is based on defense, but the offense also has shown a propensity for piling up the yards and the points to widen the point differentials on games. We got to see TCU play Wyoming on Saturday, giving us a second direct comparison game between them and Boise State in terms of title credentials. Pitching the shutout against the Cowboys, TCU won by the same margin (+45) that Boise State won by in Laramie. Likewise we saw near-identical results when each team played perennial Pac-10 contender Oregon State. Next year the two teams will play each other directly on an annual basis, but until then we have comparisons. And they’re damn near a 1B to Boise’s 1A, two teams that have squared off each of the past two years in bowl games and split the contests. Could a rubber match possibly be in their future, with ever-increasing stakes putting the crystal football on the table to the victor?
3. UTAH UTES (MWC/4-0)
- LAST WEEK: 3rd
- LAST GAME: W @ Iowa State 68-27
- NEXT GAME: October 16 @ Wyoming
Of course, TCU still has a date in Salt Lake City to square off against the Utes. The winner of this matchup has earned a BCS berth out of the Mountain West each of the past two years, and barring some catastrophe they’ll be playing once again for the conference championship and an almost-certain spot in one of the five big games. Utah bolstered their resume this weekend with their trip to Ames to face off against rising Big XII darkhorse Iowa State. The Cyclones opened with fire, leading after the first quarter 14-10. But the Utes rattled off the next six scores, pulling out to a 44-14 lead before the hosts next scored. Just like Boise State it was a running game by committee, 5.6 yards a carry for four scores and 239 yards, and QB Jordan Wynn did his best coolheaded Kellen Moore impression. With home-field advantage in this year’s marquee showdown in the Mountain West, Kyle Whittingham’s crew will have the upper hand in taking the conference crown in their last season as a potential BCS Buster.
4. NEVADA WOLF PACK (WAC/5-0)
- LAST WEEK: 4th
- LAST GAME: W v. San Jose State 35-13
- NEXT GAME: October 16 @ Hawaii
Nevada also did their part to keep alive the hope of a big-time WAC battle on November 26, when Boise State will come to Reno. The two teams could very well be undefeated (and both amongst the top ten?) still at that point and contesting a virtual play-in game for the BCS. Playing host to San Jose State on Saturday, the Wolf Pack started sloppy against the Spartans before settling down and rolling to a three-score margin of victory. RB Vai Taua was once again the catalyst of the offense, rushing for 196 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries. His partner in the Pistol offense, QB Colin Kaepernick, was also his usual steady self, completing 20-of-27 for 273 yards and rushing 17 times for another 91 and two scores (with just an interception to blemish an otherwise-stellar day). A tough road test against Hawaii awaits, a team that has their own BCS pedigree and would love nothing more than to spoil the farewell tour for Nevada as they get set to join the Mountain West next year with Boise State and Fresno State.