Perusing the Mountain West after three weeks' play:
Air Force nearly took down Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday, falling short 27-24 despite scoring the game's final 14 points. The Falcons had more first downs (25 to 24), yards (458 to 367), were better on third and fourth down (63.1% converted to 43.8%), and held the ball for almost ten minutes longer than the Sooners. The difference probably was the game's only turnover, an AFA fumble. Oklahoma got the final word: "I never want to see this kind of offense again," Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis said. "I love coach Stoops and the way he schedules our nonconference, the tough ones. But not this one."
Besides their rushing prowess, the Falcons are doubly dangerous because of their success passing the ball. Tim Jefferson is 20 for 39 to date, making him one of the conference's most dangerous players.
BYU is reeling. The strong play we expected from the offensive line took a week off in Tallahassee on Saturday. The Cougars gave up eight sacks to the Seminoles. Yes, Heaps isn't getting rid of the ball quickly, but eight sacks?
Colorado State's quarterback, true freshman Pete Thomas, has a 1-6 touchdown to interception ratio. And somehow he doesn't have the MWC's lowest QB rating! That tells you how stinking bad the quarterback play at BYU, New Mexico, and UNLV has been.
New Mexico's starting QB, B.R. Holbrook, did not even suit up for the Utah game. True freshman Tarean Austin braved his first significant snaps, and wasn't awful. He also led the team in rushing yards, which is sad indication the Lobos have not improved over last season.
San Diego State has revived. Mark it down, and give Coach Hoke a raise. How can we tell? Because the team is averaging over 5 yards per rush, after subtracting three very long single rushes from the team's total yards on the ground this season. Including those long rushes, SDSU is tallying a whopping 6.7 yards per rush. Much of this newfound vigor in the running game is due to the highlight-reel antics of Ronnie Hillman, who has surpassed his billing as the best Aztec recruit of Brady Hoke's young tenure at the Mesa. Add a much stronger and senior-heavy offensive line, and that's a balanced offense; and suddenly a very dangerous MWC riser. At long last, there's good college football in San Diego.
TCU is looking every bit like it deserves its top five ranking. (I know I don't rank the Frogs anywhere near it on my SBNation BlogPoll ballot, but that's resume polling for you. Give it a few weeks.) The Frogs have upped their run production, largely due to break out performances from Ed Wesley. The sophomore is one pace to tally over 1,500 yards; and though it's unlikely he'll be able to maintain that pace, he's clearly powered the Frogs to a new potency on the ground so far. Between his production behind a dominant offensive front, and Dalton's crafty option play, the Frogs may set new offensive records in Fort Worth, for a third year running. Footnote: Utah's Cain had the bad luck to set a school record for single-game completion percentage (87%) on the same day Andy Dalton set the TCU and MWC record (91.3%).
New Mexico's Tarean Austin isn't the only future MWC quarterback getting significant snaps ahead of schedule. UNLV's Caleb Herring, who redshirted last season and began this year third on the chart, found himself in charge in Moscow, Idaho, Saturday, after Omar Clayton had perhaps the worst outing of his long career. Herring led the Rebels' only touchdown drive, and is suddenly in the mix for starts in conference play.
Utah has itself an old-fashioned quarterback controversy. Whittingham's clear favorite, the sophomore Jordan Wynn, is healed enough (thumb injury) to practice for the first time in two weeks. But the backup, senior Terrance Cain, just turned in one of the best games a Ute quarterback has ever had. Sure, he was playing New Mexico, which has been unreasonably kind to quarterbacks lately, but how do you bench a player who just set the school record for completion percentage in a game (87%) and who leads the nation in QB rating (204)?
Wyoming has only 67 players on scholarship. 2A teams have only 65. Perhaps that takes some of the sting out of the Cowboys' loss to Boise, but only perhaps. Wyoming has the toughest non-conference schedule of the MWC teams, and doesn't really get a break until the last three games of the year. Focus on 2011, 'pokes. There'll be plenty of room to rise.