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#24 BYU @ Air Force
Cougars start their last season in the MWC earlier than they'd like and facing what's sure to be an emotional crowd at Air Force on Saturday September 11th. The day will begin with 20,000 mini-American flags and 10,000 U.S. Constitutions handed out to fans at Falcon Stadium gates.The Academy is asking fans to be in their seats by 1:30 (kickoff is a 2pm) and plan to honor recently deployed soldiers and show video presentations about 9-11 during the game.
BYU's handled this difficult Air Force option attack very well, winning 6 straight, Bronco's 5-0 vs AF at BYU including both visits to Colorado Springs. He says he learned the hard way back in his days as DC at New Mexico, when they gave up 52 pts to the Falcons 9 years ago "Not only did I not know what they were doing" Bronco remembers," I didn't know why they were doing it…it's developed into a kind of a passion of mine from a pretty miserable first experience." Ever since he's studied that option attack, spent extra time prepping in Fall camp, and it's paid off in wins. The key? Be assignment sound, wrap up and gang-tackle The offense can help out the defense with extra emphasis on time of possession, ball control and finish off drives with touchdowns. Coaches loved not only the spirit of mutual investment and partnership by Co-QB's Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps but most important, neither had a turnover.
Troy Calhoun's team just hung 65 on an outmanned Northwestern State team, now leading the nation in rushing, piling up 437 last week. Cougars gave up 128 yards to Washington but shut out the Huskies in the 2nd half. While Air Force is 10-1 alltime in MWC openers and Coach Calhoun is 15-4 at home in MWC games, 3 of his 4 losses in Falcon Stadium are to BYU. If there's an upside in playing a MWC game this early, Cougars will play in spectacular weather Saturday in Colorado Springs. Forecasts calls for a sunny day with highs in the mid to upper 70's
Falcons big-play DB Reggie Rembert is a "longshot to play" says Head Coach Troy Calhoun and that could could ease the burden to throw the football for BYU's 2 QB's. **This game could bring the first bit of adversity to one or both in BYU's 2 QB system. How Nelson and Heaps handle hard times that could go a long way in ultimately deciding who gets the majority (or all) of the snaps as the season develops. Cougars figure to be in another close one, likely decided by big plays in the 4th quarter.
UNLV @ #20 Utah
Nothing like a win over a ranked team to start the season then having 9 days to prep for your conference opener. Utes first game of their last MWC season starts with a relatively mild UNLV team playing harder under 1st year head coach Bobby Hauck, the winningest coach in Big Sky history . Still it's a Rebels team that's rebuilding, and 0-1 after giving up nearly 500 total yards and 41 pts to visiting #12 Wisconsin AND UNLV's never won at Rice Eccles Stadium (0-7).
Coach Kyle Whittingham's won 14 of his last 16 MWC games and since that memorable meltdown (27-0 loss) at UNLV back in 2007, Whittingham's a remarkable 32-4 overall. Utah's won 18 straight in Rice Eccles Stadium, chasing it's all-time record home winning streak of 26 in a row set from 1928-1934. Win out and the Utes could break that record sometime early next season.
There's some intrigue around QB Jordan Wynn's injured thumb but while he's listed as day-to-day, he fully expects to play. Shaky Smithson's still in the starting lineup at receiver and kick returner, hoping for a chance to atone for his 2 first half fumbles that helped Pittsburgh stay in the game and force it to overtime. "He's back in the mix" says Whittingham, "Ready to get back there and show what he can do."
Utah's defense looked as solid as advertised, revolving defensive lineman and attacking lb corps holding last year's NCAA leading rusher Dion Lewis to a career low 75 yards (just 66 on 24 carries after his 1st run of 19 yards) Now preparing for 2 Rebel QB's. Last season's starter fleet-footed Omar Clayton and this season's game one starter (Rebels 6th different starter at QB in last 7 seasons) Mike Clausen. Neither did much against Wisconsin, combining to go 10-26 for just 105 yards. Look for the Utes to roll behind a ferocious ground game, this one could end up a blowout.
Idaho State @ Utah State
Home opener for the Aggies who are ready to rock Romney Stadium in new uniforms after a very encouraging opening game effort at # 7 Oklahoma. After falling behind 21-0 in Norman, Aggies kept working, rallying to make it a game by outscoring the Sooners 24-7 over the final 2 and a half quarters.Extra incentive for the players and fans since it's the first game played on the newly named Merlin Olsen Field.
Sr. QB Diondre Borel keeps climbing up the Aggies career passing list. Already holding 3 Utah State records, Diondre needs just 69 yards to go over the 5,000 yards for his career and has a legit shot at finishing his Aggie career at #2 on Utah State's alltime passing yards list.
Utah State's 11-2 alltime against the Big Sky's ISU Bengals. Idaho State whipped NAIA Montana Western 32-3 in the Bengals opener. Running 42 times for 221 yards, throwing 26 times for only 189 yards, and giving up 4 sacks. No doubt Aggies coach Gary Andersen (assistant at ISU from '92-'94) will dial up many blitz packages. Even though the last 4 games in this series has been decided by 5 points or less, I look for a huge Utah State effort. "We feel like we have to come out and make a statement against Idaho State" says receiver Dontel Watkins. Plan on lots of fun for the Aggies and their fans before opening up WAC play the following Saturday at home against Fresno State.
Northern Colorado @ Weber State
The Big Sky got involved in this summer's conference ‘free-for-all' this week by announcing the additions of Cal Poly and UC Davis football teams from the Great West Conference, likely fully involved by 2013 . "That is great for our league" says Wildcats Head Coach Ron McBride "Those are 2 quality football programs with great tradition and will make the Big Sky one of the strongest, if not the strongest Division I FCS league in the country"
Coach Mac's Wildcats are sure to shine Saturday night, since they will fire up a brand new lighting system at Stewart Field and playing in new black uniforms with familiar purple helmets. Weber opens up Big Sky play against a Northern Colorado team picked to finish 7th and a team that's never beaten the Wildcats (0-4). In last season's memorable win in Greeley, freshman RB and Colorado native Bo Bolen 37 times for 207 yards and a TD, stepping in for Trevyn Smith. Still the Wildcats (picked 4th in preseason Big Sky polls) will go as far as record-breaking Sr. QB Cameron Higgins will carry them. Heading in with 9,996 passing yards, Higgins will become just the 2nd player in WSU history and 10th in Big Sky history to go over 10,000 yards in passing. In last week's positive 38-20 loss at ACC Boston College, Higgins threw for 234 of WSU's 381 total yards, tossing a td pass but picked off twice too. Youth will be served, Weber State's roster features 65 players who are either sophomores, RS Freshmen or true Freshman and all 20 pts at BC were scored by freshmen.
Fitting that on 9-11, it's Military Appreciation Night. Military personnel and families get in for just $2 per person.
San Diego @ Southern Utah
Exciting night expected in Cedar City as the T-Birds brand new high-def scoreboard and video wall is unveiled at Eccles Coliseum. While SUU tries to figure out how to fill the void left by the departures of football powers Cal-Poly and UC Davis from the Great West Conference, the football team plays it's home opener against San Diego from the Pioneer League. Former Cougar Ed Lamb is 9-14 at SUU after a spirited but losing effort at Wyoming last week. The T-birds held the ‘Pokes to just 36 yards rushing and outgained Wyo 384 yards to 355. Sr. LB Akeem Anifowoshe earning Great West Player of the week honors with a team-leading 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. So. QB Brad Sorensen hoping to build on last week's 22-35/193 yards, 1 td passing day.