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Vilardo: ’23 WK 11 MW Football Power Rankings & Previews

The championship race is getting clearer and it looks like a three-horse race to fill two spots

Posted on November 9, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

All 12 teams are in action this week with six conference matchups on the docket as we get set for the final stretch of the regular season.

The path to the conference championship game is getting clearer and this week it looks like a three-horse race to fill two spots.

Of course, there is plenty of football to be played over the next three weeks and anything can happen.

As always, my assessments reflect last week’s results and are subject to change.

Below are my Week 11 Power Rankings along with previews of upcoming contests and my game picks.

1. Fresno State Bulldogs (8-1, 4-1) ▲1

Boise State Review

Fresno State has now won nine straight home games dating to last season.

For the second consecutive week, the Bulldogs welcomed an opponent in competition with them in the conference standings, and for the second straight week, they came away with a win.

The Milk Can returned to the Valley for the first time since 2017 with the win over Boise State.

Malik Sherrod racked up 255 all-purpose yards, the 10th-most in a single game in Bulldog history. His 95-yard kick return to end the first half was a backbreaker.

It was a physical win against a tough Boise State defense and the Bulldogs were able to control the line of scrimmage and win the turnover battle.

San Jose State Preview

Saturday, November 11
7:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

This week brings another rivalry game for Fresno State as they will travel to San Jose and battle for the Valley Trophy.

The Bulldogs have not played a road game in a month. The last time they left Fresno was October 13 when they got the win at Utah State.

Fresno State is eighth in the nation on third downs this season converting on 50.4% of the time.

San Jose State has not been very good defensively on the money down. The Spartans are 107th in the country as opponents have picked up a first down on 43.5% of their third downs.

SJSU has some offensive firepower, but the Bulldogs are too balanced and too good. They will win their third straight in the series.

My Pick: Fresno State 38, SJSU 24

2. Air Force Falcons (8-1, 5-0) ▼1

Army Review

Rivalry games can always go any direction, and For Air Force, matchups with the other Service Academies are always going to be tough.

The Falcons were rolling. Army was 2-6 and couldn’t stop any team from running the ball. Nonetheless, the Black Knights left Denver with their largest win over a ranked opponent since 1958.

Air Force turned the ball over six times in the 23-3 loss. It’s difficult to win when you give it away that often.

While the unbeaten season is gone, the Falcons still have a leg up in the Mountain West as the only unblemished team in the conference.

Likewise, the win streak is gone, but one other streak remains: This was the 16th straight game that Air Force held an opponent to under 30 points, the longest active streak in the nation.

Hawai’i Preview

Saturday, November 11
8:00 pm PT, Spectrum Sports

The Falcons will get a chance to run their conference record to 6-0 this week with a trip to Hawai’i.

The last time these teams met the Falcons won by 30 in Honolulu.

Hawai’i is 110th in the nation against the run, allowing over 176 per outing, in conference games that figure jumps to 206.4 yards on the ground per game.

This one looks like a bounce-back game for Air Force.

My Pick: Air Force 37, Hawai’i 17

3. UNLV Rebels (7-2, 4-1) ▲1

New Mexico Review

UNLV took care of New Mexico in an expected fashion. Good teams beat lesser teams and leave no doubt in the ball game. The Rebels did just that, opening up a 35-7 lead at the half.

They were never challenged by the Lobos the rest of the way. The final score was 56-14 and the 42-point margin was the eighth highest in UNLV history.

UNLV takes care of the football and creates turnovers on defense. The 12 interceptions the Rebels have pulled down this season are seventh most in the nation while the turnover margin of +9 is sixth best in the country.

Wyoming Preview

Friday, November 10
7:45 pm PT, FS1

UNLV is going to a bowl game, and with seven wins, they have assured themselves that the 2023 campaign will end with a winning record.

But with three to go in the regular season, the Rebels have eyes on a larger prize. Win out and they will play in the MW Championship game.

The final three games are not going to be a walk in the park, however.

The stretch starts this week with Wyoming coming to Allegiant Stadium. The Cowboys are very tough and are coming off a tight game with Colorado State.

The Rebels have a chance to take that next step in the development of the program with a win.

Wyoming’s defense has been very good, but have given up some yardage on the ground. If UNLV can establish the run they could be in good shape.

The Rebels rank 16th nationally with 201.6 yards on the ground per game and their 28 TDs rushing are second in the nation.

The dream stays alive. UNLV takes this one.

My Pick: UNLV 31, Wyoming 23

4. Wyoming Cowboys (6-3, 3-2) ▲1

Colorado State Review

The Cowboys got their sixth win of the season last week against Colorado State. It marks the seventh time in the last eight seasons that Wyoming has been bowl-eligible.

The Pokes did a much better job moving the ball on first and second downs against the Rams than they did in the loss to Boise State.

Against BSU, Wyoming’s average distance on third down was 11.3 yards to gain. Against CSU, it was a much more manageable 6.3 yards. The Cowboys’ average starting field position was their own 40 against the Rams.

UNLV Preview

Friday, November 10
7:45 pm PT, FS1

UNLV offers an interesting test. The Rebels are unbeaten at home this season and have won their last five at Allegient Stadium.

UNLV is 16th in the nation in scoring. The Cowboys will need to take care of the ball against the Rebels as they are prone to forcing miscues.

Wyoming needs to control the line and keep this one close in the first half. If the Pokes turn it over and have to play catchup, it will be a very long night in Vegas.

My Pick: UNLV 31, Wyoming 23

5. San Jose State Spartans (4-5, 3-2) ▲1

Bye Week 

San Jose State comes in hot off their bye week having won three in a row.

The Spartans are averaging 43.0 points per game during their win streak and have outscored opponents 129-45 in the three wins.

SJSU has outscored their opponents 80-14 combined in the second half of their last three games.

Fresno State Preview

Saturday, November 11
7:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

It is the Battle for the Valley this week as the Spartans will welcome Fresno State to town. This one could quite simply come down to turnovers.

The Spartans have only given the ball away seven times this season, the 10th-best mark in the nation. Fresno State has created 20 takeaways this season, tied for the second most in the country.

If San Jose State can play turnover-free football, they will be in this game at the end. A big plus in that department for the Spartans is who they have slinging the football.

Chevan Cordeiro has only thrown three interceptions this season to lead the conference and rank fourth nationally. Cordeiro has only thrown a pick on 1.1% of his pass attempts this season.

My Pick: Fresno State 38, SJSU 24

6. Utah State Aggies (4-5, 2-3) ▲2

San Diego State Review

Utah State did not score in the first quarter against San Diego State but they did keep the Aztecs off the board in the opening quarter, which is an improvement on the season.

The Aggies have been outscored 105-17 in the first quarter this season. Not getting in a hole is huge as they were able to get the win in double overtime over San Diego State.

After the first quarter this season, the Aggies are +106.

The win was huge and keeps the bowl hopes alive with three to go the Aggies will just need a pair of wins among Nevada, Boise State, and New Mexico.

Nevada Preview

Saturday, November 11
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

Utah State will start the final stretch of the season with a visit from Nevada. The Wolf Pack have played better as of late but Utah State should still have too much class and should get a comfortable win.

November is the time of year that the Aggies have gotten hot under Blake Anderson. During his tenure, USU is 7-2 in the month of November.

Nevada has one of the worst defenses in the nation and the tempo that the Aggies play with will wear them down. Utah State is running a play every 21.2 seconds, the fourth fastest in the nation.

My Pick: Utah State 37, Nevada 17

7. Boise State (4-5, 3-2) ▼4

Fresno State Review

Boise State has dipped back below .500 on the season. At 4-5, missing out on a bowl game is a possibility.

The Broncos should beat New Mexico this week, but the two that follow at Utah State and vs Air Force at home are not gimmes.

In a few weeks, we may look back and say how huge that Wyoming win ended up being or we could be talking about how huge the collapse against Colorado State was.

Boise State had to throw the ball more against Fresno State and Maddux Madsen was up to the task as he accounted for a career-high 256 yards passing in the loss.

Moving forward, the Broncos will have to get the job done without the services of their best receiver.

Following a career-high eight receptions in Fresno, Eric McAlister announced he will be transferring and is no longer on the team.

This decision from one of the most explosive playmakers on the team is a curious one, given the timing, and it raises some questions about the program and Andy Avalos.

But on the field, the Broncos are not as good of an offensive team without him.

New Mexico Preview

Saturday, November 11
7:00 pm PT, FS1

The absence of McAlister will not be felt as much this week. The Broncos should still be able to dispatch New Mexico at home with little trouble.

The final two games are where we may see some issues with McAlister gone. This week could be a good chance to see who will step up to make more plays on the outside.

BSU has won six in a row over the Lobos and holds a 12-1 all-time lead in the series. This one should run that overall total to 13-1.

Boise State has the second-longest active bowl eligibility streak in the nation at 25 years. If they wish to extend that streak this one is a must-win.

My Pick: Boise State 38, New Mexico 21

8. Colorado State Rams (3-6, 1-4) ▼1

Wyoming Review

In the Battle for the Bronze Boot, it was turnovers and third downs that cost Colorado State. The Rams ended the day with three turnovers and were 0-for-10 on third downs.

The offense could only muster 54 yards on the ground, yet the Rams still stayed in it and kept things close.

If the Rams are to get bowl-eligible, they will need to win out. If they don’t get there, they will have some losses to point to, beginning with the collapse in Boulder in September.

San Diego State Preview

Saturday, November 11
4:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

The Rams’ struggles on third down last week were odd. They entered the game with a respectable rate of 41.8% on the season and did not face a ton of unmanageable distances.

They just came up short on many of the 10 tries. San Diego State has allowed a conversion on 41.5% of opponents’ third downs this season and allowed Utah State to convert 8-of-19 last week.

The Aztecs are not good on defense this season, ranking 100th in the nation. CSU has been worse ranking 118th.

The difference is on the offensive side of the ball. SDSU is 109th while the Rams are 65th. Colorado State will have too much on offense and the Aztecs will not have an answer.

My Pick: Colorado State 31, SDSU 26

9. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (3-7, 1-4) ▲3

Nevada Review

Last week Hawai’i snapped a 10-game road losing streak that extended back to the 2021 season finale at Wyoming.

The win was Timmy Chang’s first as a head coach away from the Islands. The Rainbow Warriors pitched a 17-0 shutout in the first half which was the first time they went into the break without allowing a point since 2020.

The 17-point lead was the largest for UH at the break since the 2021 game at Wyoming. The Rainbow Warriors did a lot of things right in Reno and the winning result was the outcome.

Air Force Preview

Saturday, November 11
8:00 pm PT, Spectrum Sports

Hawai’i needs to continue the momentum and build some consistency in the program.

The Air Force game will be a tough one. The Falcons are coming off a loss and will be looking to let out some frustrations on UH.

This is not a good matchup for Hawai’i but a good performance in this one against a top opponent may be the true measuring stick of where the program sits.

My Pick: Air Force 37, Hawai’i 17

10. Nevada Wolf Pack (2-7, 2-3) ▼1

Hawai’i Review

Nevada had a win streak, and it came to a halt at two games.

I finally picked them to win a conference game and they get beat at home by Hawai’i.

The Wolf Pack have played much better in the second half of the season, but things will turn up a bit on the schedule for the last three games.

Utah State Preview

Saturday, November 11
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

Utah State has a lot to play for still and the offense could be a challenge for Nevada to slow down. And I say that both literally and figuratively.

Keeping the yardage total down could be problematic and the Aggies play really fast.

That could get into the depth of Nevada on that side of the ball. Nevada’s offense will need to convert on third downs to control some clock in this one.

The Wolf Pack are 117th in the nation with a third-down success rate of 32.3% on the season.

My Pick: Utah State 37, Nevada 17

11. New Mexico Lobos (3-6, 1-4) ▼1

UNLV Review

New Mexico got beat up by UNLV at home last week.

UNM turned the ball over four times and fell behind 35-7 at the break.

There was no coming back from that against a good team.

Boise State Preview

Saturday, November 11
7:00 pm PT, FS1

The Lobos have had some issues on special teams in recent weeks.

Boise State has three blocked punts for TDs in the last three games vs the Lobos.

UNM has lost six in a row in the series and I don’t see that streak ending tonight.

My Pick: Boise State 38, New Mexico 21

12. San Diego State Aztecs (3-6, 1-4) ▼1

Utah State Review

San Diego State lost a double overtime game to Utah State by eight points last week.

Against the Aggies, the passing game got going a bit. Jalen Mayden threw three TD passes against Utah State after having just three combined in his five prior games.

Mayden’s 265 yards through the air was also a season-high.

The Aztecs showed signs of improvement, but Brady Hoke’s team needs to start getting some wins.

Colorado State Preview

Saturday, November 11
4:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

San Diego State has finished with a .500 record or better in each of the last 13 seasons, tied for the sixth-longest active run in the nation and longest of any team in the Pacific time zone.

That streak is in serious jeopardy this season. In order to extend it the Aztecs will need to win out.

That will be a tall order and I think it could come to a halt after the Colorado State contest.

My Pick: Colorado State 31, SDSU 26

—More from Stephen Vilardo—