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Vilardo: ’23 WK 12 MW Football Power Rankings & Previews

The one thing we know for sure is that after this week one team will be alone in first place

Posted on November 16, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

Last week I said the race for the Championship Game was getting clearer as the season progressed, and it looked like a three-team fight for two spots.

Well, things are clear as mud following last week’s results. The one thing we will know is after this week is that one team will be alone in first place.

And we could have quite a log jam behind them. There are a lot of tiebreaker scenarios, and we will wait until next week to uncork those after we see what shakes out this week.

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. UNLV Rebels (8-2,5-1) ▲2

Wyoming Review

UNLV is playing the best football in the league and has been the most consistent team all season.

The formula for success for the Rebels is to run the football, play defense, and create turnovers. Having Ricky White on the outside to make plays also does not hurt. And so far, that combination is working perfectly.

The Rebels played a good Wyoming team last week and beat them soundly. The Rebels keep on winning even with the competition taking a step up.

UNLV has reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 2000 and has opened with eight wins in their first ten games for the first time since 1984.

Air Force Preview

Saturday, November 18
12:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

The winning team in the Air Force-UNLV series has averaged 38 points per game and no team has won this matchup with less than 24 points on the board.

Unfortunately for the Rebels, they have been on the losing side of the series more often than not. The Falcons have taken the last five matchups and 18 of the 24 meetings all-time.

UNLV has a chance to take sole possession of first place in the conference and almost lock up a spot in the Championship Game. It is rare air indeed for the Rebels, and the question will be if they can seize it or not.

My Pick: UNLV 24, Air Force 21

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

Fresno State Review

San Jose State is the hottest team in the Mountain West, having won four in a row.

The Spartans have averaged 42.8 points per game during their win streak and have outscored opponents 171-63 in the last four.

SJSU has run for at least 200 yards in all four of the wins, the first time they have had four straight 200+ yards games in a row since 2000.

San Jose State is rolling and so is Kairee Robinson, who rushed for 200 yards vs. Fresno State. His 15 rushing TDs on the ground lead the conference and are tied for the Spartan single-season record.

Robinson’s 7.07 yards per carry is sixth-best in the nation.

SJSU has outscored their opponents 94-22 combined in the second half of their last three games.

San Diego State Preview

Saturday, November 18
7:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

This week will have a chance to get bowl-eligible against San Diego State.

The Aztecs have been terrible against the run this season and even worse against the pass. Offensively this week, the Spartans should have a field day.

The only question is if it is Robinson or Chevan Codeiro will be having the bigger game.

Not only is a bowl bid on the line, but the Spartans also have a chance at making the MW title game.

Like I said, we’ll attack scenarios next week, but if you are an SJSU fan, your best path is to win out and hope Air Force does the same.

My Pick: SJSU 38, SDSU 24

3. Fresno State Bulldogs (8-2, 4-2) ▼2

San Jose State Review

Fresno State lost possession of the Valley Trophy for the first time since 2019 with a 42-18 loss to San Jose State.

The Bulldogs got in a hole early and could not climb out. Fresno State allowed a 200-yard rusher for the first time since 2018 and the 313 yards allowed on the ground for the game were the most they have surrendered this season.

This was easily the worst defensive outing of the season. The 42 points allowed were also a season-high. The pick-six against them was the first of its kind since 2019.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Bulldogs did.

New Mexico Preview

Saturday, November 18
7:30 pm PT, FS1

The Bulldogs return home for senior day, where they have won their last nine in a row.

In addition to extending the win streak at Valley Children’s Stadium, the Bulldogs also have a chance to complete their first unbeaten season at home since 2018.

And more importantly, a win would keep them in the Championship Game race.

New Mexico has run the ball pretty well this season—and last week, that was the real bugaboo for the Bulldogs—but they have been pretty stout against the ground game this season.

I think things will shore up on that side of the ball. On offense, the Bulldogs should have little trouble producing against the Lobos, UNM is 110th in the nation in defense.

My Pick: Fresno State 38, New Mexico 17

4. Air Force Falcons (8-2, 5-1) ▼2

Hawai’i Review

Air Force has now lost two in a row against teams that entered those games with a combined record of 5-13.

Emmanuel Michel and Dane Kinamon did not play, and the Falcons lost Zac Larrier to a leg injury in the second quarter. The Falcon offense was stagnant without them against Hawaii.

The biggest issue was once again turnovers and Air Force gave it up four times to Hawaii. That is now 10 turnovers in the last two games. No team can overcome those types of miscues.

The defense also could not get the ‘Bows off the field on third down allowing eight conversions on 13 attempts.

UNLV Preview

Saturday, November 18
12:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

The good news for Air Force is they are still atop the Mountain West standings. A win this week over UNLV will clinch a spot in the championship game.

UNLV is sixth in the nation in turnover margin and the Rebels’ 21 takeaways are the second most in the country. Air Force will need to take care of the football if they hope to avoid a three-game slide.

Air Force has won five in a row in the series and this is easily the biggest matchup the two teams have had.

My Pick: UNLV 24, Air Force 21

5. Utah State Aggies (5-5, 3-3) ▲1

Nevada Review

Utah State has struggled in the first quarter this season, getting outscored 113-24 in the first 15 minutes of games.

The last two weeks the Aggies have played teams even in the opening period. USU is +123 following the first quarter this season.

The last few weeks have proven it is a lot easier to get a win when you’re not playing catchup from the start.

Boise State Preview

Saturday, November 18
4:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

The Aggies need a single win in their final two games to reach a bowl game. They end the season with a trip to Albuquerque but will get their first shot against Boise State this week in Logan.

The Broncos are a dangerous team that is also looking to punch a ticket to a bowl game and still has hopes of playing for the conference crown.

The Aggies run the fourth fastest tempo in the nation and that could work well against a Broncos defense that is 126th in the nation against the pass allowing 271.8 per game.

USU will need to be better on third downs and improve on the 38.8% conversion rate they have on the season.

My Pick: Boise State 36, Utah State 33

6. Boise State (5-5, 4-2) ▲1

New Mexico Review

Boise State got back above .500 with the 42-14 win over New Mexico.

The big win over the Lobos turned out to be the final game on the sidelines for Andy Avalos. The Broncos decided to part ways with their head coach on Sunday.

The absence of Eric McCalister was not felt in the win last week but certainly could be an issue in the final two weeks.

Maddux Madsen only completed six passes against UNM but that turned into 202 yards and a pair of TDs. Pretty efficient numbers.

The Broncos offense will get a boost this week as Ashton Jeanty should be back in the lineup alongside George Holani.

Utah State Preview

Saturday, November 18
4:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

The Boise State defense limited New Mexico last week, but this week it will be a different beast to handle in Logan.

The Aggies have a very good offense and can move the ball in a hurry.

Boise State still has aspirations of playing for the conference crown and it is within reach. The Broncos will play hard for Spencer Danielson and this is the one they need to get on the road.

If they drop this one on the road, the finale could get dicey.

My Pick: Boise State 36, Utah State 33

7. Wyoming Cowboys (6-4, 3-3) ▼3

UNLV Review

Wyoming has had a third-down problem in the last three games.

Against Boise State, the average distance to gain on third down was 11.3 yards. Against CSU it was 6.3 yards and against UNLV it was 7.0 yards.

The Cowboys only had two third downs against the Rebels that were third and short (3 yards or less to gain) and UW came up empty on both of those.

Getting in third and long or even medium-long is not a good formula for a running team. Against UNLV it did not work as UW was 3-of-11 on third downs.

Harrison Waylee was back but could not break off any chunk plays as his longest run of the game was seven yards.

For Wyoming to get back to the success they had early in the season they need to get third and manageable and get the explosive plays back.

Hawai’i Preview

Saturday, November 18
11:00 am PT, Spectrum Sports

Ihis week the Cowboys will play host to Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors have not been good against the run this season ranking 11th in the nation.

The ‘Bows have also allowed the fourth most plays of 30+ yards from scrimmage this season with 30 of them given up. This plays right into the Cowboys’ favor.

But Hawaii also forced a bunch of turnovers last week and beat Air Force, so you just never know. But this one is in Larmie and Hawaii is just 1-10 in their last 11 road games.

Wyoming is 6-0 at home this season.

My Pick: Wyoming 31, Hawai’i 17

8. Colorado State Rams (4-6, 2-4) ◄►

San Diego State Review

Colorado State got a win they desperately needed over San Diego State.

The Rams completely shut down the Aztecs offense in the first half allowing just 55 total yards and keeping them off the scoreboard.

The second half got away from the Rams a bit before they clamped down at the end for the three-point win.

If CSU wants to get to a bowl game, they have no room for error in the final two weeks. They finish with Nevada at home and then Hawaii on the road.

Nevada Preview

Saturday, November 18
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

Colorado State was much better on third downs last week than they were in the loss to Wyoming. A big reason for that was they kept things manageable at 5.6 yards to gain per third down.

Nevada has struggled to slow teams down this season and the Rams can put up points when they get in a rhythm.

Turnovers slowed the Rams in the second half last week and the Wolf Pack have a knack for creating takeaways with 15 turnovers gained this season.

If the Rams can avoid giving the ball away they will be fine. But if they make miscues, it could get tight at the end.

My Pick: Colorado State 36, Nevada 21

9. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (4-7, 2-4) ◄►

Air Force Review

Hawai’i has suddenly won two in a row and has a little momentum going heading into the final two games of the season.

UH forced four turnovers against Air Force as they pulled off the upset against the Falcons.

The last time the Rainbow Warriors forced four turnovers in a game was against Portland State in 2021.

Wyoming Preview

Saturday, November 18
11:00 am PT, Spectrum Sports

Hawai’i needs to continue the momentum and build some consistency in the program. The win over Air Force was a big one and Timmy Chang and his program need to build off of it.

The last time they hit the road, UH snapped a 10-game losing streak as vistors. Wyoming is unbeaten at home while Hawai’i is 1-4 this season on the road.

Getting another road win over a good team could do wonders for this program as they head into year three under the headman.

On paper, Wyoming has every edge. However, Hawai’i is +5 on turnovers after being -15 through the first nine contests.

If they can force miscues and shorten the field they could have a chance to pull another upset.

My Pick: Wyoming 31, Hawai’i 17

10. Nevada Wolf Pack (2-8, 2-4) ◄►

Utah State Review

Nevada’s two-game win streak was nice while it lasted, now things are back to normal in Reno with a pair of losses in a row.

Against Utah State, the Aggies’ quick offense was too much for the Wolf Pack and Nevada got run all over to the tune of 292 yards allowed on the ground.

Colorado State Preview

Saturday, November 18
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

Nevada will need to create turnovers against Colorado State if they want to stand a chance at the upset.

This game really could come down to mistakes. Not just holding onto the ball but self-inflicted errors.

The Pack are committing 6.8 penalties per game for 58.7 yards per game, which ranks 100th in the nation. Colorado State is even worse, ranking 129th with 8.2 flags per game and 74.1 penalty yards per game.

My Pick: Colorado State 36, Nevada 21

11. New Mexico Lobos (3- 7, 1-4) ◄►

Boise State Review

New Mexico is the most penalized team in the nation with 82.1 penalty yards per game.

The Lobos have lost their last three games allowing 44.0 points per game during the streak.

The defense has been rough and the offense has not been able to produce anything.

Fresno State Preview

Saturday, November 18
7:30 pm PT, FS1

New Mexico will travel to Fresno State for the Bulldogs’ senior day.

Fresno State has won nine of the last 10 meetings between the two schools and the Bulldogs have scored at least 30 in 13 of the last 14 times the teams have played each other.

The last time the Lobos won in Fresno was 1994, and that is not going to change this trip.

My Pick: Fresno State 38, New Mexico 17

12. San Diego State Aztecs (3-7, 1-5) ◄►

Colorado State Review

San Diego State’s bowl aspirations officially disappeared last week with a three-point loss to Colorado State.

The Aztecs will now play out the stretch with a lame-duck coach as Brady Hoke will not return next season after announcing his retirement.

A season that began with hopes of a conference championship run has spiraled into a three-win season. This is the first time in the last 13 seasons that the Aztecs will finish below .500

San Jose State Preview

Saturday, November 18
7:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

The Aztecs will travel to San Jose this week to face the white-hot Spartans.

SDSU has not shown up on offense or defense this season and there is little reason to think things will change in game 11.

My Pick: SJSU 38, SDSU 24

—More from Stephen Vilardo—