Vilardo: ’23 WK 13 MW Football Power Rankings & Previews

We have a slightly better idea of who will be playing for the Mountain West title and where

Posted on November 23, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

Okay, so we have a slightly better idea of who will be playing for the Mountain West title and where it will be played.

If UNLV beats San Jose State, it gets easy and the winner of Air Force-Boise State game plays at UNLV.

If the Spartans knock off the Rebels, it would create a three-way tie between the winner of AFA-BSU, SJSU, and UNLV.

Due to the tiebreaker rules, this would take us to the composite computer ranking of those remaining. They currently look like this:

  • UNLV 34.8
  • Air Force 54.0
  • Boise State 64.0
  • San Jose State 71.3

So, UNLV looks pretty safe, regardless. The winner of AFA-BSU, you’d think, would have the inside track based on their win in the final week of the season.

San Jose State looks like they would need a convincing win and make up a lot of ground on the winner of the other game.

Here’s the easy answer if you are a fan of…

  • Air Force or Boise State: Root for your team and UNLV.
  • San Jose State: Root real hard for the Spartans and Boise State to win in sloppy fashion.
  • UNLV: Think of Al Davis and “Just Win Baby!”

1. UNLV Rebels (9-2, 6-1) ◄►

Air Force Review

UNLV has reached the nine-win mark for only the sixth time in history and the first time since finishing 10-1 in 1984.

The Rebels have put themselves in prime position to win the Mountain West regular season outright and earn a spot in the conference title game in their own stadium.

In their 31-27 win at Air Force, the Rebels scored 24+ points for the ninth consecutive game, the longest streak for UNLV since they moved to Division One in 1978.

UNLV has won the turnover battle all season and has been money on third downs.

The Rebels sit fifth nationally in third-down conversion rate at 51.5% and their 87 third-down conversions overall are seven more than any other team.

San Jose State Preview

Saturday, November 25
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

At the start of the season, who would have thought the conference race would come down to UNLV and San Jose State in Vegas? Probably not many.

I was pretty high on both of these teams in the preseason, but this was not in my crystal ball.

UNLV is sixth nationally in turnover margin at +9. The Rebels have 13 interceptions on the season are tenth in the country. The Spartans are fourth in the nation with just four interceptions thrown this season.

The Spartans are +7 in the turnover department during their five-game winning streak. The opportunistic Rebels could have a difficult time forcing miscues in this one.

SJSU ranks 111th in the nation in third down defense and UNLV’s ability to keep drives going and keep Chevon Codeiro and the Spartans offense off the field could be the difference maker.

My Pick: UNLV 34, SJSU 30

2. San Jose State Spartans (6-5, 5-2) ◄►

San Diego State Review

San Jose State has worked itself into MW Championship contention via their five-game win streak.

The Spartans have averaged 39.0 points per game during their win streak and have outscored opponents 195-76 in the last five. SJSU has run for 244.2 yards per game during the win streak.

Kairee Robinson has scored a rushing TD in 10 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the nation. His 6.8 yards per carry is seventh best in the nation.

SJSU has outscored their opponents 108-25 combined in the second half of their last four games.

UNLV Preview

Saturday, November 25
12:00 pm PT, Mountain West Network

Chevan Cordiero does not turn the ball over. His four interceptions thrown are the fewest in the Mountain West and fifth in the country. His ability to take care of the football is big.

UNLV has a ball-hawking defense that will pounce on errors. San Jose State has been even better in the turnover margin than the Rebels have as the Spartans are +12 on the season.

That is tied for the third-best turnover margin in the nation. Whoever takes care of the ball better will win this game.

My Pick: UNLV 34, SJSU 30

3. Boise State (6-5, 5-2) ▲3

Utah State Review

Everyone who wrote off the Broncos a few weeks back was a bit premature in that prognostication.

The Broncos have extended their bowl-eligible streak to 26 seasons with a win over Utah State last week and are in prime position to play for a Mountain West title once again.

Boise State ran all over Utah State for the win last week as they recorded a season-high 352 yards on the ground. The two-headed monster in the backfield of George Holani and Ashton Jeantry combined for 263 of that total.

Defensively, the Broncos recorded nine sacks, the most in school history since making the jump to the FBS level.

Air Force Preview

Friday, November 24
1:00 pm PT, FS1

If the Broncos get a win, they should be in good shape to play for the title. A win coupled with a UNLV victory would lock it up.

If San Jose State knocks off the Rebels, then it would come down to computer rankings and the Broncos should have the numbers over the Spartans.

While Boise State harassed the Aggies in the backfield last week, the Broncos have only allowed 1.09 sacks per game this season, the 11th-best mark in America and third-best number for a Boise State team since 2012.

The Broncos are looking for a third straight win, and it would be the Broncos’ longest win streak of the season.

BSU has had at least one three-game winning streak in each of the last 24 seasons, the second-longest active streak in the nation.

My Pick: Boise State 26, Air Force 20

4. Fresno State Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3) ▼1

New Mexico Review

Fresno State lost a long winning streak earlier this season and now their nine-game home-field winning streak has also gone by the wayside.

The Bulldogs were outscored 13-3 after halftime by New Mexico in their shocking loss at home last week. The second half of that game was about as one-sided as it gets.

Fresno State was outgained 262-63 in the second half and was limited to minus eight yards rushing after the break. As perplexing as the result was, the penalty yardage was even odder.

The Bulldogs got flagged once for five yards while UNM had 12 for 112.

San Diego State Preview

Saturday, November 25
7:30 pm PT, FS1

The hopes of playing for a Conference Championship have vanished, but the Bulldogs enter the finale at San Diego State with a lot to play for.

Win this one and the bowl game will follow. Fresno State will also have a 10-win season, and it would be the 14th time the Bulldogs have won double-digit games in a season.

The battle for the Old Oil Can does not carry quite as much weight this season as it has in past years. When the schedule was made this one appeared to be one that might decide the Conference title.

Now the Aztecs are playing out the string on a long disappointing season and the Bulldogs are only positioning themselves for a bowl game.

The Aztecs have thrown 10 interceptions this season and lost 17 turnovers. Fresno State’s defense is third in the country with 16 passes picked off this year.

Look for the Bulldogs to win big and set themselves up for a chance at a 10-win season.

My Pick: Fresno State 27, SDSU 13

5. Wyoming Cowboys (7-4, 4-3) ▲2

Hawai’i Review

Wyoming got things going in the right direction again with a 42-9 win over Hawai’i in their home finale. The Cowboys raced out to a 35-0 lead at the break, and it was all over.

The Cowboys finished off 2023 with a perfect 7-0 mark at home, the first time in War Memorial Stadium history that they have won seven games in a single season there and the first unbeaten mark at home since 2019.

Andrew Peasley was stellar in the win completing 14 of his 17 pass attempts for 319 yards. The Cowboys got some chunk plays once again, which was missing from the offense in recent weeks.

Peasley connected with John Micheal Gyllenborg for an 89-yard TD, the longest pass for the Pokes since 2015.

Nevada Preview

Saturday, November 25
6:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

While the Cowboys have been perfect at home this season, they have yet to win a game outside of Laramie, going 0-4 in road games in 2023.

The Cowboys have wrapped up their sixth winning season in the last eight years but will look for their first eight-win season since 2019.

With a win in Reno, the Cowboys would set themselves up with a chance for their first 10-win season since 1996, when Joe Tiller was roaming the sideline.

My Pick: Wyoming 27, Nevada 13

6. Air Force Falcons (8-3, 5-2) ▼2

UNLV Review

The 8-0 start is a distant memory now. Three straight losses will certainly change the outlook on a promising season.

The Falcons got their turnover issues under control against UNLV, but the Rebels were just a better team last week and the passing game for the Falcons was not there.

The ground game worked against the Rebels last week and that is a promising thing as they had just gone for 188.5 yards per game in their prior four outings.

Boise State Preview

Friday, November 24
1:00 pm PT, FS1

The Falcons can get another shot at UNLV with a win and a Rebel win. In order to get there the Falcons will need to win in Boise for just the third time in seven trips.

These teams are going in different directions with the Broncos having won their last two while Air Force is riding a three-game losing streak.

BSU has been pretty good against the run this season, allowing 120 yards per game, ranking 32nd in the nation.

The last two weeks they have gotten beaten up a little bit on the ground, but with a big, lead they were happy to let opponents run the ball late and get yardage and keep the clock moving, so that figure is a little misleading.

The Broncos will stay hot while the Falcons’ tailspin will continue.

My Pick: Boise State 26, Air Force 20

7. Colorado State Rams (5-6, 3-4) ▲1

Nevada Review

Colorado State did a much better job of keeping the football in their win against Nevada. The Rams had just one turnover and it was a pick-six to end the first half.

The third downs were an issue once again, though, as they were only able to convert on four of 11 third downs. The problem as it has been so many times this season for CSU was not staying ahead of the chains.

The average third-down distance was 10.1 yards. The Rams got the win over the Wolf Pack, but they can’t afford the self-inflicted mistakes.

Hawai’i Preview

Saturday, November 25
8:00 pm PT, Spectrum Sports

Colorado State has strung together consecutive wins for just the second time this season. Now they will look to win three in a row for the first time since 2019.

If they can pick up the victory at Hawai’i, the Rams will find a bowl game at the end of the rainbow.

The Rams will look to continue another streak this week as Tory Horton needs 50 yards receiving to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the year.

It would be the ninth straight season the Rams had a 1,000-yard receiver. CSU gets bowl eligible and Horton tops 1,000—but they have to keep the third downs manageable.

My Pick: Colorado State 36, Hawai’i 27

8. Utah State Aggies (5-6, 3-4) ▼3

Boise State Review

Utah State has struggled in the first quarter this season, getting outscored 113-31 in the first 15 minutes of games.

Against Boise State it was not the opening quarter that did them in, but the second stanza.

Boise State scored 31 points in the second quarter to take a 31-10 lead into the break. Prior to last week, USU was +123 following the first quarter this season. Now that number is just +81.

The Aggies allowed nine sacks and 13 TFL in the loss. Needless to say, the protection has to be better this week.

New Mexico Preview

Friday, November 24
12:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

Utah State enters the regular season finale with a lot to play for. A bowl game is on the line. The Aggies played in just six bowl games in the first 119 years of the program, and they have played in 10 since 2011.

Getting to an 11th bowl game in the last 13 years will require a win in Albuquerque.

The Lobos have been playing better football recently, but the Aggies are the far better team in this matchup. Blake Anderson is 8-3 in the month of November since he got to Logan, and that record will be 9-3 after this one.

My Pick: Utah State 34, New Mexico 24

9. New Mexico Lobos (4- 7, 2-5) ▲2

Fresno State Review

New Mexico is the most penalized team in the nation as they have been flagged 9.5 times for 83.7 penalty yards per game.

The Lobos once again were flagged a bunch of times at Fresno State, only this time it did not hurt them too much as they got the 25-17 win. Just think, what the score might have been without the 12 flags for 112 yards?

It was the first road win in conference play for UNM since 2021. The Lobos were dominant after halftime outgaining Fresno State 262-63.

Utah State Preview

Friday, November 24
12:30 pm PT, CBS Sports

New Mexico has a chance to win three conference games and five regular season games for the first time since going 9-4 with a 6-2 MW record in 2016.

A 3-5 mark in conference play may not seem like much, but for a team that has gone a combined 3-20 in conference play the three prior seasons, a 3-5 mark would look like good progress for Danny Gonzales’s program.

Now, would it be enough to get him a fifth season with the program? That is the question, and I don’t think we will see it, the Aggies are playing for a bowl bid.

The Aggies offense will be too much, this one will go to Utah State.

My Pick: Utah State 34, New Mexico 24

10. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (4-8, 2-5) ▼1

Wyoming Review

Hawai’i had a two-game winning streak and a little momentum. That was lost after their trip to Wyoming.

The Rainbow Warriors had no answer for the Cowboy offense and UH was limited when they had the ball.

Brayden Schager has shown signs this season of having command of the offense Timmy Chang wants to run, but interceptions and too many incompletions were the issues in the loss to Wyoming.

The ‘Bows found themselves down 35-0 at the half and it was too much to dig out of.

Colorado State Preview

Saturday, November 25
8:00 pm PT, Spectrum Sports

Hawai’i has a chance to get some of that momentum back. Closing out the season with a 3-1 mark in the final four games would be huge for the program.

Schrager is 11th in the nation with 3,222 passing yards this season, leads the MW, and is 13th nationally with 25 passing touchdowns.

He has a chance to also gain some more control of this offensive system and set himself up for a big senior season with a solid game in the season-ender.

My Pick: Colorado State 36, Hawai’i 27

11. Nevada Wolf Pack (2-9, 2-5) ▼1

Colorado State Review

Nevada lost to Colorado State for their third straight loss following their modest two-game win streak.

The Wolf Pack had two early interceptions lead to 10 points for the Rams and the 20-3 deficit was too much for Nevada to overcome.

Nevada did have a pick-six to end the first half. The Wolf Pack have now converted each of their last seven takeaways into points.

Wyoming Preview

Saturday, November 25
6:00 pm PT, CBS Sports

Nevada will need to create turnovers against Wyoming if they hope to spring the upset. The problem is the Cowboys have only turned it over 11 times this season, the 20th fewest in the nation.

Wyoming has yet to win a game on the road this season and is averaging just 14.5 points per game away from home compared to 30.1 in games in Laramie.

The problem for Nevada has been scoring in general as they enter the season finale averaging just 18.4 per contest, 125th in the nation.

On the bright side, they have gone over that average in three of their last four games. They will not reach that total against the Wyoming defense.

My Pick: Wyoming 27, Nevada 13

12. San Diego State Aztecs (3-8, 1-6) ◄►

San Jose State Review

The Aztecs have lost four in a row and eight of their last nine games.

On the bright side, San Diego State has not allowed a first-quarter TD in any of their last eight games.

The problem is after the first quarter this season SDSU has been outscored 279-169.

Fresno State Preview

Saturday, November 25
7:30 pm PT, FS1

The season finale will mercifully arrive for the Aztecs.

A season with so much promise in August will come to a close with SDSU looking for a fourth win.

It is going to be the final game for Brady Hoke before he retires.

My Pick: Fresno State 27, SDSU 13

—More from Stephen Vilardo—